Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fiestas, Foros and Fireworks

 Mexico offers endless opportunities for one to partake in the diversity of its rich culture. Since my last post, I have participated in a forum on intercultural education and migration, la fiesta del pueblo de San Andrés, a cultural performance of indigenous children, and the International Jazz Festival in Puebla.
The VIII Foro Latinoamericano de educación intercultural, migración y vida escolar (Latin Amercan Forum on Intercultural Education, Migration, and School Life) took place in late November in Cuetzalan, a pueblo in Puebla's Sierra Norte, which is deeply affected by migration due to lack of work opportunities. Most of the population is Nahuatl or Totonaco, and leave their pueblos to look for work in Mexico City or Puebla. It often has a devastating effect on families, children with a fragmented educational experience and parents without the family and cultural support system that they have at home. A very unfortunate effect of globalization and international trade agreements. Economic crises hit Mexico very hard. As a woman told me yesterday, when the United States gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia. As a result, people are forced to leave their communities to survive.

One of the highlights of this trip was visiting the pueblo of Ayotzinapan, a half hour outside of Cuetzalan. My friend, Jorge, has been involved in a project with the community there to build and stock a library. The driving force is a group of young people between ten and twenty years old, who have thus far completed the building of the library and obtained some, but far from enough, books.
Fatima y Mauri - Library kids
In the near future, I will be sending information on how anyone interested can help them fulfill their dream.

The fiesta de San Andrés was a three day event celebrating the patron saint of the pueblo. The streets were full of vendors, carnival rides for children, and, bien seguro, fireworks and music.
Local band with gigante

On the feast day of San Andrés, there was a "quema", an impressive fireworks display, which by the end of the evening, had fire trucks putting out a grass fire behind the church. The "quema" was quite spectacular, though, with sparks flying in all directions and two local bands accompanying them.
El milagro de San Andrés
Big bang repeated!

Banda municipal

The church was laden with bouquets of flowers and the center aisle leading to the altar was adorned with an intricate religious sand painting of San Andrés and friends. It was a near life-changing experience. I now understand what George Bush must have experienced!!

Niños huastecos
Shortly after this religious awakening, was el Encuentro Regional de Niños Lectores en Lengua Materna in Puebla. Indigenous children from various cultural groups throughout the region came and read in their mother tongue and performed traditional music from their pueblos. It was a treat to see children proud of their cultural heritage and eager to share it with others. The banner reads, "My language, my heart".

Policia on alert
¡Maestros en marcha!
         On my way to see the Encuentro, I came across a demonstration of teachers marching toward the Ministry of Education to demand their rights. The group was peaceful, but the police were ready in case their demands became too strong. As it turned out, there was no trouble, and most likely, no resolution to the teachers' demands.

Melissa Aldana Quartet
This post closes with the Festival Internacional de Jazz in Puebla. It was a four day event with workshops for the public by the invited musicians and eight excellent concerts by world class players. I went to four of the eight. They were all free and the venue was el Teatro de la Ciudad, a wonderful building in the very heart of Puebla. I sat in a box seat just overlooking the musicians. which made me feel like I was part of the group. Much easier than learning to play percussion! During one concert, I felt the floor of my box trembling, and thought that it was the enthusiastic participation of the audience. That night I found out that there had been a 6.5 earthquake in western Mexico. I guess that is what good jazz can do!
Starting an earthquake!

My daughter, Quena, and son, Joa, arrive very soon, and we are off to the warm, sunny, Oaxaca coast to commemorate Marie's parting. So, despite the Oregon winter, be warned to have your sunscreen ready before opening my next post!! Abrazos a todos.
Blowin' like Charlie
Magos Herrera - Superb!

Improvisation on Piano

Magos singing Jobim

Saturday, December 3, 2011

El Último Viaje Revisited

It is nearly a year now since Marie left on her ultimate sketchbook journey. As I sit here in la casita in Cholula, I cannot help but think back on the last time we were here, together. There are so many vivid memories, our time in Atlangatepec, our side trips to Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, Michoacan, and Chiapas. The places we visited, the people we met, they are all in Marie's sketchbooks, and mine as well. Merci Marie! This entry will be stained with tears, some of sadness for what is no more, and others of happiness for what was. It will be a visual trip through our life of 2008-09. Many of the pages from Marie's sketchbook are from a project she was never able to bring to fruition: Faces and Stories: a Sketchbook Journey in Mexico. I made a promise to Marie that I would do something with her images. I am stilling working through how best to do that. Some of these images and stories will appear in the Jan-Feb issue of Skipping Stones Magazine, a multicultural magazine for young people published by my friend, Arun Toke, in Eugene. There are so many faces and stories, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let this post be a beginning.
Maura, our hostess

Tzin Tzun Tzan Michoacan - Day of the Dead
Nestor Dimas - Purepecha
Nestor and Maura are friends we stayed with in Morelia.

Nestor was director of La Universidad Indigena de Michoacan and a good musician. Nestor, and his wife Maura,  entertained us well! We also made a visit to Santa Clara del Cobre, a pueblo that specializes in working copper. Marie arranged to bring her workshop participants there to sketch.

