Tuesday, December 02, 2008

City Vs. Country

Jenny loved the Jonathan Richman song "City Vs. Country":
I want to live close to downtown to be near my friends
I want to be close to them,
And still be out by the trees and the wind

Having both will be hard to find I'm sure,

But then ain't that the way of the world,

I want the city but I want the country too.

I want to be with my friends by the fire and the starlight

But I want music, music in my life

Yes, I want a bar hopping music scene

And I want to pick from ten or fifteen

I want the city but I want the country too.
My mind is quiet, when my thoughts are slow

I stop to learn what I been wantin' to know

I need to live in the ancient world
If I'm gonna do what I want to do
I want the city but I want the country too
I'll never have both moon and sun

But one never knows, does one?

I want the city but I want the country too.

She had the same love that JoJo does for both. But I think she might have leaned more toward the country. She told me she would like to live in the roots of the trees at Redwood Regional park.

Or amongst the Anasazi cave dwellings.

Somewhere in a cave littered with petroglyphs, where she could watch the moon change.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ziggy Played Guitar

This video was a bone of contention between Jenny and I.

I was always trying to get Jenny to admit that Bauhaus' version of "Ziggy Stardust" was better than the David Bowie original.

I finally got her to admit, at least, that it was louder. And, for me, louder is better.

Jenny always preferred Bowie, The Doors, The Beatles to my Dead Kennedys and Bauhaus (not to mention the bands I'm less proud of having liked, such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard--what was I thinking?)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


One book Jenny loved was "Housekeeping", by Marilynne Robinson. We first read it when we were in a book group featuring women authors.

The book affected Jenny so deeply that she bought a copy whenever she saw it, on the premise that she might give it to someone as a gift or require an extra reference copy. This meant we had quite a few "Housekeeping"s sitting around the house.

The book might be too sad for me to read now, because it's about sisters, but I do remember one of Jenny's favorite passages that she referenced in a performance piece. The sisters, I think, are reminiscing about a beautiful pocket watch that, even as they hold it, fills them with longing for the pocket watch. Then, Robinson cites a poem by Basho:

even while in Kyoto
when I hear the cuckoo sing
I long for Kyoto

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A bloggy find

Whilst researching how to build a tiki bar (for an article, not for real life...though I should add that work soon re-commences on our rooftop palapa hut and garden area), I ran into a lovely blog:

Junkyard Clubhouse

Now I am a dedicated anti-consumerist, and rarely feel the need to identify with anything considered stylish or supposedly necessary, but when met with the raw beauty and allure of the Lego Halloween set discussed in this blog, I was tempted. How to resist a Lego coffin and a ghost in chains?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Miracle Drug

The first year we lived in Oaxaca, I was befuddled by the absence of all my favorite home and alternative remedies. I love zinc and airborne and certain vitamins that I just could not find.

The second year living here, I have developed newfound love for Oaxaca's home and alternative remedies. I take Una de Gato to fight a recurrence of cancer. I take SimiImmune (from Dr. Simi!) for everything. I love sal de uvas--grape salt--for tummy stuff. And then there's Vitacilina.

Vitacilina is one of those things I started out mocking. I was over at a friend's house and she saw the bloody gash on Max's arm from when he put his arm through the window at school. She scolded me, "Aren't you putting Vitacilina on that?" Well, I would if I knew what it was.

She ran and procured a tube of it from her medicine cabinet. It was a small green and white tube and inside, was, I could swear, just plain old Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, the gross yellow color and the haunting yuck of petroleum products bringing me back to my Nana's bathroom where she had some scrungy old jar of it on the counter, covered in the dust of time and baby powder.

Vitacilina. Well, why not? When in Mexico...

Max's arm healed up, and we had the remainder of the tube my friend, Gabi, had given to me. Geni had diaper rash, so we splooged on some of it. And then there was the bug bites Steve got on his ankle. I had itchy legs from the cold weather snap (yes, folks, it dipped below a high of 75). Steve got a little rash on his back, or sunburn. I had a scar from when I cracked my head on the tile floor.

And so we find ourselves buying more and more Vitacilina. I have grown to appreciate it almost as much as those pharmacists who have tile murals dedicated to its image plastered on the outside wall of their shops. There it is, in nine square tiles, a beaming giant tube of Vitacilina, with the pharmacy's entire exterior often painted a complementary color as if to say...this Vitacilina, this is what we are about.

I understand the seductive power of Vitacilina when I find myself reassuring Max, "Don't worry, we'll put some Vitacilina on it." Mothers everywhere in Mexico are midnight witch doctors, rubbing Vitacilina on everything from blisters to bites, reminding their children that soon, so soon, everything will be better, because Vitacilina has this mystical power to carry all their woes and worries away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cult of Popularity

I've been researching cults for an article and I was fascinated by one of the conditions that is necessary to create thought control:

Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.

This concept, to a T, was applied in my Open Court training program for Oakland public schools. It is so challenging to capture the evil of Open Court but, in essence, it was a scripted reading curriculum that was about eradicating critical thinking in favor of the "drill and kill" approach to teaching students, in which they had to repeat finite, decontextualized bits of information ad infinitum.

The truly fascinating, horrible thing about Open Court were the trainings to which I was forced to succumb. They were at the Oakland Airport Hilton and they were as scripted as the curriculum. We were not permitted to argue Open Court's merits, or lack thereof, and were essentially directed to repeat the crappy information, just as we were instructed to do for our students.

And then there was a catered lunch, and back for more horrible thought control. I always told me students, "I am presenting this information because I have to, not because I believe in it. We will get through it quickly and then move on to what really matters." But what was I really modeling there, I always wondered. That we must swallow what we are given publicly and wage our revolution privately? That we as students and teachers ultimately have no power and have to follow the ill-advised directions of our supposed superiors? That our own voices and thoughts are to be mistrusted as somehow being less?

Someday, Open Court will be revealed for what it is: a curriculum that hates the poor, hates people of color and, most of all, hates individual voice and thought, just like cult leaders do.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Don't Mind the Gap

The language barrier is one aspect of living in Oaxaca that must be overcome. But since I can handle some street Spanish and academic Spanish, I find the culture gaps more challenging and fascinating.

Yesterday, Geni's teacher at Colegio Teizcali came to me after school. "She doesn't eat her lunch."


"No. So I have made a list of the foods she likes."

This was so incredibly kind! I do really love Geni's teacher and how she looks after every little thing. I took the list and read it: "Jello. Marshmallows. Chocolate." I looked at the teacher. "Thank you so much, maestra. But don't these all have a lot of sugar?"

She nodded. "Yes. Maybe just send Jello."

Can you imagine how ecstatic my children would be to get lunches of Jello, marshmallows and chocolate?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Obama Obama

My head just keeps saying "Obama" to me over and over again. I did not think my country could pull this off.

I have to admit, I have the tendency to hang my head in shame whilst making my rounds in Oaxaca, what with my representing the land of take and take some more. While I would never say I am proud of being an American or proud of my country, since the election results, I felt some of that shame wash away from me.

A Oaxacan friend said, "This is the revolution."

Max said, "Maybe the teacher won't keep saying how bad the United States is."

Our friend, Dave, who lives in Kenya wrote, "Kenyans have named tomorrow a national holiday."

And I flashed on a moment, a decade ago, of me standing in front of my fourth grade class. I was teaching them about Malcolm X, because I wanted them to talk about him in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. They sat in front of me, African-American and Latino, and I desperately wanted to think that their vision, their voices could somehow be a part of what happens to the United States. And I wanted it to happen by any means necessary.

Never did I dare to hope that in my lifetime my country could make this kind of a turnaround. And if it can do it once, it can do it again.

Go Obama! Let's get on with it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Art House

I posted a picture of our new painting on my Mexican Pop Spot blog, but I wanted to post this one here, showing Maxito in his lucha libre mask and Superman pjs. It's just a little strange and melancholy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Walking Home

One of the great joys of my life here in Oaxaca is that I get to take Maxito and Geni to school every day and then walk home. We live on the fringe of the absolute edge of the center of town, right before it gives way to a giant grass-filled ravine. I seem to discover a new route home every time, by accident, because I have no sense of direction. I have found:

The neighborhood of Infonavit, where there are more pedestrian alleyways than roads, with names like Walkway of the Pilots and Walkway of the Teachers. Sometimes I enter the alleyway labyrinthe and find little shops and, once, an outdoor church (on Walkway of the Secretaries).

A street I like to walk on, though it's an indirect route: Virgins of the Volcano.

A little green pasture where someone, upon occasion, places a tiny fence and lets the sheep and goats go grazing, right on the street corner.

The streets filled with mototaxis, which are built up, three-wheeler motorcyle taxis that cost 5 pesos per rider, with a discount for kids. When the vocho fails us, we go moto. Most mototaxistas decorate their motos with bumper stickers and nicknames like "The Little Devil" and "The Bad One". Sort of a bastardized version of the dashboard shrines on buses.

