Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Ticking of Spring

Chez Carmel in Cazals
The searing heat of el Valle de Oaxaca has been replaced by the nippy greenness of spring in the Midi Pyrennes. My habitual Mexican attire of short sleeves and sandals has given way to wool socks and four layers of thermal lining from the waist up. But so be it! I feel like I am experiencing the liberating joy of spring without having paid the bone chilling dues of winter. Spring is in full blossom here in le Lot, with wisteria, lilacs, tulips, and irises painting the landscape in all colors and hues. Walnut trees are just budding, and the delicate, tender greens highlight the wild purple orchids and delicate daisies scattered in the fields. Everything is lush and verdant and exploding with life.

I am once again staying with my good friends Carmel and Peter in Cazals. Carmel's place is a beautiful, old stone house in the middle of the village, right next to the Mairie. It is surrounded by an artfully designed garden full of color and imagination.
Peter's house in Cousteilles
Peter has built an amazing new house a few kilometers away. It is his work of art, earth friendly in all respects and crafted with much skill and ingenuity. So my time here is spent between two paradises in the company of wonderful friends. In a few days I travel to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, another magical place, to visit my friend, Helene. I never take my good fortune for granted. I often feel like I am living in a dream, one that I do not want to wake from.

I cannot write about France without at least touching upon the culinary delights that seem to stalk me  here. I do not try to escape, however; there must be some victims. We share delicious meals and laugh-filled conversation on a daily basis, a wonderful combination. Laughing off calories could become the next fad diet!
Sunday market treasures

I never tire of our walks in the countryside. Despite the scattered showers and chilly temperatures, this is possibly the best time of year to be here. It is such a stunning contrast from Oaxaca. Each place has its own charm and magic. In Oaxaca the monuments at Monte Alban or Mitla mysteriously remind us that perhaps we are not as advanced as we think we are. In France, feudal castles sit perched on sheer rock faces that defy the imagination as to how they were ever constructed.
Chateau de Beynac
The farmhouses and manoirs that are built in the rolling green hills of le Lot are made with true craftsmanship from golden brown, local stone and terracotta roof tiles. As it happens, the farmhouse (below) near Peter's is for sale; anyone interested? I will be your gardener!
View from Peter's house in Coustielles
But as enjoyable as it all is, I hear the faint ticking of spring and the fluttery turning of calendar pages. I return to Corvallis on May 28th, a wonderful place to return to! It is a beautiful place to call home.
Peter & Carmel at his house

So the last month here, my friends, I dedicate to you. For you I will indulge in the usually not eaten morning butter laden croissant or pain au chocolate, the three course lunch at the local Auberge de la Place in Cazals, a second serving of paté de campagne or aged goat cheese, and an extra glass (or two) of Bordeaux at night.That's what friends are for! Happy spring to all!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hasta Luego Oaxaca

Benita, Deek, 7 Braulio - Oaxaca
Leaving a place that holds a special place in your heart is often melancholic. Oaxaca is that way for me. As my departure is almost upon me, I reflect back on a wonderful five months, full of fine people and memorable events. My time here has been well spent. I have made progress on my writing, hopefully having found a direction that allows my voice to mingle with Marie's. My camera has been clicking away happily and I have hopefully found a way to juxtapose my photographs with Marie's sketches. I have been able to give many people portraits that they have been very grateful to receive, and new friendships have blossomed because of it. So this entry is a combination of photographs and words that recap a few of my favorite things and people that I would like to share. Perhaps it is more of a personal therapy session for me than a blog post for you. You can decide that and read on or not. I will feel better having done this, no hay duda. (Excuse the photo layout, very hard to control.)
Fernanda & Adelina
Daniel & Fernanda playing "Lucha Libre"

The people who were most present in my Oaxaca life were Adelina, the owner's domestic helper, her daughter Fernanda, and the owner's son, Daniel, who Adelina considers as one of her own. I was almost part of the family, and loved every noisy minute of it! I am so amazed at the joyful, "love life" temperament of Adelina & Fernanda. Thirteen hour work days, six days a week, and always laughter and fun. Much to learn here. No retirement plan in place, no union benefits, just hard work and a love for life.
Nuns being serenaded
Balloon vendor - zocalo

And then there is the zocalo, a non-stop circus performance all the time. No matter what time of the day you venture out, there is non-stop action, and a large audience to appreciate whatever is happening. I often go out for an after dinner walk when the heat of the day has subsided and the air is cool. I am not the only one out enjoying the evening breeze. There are always the mariachis working the sidewalk cafes and park benches. They always seem to find someone willing to pay for a serenade or a few nostalgic songs. Sometimes it appears to be divine intervention that makes their music permeate the evening calm.

