Monday, September 29, 2014

Osadía ... Small Bites and Big

San Cristóbal de las Casas Cathedral
One of my new words … osadía … means daring and audacity. I got a chance to exercise a tiny bit of osadía today but also saw it writ large in one of the city's main landmarks.

First the small version. I went to the Museo del Jade and it was incredible … not what I expected but so much more. It wasn't particularly about jade the stone, more about the history of its ceremonial use. One of the amazing features was the recreated tomb of one of the rulers of Palenque. The restorers did everything they could to make it look like it might have 1,300 years ago. You step down into a burial chamber with its bright colors and feel like you might be really be there. We weren't actually supposed to take pictures but I took one of one wall (but not the tomb itself … even though no one is actually buried there).
From the recreated tomb from
Palenque, approx 1300 years ago

The Museum provides a binder with English descriptions of the exhibits. I found it very helpful but, as is often the case, there were a lot of spelling and grammar issues with the book that detracted from the information. So when I was finished with the exhibit, osadía struck and I asked the guy at the desk, in the most garbled Spanish imaginable, if I could help them make it better. It wasn't pretty but we finally deciphered our thoughts and I'm going to go back tomorrow to see if "el jefe" wants to give me the computer file to work with.

From the Museo del Jade

Recreation from Jade Museum

Cathedral Facade

The larger osadía was observed in the facade of the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Christopher. The highly ornate Baroque facade was finished in 1721. As I looked at the facade, I decided it was a pure act of daring and audacity … osadía. Imagine taking on a task that not only had to please the people and the Church but God herself. And, almost three hundred years later it is still breath taking … even when candy vendors are part of the picture.

Osadía … which, to me, sounds like "Oh, seize the day!" comes in big bites and small. I guess the important thing is to keep taking those bites. 

More pictures from the day ...
A bit of whimsy.
Must have been a chicken kind of day.
Street murals abound.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bitter Bread? No.

I'm staying in a rather plain neighborhood
but this is part of my view every time I walk to town.
It seems odd to be thinking about work when I am so obviously retired from such engagements. (There is a wonderful word for retired here in Mexico … jubilado … which comes from the Latin "jubilare" - to make a joyful noise.)

The rainy season is upon us here in San Cristóbal so afternoon excursions now routinely include an umbrella and plastic pancho and generally wind up with me taking refuge in a coffee shop. Today's shop was La Casa del Pan Papalotl, an organic, health food restaurant. Since part of my study process is to review menus for words I don't know, I was delighted to find a quote on the front of the menu.

Trying to decode blocks of Spanish is good exercise but is sometimes a little synapse-tangling because of word orders and verb conjugations which sometimes make you think you know what they're saying until you realize you don't know who's speaking or to whom or about what. This quote was actually fairly straight forward, however … which I'm coming to recognize means that it is a probable translation of English to Spanish likely by a native English speaker. However, I grappled through the translation … with some help from Google Translate … and discovered that the author was Kahlil Gibran. Here is the original quote (which is very close to what I came up with from the Spanish):
The women (and men) who make these
incredible textiles are obviously
working with love.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit  at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
I like how he takes the idea from the abstract concept of work to the basic idea of baking bread, for what is work, after all? We tend to think of it as what people pay us to do. We could, however, think of it as what we do that takes effort, mental or physical, to achieve a goal or purpose. That larger definition includes all the things we do that has a purpose but does not generate income … raising children, making art, pursuing a hobby, cooking a meal … or in my case right now, studying a new language.

I am doing this work with love. I truly think I'm enjoying the exploration of this beautiful language as much as I am seeing this incredible part of the world. What a gift to be in the midst of an experiential learning process that requires studying menus in new coffee shops and discovering that canela in Mexico and cinnamon in Tennesee is the same ingredient that brings magic to a hunk of dough. This is definitely jubilado and there is no bitter bread on this journey!

This sign is in several places around town ...
Mexico is definitely my museum.
Here are a couple of pictures from the textile museum ... a fabulous place to explore the work of the highland weavers and embroiderers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Signs to Live By ... and the rest of the story!

Original design for
"Señales para Vida"
One of three "signs for life"
on my street.
Update: As Paul Harvey always used to say: Here's the rest of the story.

After writing the post about the signs in my neighborhood (see below), I decided to try to find out the history behind them, even going so far as to try to find the municipal department that might be in charge of installing them. Mainly, however, I just asked people if they knew anything about them.

This where synchronicity steps in. After deciding I was not going to take Spanish classes while I'm here in San Cristóbal, I hit a rough patch in my self-study program and decided I needed guidance. So, I found Paco and took a very helpful class. I had put pictures of the signs on my iPad so I could talk to the people at the transportation department and, on a whim, I pulled it out at the end of class and asked Paco if he knew anything about the signs.