This corner, where men gather. They always say something to me right after I pass, and I can never figure out what it is. We drove by their corner the other afternoon, and I saw why they migrate there without fail. They play dominos.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A New Hit

Every once in a while, I go to Google and do a search on "Jenny Makofsky" and "Jennifer Makofsky" to see what I get. I'm delighted to have found a new hit. Jenny is apparently cited in this wonderful-sounding book. Somehow the author got information about Jenny's extensive research on jumprope rhymes.

Jenny wanted to write a thesis or book on jumprope rhymes, counting out rhymes, and general street folklore. She deeply believed in the power and voice of folk culture. She interviewed and taped her students, my students, my mom's students, and friends' students chanting out rhymes and arguing over the variations. I think I kept Jenny's research on the subject. She would be delighted to hear the rhymes Max and Geni are learning in Mexico.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Come Together, Right Now

The vocho is fixed and, for once, the mechanic did not come back with a bottomless pit of things wrong with the car. How cool to have a mechanic we like that works on our block.

I just got another group of articles approved, so I'll be busy writing about Day of the Dead, Oaxacan chocolate, and, yes, "Desperate Housewives" this week. Should be interesting.

With the car and the writing both going well, I feel like things are just about...right. I almost hesitate to say it, for fear I'll jinx it. I'd like it if these articles paid better--good, there's a complaint! Aha, another problem: Geni has a cough, though it's getting better.

I am really thinking Obama could win this, but is that just a perspective from someone who lives out of the country and can indulge in wishful thinking without too much reality getting in the way?

We bought a great surreal painting by our friend Humberto Batista. There is a papaya and a pear and a massive Olmec head statue, against a flat blue horizon. I'll post a picture soon.

Max wants to be a pumpkin for Halloween. I keep trying to persuade him to be a devil or a skeleton, because these are the two costumes that are traditional to Mexico and its comparsa ritual, which is like a manic dance parade where everyone wears one of these two outfits. Geni will of course be the devil.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Naughtiness on Parade

Traviesa. It's a big word in Mexico, and it's a word we use here, in the house, and at school, a lot. It means mischievous, though you can also use it as a noun, I think, as in "What a scamp!"

Why do we use it so much?

Right here.
Do you see that little one in the lower right-hand corner? The one making the mad dash down the hill before she veers for the middle of the street? Meet Genevieve at three years old, just as out of control as she was at two, but now with greater speed and ability.

Yesterday, when I picked her up at preschool, the teacher apologized. "She has no socks on."

I asked, "Why?"

"She got them wet."

Right at that moment, I could tell Geni's teacher was trying to cover for Geni. The jig was up. "What did she do?"

"She and her friend Diegito snuck over to the water jug and pulled down the tap. They both got all wet."

"Oh, teacher, I'm sorry. She's so traviesa."

"No, it's good. She's learning."

I didn't have the heart to tell the teacher that Geni has already mastered the naughtiness-with-water curriculum pretty thoroughly. At home, she waits for her opportunity to run in to the shower and turn it on full blast, or to sneak into the kitchen and upend water glasses on the counter.

What's next, Geni?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Find?

Last weekend, we headed out to Tlacolula to the Sunday tianguis. It's a huge, rambling outdoor market that frames their stunning church and its courtyard. We braved many a tope bump in the road to get there and check out the offerings.

My first sight was a little boy walking his goats on a leash as if they were puppies. I can imagine the fate of those goats, and loved them dearly as they kind of bleated/sang while trotting down the street.

The market was in its early stages, which is good for many reasons. Less crowded, a relaxed pace, not getting pushed to the side, the vendors are not as pushy yet and, when you purchase, they kiss the coin and cross themselves because it's the first sale of the day. As did the indigenous woman wrapped in rebozos when I bought ten boxes of matches for ten pesos.

In a random corner, there was a woman without a stall, just a giant garbage bag. She was announcing she had shirts for 25 pesos, or $2.50. Well, all right. I stopped and had a look. They were your basic t-shirts you'd see on the endcaps at Target for $9.99 or something. I grabbed one in that ethereal light green color that I keep buying in an attempt to replicate a t-shirt I had in the early 1990s and can never seem to find again. It may be because that t-shirt was not truly light green, but rather the lightest lemon yellow with a hint of green, but I keep trying nonetheless.

And then I saw it. An indigo shirt with a yellow pattern. The pattern was wild, like some combination of an Indian or Mayan design, blended with flowers, giving this overall effect of like a bubbly paisley. I'd never seen anything like it before, and here it was for $2.50. Sure, I didn't like the little pockets or the tight little piping on the sleeves, but that pattern! I could paint it on a canvas or something. So, I snapped it up. Such a find. Upon bringing it home and taking the shirt out so to admire it, I found the origin of my mysterious pattern. The shirt was covered in the faintest outlines of Tweety Bird. I bought a shirt covered in abstracted Tweety Birds. Someday I'll post a picture of it here so you can laugh and laugh at me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Abastos with Insiders

This morning, I went with my buddies Liz, Nina, and Miguel to the Central de Abastos. This is the main city market that I've been to many times, but it was only the second time I've been there with a Oaxaquena. And that makes a huge difference. Rather than do the unending circle of the lost white girl, past the shoes then the meat, the shoes and meat (it's like in the movie "European Vacation", when Chevy Chase says, "Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament. Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament" ad infinitum), I had Liz and Miguel to lead us straight to what we needed.

You say you need pinatas. Bam! 50 pesos, man. Candies in bulk for the pinatas? In moments, Nina was hooked up. A little apron for Geni for painting? Here's the section with stall after stall of embroidered aprons ("Too expensive," clicked Liz, making that little slightly disapproving sound with her tongue) for 45 pesos.

Bananas, art tables, free soda samples, mandarinas--everything we needed, we got. But the stumper has always been plates. Liz and I had been two weeks ago, and no one sold plates, just mountains of bowls and cups. Plastic plates, there's a ton of them, but nothing in beautiful ceramic. And then we went to a friend's house and she had these great ceramic plates. Liz jumped on our friend, "Where? How much?" Our friend drew us a map of how to find the stall in Abastos and we set off. Turn left at Shalom furniture store, duck under the tarps, and, yes, there were the plates. Dark blue painted flowers on white ceramic. I was so happy. "How much?" I asked. When the lady said 55 pesos for the big ones and 25 pesos for the little ones, I steeled myself. Liz clicked her tongue. But I jumped in regardless and came home with plates. Steve asked me, "Why didn't you buy more?" but, honestly, I had to risk the wrath of Liz to buy the five I came home with!

And I did get a discount in the end, the other benefit of going to Abastos with a Oaxaquena.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Living 'Round a Rosy

When we first hit this neighborhood, way back in May, it seemed on the fringe of things. I mean, not like before when we were up in the mountains. It's funny, though, because up there, it was so remote, I got to know the few businesses very well and had my rounds: the green healthy juice lady, Julita who ran the store and comedor, the little library open in the late afternoon, the lady at the cheap barber shop, the play room and its staff at the park. When you think about it, what else do you need?

I thought I needed centro. It's what Portlanders for some reason call "close-in", meaning near downtown. So, we moved here, on the absolute fringe of centro, and I promptly felt a little lost.

Now it's four months later, and I've made some happy discoveries. There's Plastic Man, the guy who runs the cleaning products and plastic toy store around the corner. He seems to know absolutely everything, like when the trash truck isn't going to show up and when it's going to come at exactly 11am instead of 8am, and why.

There's water guy who pushes an extremely heavy cart loaded with water jugs up and down our hill, servicing the neighborhood.

There's Tortilleria Elvis, where the tortillas look nothing like Elvis, but they are hot and fresh and 80 cents a kilo.

There's the hidden little park four blocks away with a slide the perfect height for Geni to climb, and that glides to a gentle landing. I don't know why, but a good portion of slides in Mexico are built very steep, involving the child sort of crash falling on their butt as a landing. I see it over and over again and wonder why a Portland-style slide can't made here.

And then there's the jewel of my life these days: Jugos Rosy. Rosy runs a little hot comal grill where she makes mushroom tacos, squash flower empanadas, spicy chicken taquitos, and also fresh-squeezed juices. You pull up a stool and ask, "Que hay?" and then it all happens, beginning with her patting out fresh masa for hand-done tortillas. But the real surprise was that I already knew Rosy, I just didn't realize it. She is the mother of one of my students from the English school when I first arrived here. So, upon meeting her, I felt like I had a friend in my new neighborhood. And the mushroom tacos are 90 cents. That's friendship, man.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Art Crap!