Morelia Michoacan - Oct 2011
Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan
Copper forge, Santa Clara
Riachuelo, Vera Cruz - Dec 2008

My sketchbook - Riachuelo Dec 2008
Street Musicians - Vera Cruz
El Tajin, Vera Cruz ruins

Doña Elvira 102 Yrs - Atlangatepec
Doña Elvira - Atlangatepec

 We spent Christmas in Riachuelo, Vera Cruz with Quena, Armelle and Ana. Marie did a portrait of Lizzet, the daughter of the owner of the hotel we were at. Riachuelo was on an estuary
in a fairly isolated area not too far from the archeological site of El Tajin. The ruins are spectacular, in a lush, tropical setting. The voladores still climb atop a very high post, and with ropes attached to their ankles, spin earthward to the sound of a wooden flute.

 We also went to el Puerto de Vera Cruz a couple of times. There was always music in the streets and people dancing to el son Cubano. A real treat! Unfortunately the Zetas have now spread fear throughout the area.

We spent most of our time in our pueblo, Atlangatepec. Marie was able to get to know and sketch many of the people who lived there. Doña Elvira was a 102 year old, cigarette smoking, beer drinking, woman who still had her cigarette and beer in front of her house daily. Marie was able to get her to consent to a portrait, and while Marie sketched, Doña Elvira shared stories from her long life. That was Marie's magic, not sketching only peoples faces, but their lives.
 In April 2009, we had to leave Mexico to renew our visas. We took advantage to visit Chiapas. Our most memorable time was spent on the small island of La Palma. We stayed in a very basic thatch-roofed cabin. Again, Marie's pen brought us in contact with several locals who opened their homes and their lives to us. Most notable were Manuela and her 103 year old mother, Doña Francisca.

Doña Francisca was still very alert and prepared the wood fires for cooking and helped prepare meals. While Marie sketched her, she told us stories from her life and how La Palma used to be.

The trip to renew visas also allowed us to stop in Oaxaca. A friend had organized a workshop for Marie on our way down, so we were able to spend a few days in one of the places Marie liked best.

And I will conclude with a few pages from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. It was very close to Semana Santa (Holy Week) when we were there and the streets were full of color and activity. As usual, Marie connected with a young shoe shine boy and asked permission to sketch him. He agreed and in the end Marie gave him what a shine would have cost (it is hard to shine Tevas!) He almost refused the pesos.

I could go on forever with images, and perhaps will someday when I decide how to best do a book of Marie's sketches. For now, it has been a heartfelt experience going through sketchbook pages and remembering the good times that went with them. I hope you enjoy them and much as I have.
Jema y Rafael - Atlangatepec
Jema, our milk and cheese lady

Boat ride to La Palma

Doña Francisca - 103 yrs.

Manuela - La Palma

Doña Francisca - La Palma
One of my pages from La Palma
Oaxaca - 2009
My Oaxaca page - collage
Shoe shine boy - San Cristobal
My San Cristobal page

Marie in her element

Sketching the band - Atlangatepec

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Settling In

Concierto de Campanas
It has been over a month now since I arrived in Cholula, and poco a poco things are falling into place.
Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
I have rented a casita in San Andrés Cholula, the home of the UDLA (Universidad de las Americas) and La Piramide, an archeological site of much historical significance. It was here that Hernán Cortez slaughtered over five thousand Cholultecas Indians, mostly unarmed civilians, in less than six hours. Of course, they built the miraculous "Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios" over the Cholulteca temple (La Piramide) that was there first. ¡Viven los cristianos!
San Andrés is a tranquil pueblo with a nice zocalo and beautiful old church. It is said that the city of Cholula has 365 churches, either one for each day of the year or one for each pre-Hispanic temple that used to be here.
La Piramide - Cholulteca Temple
 In  reality, there are only thirty seven churches; 159, if all the small chapels including those on local haciendas and ranches are counted. But that is still a lot of churches for a relatively small town. November 19th was the "The Concert of the Bells", a forty-five minute, all percussion concert, which incorporated some of the church bells. The concert was the finale of La Festival Vaniloquio, a six day music festival which was a mix of musics: classical, folklórico and jazz. All performances took place outdoors around the zocalo and were open to the public. As the poster says, "The Arts are alive in Cholula!"
Iglesia de San Andrés Cholula

Enrique y Hortensia on duty
201-B 4 Norte, San Andrés Cholula
As for mi casita, it is a newly finished, cement block house that is quite empty for the moment. I have the essentials, stove, fridge, bed, two tables with eight chairs (but no one to invite to eat with me!) and a work station for my computer. An added special service that I did not expect is the round the clock service of two very efficient Mexican guard turkeys! So far I have not been robbed, and the ducks, chickens, dog and cat that roam my front yard have not dared to enter the house when my door is open! All this for $300 a month. With the turkeys, it is well worth it.
Street Children
  In my last blog entry, I wrote about the preparations for el Día de los Muertos. The results of those preparations were quite impressive. Families that had loved ones die in the past year set up ofrendas in their homes and provided food for all those that came to pay tribute to their departed friends. In the market in San Andrés, there was a very unique display of ofrendas that has some very special dedications. Below are some example:
She did not stop being a woman because she had only one breast
Sanitation Workers
And to conclude, I will mention La Feria Internaciónal de la Literatura Infantil y Juvenil that I attended in Mexico City (DF) last week. It was a three day event that focused on children's literature and the importance of reading in Mexico and the rest of the world. There were excellent presentations and a far too tempting book fair that I could not resist. It was a real treat to see the side of Mexico that we do not see often enough in the States, A nation of readers. I will post a few photos that demonstrate my point. If you made it this far, thanks for staying until the end. Abrazos amigos!
Deaf readers
Fernanda con su mamá