Paco says … (really!) … "Oh that's Ayax Moreno. He's my best friend and he lives right there by where you're staying." So, I'm trying to find the place on my way home but there aren't any addresses but I see two men in a yard and I ask them if they know Ayax … and, of course, one of them is Ayax.  

Ayax Moreno,
neighborhood leader
So, I just spent two hours listening to the stories of one man's community development project which he calls "Corridor Recreativo" ("Recreational Corridor"; the signs are only a small part of the project. 

Rancho San Nicolas
logo designed by
Ayax Moreno
The neighborhood (barrio) is Rancho San Nicolas and it dates back to the late 1700s. However, in current times, the neighborhood has many of the same problems that a lot of neighborhoods have … crime, drugs and alcohol, noise, and conflict. Ayax has lived here for 15 years and he wanted to build a better place to live. The signs are just one of his many projects to date, including changing the streets to prevent the reoccurring flooding, building a sidewalk and creating places for children to play and gathering spots for neighbors.

When he first started thinking about improving the neighborhood, Ayax came up with a list of problems which made him think of signs … "No" signs … no drinking … no trash … no loud noises … and so on. But, he wanted a different kind of message … not an aggressive, "preachy" one but maybe signs that would provide a positive thought and example. The signs have been installed for about two years and they haven't "cured" the problems but they do stimulate conversation and there is now a neighborhood committee thinking about other projects Ayax has in mind.

Turns out that he has six other signs in mind … all worth posting, which I will below; however, the sign that touched me most was just inside his front door:
The most important thing a father
can do for his children is to show
them his love for their mother.
The signs yet to come for Rancho San Nicolas …

Todos educamos para bien o para mal
(We educate all
for good or for bad)

El pensar es acción que genera el inicio de algo mejor
(Thinking is action that generates 
the start of something better )

La vida es bella si, así la hacemos 
(Life is beautiful
if we make it so)

La paz y la tranquilidad también es una necesidad
(Peace and quiet also
is a necessity)

El sano ambiente es responsabilidad de todos
(The healthy environment 
is everyone's responsibility)

La belleza y la alegría son cosas que podemos aportar
(Beauty and joy 
are things that can contribute) 

Posted 9/25/2014
Signs  fascinate me … whether they're vanity plates with a message or commercial ads that weave words and images into the sales pitch or murals with messages embedded in them. I've collected signs for years and now have a whole new world of signs and messages to observe.

Close to my casa, there is a series of three signposts that have enchanted me with their wisdom and placement. Each of them holds a bit of advice, front and back, but I have no idea how they came into being and why they happen to be in this place. Below each sign are six graphics-only signs.

Here's the series ... the captions below are actually shown on a horizontal sign like the one at the top of the page. However, as I was putting this together, I realized that the graphics-only images each related to one of the main messages. Hope you enjoy!

Un lugar limpio
Incluye nuestra palabras
(A clean place … 
includes our words)
La vida saludable
Es espejo de la salud interna
(The healthy life ... 
is the mirror of internal health)
El sano esparcimiento
es tranquilidad de la vecindad
(Healthy recreation … 
is tranquility of the neighborhood)

Disfrutar la naturaleza
es considerar a los demás
(To enjoy nature … 
is to consider others)
La alegre convivencia
nace del mutuo respeto
(The conviviality … 
born of mutual respect)

Tu actitud y ejemplo
nos ayuda ó nos destruye
(Your attitude and example … 
helps us or destroys us)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Los Colores!

A cape with two tasseled ties
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas was the textile work ... on bags, jackets, dresses, table cloths and more ... incredible workmanship and, oh, the colors! I knew I was going to wind up buying something but I knew absolutely nothing about the work.

Once again, the Universe seems to be playing games. The woman I'm renting from told me she had just finished a book (as the photographer) and there was a copy on the table that I could look at. She also gave me the name of a couple of friends that I should contact. I saw the book but didn't pay attention to it until this morning when I was going to contact one of the friends who was the author of the book.

By now, you probably know what's coming ... the book is about the textiles of the region and how they vary from one village to the next and how they've changed over time. I decided to take the book to coffee with me and quickly became enthralled by the stories and the beautiful work. It wasn't until the last village discussed in the book ... Zinacantán ... that I had that OMG! reaction.

The story of how the Zinacantec came to this work was almost as engaging as the work itself.  Their costumes were relatively unadorned prior to 1975. After being introduced to embroidery by a school teacher, they made amazing progress and by the 1990's, their costumes filled with dazzling flowers reflecting the flowers grown in their region.