I am writing an article on artist statements, and I found a great crap-o-meter tool that generates fake art statements. Here's the statement I created:

Work of Meta-Art in the Age of Symbiotic Reproduction

The vortex creates, the chaos profligates. In the trans-gender hallucination, art objects are resurrections of the musings of the vortex -- a vortex that uses the chaos as a zeitgeist to enmesh ideas, patterns, and emotions. With the devolution of the electronic environment, the vortex is superseding a point where it will be free from the chaos to consume immersions into the machinations of the delphic hallucination. Work of Meta-Art in the Age of Symbiotic Reproduction contains 10 minimal flash engines (also refered to as "soundtoys") that enable the user to make brilliant audio/visual compositions.

measuring chains, constructing realities
putting into place forms
a matrix of illusion and disillusion
a strange attracting force
so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it

Serena Makofsky's work investigates the nuances of vibrations through the use of stopframe motion and close-ups which emphasize the Symbiotic nature of digital media. Makofsky explores abstract and cutting scenery as motifs to describe the idea of hyper-real hallucination. Using surreal loops, cathode rays, and allegorical images as patterns, Makofsky creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of art...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Crazy Sexy Cool Career

Divining the depths of Craigslist for writing gigs can be a downer of an endeavor, considering that many ads suggest that the writer get paid nothing. Or close to nothing. Of course, I live in the land of low wages. Mexican minimum wage is, I believe, five dollars per day. Most people make more than that, far more than that, but the kids at the tortilleria down the street? Probably 50 pesos for a day's work. Which is about what some of these writing jobs pay--one cent per word, including all research and editing time.

I saw a funny response to one of these low-paying jobs on Craigslist:

IN RE: Horse Racing Article Writer Wanted

Reply to: gigs-836217168@craigslist.org [?]
Date: 2008-09-10, 11:08PM PDT


You are looking to hire a person with extensive knowledge of horse racing and excellent writing skills. You want to pay $0.01 per word through paypal.

This might become a long term gig.

OK ... lets me get this straight - YOU WANT TO PAY ONE CENT PER WORD.

Since I am a writer, I am terrible at math. Hang on, let me get my calculator...


Back ... OK, for a 1000 word article, you are willing to pay $10.00!

You have a deal! Here is my first article:

And the Horse You Rode In On.

Please credit my 7 cents to ... pay_me_you_cheap_bastard@yahoo.com

Please let me know when you are ready for my second article.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What She'd Be Doing Now

I always think of Jenny when I watch the "Where the Hell is Matt?" video. She would have been there, dancing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

APPO and beyond

A lot of people ask me what went on in Oaxaca two years ago and what's going on now. I'm a member of the Oaxaca Study Action group which addresses political issues and social movements in Oaxaca, in Mexico, and in the world. Another member, Scott Campbell, recently posted this excellent article that summarizes some of the issues at hand.

The APPO two years on: Where now for Oaxaca's social movement?
By Scott Campbell
September 5, 2008

This fall in Oaxaca marks a season of commemorations. Already marches for fallen APPO members Jose Jimenez Colmenares and Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes have woven their ways through the streets of the city, pausing at the spots they were murdered in 2006, holding ceremonies at the Cathedral. Twenty-four more such processions await Oaxaca in the coming months. That number will only grow as efforts are pursued to identify the, at minimum, eight bodies in hidden graves discovered recently in Oaxaca's main cemetery.

In what is a lifetime for social movements and a blink of an eye in history's ledger, a little more than two years have passed since the people of Oaxaca erupted in spontaneous but ingrained rebellion against the barbaric rule of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) and all that he embodies. Mere days after URO's storm troopers raided the city center on June 14, 2006, in an attempt to remove the encampment of striking teachers (after regrouping, the zocalo was retaken by the teachers and their supporters), the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed. At its core, the APPO was a consensus-driven, horizontal grouping rooted in the millennia-old indigenous practice of assemblies. David Venegas, APPO participant and member of the anarchist group VOCAL, recently wrote in the Oaxacan daily Noticias that "the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca is, naturally, opposed to power, since horizontalism, respect for consensus and respectful dialog are the fundamental principles of the assembly."[1] For more than five months, APPO controlled the city of Oaxaca and much of the state. Not until Vicente Fox, in one of his parting shots as president, sent in paramilitary federal police on November 25 did URO regain "control." Rather it would be more accurate to say the APPO lost physical control. Much has been written and recounted about those "days of freedom", as one friend called them, that it is unnecessary to relate them here. For a comprehensive recounting, I recommend Nancy Davies' The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, available from NarcoNews.com.

Two years later what is left now in Oaxaca? Has the APPO been reduced to a memorial mechanism to commemorate its fallen? Is it accurate, as URO keeps insisting with epileptic vigor, that, "nothing is happening" here? Or are we seeing a movement in chrysalis, reconsolidating only to reemerge just as vibrant, but even smarter, than before?

To be sure, there are conflicting messages and what will emerge is far from predetermined. A bleak picture can easily be painted. For starters, the APPO for all intents and purposes no longer exists, in terms of an assembly which meets, makes collective decisions, and takes action. However, many organizations that were part of the APPO still use that name when publicizing their actions and sending out communiques, which ironically - or tragically - frequently denounce other organizations that were APPO members and who also use the APPO label. Obviously this creates confusion at best and dejection and disillusionment at worst.

There are no clean divisions here, but the conflict can be uneasily broken down into two general camps. Those who have chosen to use the political and social clout of the APPO to engage with the current political system and try to get what they can from it and those who reject any relationship with the system that in 2006 was killing and disappearing their comrades. This has created, as Kiado Cruz, editor of OaxacaLibre.org, wrote, "a general paralysis"[2] within the social movement and in its current formulation there is no hope for forward progress. This loggerhead has led to diminishing displays of social mobilization under the banner of the APPO, and in further blows to the now agency-less entity, these disputes between the two camps often take place publicly.

One example of the mutual animosity occurred during a march on August 10th, marking the murder of Jose Jimenez Colmenares. While the procession paused where Jimenez fell, anarcho-punks spray painted the walls of the building Jimenez was shot from. A couple of the slogans included denunciations of Zenen Bravo. "Our fallen don't fit in ballot boxes. Understand that, Zenen!" screamed the walls. Bravo is now a state representative in Oaxaca, a former council member of the APPO, and an organizer with the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist group. Elected in 2007, his decision to run on the joint ticket of the PRD-PT-Convergencia ("center-left" political parties) was a major blow to the integrity of the APPO which as a general rule rejected involvement with political parties and electoral politics. Later on in the march, German Mendoza Nube, another leader of the FPR, was heckled with calls of "traitor" when he gave a speech. FPR members rushed the hecklers - who were the anarcho-punks, members of the anarchist group VOCAL, and other - and an intra-APPO street fight nearly broke out.

The next day, along with the dispute being mentioned in the media, the "official" APPO website, run by an FPR member, exaggerated the incident and denounced VOCAL. The following week a march occurred for Lorenzo San Pablo, another murdered APPO member, organized by VOCAL, and the "official" APPO website did not see fit to mention it.

While this dispute plays out in the streets and the internet, the power-hungry members of APPO continue their dance with their former oppressors, now colleagues, while those seeking to stay true to the original premise of the APPO propose to construct something new. It is this phase of consolidation, deliberation, and reconstruction that many believe hold the promise for a successful social movement.

Many initiatives have taken place in recent weeks which display this new trajectory.

* A five day citizens' forum was held in the upper-class neighborhood of Reforma in early August. It was inspired by the community's successful effort to block the construction of a Chedraui (a Wal-Mart-type business) store after the company cut down 200 trees in a park there at 4am where they hoped to build their store. The forum focused not just on what to do with the denuded site but also on "participative democracy, what kind of city we want,"[3] and the problems facing each neighborhood in the city and what actions, independent of political parties and the government, can be collectively taken to deal with those problems.

* Going on right now is a "barefoot researchers" seminar organized by VOCAL and alternative education project Universidad de la Tierra (Unitierra). This free and open project meets every two weeks for five hours over the course of several months to undertake, among other things, "a systemic reflection of the economic, social and political situation in Oaxaca, with a national and international perspective, with an emphasis on autonomous social movements; that is to say, those that struggle from the grassroots to transform society without taking power."[4]

* Most recently, the First Assembly of Community and Free/Pirate Radio Stations was held in Zaachila, Oaxaca, at the end of August. There participants created a permanent assembly for the promotion and defense of community and indigenous radio stations, one of the most important tools of the social movement and which is under constant attack by the state.[5]

In a recent interview with Noticias, Gustavo Esteva, president of the board of Unitierra and long-time academic specializing in social movements, was described as noting, "Without a doubt"...in his 50 years of observing the social situation in Oaxaca, "I've never seen such movement and effervescence from below", which should worry the government...He explained this social effervescence is "invisible to the media because there is nothing spectacular; it is not defined by marches, but the solidifying of initiatives for the generation of a new social fabric".[6]

Reflecting on this new movement, Kiado Cruz labels it "communalocracy". "It is important to reflect on our actions if our movement is really to be beyond ideologies or if we are really to be movement that has a face and a heart that we intuitively know is based in the depths of our way of thinking, feeling and acting that we inherited from our ancestors...With this intuition we can be sure that amongst ourselves we can define the constructive means of action."[7]

What results from these forums, seminars and assemblies remains to be seen. However, it is clear that though the APPO may be broken - just as much by internal splits as government repression - the will of the people to continue the struggle has not waned. The focus on face-to-face, direct, horizontal community organizing, and the rejection of interacting with or relying on political parties, government and hierarchical organizations, holds great promise. It ensures that what emerges will be a movement that is genuinely one of the people of Oaxaca. A movement whose direction, actions, and victories will belong to the people.