Festival de danza contemporanea
There are the constant colors parading across the zocalo, shimmering, neon colors that the children love.
Classical street musician
And the talented, colorful people who work the streets and create a cultural collage for a peso or two in their violin case or tin cup. If it happens to be Wednesday, then you have Miércoles de Danzón, the older generations version of a "rave". Men in Panama hats and dangling watch chains, and women in heels and fancy dresses sway to the beat and "dance" like you are supposed to, with rhythm and feeling. Makes a person proud to be over 50!
Miercoles de Danzón
It seems that every outing has its special surprise waiting. I like to go  to La Michoacana" ice cream shop in the evening for a delicious guanabana or mango nieve, and in doing so, often find myself sitting down to a free performance that always keeps me there until the show is over. Culture flows in the street, and the quality is outstanding. And free!!

And most importantly are all of the wonderful people that I was able to photograph and share those photos with. If you photograph people, it seems the only fair thing to do; they are so grateful for it. Thank you George Ancona for showing me how important that is. The portraits below are some of those people that are now friends. Click for a larger view, because they are all larger than life people. Adios amigos, ¡nos vemos pronto! You have taught me so much. Mil gracias!
Benita & Braulio
La Familia Perez-Nochixtlán
Domingo & Kevin Racoon
Doña Angela - Teotitlan
Doña Rosa Maria - Bread vendor

Jazmin-Weaver, Teotitlán

Doña Aurora-Arte Seda
Don Fernando - baker

Oscar & Octavio - Café Morez

Last years wrap up:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ni Perdon, Ni Olvido

Oaxacan Artists Claudio Jeronimo and Demetrio Barrita
In May, 2006, the popular uprising in Oaxaca began. It resulted in far too many unnecessary deaths, and a hard felt blow to the economy of a city in which tourism plays an important role. Nearly seven years have passed, and this posting demonstrates that the events of 2006 are neither forgiven nor forgotten (Ni Perdon, Ni Olvido). In the six months that the uprising lasted, more than 25 protestors were killed, 70 arrested, and 40 seriously wounded. The work viewed here is a tribute to these people and the many who fearlessly partook in that struggle.This YouTube video link  is well worth watching if you would like more details of what took place in 2006. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6_HGslwUEQ)

Sculpture before going into kiln
 I was privileged to have been invited to photograph the firing of the sculpture (to right) done by Demetrio and Claudio. Demetrio is a friend of Marie's and mine, a painter, sculptor, and political activist that lives in Oaxaca. He and his wife, Estela, were very involved in the uprising in 2006. Estela, like Marie, was taken from us far too early by breast cancer. For those of you who read Spanish, the following link is a fine tribute to a fine woman: http://revolucionemosoaxaca.org/nota/realizan-homenaje-a-estela-rios-activista-de-la-appo-a-un-ano-de-su-muerte/pdf.html It also lays the foundation as to what this sculpture is all about. Claudio is a master ceramicist and good friend of un buen amigo mio, Javier, who currently lives in Oregon. The work viewed in this posting was a joint project with Demetrio that was created and fired in his studio.

Moving the pieces to the kiln
Out of the kiln and ready to be put together

The sculpture, yet unnamed, is one piece in a much larger picture. Although the piece was conceived and produced by Demetrio and Claudio, it speaks for a community that has not been silenced. It weighs approximately 180 kilos (400 lbs) and stands over nine feet tall. Work began on it in January 2013 and it was ready to be fired in mid April. Because of the size of the work, it had to be sculpted in two separate pieces in order to fit it into the kiln. The piece required 18 hours to "cook" and 18 more to cool down. It took five people to lift each of the two pieces onto the cart to move them into the kiln. Engraved on one side of the sculpture are the words: "For crimes against humanity committed by Ulises Ruiz (then governor of Oaxaca). Engraved around the middle of the sculpture are the words: "Ni Perdon, Ni Olvido (Neither forgiven nor forgotten). 

We came back thirty six hours later to see the results of the firing. Much to everyone's satisfaction, the color changes were what they had hoped for. The finished piece was exquisite! Next, it had to be taken outside and the two pieces mounted one on top of the other, quite a formidable task.
Group with finished piece
The finished piece is far more than a beautiful work; it is a political statement that is part of a popular movement. It is not destined to stand in a gallery or studio to be admired. It belongs to the people who fought, and are still fighting, the struggle in Oaxaca. Like the incredible "street graffiti" that covered the walls of Oaxaca in 2006, I believe that this sculpture will finds it public space as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the struggle, and to those who continue to fight for what they believe is right.
Oaxaca graffiti art - 2006
At the time of this posting, the teachers in Oaxaca are still in the streets and have planned a march in Mexico City in favor of their "counter-educational-reform" that the current governor of Oaxaca has accepted as a valid alternative. The federal government, however, has stated that it will not accept any counter-reforms, nor will it give in to the pressures of the protesting teachers in Oaxaca and Guerrero. More trouble ahead? Spring break is over here next Monday, and neither sides appears ready to give in. May justice and peace prevail.