Part of their custom is for everyone to wear new clothes for each of the two fiestas per year. That was rapidly becoming a lot of handwork for the women. Here's the part I really enjoy as it is a pure innovation story ... the solution came when some women accompanied their husbands on flower-selling trips to Merida, the capitol of the Yucatan. There they discovered sewing machines and quickly adopted the new technology while keeping their own unique sense of style.
What we see in Zinacantán, where the embroidered flowers are so large, the colors so distinctive, and the ever-changing styles repeated en masse, is an intense discussion of color, form, and tradition that is happening everywhere in Highland Chiapas. Each community is creating its own new style with more than a passing glance at their neighbors but with complete disregard for what non-Maya may think is fashionable.  -- A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas by Walter F. Morris Jr. Photos by Alfredo Martinez and Janet Schwartz
 I immediately went to the mercado and started asking vendors if they had work from Zinacantán. This was a challenge for all of us since, for a lot of the vendors, Spanish is also their second language as they speak an indigenous language. Finally however, I was pointed to a tiny woman in a closet-sized stall. I recognized the work I was looking for and touched a wrap that called to me. The woman took it off the hangar and started putting it around my shoulders ... another challenge since she could barely reach that high. I looked at a few more and then bought the one you see above.

Here are some pics from today. I'm sure there will be more about textiles and the stories of the area as the days go on.
Another fiesta and
a view of more textiles.
Bags and more bags.
I want this tablecloth ...
wait a minute ...
I don't have a table!

Maybe these are some of the flowers
that inspire the textiles.  The red one
is probably 9-10" tall!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

El Día de Abundancia Infinita

I struggled with the decision to leave Playa del Carmen. Part of me thought it was a decision I had made and I should suck it up, stick it out and find the beauty and gifts there even though I was hot, sticky and my sinuses were throwing a tantrum. A friend said, "we've sucked it up enough, get out of there!" and it was like my mom had given me permission to go out and play.

It now appears that the Universe agrees. Until a few days ago, I knew nothing of this place. A chance comment in San Miguel prompted a teaser from a friend about this place called San Cristóbal de Las Casas, in the highlands of the state of Chiapas, Mexico, close to the Guatemalan border. But, since I've arrived here … actually since I made the decision to come here ... it's like I'm in a different energy flow of people and connections. 

Before I even arrived at my destination, two angels went out of their way to come to my assistance. As a matter of fact, without the second one, I'm not sure I would have arrived at all. I was lost in the streets of San Cristóbal with a taxi driver who didn't speak English, didn't know how to find the address I gave him and neither of us had a phone. In the midst of this quandary, Blanca appeared and untangled the mess and stayed with me until I was safely inside my gate. As we were saying goodnight, I said, "Let's get together tomorrow," and she agreed.

Later I thought, hmmmm.  This is a Mexican woman I've met for about 10 minutes, what will we talk about? Whatever it was, it lasted over five hours as we roamed about the city. The more we talked, the more we realized that our backgrounds were leagues apart but our world views were uncannily close. The more I listened to her, the more I began to believe I was in the presence of a mystic … and that's not something I've ever felt before.

This is a woman who has lived most of her life off the grid without a refrigerator or oven (by choice), has home schooled her children in a country where that is not common, and who, after only two months in this town seems to know, and be loved by, everyone.  She dresses in white like many of the indigenous people of the area and as we walked through the town, her hand automatically went to her pocket for a coin for the poor or obviously needy sellers of trinkets, even though she herself is selling baked goods and clay flutes and living just up the street in a camping area with two children.

One of the places we went today was the marketplace … a seemingly endless labyrinth of fruits, vegetables, meats, clothes … stuff. There were so much there I was almost overwhelmed by the abundance of it all. It vibrated with life in a way that is completely different from the well-stocked shelves of Wal-Mart. While there were many,
I have never seen so many beautiful
colores of beans!
many things i've never seen before, there probably weren't as many actual choices. Many of the vendors were selling the same things, so it wasn't about choosing between 50 varieties of toothpaste, it was about being in a place where everything was grown, sewn or made by the person selling it. There was a human connection between the seller and the consumer that has been lost in much of our world. 

Bought some of these incredible
orange mushrooms ... not sure what
to do with them.

I didn't take many pictures today.  I was too busy gaping at the "abundancia infinitiva" … like a rube in New York for the first time trying to comprehend sky scrapers. I've committed myself to further wallowing in this abundance and trying as many of these new things as possible during my time here. Más tarde.

Lunch was a seasonal specialty:
Chiles en Nogada ... pomegranate seeds
are the seasonal touch. Bueno!

