Monday, November 19, 2012

Oaxaca Dia de Los Muertos Dia Cuatro

On Sunday, October 28th, I decided to get up really early and go for a walk by myself, testing how I felt about being alone in a foreign country where I do not speak the language.  Also, I am directionally impaired so there was a real potential to get lost which really would have put my Spanglish to the test. 

I decided that I was going to walk in a different direction than the southernly way we have been walking to get to the zocalo.  This morning it was more east, south, west and then north so that I essentially walked in a big square so I would not get too disoriented.  The amazing thing to consider is that the following pictures all came from about a two hour walk around the block--Oaxaca is filled with eye-catching imagery in every direction. 

It was at this point in my walk, while trying to photograph the caskets inside a funeral service parlor whose advertising sign was out in the street

that I met Mike Kelley, a retired Fort Collins Colorado cop and his dog, who were out for a walk.  Mike approached me for a variety of reasons:  I was obviously an American, I was not shy about photographing the thing in front of me and I had a big honkin' camera around my neck.  All three things were also true with Mike.  Mike's story is that somewhere around retirement age he lost his wife and sold his house.  With all his extra money, he decided to travel and one of the first places he visited was Oaxaca.  He called home to tell his adult sons that Dad would not be coming back.  He has lived in Oaxaca for 15 years and he loves the people, he loves to take pictures and he loves Oaxaca.  He uses e-mail to let his sons know that he has not gone native yet and was very happy that his boys and their wives would be joining him shortly for Dia de Los Muertos. 

While we were chinning in English, a man walked up to us and began speaking intense but friendly Spanish, full of gestures all done with great camaraderie.  Mike responded positively to all the man said with many "si" replies.  I assumed that Mike and this guy knew each other from the neighborhood and without any translation from Mike I was just an observer to their conversation.  When they were done and the man walked away, I asked Mike how long it took him to learn Spanish and he replied: "I can't speak a lick of Spanish." 

Evidently my worries about how I was going to survive in Oaxaca on this trip can be set aside;  all I need to do is say "si" if people appear happy. 

Throughout this trip I had to explain to my fellow travelers that I am basically a self-centered sociopath.  It did not occur to me until after we had said goodbye and Mike and his dog were heading home to begin to cook for his sons that neither of us had thought to take a picture of each other.

When I got back to the hotel I peaked into the workshop to see if anyone else was up and about. 

Nope.  After breakfast with the gang, it was day two in the workshop. Colleen Darling had let us know before we came that we would be building an ofrenda to honor our missed relatives during the workshop.  The ofrenda built over the days but here is what it looked like on day two:

My contribution to the ofrenda was a confirmation photo of my Dad who I lost in 2006.  I de Menged him up and added a Oaxaca bottle cap with my heart to send my love and ask him to join us on the 1st.

 Today I was able to paint on the Mayan mask I was working on.

I decided to make this piece because of the painting we had seen on our tour but there is one thing I really learned:  the technique we saw is really hard to even conceptualize, let alone execute.  Amazingly talented artists. 

I also made a decision on the time capsule.  I had originally thought that the mask would go on the door of the bank and you would open the door by pulling on the tongue.  Unfortunately, the mask weighs slightly less than the table I was working on so all that was going to happen if I screwed it into the bank was that the bank would continually fall forward.

Plan B:  forget the mask on the time capsule idea and go with a crypt.  What better time capsule can there be?  When I bought the four little table legs at the antique place the day before, I did not plan on using them in this project.  But they did seem to give my crypt some above ground height, so I ran some rebar wire into the legs to create armatures and used Aves Apoxie Clay to attach them to the bank. 

Lunch at the same place as yesterday, Maria Bonita, which not only has great food but wonderful art on the walls as well.  Then it was back to the workshop for more quality time working on art.

Colleen and Michael had talked to us about all the opportunities to miss something in town.  There are parades called comparsas happening all the time.  Comparsas are parades with brass bands blasting music, puppets, costumes and dancing happening all at the same time.  Comparsas are produced by schools, churches and neighborhoods and can be a little competitive.  If two meet up, the bands start blaring their music louder and louder and everything comes to a dead stop until sheer inertia or exhaustion get the parade moving again.  You can always tell where and when a comparsa is happening because the first guy in the parade is always firing off huge bottle rockets to signal its position in the streets. 

Colleen had advertised a comparsas that was going to leave Santo Tomas Xochimilco church which perked up my ears because the panteon (cemetery) at Santo Tomas was a place that Mike the Colorado cop had recommended as a must see when we talked earlier in the day.

Marilyn, kd and I decided to take a hike north of our hotel, cross the Pan American highway and climb a steep hill into the neighborhood where the church was located in the hopes of finding the comparsa. 

When we got to the church we found that there was a small neighborhood carnival set up outside the church. 

We did not see anyone apparently gathering for a comparsa so we went to the carnival.  I tried out Michael de Meng's favorite carnival scam:  the bb gun game which if you manage to hit the target, a puppet band will play a song.  kd negotiated a game for me so I had no idea how many bbs I had in my load so I just started firing away.  Eventually the carny guy took pity on me and reached up and knocked over one of the targets so we could hear the music play and watch the puppets jiggle around. 

Eventually it became apparent to us that the church was going to hold a mass. Remember the light shining on the altar from an earlier picture--check out the fairy lights around the little girl in the center aisle.

Figuring that if there was going to be a comparsa, it would not be until after church, we headed back down the hill to the city below.  Amazingly, and by random chance, we headed down a walkway that had the most spectacular wall art that I have seen yet.  Because it was night and dark, these are not the greatest photos but they at least gave a taste of the art on the walls in this neighborhood.

When we reached the Pan American Highway we had a choice to go right (east) towards the wall that had the big alligator on it that I had photographed early or head left (west) to see what we could find.  We went left and ran into a wall outside the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca which had more spectacular wall art.

After walking around, Marilyn, kd and I joined another half dozen or so eaters at the Che Gaucho Argentinian restaurant which was between the Pan American Highway and our hotel.  The food was excellent and much sharing was done at the table. 

Being essentially a restive bunch, the cry went up once again, "To the zocalo!"  The zocalo and the Alcala walkway are big city / small world enough that you can keep running into the same people.  Remember the accordion player from dia dos?  Well, we ran into him hiking to his spot to begin his nightly concert--and I got another shot of him from a different angle.

And, as each night followed each night, it was always a slow walk home from the zocalo, with more memories and the promise of another day in the light ahead. 

You can see the full set of photos from this trip at

1 comment:

  1. Gary, next time I am going to find the courage you found and do the same wandering. Also, will take a honking biiiiig camera, since iPhoneography just doesn't do justice to the street art! These are beautiful and haunting reminders of another world/culture/light and art and reinforced my view that I just have to go back.

    Oh, and this is Solange BTW...Larksong is the good art twin...