And as David Venegas writes, "Power, as much as it licks the superficial wounds put on its body by the insurrectionary actions of the people in 2006, and although it paints and adorns itself with words of social peace, reconciliation and development on its horrendous body, it will not be able to cure itself of the deepest wound caused by the people in 2006, the wound created at the source of its strength by the consciousness gained by our people of the unsustainable situation and of the need to fight tirelessly to obtain true justice, freedom, dignity and peace. It is this mortal wound that resides in the heart of power and from which it will never recover."[8]

Scott Campbell is an organizer from the SF Bay Area currently residing in Oaxaca. All quotations were translated from the Spanish by him. He posts observations and translations Oaxaca-related material at http://angrywhitekid.blogs.com/weblog.

1 Venegas, David. "El equilibrio del poder." Noticias - Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. 13/8/08. http://vocal.lahaine.org/articulo.php?p=179&more=1&c=1. Noticias did not publish the Op-Ed online.
2 Cruz, Kiado. "Dar vuelta a la esquina." Oaxacalibre.org. 24/8/08. http://oaxacalibre.org/oaxlibre/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2082&Itemid=29.
3 http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/oaxaca-ciudad-de-ciudadanos
4 http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia/diplomado-investigadores-descalzos
5 http://oaxacalibre.org/oaxlibre/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2096&Itemid=1
6 Matias, Pedro. ""Incompetentes juegan con fuego": Gustavo Esteva." Noticias - Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. 3/8/08. http://www.noticias-oax.com.mx/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6583&Itemid=31.
7 See Cruz, Kiado above.
8 See Venegas, David above.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Real September Finally Arrived

I try to have faith in what Steve tells me. For example, when he said freelance gigs slow down in late August and don't pick up until after Labor Day, I decided I could deal with that. But then, when the day after Labor Day came, and the day after, and I wasn't hearing from any of my regular editors nor from any news ones to whom I had pitched articles, I decided, "No, it's not the Labor Day thing. There's a problem here. The economy in the U.S. is down. At least half my clients are in the U.S., and they're not buying right now."

I went on a pitch frenzy, and sent out resumes left and right.

Suddenly, today, I got two new jobs. And then two of my regular editors contacted me. I realized Steve was right. I'm only six months into freelancing full time as opposed to doing it as a supplementary gig, so I haven't lived through the cycles of it yet. I have to remember that freelancing is like chaos theory, so if I can hit an average amount of gigs/money over the course of a month, I needn't worry. Now if I can only tell myself this is January and February, which Steve claims is another tough stretch.

Enough blogging, I have writing to do!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Breakfast Club

It started last year. My dear friend, Gaby, gathered a group of us mommies for breakfast at Marco Polo restaurant in Oaxaca's Reforma district. We met again yesterday and I just can't believe my good fortune to know these women and see how they view life in Mexico. There's Flor who is a businesswoman and into fashion; Tere who's smart and diplomatic, from Guadalajara but has to move wherever her husband gets a math professor gig; Liz who is hilarious and sharp, a revolutionary and an expert bargain-shopper at the market; and Gaby, my Oaxaquena chakra-cleanser and buddy.

We gossiped and complained and joked and interrupted each other. After awhile, my brain was snapping with all the Spanish slang and double meanings. But I think I maintained at about 80 percent comprehension. We were there for four hours and I have rarely felt so at ease with a group of people who I'd only known for a year, mostly having crossed paths at school drop-off and pick-up.

I told Steve that it's such an honor to be included in their company. That's the thing about being what they call "a foreigner"--I always feel a little bit onstage, that my words and actions represent a whole culture of a place (a place with which I have a difficult relationship, to say the least). And that what I do has to counteract years of bad politics, racism, and stereotyping on the part of the United States.

But there, at the table, it was simpler than that. We could just laugh at things and even at ourselves. I hope I'm not the only one wishing that there will be a third annual breakfast club, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oaxaca Appreciation Day

Well, we passed our first year in beautiful Oaxaca and I realized that I was spending all day on writing and editing assignments and weekends doing chores, errands, homework, and less and less time appreciating the place I chose to live.

So, I want to reflect on recent Oaxaca adventures, to remind myself not to take it all for granted. We took some friends into Octolan to visit the market and it was sublime. An old lady had her honey in old coffee jars, and we bought a jar that had a couple bees floating in it. The most delicious honey ever, which could be maybe not the best discovery, actually.

We took the guests over to Calle Mina and hit the chocolate factories. I know everyone loves Mayordomo, as do I, and that the Chowhound foodies go on about booth...83?...at the Juarez Market, but I'm all about La Soledad. Sentimental, maybe, as it was the first spot I hit in Oaxaca when I arrived 11 years ago (well, the first spot after the second class bus station which, really, is not worth getting sentimental about). But I like that it's named for Oaxaca's patron saint, the Virgen of Soledad, or Solitude, which was an art piece I did years ago that Jenny's put on her CD release of her one-woman show. I also enjoy their free samples and it seems to me that, whenever I go, the men in the party appreciate that there is a little mezcal-tasting area.

We went to the Mercado de Artesanias recently, which always involves the requisite 20 minutes of getting lost and the asking of directions to at least three people. On the way, I found bootleg Hello Kitty pjs, sorta ugly cute, for two bucks. Genevieve was delighted, immediately pulling the shirt on over her legs.

I was out in the campo today, chaperoning a field trip, and the hills were startlingly green, even the rocky outcroppings by Yagul that always look like faces carved into a lunar landscape. But there I was, on a field trip, with naughty Yeni to reign in, junk food to buy for Max, and the inevitable dishes, sweeping, and all when I got home. Somewhere in the daily life drudgery hides those freaky rocky cliffs or, at least, the taste of chocolate, the kind with chilis or cinammon ground in, no milk--it's an edgy kind of sweet, which suits me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Flutter Away

The worries fluttered away when Yeni woke up healthy and cheerful and went to school without wailing. The moment we entered her classroom, I knew things would be cool because Yeni ran over and started rearranging chairs. She always moves furniture when she's happy.

It makes me think about what I do when I'm happy, here in Oaxaca. I sometimes find myself singing in public. I may buy a shirt, or an agua fresca. But I think what I tend to do most is joyfully stare out the windows. Maybe create a little windowsill scenario integrating toys, art, and good luck charms, like a mini-art installation or altar.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Counting out worries

I like to think I'm carefree, but I think it's time to sort out my worries.

Today: The first day of school worries about friends, teachers, homework. It's over. We made it through the first day! Max made new friends. Geni shrieked as though the world was ending.

Tonight: Yeni took a tumble off the couch. Not even a cookie could stop the tears. Now we check on her every hour to make sure she's breathing while she sleeps. Weird flames and smoke are rising down the block. Steve researched it: two little old ladies delighted with themselves for doing a controlled burn on their yard.

Soon: Can I get this wretched cast off? Will my latest writing gig pan out? Am I just blindly stumbling through this life?

September: I'm supposed to get my mammogram. Damn.

One worry I had last year was based on what other expat families told me: nobody visits you after the first year abroad. I'm happy to say the second year started with visitors in July. We get Leslie and Garth this weekend. Then we have two rounds in October, one late Nov-Dec., Mikey and Marcia in Jan., and two more rounds Feb-March. This is great news for us, and particularly for the kids who always want fresh victims.

Maybe I can send my worries up to the sky, adrift with those sparks those ladies are cackling over. Maybe I can decide that, left to their own devices, many of those worries resolve themselves.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Butterflies for Lunch

I was trying to insert sparkly clips in my hair, using my left hand, and a wave of nervousness washed over me. For what? School starts tomorrow! I can't believe it could affect me so, but here it is, Max going to 2nd grade and Yeni on her first year of preescolar. The Kung Fu Panda and Sponge Bob backpacks are straining under the weight of too many notebooks. The Taz and Flintstones lunch boxes hold yogurt and pasta and carrots.

Yesterday we had the good fortune to meet Nina and Miguel, Inoa and Caio, and Max was thrilled to hear Inoa would be in his class. A friend! He says he's ready for school, hardly nervous.

And me, a little bit of a wreck. Because what I can't prepare for is that moment when they see their new teachers. Please let the teachers be kind!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Good times

A couple of great days amid a rather sleep-deprived summer. Yesterday, I got the stitches out of my head. It took two seconds and cost two bucks. Max and I walked to the children's library where he stacked up 20 books in Spanish and read through them all. I felt a little useless, my favorite feeling to have around children. Autonomy!

Max got a chemistry set and Steve was very funny, getting very controlling about it. So I took over and everyone was happier. Max loves holding test tubes over candle flames, watching the substances bubble. Then we played a round of the Mad Magazine game. We'd lost the dice, so we had to hold out fingers on the count of three, add it up, and make our moves. Yeni decided to use her potty, singing "yayayayay" after each visit.

