The here and now... and what and why

Complacency is a trap. At least that’s what I was thinking when I up and left the comfort of a Yankee prep school gig, where I taught music, amongst other things, for 28 years. There was also that life long career as a composer, musician and artist.

First, it was a year in St. Thomas, USVI, working as a reporter and shooting photography and then, a year in San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Time passed.
More time passed and a year back in the Athens of America followed by a hasty return to Oaxaca where it is all happening.
A couple of years in San Sebastian Etla and now, just down the road in San Pablo Etla. Life is good.

Click on an image to see it larger.
For additional photography please visit my flickr page.
You can find my music on Jango (World & latin - Worldbeat) and at iTunes and most online stores.
¡Soy consciente de todas las tradiciones del Internet!
If you are coming to Oaxaca, please contact me for tours or advice.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo
The view from Corazon del Pueblo

The hereafter re me

My photo
Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
Musician, photographer, videographer, reporter, ex-officio teacher, now attempting to be a world traveler

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Things I miss... Esperanza

A double meaning, here on a Thanksgiving Day in El Norte.... Esperanza, of course, means "hope."  And it's what this country needs in abundance.  It does seem to be missing in action, however, I'm confident, because hope is eternal.
The other hope is Esperanza, of the eternal beautiful smile, one of my favorite people.  She is a constant light in Tlacolula, dancing and serving barbacoa.
I'm not really sure where she is these days.  After working seven days a week for so many years in the market, she's on a bit of a vacation, parts unknown. 
I miss her smile.  Thanks for giving.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The things I miss.... Kids in graveyards?

Yes, kids in graveyards.  Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, is somehow lighter, dare I say, happier, because it can be such a family affair.  Everyone, from abuelos to babies, is there.
Children playing, the sounds of laughter....
Enough to make one's heart sing, adding such a different element to such a pensive time.
One of the things I've noticed while here in New England is how I miss seeing children.  They are everywhere in Oaxaca.  There are kids on my block, but it's different.
Children in Oaxaca learn independence and responsibility at an early age.
I wish they could have the advantages of the good schools we have here in Newton.
The differences in cultures.....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The things I miss... empanadas

I am hiding out in the belly of the beast, raking leaves and cleaning gutters in New England. It has been cold with rains, which might be a welcome change from Oaxaca except... it's cold and rainy.  Actually, it's interesting being here as opposed to watching from the outside.  I can say one thing for sure, people are happier in Mexico than here..... maybe it's the cold and rain... no, it's the polarization... and a severe lack of empanadas.... like these from San Antonino, which are so good. And here is our absolute favorite doña.  Hers are simply the best.
Served up hot and crispy by her daughter, and like her mother, she is wearing examples of the embroidery for which the village is so famous.
Mouth-watering....
So no empanadas..... hmmmm... there is always dim sum.... that'll work.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Muerteada in San Agustin Etla - The video

The muereada in San Agustin is one of the best.  It claims to be the cuna or cradle of the muerteada and they sure know how to do it right.  It's the same every year although the bands change. Two groups of dancers, one from San Agustin, one from Barrio San Jose, each goes from house to house, along with the band and dance all night.  After fourteen hours, the next morning, the two groups meet at the base of the mountain and go crazy.  It's one happy mosh pit with things always on the edge of going out of control, but never quite doing so.  After all, it's a family affair.  The groups are separated by two lines of security, one from each group.  They have their work cut out for them, but always do a great job. And.... a massive battle of the bands... this year, thirteen tubas!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Abuelita

Many people I've met here over the years have had a profound effect on me, all for the better.  I have been touched by their wisdom, creativity, resilience and, yes, a touch of their holiness.  I remember first seeing this doña from San Antonino Castillo Velasco in the early 90's as she brought her amazing creations of dried flowers to La Noche del Rabanos.  And then, I saw her every year I was at Rabanos.   For some reason we connected and I always felt blessed whenever I saw her, like I was touched by the light.  I would give her photos of herself and I love seeing the rebozo I gave her in these photos.
I saw her most every year during Muertos and Semana Santafor the last ten years.  I always had to get on my knees to look her in the eyes.

