Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oaxaca Times

Image via oaxacatimes.com

Here's the latest issue of the Oaxaca Times with articles on Semana Santa, good manners in Mexico, and a new Italian restaurant that bills itself as healthy and fresh and sounds like a winner.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Manuel Franjo - Solo Por Tu Amor

I'm using cheesy Spanish ballads to work on my accent! This is Manuel Franjo, a Venezuelan singer, from the Buddha Bar chill-out CD.

Buen fin de semana, ya'll!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Improve your Spanish already!

Image via amazon.com

The best thing about my sabbatical: I've started writing again.

The worst thing about my sabbatical: Besides the salary cut? I've started writing again.

I'm too obsessive to do things halfway, so I spend most days in my pajamas in my study working on pieces, some of which I started almost twenty years ago. The feeling of finally completing things is freeing. I've been blocked by the many projects I'd started and then abandoned. But it's necessary for me to stay completely focused and one-track, so I've been at my desk fourteen hours a day. It's the only way I can work. If that sounds awful, it's not. It's been great fun!

So, outside my trip to Rome, I've done no traveling, very little reading, and the bare minimum in studying Spanish. I haven't even seen the new Jane Eyre yet although I've been looking forward to it for ages.

And I need to address that imbalance somehow.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Checking in

New York Harbor taken from the Staten Island Ferry with my iPod

Reading: Diario de Oaxaca by Peter Kuper; Itinerary by Octavio Paz.

Listening to: Pasatono Orquestra "La Tiricia"; Treme soundtrack.

Watching: "In Caliente" (1935) a Busby Berkeley musical with Dolores del Rio; "Hitting a New High" (1937) with Lily Pons.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Two of the crafts we were keen to buy in Oaxaca were rugs and the carved wooden animals called alebrijes. One of the villages that is known for woodcarving is San Martin Tilcajete. I had seen work by Jacobo and Maria Angeles at La Sirena in the East Village, so when our guide suggested we visit their studio, we readily agreed.

Jacobo met us at the gate and showed us around the family compound where the men worked with machetes and smaller knives carving the wood blocks into animal shapes, and the women and young men worked on painting the intricate designs. Then he showed us how he mixed the natural colors from bugs and vegetable matter -- much the same way we saw the weavers mix them in Teotitlan del Valle. We were so delighted we ordered a cat in honor of Schmucky, chose the colors we wanted and then waited. He suggested it would take a couple of months to carve, paint and dry our alebrije, so we expected it just after Labor Day.

It arrived around Thanksgiving. You can judge for yourself if it was worth the wait. We love it and placed it on the mantel next to some other pieces of Mexican folk art I've acquired over the years.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Roughly translated, "This course is not my world."

Graffiti in Oaxaca is very colorful and visually sophisticated. Books have been written treating it as both political protest and art, for example Protest Graffiti Mexico: Oaxaca . There was quite a bit of fresh work when we were there last summer as it was only a few weeks since an unpopular governor had been voted out of office and a new "people's governor" elected. I haven't followed what's happened since, so I'm not sure how it's all worked out. As I posted before, political violence, which is rarely reported here in the US, continues unabated. I'm curious to know how things are going and will report back once I've done some research.

I was surprised in Rome by how comparatively uninteresting the graffiti was. Surprised because it's so prolific -- it's on every building, no matter how old or sacred it might be. The messages were rarely illustrated unless you count the Brigate Rosse's 5-pointed-star-in-a-circle icon, and those were few and far between on this trip. Most graffiti is sprayed in dripping letters in either red or, less often, black. The sentiments are fairly straight-forward, but a certain amount of insider knowledge is necessary to figure out what the beef is.

A banner spray-painted in red letters and hanging from an apartment balcony read, "Resiste San Lorenzo." While on the surface this suggests to the outsider that Saint Lawrence resist something (what? we wonder), it was in fact an exhortation to the residents of the working class San Lorenzo neighborhood to resist, but whether they should resist the real estate development which threatens some of the older apartment houses or rent hikes or the police or Belusconi himself wasn't clear.

Even the Berlusconi graffiti was less interesting than you would expect with such a colorful subject who presents the graffiti artist with an endless supply of bon mots, not to mention a face that has been botoxed into corpse-like rigidity. I suppose "Berlusconi, Il Buffone" is somewhat more amusing than "Berlusconi Dimettite" (Berlusconi Resign), but neither was particularly subtle or clever.

During a walk near the Pantheon, I came across the following Oaxaca-related graffiti, one fairly old, the other more recent.

Okay, so they misspelled "Oaxaca" on the second example, but my interest was piqued. Was this the work of Mexican exiles in Rome or is there a faction among the Italian Left that turns its attention outward? (Not something you see much from any political party in Italy. Why look overseas when your own issues, and now those of your former colony in Libya, are so mind-boggling?) The red star suggests the work of a Brigades-wannabe, but, as I said, their graffiti was noticeably absent even as I actively searched for it.

On my last Sunday in Rome, I took the number 9 tram along the Via Nomentana to the last stop in a notoriously active (both the Right and the Left) neighborhood past Monte Sacro called the Nuovo Salario. Again, I was greeted on all sides by the same unimaginative, red-letter cliches stating, "God and Family" or "Anti-Fascism Lives." The only difference from the historic center was the brutal ugliness of the "modern" apartment buildings and the dreary shabbiness of the concrete parks. I strolled around a bit and hopped back on the next bus to the Termini, feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

Oh, well. "Valerio Verbano Vive." Or so they say.