Saturday, November 13, 2010


I'm waiting for the car to pick me up to go to Mexico City and it all comes back to me in brief glimpses and flashes. What I remember most is the kindness and generosity of the people and the smile in their eyes. The people here embrace any who come in celebration and respect for the dead and will feed you, kiss you and fill you with their faith and love. Quite a testimony to an enlightened and value-driven society.

Our guide Pablo tells me that he expects certainly that in fifty years the celebrations will still be alive; the children trailed their grandmothers in and out of the graveyards and reverently and obediently fulfilled their parts in the family and community liturgies in play, hauling marigolds and candles and fruit and festooning the graves with loving care. And then fiestaed and celebrated with each other with delight and to the delight of all bystanders. Pablo remarked that the thing that will certainly be differentgoing forward is how the people celebrating the La Dias de los Muertos will look. The long braids streaked in silver and gray and wrapped and woven in brightly colored ribbons will vanish, along with the nubby long lengths of fabric that sheath both the men and the women from the cold. Replaced by manufactured shirts and blouses with buttonholes and collars and LA Rams windbreakers with pockets holding cellphones, the faithful will remain and replenish but will forever look different. I feel so humbled to have been able to see this on this year and I will remember it always. Pablo also told me the graveyard celebrations observed deep in the hills outside Oaxaca that we witnessed are not done in Oaxaca because Oaxaca was Spanish-occupied. The first thing the Spanish did was abolish native celebrations such as Las Dias de Los Muertos as they were inconsistent with the catechism of the Catholic Church. These indigenous celebrations exist in communities today because the Spanish never made it up to the hill country to occupy the villages; because as they say, there was no (gold) up those tunnels. Such serendipity…

Yesterday we went to the livestock market outside of town. Drove up to hundreds of sheep, goats, pigs,mules, donkeys, horses, steers and bulls being led to market. We milled about with everyone buying and selling and the aroma of manure, mud and lunch bubbling away in the huge pots being tended by the women with the long braids filled the air. Unmistakably extraordinary and unmistakably divina. Walked up and down streets of art galleries last evening and mingled in the incredibly rich, incredibly dynamic local arts community and saw everything that we've been seeing all week reproduced in hip and cutting edge mediums. The art here is magnificent. Again: extraordinary. divina. And it's ALL art.

And so I pack it up to take with me as I head home. I have many commitments and responsibilities waiting for me and I'll get right back to work immediately; but I want so badly to keep this past week for always. Santo Domingo. Monte Alban. Mitla. St. Augustin. The marigolds, mescal. The chocolate! The candle-light, the prayers, the eyes that follow you as you walk. I simply don't know if my heart is big enough to hold the exquisite texture and quality of it all. Because now I have gone among las gallendas di corazon and I am small; I am so very small…

On Assignment
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca MEXICO
November 1, 2010
Day of The Dead
This morning I got up at 3 am to ride into the hills outside Oaxaca to witness the celebration that is the Day of theDead. You can't really describe this phenomenon--you can only accurately call it a phenomenon--because it is so pure, so intimate, so deeply spiritual it is without bounds and simply not capable of being quantified nor qualified.

We bounced around and over very bumpy,muddy, rutted roads, crossed a bridge and kept going. We bounced and jostled around some more in the sharp black air and some more then, and suddenly, came to a stop. Although we had mounted a fairly arduous journey with strategic preparation to be at the graveyard of this Zapotecan community for sunrise, we arrived at our destination with practically no preamble or introduction. Certainly no ramp up as we stepped in the black air and beheld a sea, a literal sea, of shining,laughing faces lit by a million candles and cuddled by clouds upon clouds upon clouds of orange marigolds and pink cocks comb. It was purely subjective as to whether we still were in this world or the next.
The band played joyous, rollicking music and people tended their dearly departed spirits with pure adoration and utter conviction in the pitch black of night . They sat and visited with each other; prayed; sang; danced; drank the mescal; laughed and waved at the white-skinned light-eyed visitors with expensive cameras sporting wide, fat lenses. Little children ran, played, chased and shouted to each other amid and amongthe dead of the night just before the sun came back; teenagers flirted slyly with each other under the watchful eyes of their grandmothers and their fathers and mothers chatted and laughed with passersby and visitors. It occurred to me again and again that the American Christian community that bemoans, grieves and wails death is quite possibly among the most uncivilized and primitive societies of all time.

