Reblog from Casita Colibri: The living, the dead and the missing

Bloqueos are also about this! The living, the dead and the missing: The students from Ayotzinapa.

I hesitate to reblog this post from Casita Colibri because it portrays the ugly underbelly of Mexico. It is not the perception of Mexico that I like to convey. I’d rather talk about the beauty of Oaxaca and the mastery of her artisans, as would most of us who call this home for part or all the year.

Yet it is real and about real people. At the same time, would-be visitors are afraid to travel here because of news like this. And, at the same time, the new United States Congress is purchased by Koch Brothers monied interests and elections take on a new and different meaning about representing the voice of the people.

I will leave it to the reader to come to his/her own conclusions.

 

 

Stone Soup in El Tule, Oaxaca: Lunch and the Life of Bloqueos

I have been driving around for hours trying to get through the roadblocks that have closed the three major highways leading into the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Jacob and I set out from Teotitlan del Valle well in advance of our three-thirty lunch reservation to meet our friend Aline on the rooftop terrace restaurant at Casa Oaxaca. When we get to the Microplaza shopping center in Col. Santa Lucia on the Carretera Nacional–the Pan American Highway that runs through Oaxaca — all traffic stops.

I see taxis and trucks parked perpendicular across the road. Cars are making U-turns and driving down the wrong side of the road to retreat. Everything is at a standstill.

Stone Soup Bowl

Bloqueos, as these roadblocks are called, are a way of life here. They are political expressions that convey the discontent of many: teachers, taxi and truck driver unions, bus unions, students and others who believe they have no other voice. Please note: This is not a political commentary, complaint or endorsement of this process. It is a description of events.  Just Google protests in Mexico to find out more. 

These types of manifestations are a civil right in Mexico, protected by the constitution. They are scheduled in advance and announced on Twitter to usually start and end at a specific time. Today, I had no idea this was going to happen and neglected to read any notices. I now know better.

After following a string of cars and taxis around and through small villages for almost two hours, believing they know a way around the bloqueos, all we find are dead-ends.  There is no way to get to the city.

I call my friend Abraham, a taxi driver from Teotitlan del Valle, to get the latest news about the bloqueo. He says all roads will be closed until at least seven at night. When in doubt, always call a reliable source!

IMG_4773

 

I remember Caldo de Piedra, the stone soup restaurant on the outskirts of El Tule on the Mex 190 business route. I had just traveled to San Felipe Usila, the Chinanteco source of this fantastic fish stew made with either fresh red snapper or tilapia. So we make a U-turn and head back in the direction from which we started hours earlier.

 

Fortunately, the restaurant is open and they prepare it exactly the same way as they do in the mountain village far from the city. We linger over the stone soup, comfort food. It is only five o’clock. And, then, fortified, we attempt the bloqueo again. It is Eric’s birthday party and we want to get to the city.

IMG_4774So, we park in line at the bloqueo, waiting for it to open up. I turn the engine off. About an hour-and-a-half later, I hear engines start and cars move. Someone approaches me. I offer a donation to get through.

 

We arrive at the party almost five hours after we start out. Just in time and before the surprise party gets underway! Feliz cumpleaños at Eric. Y gracias a Elsa por una fiesta grande.

IMG_4776 IMG_4779

 

 

Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Gate to Heaven Closed on Sunday

In Teotitlan del Valle, loved ones who come back to visit their families from the great beyond on Day of the Dead, usually arrive on November 1 and depart on November 2.  This year it’s different. They get an extra day on earth and leave on Monday, November 3.

2014DOTDTeoti-10

Why? Because the gate to heaven is always closed on Sunday, explains a local as we sit next to him in the small cemetery chapel with his compadres.  They are waiting to receive thanks and blessings from community leaders who approach them and the altar with offerings of refreshment and a hand raised in salute.

2014DOTDTeoti-11

The local man is one of the volunteer group that guards the cemetery, walking among the tombs to be certain that no souls, either living or dead, are in distress.