We hit Dr. Manuelita's office for a little pendulum-swinging to determine Yeni's bedtime rebellion. The diagnosis was that something frightened her. We got some natural remedy and Yeni went to bed in 5 minutes. Coincidence?

Today was more experiments, more potty, and a visit to pay the water bill. Mexico's largely a cash economy, so you don't send checks to pay bills. You go to the office and pay. So we braved downtown traffic and double-parked in front of the water bill office to pay our $2.60 bill. And it was right next to a great sock store, so Max y Yeni loaded up on cartoony sox, 12 for $6 on sale.

Still typing with one hand, but getting around better. August is slow for writing jobs so I've decided it's a good month for a writer to break her arm.

Friday: Ocotlan with Leslie, my old Worldview partner-in-crime!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

One-handed Typing

You know, I've always hated that rule about no running in the house. I always said that if you can't run around and yell in the house, what are you doing?

So there I was playing tag (in flip flops) with Max, yes, in the house, and I slid and fell from the house down a step into our tile courtyard. I'm so not the type to break a bone--hate skiing, not into steep places--but here I am, typing with one hand. Fracture on the elbow. And, for good measure, some stitches in my head and a big black eye.

Still, I wonder: can't we jog in the house?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Guelaguetza Popular

Hombro a hombro
Codo a codo
La APPO, La APPO, La APPO somos todo

Oaxaca celebrates indigenous dance every year with Guelaguetza, a folkloric dance event in an outdoor amphitheater. The event has packed the town with tourists who fill the sidewalks and the Alcala tourist corridor.

But I didn't see the tourists in the zocalo last night. Instead, it was Mexicanos out to celebrate the Guelaguetza Popular, a "People's Guelaguetza" intended to both celebrate Oaxaca's diverse regions and also to get the message out that these people of Oaxaca are oppressed by its government.

The Calenda processional went on for blocks, and the zocalo was the most packed I had ever seen it. Everyone was shouting political chants for APPO, the controversial coalition of unions that held high-profile strikes and protests in 2006. Loosely known as "the teachers", APPO also has groups representing farmers, students, and indigenous groups. Other sites would provide more detailed information, while mine here will be more experiential.

And my experience was: powerful. Here was a deeply political gathering, fueled by injustice after injustice (including some political prisoners who still have not been released by a government who has been on Amnesty International's shit list since the uprising), but the mood was also festive and vivid.

There was a contingent of people in elaborate devil masks, with levers for opening and shutting their eyes. There was a group of black-clad punky boys pogo-ing as they circumnavigated the zocalo. There were women in elaborate feather headdresses and men clad in white with ponchos holding ceramic jugs. Giant puppets were held aloft on people's shoulders, and one group of men took turns being a "bull", dodging through the crowd while carrying an elaborate wooden frame will a bull's skin stretched across it. There were old women and well-dressed young men, teenagers and small children, all chanting for their rights.

It proved to me something I had suspected. Since I arrived, I had heard from one bourgeois source after another that APPO is corrupt, that the people don't support APPO, that the APPO often ships people in from other regions and pays them to strike. Last night proved them wrong. This was no staged assembly, the people were clearly Oaxaqueno, though many not from the city, and their hearts were on the line. They raised fists and shouted with passion. As a person raised on protests, I know a remarkable demonstration when I see one. Here is was, the revolutionary spirit, expressed through dancing in the streets. Muy mexicano.

La APPO vive
La lucha sigue

La APPO vive, vive
La lucha sigue, sigue

Viva La APPO!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Sleep 'Til...

Brooklyn? I'm not sure. Just no sleep. The kids have stopped sleeping. Or they take turns sleeping in little bits, harassing us in between. Max has phobias and Genevieve just prefers to yell and play all...night...long. How can she function? She slept 10pm to 4am the other night, getting up twice during that stretch to scream and mess around.

How can we function?

Tomorrow, it's to the pediatrician and the flores de bach lady to see if something is wrong and if something can be done.

Somehow, we are muddling along through this hysteria. Steve and I spot each other for naps during the day (the kids don't typically nap), because Maxito and Yeni are on school break until August 18th. August 18th can't come fast enough.

On the bright side, our dear friends Do and Erik came with their son Lake and we had dinner together last night. They spoke of living together in a dark room for 2 weeks as a kind of meditation or ritual practice. Do spoke of her home (Italy) and how different it is from Erik's home (Norway). And now they are moving to Berlin, because it's full of artists and cheap rent. They say on Sundays, the bars open and serve brunch outside and everybody comes for a huge community meal along the avenues.

Off to usher the children off to pretend sleep. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


We just returned from a whirlwind East Coast vacay. It began with Cape Cod, to see the in-laws. I've never been much of a Cape Cod kind of person, even though I desperately love beaches. I've gotten spoiled, I think, by the Mexican beach model of palapas for shade and grilled mariscos lunches while watching the kids play in the sand. But we hit Sandy Neck and Peter's Pond and managed to find our groove with the Atlantic side of the world.

Then we popped up to Maine to a place called Squirrel Island which was a very different experience. It's a summer colony, meaning, I guess, that the weather is a little too desperately cold for unheated beach cottages once October hits. Steve's sister Mary invited us to stay in their 5-bedroom cottage rental. I'd never been to a place like this. No cars or bicycles are allowed and there are no restaurants or shops. You bring everything over by ferry and, basically, only the residents (or renters) are there. This is a pretty cool setup when traveling with two young children. They loved running all over the grassy fields and through the forest of fairy houses (built from shells, sea glass, rocks, and strange little objects). The sea glass beach brought out the obsessive collector in me. Maxito and I spent a couple hours poring over the glittering jewels, which are also known as Mermaids' Tears. Other beaches have rocks for climbing, tide pools, or some decent wading. The library is in a gorgeous building with window seats. There are strange little art books and even some multicultural children's books. The house where we stayed had a wrap-around porch and a big hammock and I noticed (as did Mary) that, as time went on, outdoor life became the default and indoors was where you went to fetch something before returning outside. This was a great experience.

We managed to sneak into Boston to the Fogg Art Museum and Indian food (hooray!). We also hit New Hampshire (new territory for me) and then, my favorite, Chicago! What a blast buzzing around the inner city after all the languid beach days. The Art Institute is incredible, and borders Millenium Park, home to a sprayground that is now Yeni and Max's fave spot in the city.

Now I'm back in Oaxaca which, after all these far-flung places, is home, more than ever. But I'm also left with a longing, I must admit, to still be looking at the sea glass in the sun, with nothing more pressing than a date to make s'mores at the fireplace that evening.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Take a sad song, and make it better

Today is my sister Jenny's birthday. I recently read a letter from her. She was at the steps of Sacre Coeur, listening to Beatles songs and singing along. She said it was so beautiful, she and her friends had to jump up and down. They had so much fun that they missed their train and spent the night in Clara's flat in Paris!

Today, I'll look for something beautiful, and I'll sing a Beatles song to Maxito and Yeni.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Fast Forward

The house is ready! It is the blue one:

Sometimes it seems like too much happens at once, and life goes by faster than I can write about it. This distresses me, because it means I'm losing the details. But things will settle soon, because we are about to move to our house!

It's finally finished. And buying it was honestly not that difficult, in terms of bureaucracy. I thought we'd taken on a bit too much by working with a realtor who only speaks Spanish, but I quickly learned the key vocabulary words for things like "down payment" and "house title". Our realtor, Luz, marched us into Scotia bank and opened an account for us, a feat I'd heard was near impossible for expatriates on tourist visas.
We are now learning about buying furniture and trying to get water service and waiting for deliveries that arrive when they arrive. But the house! Here is the inner courtyard:
Here is the hallway, someday to be filled with art, when we learn how to hang things on concrete: Here is the yellow living room, empty save for a piece of furniture we bought off the street. Our Oaxaqueno friends warned us not to buy the furniture that's carted around on dollies in neighborhoods all over the city. The wood is young and not dry, and thus shrinks and changes. But the furniture itself is lovely and quirky and the kind of piece that would cost so much in the United States. And we bought it a block from the house, in the middle of the street!

Someday, the rooftop garden-to-be:

I think I can even handle haggling the moving price with the guys that drive the "Transportes de Carga Ligera" trucks all over town.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Workers of the World Unite

I like May Day and the month of May a lot. It starts with Worker's Day or Mayday, depending upon if you prefer the revolutionary or the pagan route. Both versions appeal to me.

One of the big bits of news in my star chart group last year (sweet memories of Portland) was that my north node is in Taurus, which makes sense. I seek stability and security, especially since my south node is in Scorpio, an indication, as my wonderful astrologer Emily pointed out, "That, in past lives, you were burning down villages and walking away." I can see that tendency in my more recent past, that leaving in a hurry. Fear must not be my ruler. Though, who knows, it could have been the revolutionary in me doing the burning.

But what I really want to write about is baby Jenny who is heady with her power. Today I sang out the cheerful suggestion, "Let's have a family picnic!" (Those who are familiar with my teacher persona know I can have this Julie-Andrews-as-Mary-Poppins tone).