And, in case you're wondering, these
will not be some of the things I'm trying!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Several days ago I took a picture of an iconic decoration on a building. It attracted me but I didn't understand the words or the image. Google Translate later told me the words meant "the cry" but still I didn't pay much attention to it. The past two days have brought that image into focus and made me think about history and life in a different way.

The San Miguel area has been designated the cradle of the Mexican Independence from Spain, which began at 11 pm on September 15, 1810, giving people a chance to celebrate for two days … the 15th and the 16th … and celebrate they do. It's impossible to be here at this time without being reminded of the history of this place.
La Parroquia on the night
when the celebration

The action that became the war of independence started with a shout … which is a better translation of "el grito" … when a firebrand priest in the small, nearby village of Dolores Hildalgo convinced the locals to take action. 

Father Michael Hildalgo was later honored by the village which adopted his name. San Miguel also honored Ignacio Allende, another leader of independence, by adding de Allende to its name.

I spent a lot of yesterday and today in the central plaza watching parades and re-enactments, listening to music and people watching.

 At one point, someone led the crowd in a series of chants … "Arriba! Arriba Hidalgo! Arriba Allende! Arriba Mexico!" and so on.

This started a conversation about what "arriba" means. The simple answer is "up." However, searching the internet didn't reveal a good answer so why it is used as a chant is much more murky.
Many of the parade participants seemed
very serious and children were an important
part of the celebration.

 I began to wonder if the word is related to the revolution … perhaps that's what riders said to their horses as they charged … perhaps it was their way of saying "Up with Mexico!"

This re-enactment is a reminder
that much of the battle for freedom
was waged by peasants with machetes
and a few rifles.

Anyway, all of this has made me think about how many things start with a shout, words said with emotion and power, to ourselves and to others. Perhaps we need a word like "Arriba!" to energize ourselves to take action, to do the things we know want … and need … to do.  What is our shout?

Other pics from the day:

Everyone wanted their
picture taken with this
woman ... perhaps a
The very important clean up crew.
How would you like to wear these stilettos
on the cobblestone streets.  Ahh ... beauty!
Dramatic face paint
Old and new -
vendadoras on cellular

How about this bag?

Puppet figures wandering
the streets

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Callejon del Beso

There is a charming, narrow alley in Guanajuato (Gto) where the legend is that if lovers kiss on that street, they will be blessed forever. (The actual Mexican folktale is much more like Romeo and Juliet's.) Yesterday I went to Guanajuato with a young couple from Australia (Lionel and Donna) and was delighted to help them capture their love in this sweet spot.

Gto is a bustling college town … more piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks and young activities than San Miguel.  

If you sit in el jardin, you can listen to a costumed harpist 
or watch impromptu plays as well as a passing parade of young-old, rich-poor, happy-sad.

And, all around you, things are being sold … from the huge Mercado Hildalgo,

to children selling Chiclets en la calle.

At home, you can go to the mall; aqui, the mall comes to you in a movable feast of food, jewelry, flowers, clothes, art and otras cosas.

Fried bananas … I don't know how they taste but they are beautiful.

Mexico may be poor economically but it is rich in color and texture … in life. 

For some reason, this image captures my feelings about Mexico at this point … appealing, messy, mysterious, ancient … it calls to me to touch it and relax into its many contradictions. Perhaps that's the message: Mexico is like life, filled with contradictions, a tangle that will never be a straight line no matter how much you push and pull or weep and wail.

Other images from Gto:

A high point for me was touring the house where Diego Rivera lived for the first few years of his life and which has been turned into a museum.  I'm familiar with his mural work but was surprised to see the wide range of his art work. I couldn't take pictures inside the house but was delighted to find this painting of him and Frida in a nearby coffee shop.

Lionel told me that he heard that Mexico is one of the world's biggest users of bottled waters. Yay!

A city of stairs!

However, the view is worth it!

If you peek into enough alleys, doorways, restaurants, hotels and corners, you're bound to find unexpected bits of beauty.

People and their animals live on rooftops.

Contradictions in Mexico.

The culture here has great reverence for family and ancestors. One of my instructors explained to me that people living alone are pitied (pobrecitos) and considered unsuccessful … as if the reason they live alone is because they cannot afford a family. This emphasis on family includes revering the dead. We wandered into a cemetery which was a continuation of flower and life.

However, the oddest thing we saw was the Museo de las Momias (museum of the mummies). Because of the lack of oxygen in the way corpses are buried, they mummify and Gto has created a museum to display them.  There is much I do not understand about how and why but it was definitely not one of my favorite places.  One example only. For some reason she looks like someone I would have liked in life.