2014DOTDTeoti-12

Again, I arrive early, ahead of the crowds, while there is still at least an hour of daylight remaining. The cemetery is brimming with lilies, marigolds, cocks comb, gladiolas.  The scent of copal mingles with wild marigold. Graves are cleaned, topped with fresh earth, quartered oranges, pecans, walnuts, apples.  There is an occasional bottle of unopened beer or mezcal atop each mound.

2014DOTDTeoti

As the day fades, families arrive and light candles. Some unpack a picnic supper. Some sit quietly alone. Some are mother and son. Some are multi-generational. We meet young men on vacation from work in the United States to pay respects to their grandparents.  This is my village, one says in English. I was born here. 

2014DOTDTeoti-19 2014DOTDTeoti-20

At least two bands are playing. The atonal sound of the younger group is endearing and seems to complement the duality of both this solemn and joyous occasion.

Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of January 2015!

2014DOTDTeoti-14 2014DOTDTeoti-28

Lots of people greet us, welcome us, invite us to join them in a sip of mezcal, offer us fresh oranges and beer. When I ask if I can take their photo, yes, is usually the answer. Where are you from? they ask. Carolina del Norte, I say. Welcome to Teotitlan del Valle, they say. I feel lucky to be among them.

2014DOTDTeoti-29 2014DOTDTeoti-16

This year, it seems as if the village cemetery is especially vibrant with color.  I hear that Teotitlan del Valle wants to become a Pueblo Magico.  The paths are paved in the cemetery now, making it easier to move among the graves. The space is well-lit and tidy. It seems there are more flowers than ever before.

2014DOTDTeoti-4 2014DOTDTeoti-9

Here, it is not like the Xoxocotlan extravaganza, and if you come expecting that, you will be sorely disappointed. Being here is a soothing, quiet, reflective and traditional experience.

2014DOTDTeoti-13 2014DOTDTeoti-21 2014DOTDTeoti-15

Why are there multiple crosses at the head of grave sites? Families have specific plots and every ten years a tomb can be reused for someone who has just passed. The bones of the antecedents are removed, cleaned and returned to the tomb alongside the next one to be buried there. It is not unusual to see three or four crosses planted one in front of the other representing the tomb’s occupants.

2014DOTDTeoti-23 And, of course, not only the dead get hungry! Vendors sit at the entrance with tasty snack foods. And, the band plays on.

2014DOTDTeoti-26My son is visiting from California. As we move together through the cemetery, we compare traditions here and in the United States, how we want our remains to be handled after death, periods of mourning, celebrations of life and the practice of laying markers. In Teotitlan a marker is placed on the tomb nine months after burial.

2014DOTDTeoti-25 2014DOTDTeoti-18Day of the Dead is an opportune time to talk about what is considered taboo and sad in our western culture. The celebration in Mexico is a religious syncretism of pre-Hispanic mystical tradition and Spanish Catholicism. It is unique and there is much to learn by participating.

2014DOTDTeoti-5 Xoxocotlan2014

 

 

Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca: Day of the Dead Cemetery Before Dark

Before the crowds descend on the cemetery, before the tour buses and vans arrive, before the photographers with strobe flash and tripods begin their crawl among the gravesites at dusk, I arrive in Xoxocotlan.  Marta and Citlalli are with me today.

Xoxocotlan2014-18

It is the perfect time, the magic hour between day and night, when there is a glow that illuminates the world.

Xoxocotlan2014-11

Xoxocotlan on Halloween, the night before All Saint’s Day, has become a major party venue for Oaxaca visitors. By seven in the evening, the new cemetery will be packed with revelers who come dressed in costume, as well as families who sit reverently by the grave sites of their loved ones.

Xoxocotlan2014-12 Xoxocotlan2014-6

I focus my visit on the old cemetery, Panteon San Sebastian, which continues to draw me back year after year. The space is small. An adobe chapel built in 1684 is now remnants, destroyed by earthquake. It’s ancient walls that still stand are cordoned off by plastic tape warning of peligroso, danger, caution. The tape is new this year. Who knows when the next earthquake will strike?