Genevieve responded by upending the trash can and sending garbage down the stairs. Then, she spit on the floor. So what does that make her, the pagan or the revolutionary?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buckets of Water

I can't believe I left the cliffhanger just sitting there like that. We're almost all healthy now, and the party seems like so long ago. Over 30 people showed up--all of the no-shows were expatriates, and all of the early birds who stayed the longest were the Oaxaquenos--and my lasting memory of the event was watching one of our guests hauling a bucket of water up to the toilet so she could flush it. Ah, well. Steve's enmoladas went over well, or everyone was polite about it, who knows which?

The Monday after the party, the strangest thing happened. I was picking up Maxito and Geni at school, and talking to another expatriate mom. She said, "My sister's in town" and I looked over and saw the sister, and jealousy washed over me. It has stayed with me now for almost two weeks. The sister was holding her niece like she was her own child and I knew that's what Jenny would do with Max and Geni. It makes me grind my teeth when I imagine it.

I've been distracted, too, because I got a writing assignment to write about all various and sundry topics that were favorite obsessions of the "Have You Seen the Dog Lately?" of old. It's been good to be immersed in projects about Mexican wrestling, ex-voto painting, fringe theater, movie musicals, and artist trading cards. It's clear I've been typecast as their "alternative culture" writer, because they only pick up my more eccentric pitches.

Jenny, I love you!

Friday, April 11, 2008


Is that what you want? A cliffhanger? All right.

On Tuesday, Steve informed me that he wanted to invite people over for comida on Friday. I panicked, due to social anxiety issues. Having always had party trouble in the United States, I surely didn't want to attempt anything here, at least not until I had the guise of Max's birthday party to hide behind. So Steve went on to invite upwards of 40 people and started making enchiladas in various mole sauces like mad.

As our freezer filled, Genevieve starting acting up. She screamed from 2 to 4am a couple nights in a row, all while our "bomba", water pump, commenced grinding and hissing in the backyard.

Genevieve was sick, so we dashed her off to the homeopath yesterday. And now I'm sick, though I suspect it's hay fever. And Steve's sick.

In the mean time, I was desperately calling our landlord to get someone to shut off the water pump. The horrible grinding was bothering the neighbors, too. And then, last night, it burned its fuse, taking the electricity with it.

Our electricity is back, but the bomba is broken, meaning we have no water. No showers, and, more critically, no flushing toilets, and our 40 guests arrive in 2 hours. We are now hauling buckets from Miscelanea Evis, the store next to us (gracias to the kind, ever resourceful Julita) to fill our toilets. We will spend our afternoon dinner party filling toilet tanks.

Will the guests consider us "crazy gringos" and never speak with us again? Will the bomba repair guy show up mid-party like he promised and add to the fun? Will I be able to feign the energy to get through a party I didn't want in the first place, now that I'm down a couple nights of sleep? Will Genevieve decide the party is the perfect setting to do her new Display My Big Tummy show? Or her oldie-but-a-goodie Dig For BoogerNuggets show?

If you never hear the answers to these questions, you will know that this party destroyed me.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Hilair wrote to me that it's easy keeping up with me, because I'm so bloggy. That made me happy. I have been blogging more because I recently picked up an old travel journal and read through it, and was stunned with all I had forgotten.

I hope blogging can help me hold onto some of the details that time tries to erase. But perhaps it's not enough like a travel journal, not filled with the same little strange details and sketches in the margins. It's very tiring to think that I might have to keep a handwritten journal as well.

Even though I purposely keep this blog theme-free and try to stay as stream-of-consciousness as possible, don't I still sense that I'm writing for an audience? Can anybody really share their private ruminations with the online world?

But I guess nothing matters other than some words get written. These days I'm thinking about solar panels, Genevieve's boingy curls, growing a vegetable garden, how I miss the beach, Japoneses (delicious coated peanuts spiked with a tiny bit of spice), and, of course, money.

Another bit of blog happiness: Pickel of "My Two Boys" has hosted my blog on the Carnival of Family Life: http://adopttwoboys.blogspot.com/2008/04/april-2008-carnival-of-family-life.html

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mi "Casa"

Yes, here it is. Lovely Carrie McNinch sent us a photograph she took of our house. It takes a lot of imagination to think this will be done in a month. I promise glossy beautiful photos soon!

The house is cool, plain, and modern, so basically a blank slate. We will of course cram our tons of artwork and altars in there, but what next? Not owning anything means I have to buy (cheap) things quickly, and it would be nice if they had some sort of style, I guess.

So I looked at online decorating sites. This was just a terrible thing. Never in my life have I owned matching items. It seems silly to coordinate your bedspread with your drapes! I've always benefitted from the hand-me-down, junk pile, random acquisition, gift method of decorating, so this is new territory.

Then I vaguely remembered a doctor's waiting room in Portland. I had read an issue of Domino magazine there, and I recalled it as less matchy-matchy. Perhaps I'd get some ideas. This house was interesting. No fancy curtains or chic little tables, and lots of brightness and patterns. But still, it seemed too clean and planned. What was I looking for?

I stumbled around and found a blog called decor8. She's very gung ho about a style she promotes as Boho Modern. This is an improvement--lots of crap stacked on things, paintings up against the wall. It is a little more realistic. And the emphasis is on mixing things up, not putting it all together. Some of her commenters, however, did not find it so charming, and called it Crack House Chic. Is this what we've come to? I guess you could go for the cleaned-up version, called neo-Shabby Chic (look how much I'm learning!), but that looks expensive and uncomfortable to me.

As time wears on, I see what I'm a sucker for. The words "flea market", "swap meet", and, the biggie, "junk". But some of this flea market decorating seems to take beautiful old things and attempt to make it into generic new things. I'm not trying to make my crummy old stuff look like Pottery Barn. So not an improvement, in my book.

So, I'll keep searching. Some possibilities: cottage style? beach house style? rustic? eclectic (shudder...but it's probably what I'd be labeled)? retro? Or I'll give up and just let the crap fill up all the corners and make up a name for it. Broken Toy Bohemian. Pile of Papers Nouveau. Mouse Cage on Television Totem. Socks.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Karma Chameleon

I just finished watching Ray Reyes of Menudo fame covering Boy George's "Karma Chameleon", and I have to say, go man! What a supreme cutie.

And those lyrics hit home: "Every day is like survival..." I've been up nights obsessing over house/money, money/house and then stopping myself because who cares?

Today set my teeth on edge. I called Bank of America to initiate the international wire transfer. I knew about the $35 fee, but it was too good to be true that it would end there. They quoted me an exchange rate that had me paying them another $1500 commission. Just to get my money. I banned Steve from even discussing this dismal development, because it compelled me to eat an entire tube of Chokis, the delicious chocolate chocolate chip cookies we scored last weekend.

I do love Chokis.

I am a split personality on this money thing. I am quite possibly the most careful, nitpicky person in the world about finances and spending. But the other side of me says that, at some point, you have to let go, or else you're making money your ruler. My dad the commie has always said that his childhood dream was to be like Scrooge McDuck in the old cartoons, sitting amongst stacks of gold coins. I sympathize.

Then I received a fortuitous email this afternoon. I just landed an excellent six-month writing contract. And the editor picked up every one of my 12 pitches (I had been worried I'd gone a little pitch-happy, but thankfully no). So maybe the Karma Chameleon smiles at me now, saying that what Bank of America steals from me I can compensate for. Still...that bloody bank!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scary but True

We bought a house. I've done this now three times, this buying/selling a house, but this time it's in Mexico and what in the world do I know about buying a house in Mexico?

It's extremely excruciating to try to understand real estate, legal, business vocabulary. Sometimes they use a word over and over again, and I have no idea, and then I ask a factual question about the thing they had just gone on about for many paragraphs.

I have to ask it again: What do I know about buying a house in Mexico? Right now, a few things. There is no multiple listing service. You find an agent, they sell only the houses they represent. There is no way to see the properties from driving around. Everything is behind giant concrete walls and gates. There are very few websites dedicated to real estate in Oaxaca. I have found the few that are, and the prices seem directed toward gringos. The newspaper has very few ads, mostly just listings by agents. Most people sell their houses themselves and sometimes would rather hang on for years than bargain the littlest bit.

But, still, we bought a house. It's new and very urban, packed between a couple other houses and no yard, though there is an inner courtyard, a real favorite house feature of mine. And so we're developing the roof into a rooftop garden. The builder is putting in stairs from the terrace and bars around the roof's periphery to stop wayward kids. I've sketched out a little palapa-type hut with a tin roof supported by posts upon which we can hang a hammock, and a spot for yoga. I've plotted, with my pen, container gardens, hopefully some vegetables. I've planned an outdoor shrine, and an area for bamboo to grow and give us privacy. Steve, in an astonishing turn at conventionality, has insisted upon an umbrella table.

