Breakdown

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Commentary:

This was the first time I had been to the baths in Oaxaca. These came highly praised  by family and close friends and the combination of mist, steam, and herbs, combined to loosen the body and soothe the soul. The Mixtec baths and massage are very highly regarded, incidentally, and one can go to the equivalent of sweat lodges in order to enjoy a day at an ancient historic spa. The masseur himself was incredible. I lay face down initially. When he want to turn me over, he got a bucket of cold water, threw it over me and flipped me in mid-air as I reacted to the ice cold water. Hard to believe now. I also remember having to buy a small bar of paper-wrapped soap. And locking my valuables up in a little chest to which only he had the key. These baths feature in my novel, People of the Mist. Unpublished, alas, but I may get around to revising it one day. All I need is some encouragement!

 

Balloon Lady

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Commentary:

Nine o’clock in Oaxaca is the ‘witching hour’. That’s when the young children go home and the balloon lady packs her bags and walks with her balloons out of the square. She really does build a castle. She stacks her balloons around her and lives within its walls selling balloons to children. Each Oaxacan child receives a balloon on his or her birthday and name day. These balloons are cherished, held carefully by their strings, walked like aerial dogs through the square.

The State band practices most nights int he central square and the balloons are moved by the music, especially that of the wind instruments, and then they wander to and fro. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and escape, skip away, go absent with out leave, and seek the freedom of the open skies. Sometimes they get caught in the trees. Then the strings are jigged and older children, experts in the art, place sticky tape on their own balloons and send them upwards in rescue missions which can be surprisingly successful. Oh what joy when the errant balloon returns to earth, stuck to its new mate. Oh what wailing when a birthday balloon bursts and the deprived child must persuade its parents to purchase another!

I can see them now, those colored balloons, floating skywards, sailing freely into the freedom of those blue Oaxacan skies. Up and up, level with the cathedral roof, ascending the cathedral tower, up, up, and away  … soaring like souls into the innocence of a sky blue heaven.

Yesterday

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Commentary:

Ocho Venado / Eight Deer is a legendary person who is described in the pre-Columbian Miztec códice known as the Zouche-Nuttall codex. He lived from 1063 to 1115, the date of the codex. The códice describes his life and conquests. I brought a facsimile copy of this códice home in 1995 and my beloved started reading it on Boxing Day. It took her two days to decipher the first page. One day for the second page and, by my birthday, she had read the whole thing. She inspired my love of the codices and they figure largely in my writings from that time, especially The Oaxacan Trilogy (Sun and Moon, Obsidian’s Edge, and Obsidian 22, the first two available on Amazon).

Eight Deer appears frequently in my poetry, partly because we have a family of deer, often as many as eight (!) that walk through our garden in Island View. The joining of the Canadian natural world with the Oaxacan historical and mythical world brings me great joy and it is wonderful to weave stories and poems where the two worlds mingle and become one. Hence the dream world of the prose poem that figures above. Chocolate beans, incidentally, were one of the cash currencies used in Oaxaca at the time of the arrival of Cortés and the Spanish. Oaxacan chocolate (xocotl) is something wonderful.

 

Autumn Leaves

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Commentary

This is another of my beloved’s multi-media mock-ups for one of my Oaxaca Prose Poems. I have enlarged the photo so the text of the prose poem is more easy to read. I have several more of these and will post them one by one. I visited Oaxaca regularly, teaching there in November -December (1995-2001).  I came to love the city and I was entranced by its streets and squares. The casco histórico was particularly interesting.

Coffee in the zócalo, a walk through the cathedral, up the andador turístico to Santo Domingo where the old lady sang so beautifully, every day at twelve. Then back via the shops and home for lunch. I was always astonished by the leaves that swirled through the zócalo. They hustled, rustled, and bustled through the arched colonnades on the main square, gathered at the post office, and hurried and scurried  away from the trees where they dwelt to drift, who knows where, on the wild winds that blew in from nowhere and then blew out again.