Last evening we went over to Xoxocatlan to be with that community as they hauled in wheelbarrows full of supplies and lovingly tended the graves,
lighting candles, arranging flowers and making full preparations to venerate, celebrate and visit with their deceased. It was magic, but only the magic that comes with pure liturgy, pure devotion and bedrock faith. As the sun went down and the candles came up, I experienced an illumination that I doubt I'll
experience again. And then, this morning, again with practically no warning, the sun came up over the graveyard at Atzompa and suddenly it was all over. Band stopped playing and packed their equipment in vans, grandmothers trailing grandsons bearing chairs trudged out the gates for home and the marigolds were deadheaded and shredded on the graves.

The Night Magic is gone and the sun beats down in the courtyard now, flooding it with brilliant white light. But I have the memory of these people and their hearts locked securely
away in my own heart, for those dark days and dark nights when my own dearly beloved are so, so, so very far away…

On Assignment
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca MEXICO
October 31, 2010 Dias de los Muertos

The people gather for a 5 day weekend in celebration of their family and friends that have gone to the next world. They serve you a steaming hot bowl of thick, foamy chocolate that is by far, the best chocolate I have ever tasted. They bake faces of women into the loaves of bread. They each will probably have a shrine at home that will include marigolds, cocks comb, loquats, bananas, papaya, peanuts, oranges and limes; mescal; coca cola; candles and the little smiling skeletons, katrinas, dolls dressed up to resemble the deceased's life on this earth. Everyone smiles and is joyful; it is a time of great festival in honor of this life and the next and of being together.

Yesterday in Santo Domingo, homebase for chastity, poverty and obedience, I saw a man stop and fold his hands in prayer at the gigantic altar of Guadalupe. Then he did the most extraordinary thing: he produced a vivid pink rose, unique among the dozens of red roses that abound here in Oaxaca, and proceeded to bath his face and neck with this pink rose. Then he held the rose over the altar and crushed the rose with one hand, separating the petals from their stem, letting the fragrant pink tears fall in offering to our Lady at her shrine in the most beautiful baroque church in all of Mexico. Pure unapologetic adoration.

Knelt in the very front row of Santo Domingo last evening about 5, when all of a sudden the lights came on, men in silk suits came down the aisle, followed very shortly by bridesmaids. I waited for someone to ask me to leave or sit in the back o f the church, but no one did. So I had front row seats at dusk for the wedding of a petite, beautiful Zapotec princess and her spectacularly handsome new husband. Apparently, it didn't seem inappropriate to anyone but me that I became gathered up with these people on this very special day in their lives and I was practically overcome with honor, delight and fascination. I was more than a bit troubled by the music that played as she walked to the altar to stand with her parents and her best girlfriends and sisters before the priest to give her wedding vows: Lohengrin! Here Comes The Bride! Her dress and those of the wedding party could have been worn by any bride in any Catholic church in the US: her colors were shades of magenta, violet pink and rose and her mother wore rust-colored garnet. With their burnished brown faces and black eyes and hair, you can imagine what a sight they were with the extraordinary main alter of Santo Domingo as background.

Later, I waited in the square outside the church for their triumphant recessional to their new life as man and wife; a dozen and a half dancers of the Oaxaca folkloric troop waited with me, brilliant in their lime, orange, purple, red, blue, pink, and yellow skirts. Their hair was pulled back and long black yarn braids, woven with brightly-hued ribbons hung down their back. They had big baskets of flowers that they, omigod, hoisted onto their heads and then, began to twirl and dance in a mad tornado, their nimble feet nipping in and out and back again into the lace hems of their petticoats. The bride and groom stood in the gigantic doorway of the church, delightfully reviewing this spectacle in pure rapture. And when it could not be any more graphic, any more sensual, any more surreal, any more unbelievable, everything changed. In a big way. From out of nowhere appeared gigantic, enormous bride and groom caricatures who began to dance and veer awkwardly among the dancers. The crowd roared their approval and delight and at the end of another frenetic whirlwind of smiles, braids, skirts, flowers and color, color, color, called raucously for besos! besos! besos! The two nuptial giants obliged and clumsily tilted toward each in devilish pecks. It was sheer magic.