Did I mention that this house is still being built? And that we don't know how we are going to get our ever-weakening dollars transferred over here without paying a ginormous fee? And that I met with the notary today, which is Mexico's version of a real estate lawywer, a supposed disinterested, objective party, and still don't understand the documents she drew up? Add to this that we own nothing, absolutely nothing, having sold off all our assets up north, so we will actually need to buy a house of stuff, the kind of stuff I haven't thought about since college, like mirrors and frames and silverware. Suddenly, I must acquire things, and kind of rapidly.

We're going to live on Calle Sauces, in the Reforma district, across from Tortilleria Elvis. But I know what you're really wondering--will we still have the free guest space? Yes! There is a separate guest quarters, with full bath, on the back patio. Someday, when the dust settles and I am able to sleep again, I will paint the guest room a beautiful blue, perhaps to trick our visitors into believeing that we live near the coast.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Genevieve

My dear Genevieve Rosa has been going to school at Colegio Teizcali for about a month. She's in maternal, the room with the toddlers and post-toddlers, whatever they are called. Pre-preschoolers?

She cries big fat tears at drop off and pick up, yet spends her days dancing and singing. The teachers, Liliana and Olgita, are so loving toward her, but rather strict with me, always kicking me out of the classroom.

And then there's the classroom. It was jarring at first, its relative emptiness. There are no tables with manipulatives or playdough or anything, really. There are art supplies, a bookshelf with about 10 books, about 20 broken-down toys, and that's it.

I was surprised because this is a private school and part of our tuition bill is for school supplies. It seemed kind of stark. But then I talked to some moms, including some expatriate moms. One of them, Liz, told me something very significant: "We're used to so much stuff. They don't really need it."

She was right. I watched Genevieve and the others. They dance together and hold hands. They get sponges and wipe down the courtyard. They walk around the classroom babbling, and follow the teachers to visit other classes and watch the older kids at work. The children are content. They don't seem to miss the toys and actually play with each other. Perhaps this is the kind of experience that makes Mexicans a more communal culture than the United States. A world away from the cult of the individual.

And the most joyful sign of Genevieve's adjustment to school is that, when we come to collect her, she is covered in paint and food and sparkles.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Home in Oaxaca

The true beauty of having a near-constant influx of houseguests is that they make you appreciate different aspects of your home and your city.

Peri dolled up our courtyard for Steve's birthday. She picked some bugambilia growing at the side of the road, added cake, saint candles, teacups, and a skull, and transformed our patio.

Likewise, our current guests have us visiting remote villages, hitting town for guitar shopping, reserving the Monte Alban ruins at nighttime for an equinox party, taking in indigenous dance at an ethnobotanical garden, dining on biodiverse local corn creations at Itanoni, checking out indigenous herbal steam baths (called temazcal) with a neighborhood healer, and sampling mole at the chocolate factories. It's a far cry from our more daily life existence of cooking, cleaning, working, and homework, and it reminds me of why we moved to Oaxaca. All the possibilities.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everyone Loves a Carnival

My entries have been published in two blog carnivals. My "Paper Flowers" write-up is in the Carnival of the Cities and my "Market Day" piece is in Mom's Blogging Carnival. Hooray!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

White Knuckles in Oaxaca

I like to obsess about money. Before we moved here, I made all sorts of charts and plans about how we could manage to get by in Oaxaca, on less income, but less expenses as well. Part of the equation involved us living off our interest without touching our principal.

Well, thank goodness that wasn't the entire equation. The U.S. economy is in the toilet, and our interest--which was supposed to generate us about $1800 per month on which to live--has dwindled to $1100 per month, and probably heading down fast.

The Fed meets Tuesday, and I can only imagine what might happen after that. The crumbling economy is a scary thing to ponder.

But this experience is teaching me to be more like Steve. He's had his own businesses for his whole adult life, and has learned to count on the ebb and flow of freelance dollars. I never understood it before, how you could depend on the unfathomable and unpredictable (it sounded like chaos theory), but now I see that what seemed like the most predictable thing--savings with interest--is far less steady than getting an influx of creative gigs. So, I got two more freelance writing gigs this week. I never saw this coming, becoming a freelance writer and, more significantly, depending upon being a freelance writer. It's a little like riding a roller coaster, fun and scary at the same time.

I must say that suddenly it also seems imperative that we buy a house here, to get rid of some of our increasingly worthless dollars and have a fixed asset. When will this craziness end? Or, when will I stop caring so much about it?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Market Day

In Oaxaca, every day is market day, you just have to go to the right neighborhood. Mercado de Abastos hops on Friday and Saturday, the same days for El Pochote. In my hick neighborhood of San Felipe del Agua, there's a small mercado in front of the church on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And, unfortunately, every day is a potential Gigante day. It is the bane of my existence that we find ourselves shopping at a big boring supermarket at least once a week, rather than going to the cheaper and better little markets. How else to score diapers, milk, yogurt smoothies, school clothes, whatnot in one fell swoop? I keep promising myself that, once the kids are older, we will shift to the market model.

This morning, I sensed the potential of Gigante approaching. So I begged Steve to walk with me to the neighborhood fruit and veggie guy before we headed home. I knew I couldn't walk all the heavy purchases up the side of the mountain without him.

He's on Calle Jacarandas, right after our favorite pizza place, Mambo Italiano. He sings all day and calls all the women, "Mi Reina", My Queen. Whenever I ask him what a particular exotic item might be, he tells me, "marijuana". It's funny for everyone in the shop every single time.

This morning, I was determined to get us enough produce to quell the Gigante demon. We tore the place up, scoring eight pears, 25 long-stemmed strawberries, a pineapple that smelled like sugar, five tiny beautiful zuchinnis, two onions, a bunch of bananas, two mangos, some unidentifiable wild-looking greens (perhaps...marijuana? I didn't dare ask.), lots of tomatoes, a chico zapote (untranslatable, as far as I know), a grapefruit the size of a small planet, and a bright bunch of squash flowers, perfect for soup. When the guy said 80 pesos (about $7.50) for the lot of it, I felt like singing with him. Then I got home and realized we're out of diapers...and toothpaste...and sunscreen. The spectre returns.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gifted, Shmifted

I've always disliked the notion of labeling children as gifted. As a teacher, I find children excel in their individual areas, and that the ones that people like to call "gifted" just happen to excel in a certain approved of area.

That said, I am pleased to announce that Max is gifted. His area of genius is in his propensity for telling jokes. On the way home from school, he caught sight of a couple of big dummo SUVS wrangling at the intersection. He said, in a perfect Bronx Bugs Bunny accent, "Where'd those guys get their licenses--clown school?"

Well, I just couldn't have been prouder. And it was hardly diminished by the fact that Max later disclosed to me that he was merely quoting Shaggy from a "Scooby Doo" episode. After all, it's all in the timing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sorrows of the King

One of my favorite moments at the Pompidou Art Center in Paris is catching sight of Matisse's collage of paper cutouts.

Jenny and I learned a good museum trick from our Aunt Judy. Go at the moment of the museum's opening and race up the stairs to the top gallery, working your way backward chronologically. This way, you get some time alone with the sorrowful king.

I must reveal that Jenny was terrible in museums. She was compelled to rush from one room to the next, always wondering what was to come. And continually consulting the guidebook for relevant quips about what we were viewing. I'd implore her to just look at the art, and she said she'd be able to relax after racing through the whole collection. Then, she could return to her favorites. She was this way with books, too, often reading the ending first, so that the suspense wouldn't override her enjoyment of the earlier part of the story.

When we saw a beautiful Miro at the MOMA in New York, she lamented to me that, as soon as she left the museum, she'd begin to forget the painting. Was she doomed to return to her favorite paintings for a lifetime, to fight the forgetting? I told her to focus on one detail, sketch it in her mind, and that could hold the impact of the painting for her. It worked. And me? I've completely forgotten the painting. Perhaps some red? A fish shape? Come to think of it, we might have been at the Met.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Persuasive Art of Rainstorms

is that they convince you that they cleanse you
of your past, the pains inflicted or received.
If I were to invite a rainstorm to a hand of cards
I'd find it difficult to bluff.
They know too much, and they take too much.

I prefer streetlights.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

To Jenny, My Sister

Jenny Makofsky

Tommorrow it's four years, and I've been taking lots of long walks so that I can have the opportunity to talk to you. I tell you how I miss you, I thank you for visiting me in my dreams (just this week there was one, and I can't remember it a bit, just that we were laughing and talking and it was easy. There were no questions about what had happened or how you had managed to find your way back into my life, everything was so free.)

February is my weakest month, where I really get to self-pitying, and I know you'd not want me going down that road. But maybe you'd let me do it a little anyway? Like what really burns me up is that it was only a month before you died that I was walking in the East Oakland hills and thinking about you and Steve and Max and I caught my breath because I realized how lucky I was. And I quickly crossed all my fingers to protect us from the Evil Eye or whatever it might be that is vengeful when you are joyful and everything's too perfect.