 

Eight Deer

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Eight Deer
(1113 AD)

eight deer visit
my garden each night
they raid my feeders
capture my birdseed
lusting for gold
anything to keep out
this winter cold

raccoons
leave claw-marks
grubbing for grubs
dug up like donuts
circled on my lawn

who captures whom
when the full moon
descends from the sky
walks among men
making them mad

death by snow plow
snow-melt and crows
Eight Deer emerges
his sacrificed body
preserved on this page
and in salt snow

Monte Alban

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Funny things, photos. When I updated my I-Mac, and I-photo became Photo, I lost some 10,000 photos, or more. Thanks to some hard work over the weekend by one of my good friends, we re-established contact with the missing photos. Skimming through them, I found this one, my words and Clare’s  computer art. I wrote it a long time ago, sometime after 1995, when I first visited Oaxaca. This piece records a visit I made, with Hayden Leaman, another good friend and an Oaxacan savant, to Monte Alban.

Under a hot sun that weighed us down and struck us like a hammer on an anvil, we wandered around the archaeological site and met with many vendors, some of whom seemed to have genuine artefacts, while others obviously offered us fakes. I couldn’t believe how the old men first discovered and then sat in the thin lines of shade emanating from a post, an edge, or a corner, la grata sombra / the welcome shade, as they say in Spanish. This one gentleman, who told us he had walked over from Arrazola,  some six kilometres or so away, asked us for nothing, chatted with us, and proved to be a wonderful source of local information. It was a pleasure to share our water with him. He was the possessor, he assured us, of a genuine green card, and didn’t believe in illegal immigration.

The words in the picture above summarize my thoughts at the time. I asked Hayden later where he wanted to go. He looked around at the temples, the monuments, the tombs, the ball court, the observatory … “Who wants to go anywhere?” he replied. “I am happy right here.”

I visited this and other sites later with Clare. She too proved to be very adept at finding the shade and just sitting still. Look and listen carefully: you too may be able to see and feel the beauty and the silence.

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Mini-Mums

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Permit me to introduce you to my two Mexican mini-mums, in the market square in Oaxaca, with their mini-mums. They sell them at minimum price, a giveaway for tourists who arrive with the all-powerful dollar and yell and holler about how this year’s prices are so much higher than last year’s prices. The flower girls giggle and smile. They have heard it all before. They know where each of the prospective purchasers comes from. They now how they walk, talk, slur their words, cajole, bully, and offer absurd amounts of money, either much too much or much too little. Those tourists: they seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Meanwhile, in spit of appearances to the contrary, the cakes are on sale and the flowers are on sale, but the flower girls, Mano y Petate, and no, those are not their names, those things are definitely not for sale.  “Everything,” the tourists say, “has its price.” True, perhaps, in some circumstances. But people are not things and it’s brutally cruel to put a price on people. Occasionally, a tourist will recognize these girls. They are the ones who decorate the altar in the main cathedral in the square. They have also been known to sing, in Spanish, Latin, and Mixtec, along with their mother, before the high altar in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, the church with more than six tons of gold and gold leaf layered throughout its magnificence, a true treasure of humanity and an internationally protected building. Once, though, a long time ago, God’s Dogs, as the Dominicans were then called, ran baying through the Valley of Oaxaca, gathering workers with promises of heaven and visions of paradise. The work, they said, was the Lord’s and the Lord wanted them, the people of the Valley of Oaxaca, to build this temple in his name. And here they would stay, under lock and key, until the Lord’s work was done. El Cristo de la Columna: Christ tied to the pillar, stripped to the waist, and flogged. This symbol stands in every church in Oaxaca, and all the People of the Valley of Oaxaca knows exactly what it means, fr it is the punishment meted out to those very people if they do not work hard enough, long enough, fast enough, at their vision of heaven, their taste of paradise, this building of the Church of a Lord who is not even theirs. The tourists marvel at the church, the gold, the paintings, the statues. They praise the mother and her children singing at the high altar: “what beautiful children, what beautiful voices.” But they know nothing about the blood, and the sweat, and the tears that went into the temple’s building.

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