The crowed dispersed then and walked among the beautifully adorned skulls on display, much like the people do for the floats of the Rose Parade in Pasadena. They'll be a parade tonight, with these gorgeous skulls being danced up and down the streets of Oaxaca on the shoulders of the jubilant Mexicans, who do not fear death and are not afraid of the dead, or even of the living. Not even the white-skinned living!

I realize only this morning that it's is quite possible that it is I who has gone to the next world…

On Assignment
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca MEXICO

Friday, November 12, 2010

October 30, 2010
The marigolds came out today. They are holy flowers here in Mexico and the doorways, shrines, altars and all things celebration sprouted marigolds today in heaps and armfuls as the world's foremost Dias de los Muertos observance kicked off. It is such a time of joy and celebration for the people here in Oaxaca and my personal joy and sense of celebration has been rekindled just being among them. Tonight after dark I walked the streets as a bride risen from the grave, a katrina. The Mexicans loved it, blowing besos and bringing their children around. The men laughed and laughed and laughed; the women stopped to talk, telling me my mask, applied by me with MAC eyeshadow by the light of a hotel room bathroom, was well done. It was a bit awkward for us all when it came out I was American. No one knew! I waved good night saying Este noche es Mexicano….

Tomorrow night we go to the graveyard to be with the families as the children come back to visit. They come first you know, because they are little and nimble and can run fast to escape the confines of the next world much better than the adults, who will come on Monday night.

Everyone is so excited to see each other again…

On Assignment
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca MEXICO

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I left in the dark, scurrying down the streets of Oaxaca with the other faithful in search of peace and contemplation at sunrise. I passed the doorways of the banks with la revolucion graffiti tagging their broad lintels; young adults gathered in the middle of the streets around scaffolding and tables stacked up for some purpose related to the upcoming Holy Days I suppose; I wondered, as usual, as they eyed me warily, about the wisdom of setting out for a destination whose location nor path was certain. Many times I have chided myself in the darkness of mornings just like this one; but the soft, gauzy air of early morning seduces me and whispers in my ear, so sweetly, what's the worsssst that can happen? So I push on. But then, right at the very end of block 5, it all unfolds and snaps open right at my toes, exploding without warning nor omen, and opens up as high as my neck can stretch with such a jerk, that I involuntarily gasp. Santo Domingo. Just like the desk clerk said. I can hear the priest intoning the
opening prayers and I shake my head as I run up the steps: once again, about as far away from home
as you can get, I am saved by the loving arms of the Holy Roman Church. I pick up my pace and enter, bowing my head and folding my hands, so everyone will know this
white-skinned green-eyed gringo
comes in peace. Actually looking for redemption. I march
right down front, because I can, and slip into an open spot, sinking to my knees and beginning, Hail Mary, my Dear Friend, I'm here again.SaveMe.
Help Me. She comes to me then,
with rest and understanding and

the readings begin. Then, the
priest, white and Irish, speaks the words of the New Testament.
I had no idea the Irish could speak spot-on Spanish. I listen to it all, the cadence cueing me when my vocabulary fails and soon the kiss of peace fills the

air. The people around me are not afraid of me nor resentful
that I share their special moment in the day. The deacon offers me the Body of Christ, as it's done all over the world, and once again, I am calmed and humbled to know that I am loved
and that I belong. I am grateful. But sad and puzzled at the gorgeous art of
magnificent church: all white fathers. Only one native-skinned saint among the bunch, off in a corner. If Rome expected me to raise my black-eyed children in a house where we looked to the Great White Fathers for all things, I'm afraid there'd be more than just a pequeno la revolucion in my soul.

Like the Italians know everything.

On Assignment
Oaxaca City, Oaxaca MEXICO