But there are things to be glad for. You went to Barcelona, Jenny, and stood on the roof of some Gaudi architecture. You drew a Beatniks comic strip. You wrote a one-woman show and knocked out the audience at the Climate Theater in San Francisco (not to mention 21 Grand in Oakland and The Works in San Jose). You helped raise little Max and make him a lover of stories. You sang "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" at Grandpa Abe's funeral, when I couldn't even speak. You drank tea with Steve on the afternoon you died, and laughed with delight over the gay marriages in San Francisco. You wore gorgeous glittery hair clips and big black boots. So many people loved you and were lucky to know you.

When Grandpa died, you told me that the responsibility was on us to carry on his political work and recreate his energy for social justice. And then you left, too. What happens to all your stories and everything you helped to make so poetic and glowing?

I just wrote in your guestbook about tomorrow. Tomorrow we're going to Hierve el Agua, the petrified waterfalls outside of Oaxaca, where you ate too many tamales 10 years ago. I still have the picture of you and Steve and I that Abby took. We're laid flat along a crevice in the rocks where, deep underneath, water was flowing. That's how I try to think of you, somewhere beyond the surface of this shallow world, moving, changing, maybe singing, and if my mind could just make that leap in understanding the potential of the physical universe, I'd be there, too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bringing Down the Evil Louis Vuitton Empire

My story, "My Life is a Charade", about Jenny and I getting accidentally caught up in a Louis Vuitton handbag reselling ring in Paris, won story of the month at Expat Women! You can see the site and my story here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Great Wide Open

I think "The Great Wide Open" is actually a song by Tom Petty but, these days, it's the soundtrack of my life. With Genevieve at school (sort of) in the mornings and no teaching hours, I decided to make a go of finding and applying for some freelance writing gigs.

Well, in the past week, I've secured two new ongoing jobs as well as a great assignment from an old faithful source. So it happens that, all of a sudden, I enter a new phase of my life. I should say "I back into a new phase of my life" because, since Jenny died, everything feels kind of accidental, like I'm responding to things rather than initiating things.

It's coming up on the four-year anniversary of the accident. My dad's visiting from Beijing, which is nice because he has a way of bringing Jenny back to me, the way he's a fuzzy-visioned, argumentative genius. His multiple backpacks are just jammed full of stuff and there are papers everywhere--it's so like living with Jenny.

Last week, we went to see "Across the Universe" and Dad and I sat in the theater singing Beatles songs. I thought, this is the kind of thing I'd only have done with Jenny but here I am, sitting in the dark singing even though she's been away from me for four years. Who knows? Maybe she was sitting behind us, throwing popcorn at us to get us to quiet down, though more likely she would have been singing along.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

First Day

Today, we dropped off Genevieve at school for the first time. She's 2 years, 5 months, and she just seemed very sick of her parents, so we thought we'd give this a try. Though the staff of our neighborhood park's playroom wanted her to attend their daycare, Max was incensed and insisted she attend the daycare at his school, Colegio Teizcali.

This morning as we straggled around retrieving backpacks and diapers, Max was micro-managing: "Did you pack Jenny's little yogurt cup?" "Did you put in enough diapers?" "She needs water, you know." It was actually pleasant having a third parent around, nagging me.

We walked the kids to school and then--I couldn't believe it--they said to just leave Genevieve, not to stay. It seemed crazy. All the daycares I've known in the U.S. have you stay the first day and even half of the second day. Sometimes there seems to be more parents than children in the classroom! But they said that Jenny seemed okay and that she would adjust better without us. I thought I misunderstood the Spanish, so I checked again. And again. And again. Until they just laughed at us.

So we left, and then the tears came. Mine.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Never Can Say Goodbye

I'm feeling sad tonight, because it was my last night of work teaching at the Cambridge Academy. It was so difficult to say goodbye to my students, who I'd grown attached to. There were so many little in jokes, like how my teen class wondered whatever happened to Hugo, the boy who asked to go to the bathroom and never came back. We always told each other to check for Hugo when we went to the bathroom. Three of my teen students brought me a giant ceramic candle holder with glitter and statuary, just the most classic teacher gift ever. Some things transcend cultural boundaries, and this candle holder is the last in a long line of jokey mugs, off-brand stuffed animals, and battered jewelry. My adult students all gave me kisses on the cheek and told me how I had helped them.

And to think this all came down due to a measly three hours a week! Because I taught only 16 hours instead of 19 hours, the powers-that-be decided not to pay for my work visa. Ah, you know how it is--you take on emergency shifts, you substitute for friends who need to go out of town, but, when it comes down to it, the administration worms out of paying whenever it can.

It's a shame because I know I was an effective teacher. On the other hand, the school doesn't need effective teachers, just teachers, so I was quite expendable.

So I've found other work now. Online work that may or may not pan out, but I am open to the next adventure. Just a little sad at the same time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dr. Manuelita and the Crystal Pendulum

I've never seen anyone write about how many colds you can catch when you move to a new country, confronting some new types of germs. It's ironic, because the winter is so gorgeously beautiful here, with highs in the 70s and 80s, and our whole family's had one thing or another passing around since Day of the Dead. It doesn't help that poor baby Genevieve seems to be going through her cycle of colds, just like Max did at her age. It's so challenging to be sick in a foreign county. We can't find our favorite remedies; we have no family around to help us; we can't always understand what doctors recommend.

As much as we hated to do it, we had Jenny on antibiotics in October and then in January. Of course, they didn't help her at all. And then my dear friend Gabby told me about Dr. Manuelita.

She's in one of the most simple yet beautiful little courtyard buildings I've ever seen, on Calle Humboldt, near Llano Park. A little signboard outside signals that it's a homeopathic pharmacy.

But what gives Dr. Manuelita the honor of this Harry Potter-sounding blog post title? Her crystal pendant which she swings like a pendulum, North-South then East-West, over a piece of paper with the patient's name written on it.

As she rotates the crystal she describes the patient's trouble. In Jenny's case, her whole bronchial system was suffering and she needed something to strengthen her immune system. Jenny was delighted with the news, or perhaps the pendulum, and decided to sing and dance for the doctor.

Then, Dr. Manuelita and her assistant labored for an extraordinary long amount of time to type up tiny labels that said "JENNY" and apply them to seven tiny bottles of pills and a dispenser of drops. Jenny was to take four from bottle one, wait an hour, then four from bottle two, and so on, until she ran through all the medicine.

That night, she didn't wake up shrieking at midnight and require watching The Teletubbies to chill her out. And, in the morning, Steve was allowed to walk away from her without causing her to cry. She was happy, playful, energetic--just like the old Jenny.

Next October, as winter approaches, the whole family's going in for the crystal pendulum treatment.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Max and the Baby Jesus

Well, here we are, atheists adrift in Christian-landia, for it is Three Kings Day, the day of the Epiphany. I should begin, though, by saying that this year was my first experience of this holiday traditions, and I loved it.

All over Mexico, people are baking and sharing the Rosca de Reyes, which is a round, sweet bread with candied fruits, sort of like fruitcake. There are little plastic baby Jesus dolls inside the cake, representing the need for the baby Jesus to be hidden to be protected.

Each guest slices into the cake and examines his or her piece to see if the baby Jesus is inside. Well, there we were at our neighbor's store and, wouldn't you know it, Max scored the baby Jesus. He paraded through the street holding the tiny, eerily white baby over his head. Receiving it means good luck for the year!

Receiving the baby also means that Max is the money behind a party he must organize on February 2nd. The Feast of the Candelaria requires Max hosting a tamale party and putting up the funds to purchase tamales for everyone who was present at the cake-slicing.

By afternoon today, the zocalo was jumping with Three Kings chaos. Blocks in four directions were closed and filled with market stalls. I saw many many wonderful things, such as wrestler dolls in a wrestling ring; Pink Panther patches; three tostadas for a dollar; light-up roller skates; and Powerpuff Girl socks (purchased!).

There were calenda processions in the zocalo and, to Max's delight, cascarones-smashing. Max loves buying these eggs filled with confetti and then cracking them on our heads. I have to admit, the day felt...lucky.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

First joke of 2008


"I accidentally put on my underpants with a sock in them, so it looks like I had a big poop."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Books to look forward to...

Now that Maxito reads in Spanish, I am trying to read to him in English every night, from books that are beyond his picture books. So we began with "Pippi Longstocking" which, with the cultural stereotyping edited out by me, was enjoyable.

Next up was "Alice in Wonderland" and tonight we finish "Through the Looking Glass" (a little tedious, though I have always liked "The Walrus and the Carpenter". The chapters run long and there are too many parenthentical asides. I wonder if I should be critiquing parentheticals when I am within one?).

Then he will choose our next book, probably "Mary Poppins" (which, if I recall, will also require some editing) or "The House at Pooh Corner". I keep trying to sell my personal favorite, "Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth" by the almighty E.L. Konigsburg (who can forget "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"?), but so far Max is not persuaded. Other possibilities: "The Wizard of Oz", one of Jenny's folklore collections, or "Sideways Stories from Wayside School". Or, the Bible...ha!

Well, here it is two days later, and I thought I should update this post to share Max's choice. "Garfield Takes the Cake". Not exactly what I was aiming for.