Xoxocotlan2014-29 Xoxocotlan2014-33 Xoxocotlan2014-30

Don’t step on the graves, Citlalli says. My grandmother told us if you do, the dead will grab your feet and drag you to the underworld at night.  We step carefully out of respect.  Some of the grave sites are ancient, unmarked, crumbling.

Xoxocotlan2014-7 Xoxocotlan2014-13

Many tombs are marked with a date of death in the 1970’s. Citlali says there was a cholera epidemic then and many in Oaxaca died.

Xoxocotlan2014-22

I ask Luis Conseco if I can take his photo. His face is interesting, weathered. He stands upright, squares his shoulders. He says he wants to go the the United States to work to make more money. It is a dream of many. He is sixty-eight years old.

Xoxocotlan2014-23 Xoxocotlan2014-21 Xoxocotlan2014-15

He tells us that the shape and form of the tombstones signify the wealth or poverty of the person buried beneath. There were many simple tombs made of flat brick. This is all people can afford, he says.

Xoxocotlan2014-20

Things are changing in Xoxocotlan. The old cemetery is getting a facelift. There are men working on a new, paved entry way. The paths between the grave sites have been raked, leveled and cleared making passage easier, more visitor friendly. The outside walls are painted bright green.

Xoxocotlan2014-31 Xoxocotlan2014-10

Locals, now used to having their photographs taken, look up in greeting. I still ask permission each time, though. And, it is fun to engage in conversation. Do you like visitors pointing cameras in your face? I ask. And, everyone laughs and beckon me closer!

Xoxocotlan2014-16 Xoxocotlan2014-14

We even get an invitation to come into the ancient, crumbling walls of the old chapel where a man is decorating the grave of his grandfather. He takes us to the tomb of a Spanish priest resting behind a gated sanctuary.

Xoxocotlan2014  As we leave the cemetery, the groups begin to come in. I hire a moto-taxi tuk tuk to lead us out of town. The roads are starting to get clogged with in-coming visitors. It’s about six o’clock at night. Just in time to get back to Oaxaca for a dinner of enchiladas de jamaica (hibiscus flowers) at Restaurante San Pablo.

Xoxocotlan2014-42 Xoxocotlan2014-41

But not before getting some last minute street shots before we leave. I decided to skip Atzompa. So many people, so little time! Welcome to Muertos.

Xoxocotlan2014-34  Xoxocotlan2014-36

Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January. There’s a space for YOU!

 

 

 

Mega Market for Muertos: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

They tell me tomorrow’s market on October 31 will be even bigger in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, as everyone prepares for Dia de los Muertos.

TeotiMarketMuertos

Huge trucks filled with oranges are parked in front of the church. Vendors sell copal incense, at least five different varieties of marigolds, brilliant magenta rooster’s crown, pecans and walnuts, lots of handmade Oaxaca chocolate and pan de muertos — the special bread of the season made with butter, knotted and topped with a Jesus or Mary milagro.

TeotiMarketMuertos-12

Beyond the market courtyard is Picacho rising to a pristine blue sky as if making a special blessing on the village.

TeotiMarketMuertos-10

Later, I get water delivered to fill the rooftop cistern. Danny tells me his abuelos will be here with his family for an extra day this year, arriving from the underworld on Saturday and departing on Monday.

TeotiMarketMuertos-17 TeotiMarketMuertos-7

It is a festive time. The cane branches will arc over each home alter to provide a door for departed loved ones to re-enter and visit their families. They will be guided by incense, the scent of flowers, the smell of hot chocolate, tamales and mezcal.

TeotiMarketMuertos-2

Death and life are one, integral to what it means to exist. This morning I hang papel picado and little cut-out-doll skulls across the patio. Vases of marigolds and incense fill the house where I live with memory for my own father and grandparents.

TeotiMarketMuertos-9

Soon, my son will arrive and we will join comparsas and family meals. It is a festive time in Oaxaca.

TeotiMarketMuertos-13 TeotiMarketMuertos-11 TeotiMarketMuertos-6TeotiMarketMuertos-15