I missed her this Semana Santa and then learned from her children this Muertos that she had died last January.  I told them how much she meant for me, that she was an important person in my life, but they already knew that.  Still, they cried when I told them as we stood by her grave.
And I don't even know her name even though I must have heard it at some point.  She was always just "La Doña, mi abuelita."
(gracias/spixl for fotos)

Friday, November 10, 2017

How It's Made - Quesillo in a ball

Here's Doña Vicki, the woman from whom I buy all my cheese.  She has a stall in the market in Etla.  Etla is the home of queso and quesillo.  All others?... well, they're not Etla. Watch how fast she can ball up a half a kilo of the freshest quesillo.  She makes it look so easy.  It's not.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Muertos in San Antonino Castillo Velasco

"An ocean of flowers," is how I always describe the panteon or cemetery in San Antonino Castillo Velasco for Muertos.  I think it is one of the most beautiful places to visit and not only now, but at any time, and especially for Semana Santa.  But for Muertos?... It just doesn't get any better.
People are so friendly and happy even though there is a touch of sadness in the background.  I just can't imagine anything this special happening in cemeteries in El Norte.
There is a contest for grave decoration and the work is like many things Oaxaqueno, creative and wonderfully artistic.  San Antonino is known for its flowers and produce.
The work is delicate and meticulous.
And so beautiful...
It's a family affair, often with food and music and kids running around. 
It warms the soul.  As I say, this is how it should be.  People are not afraid or sad because of death.  It's natural. They welcome the spirits back, the ones they remember, respect and carry always in their hearts and thoughts.
Such a wonderful tradition and this year was a particularly beautiful celebration.  Maybe it was all the rain, the flowers just radiated.
It was a blessing to be there as the sun bathed us all in its light.
And there's more to come.... but for now....

Friday, November 3, 2017

Muerteada in San Agustin Etla

As the words say, "La Cuna de la Muerteada," "The Cradle of the Muerteada"" or as I like to say, "The Mother of all Muerteadas."  And I am happy to say, I survived once again this year, as I like to place myself right in the middle of all of the wonderful insanity.
In a nutshell:  There are two groups of dancers, one from Barrio San Jose and the other from San Agustin. Really, they are all friends and neighbors, but for these two days, they hate each other and have a major battle of the bands at the very end of the fourteen hours celebration.  San Jose...
 San Agustin...
 It is quite loud, a wonderful cacophony.
Each group starts the night before and goes from house to house, eating and drinking and dancing to some of the most infectious music imaginable.  Then, the next morning, they meet at the bottom of the hill and just go crazy, kinda one big mosh pit... well, two separate mosh pits, as they are separated by two lines of security, one from each group.  Tubas or bassos lead the assault and musical conversation.  This year there were thirteen tubas playing their collective asses off.  I'm a musician and I don't know how they do it.  I can't imagine playing that long.  At the end, everyone's lips and swollen, red and blue... but so worth it.  Vale la pena!
The dancers wear amazing costumes, the most tradition being one covered with bells and mirrors.
They are so heavy, maybe thirty kilos... and yet they dance for hour upon hour.
There are some other pretty amazing looks, too.
Lots of kids involved, a family fun event.  Even in the craziest part of the mosh pit scene, there are families with babies, little kids.
 And lots of guys dressed up like gals.
It's really hard to describe it, you'll just have to come for yourself... or wait for the video.  Ah yes, the ladies have their own muerteada in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tapetes de arena - Sand Paintings

These beautiful sand paintings, tapetes de arena (carpets of sand) had a short life in the Plaza de la Danza.  I've seen lots of them over the years. They are sometimes huge, often are filled with images associated with Muertos, but this year, they were much smaller and all religious in nature.
I caught them with a brilliant sun overhead the afternoon before they were swept up.  They are full of sparkles.
They are quite beautiful, detailed work and more examples of how so many things here are artistic in nature.
I used a little Photoshop magic to put them in perspective, as they might appear from above.
So much work and yet they were only there for a couple of days, swept away, temporary, as are all things.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Feria de Pan de Muerto - Villa Diaz Ordaz

We did a nice swing through a few markets this past Sunday, the last one before Muertos.  Tlacolula was so crowded, but nonetheless exhilarating with sights and smells. Then it was off to Mitla, above, where some of the finest examples of pan de muerto can be found.  It is an art there, but they no longer have an exhibition of the finest breads. However, there were nice examples in the market.
After Mitla, it was off to Villa Diaz Ordaz where they were having a feria, a fair, del Pan del Muerto.
We were there last year and thought maybe more people would be there this year.   However, it turned out we were most of the crowd.  It was very tranquil and serene scene.  People were selling bread, but most of the action was with the kids who were kneading dough and shaping bread, keeping the traditions going.
This guy is destined to be a baker.
Their energy and exuberance were the best parts of the day.
The bread for El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a very important element of the altars and one can find it everywhere in the days leading up to the beginnings of the celebrations.
After seeing all the food in the markets, we were starved so we took advantage of some excellent tamales and the best higaditos I've ever tasted from this woman.
Eggs, chicken and a perfect broth, a simple but elegant traditional dish and unique to the central valleys of Oaxaca.
Higaditos, elsewhere, is a very different dish.  We also got a rare treat, one hardly ever seen for sale, some estafado mole from this excellent cook.  It was so nice to be almost the only people there as folks were so friendly and happy.  However, you see where it is... there's always next year.