Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Delight


The shop is set back from the main street of Atzompa, a village on the outskirts of Oaxaca, famous for its pottery. A broad parking lot in front of the squat building is at a landing that opens into a big room with rows of clay crafts.  Upstairs is a café.

When Amy and I walked inside Mercado de Artesanías de Santa Maria Atzompa, it immediately became a favorite place for us—somewhere we will return to many times. All the clay pieces are hand made. Pots, sculptures, vases, lamps, cups and saucers, plates, mugs and more. 

Furthermore, the village has many such "tiendas", little storefronts selling wares of families of artisans.

Artisans have their own sections to display work exhibiting unique characteristics. The prices are such that several times I felt like buying everything.

Another immediate favorite is Viveros Santa Rosa; the plant nursery midway between our village and Oaxaca centro. Outdoor, indoor, exotic, aquatic and seasonal plants, with a great diversity of ornamental plants to use in a garden, and plenty of variety of fruit trees. Everything is nicely laid out, and looks vigorous with health. We have already bought six blooming rose bushes—for USD  $1.50 each. Part of the delight is not having to think about if something is too expensive. Here it is not.

I am painting now. For several months I have not. Amy and I have room to work and set up our quarters for creativity.

My last painting is of Emiliano Zapata, a revolutionary figure, “muy famoso” for his activities in southern Mexico trying to bring land reforms to benefit dispossessed poor people. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Surfing A Big Wave


It is like surfing a big wave, moving to Mexico. I have been swept along, thrilled to be in each moment, feeling I could fall dangerously, having to concentrate, realizing life has momentum and it is necessary—not looking back.

Oh boy, I wish I could speak better Spanish. Yet people make an effort to help understand. I have been in many countries for lengthy stays while not being able to speak Arabic, or Italian, or Thai or Vietnamese etc… somehow happiness happens. 

There are inconveniences that are actually small things which I notice because I am spoiled by privilege. The house has a cistern that needs refilling regularly. Once a week water pours in from the city, but twice we ran out and had to have a “pipe” truck, (pronounced pee-peh) come pump potable water to our home. If gas gets low, we have to listen for the gas truck come by . . . listen, because he announces himself driving through villages with the sound of a mooing cow blaring from his loudspeaker.

Then there is the traffic in Oaxaca.  Streets fill with cars and trucks going nilly-willy with a mix of motorcycles, buses and taxis added in. We bought a car we like but Amy won’t drive in the city. Good thing I was a taxi driver during my student days in Baltimore so I know how to hug bumpers like the best of them. Sometimes vehicles almost brush each other . . . yet, I have told Amy several times, “We haven’t seen a single accident yet!"

I like that we are having a beautiful iron railing made by a master craftsman and artist who can also make mirrors, screens, lampshades, coat racks, just about anything. And a couple days ago, we had a furniture maker deliver two tables and two cabinets for our art studio. The cost of materials and services is easy to afford. Our water bill for the entire year is about USD 25.00. So for any problem there appears to be solutions . . . just different.

Years ago, when my mother learned I planned to travel to sub-saharan Africa, she begged me not to go, saying, “Oh Steven, don’t go, you will be killed for your shoes!” I went and loved my experiences on safari, being with Masai tribes people, and going “clubbing” with newly made African friends in Nairobi. 

I brought to Mexico a painting by my mother I inherited. I like the title—called “Go Jump in a Lake". It hangs outside our guest bedroom. That sums up a lot.

The wave is big, and has its own life and requirements. The trick is to stay in the moment and enjoy the ride to the journey’s end. 

by  Khalil Gibran

It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.

She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

No Address At All

It is one thing to move and find a new address to receive mail, and another to have no address at all. My brother was incredulous when he learned we had not an address. He was against me moving to Mexico from the start—for several reasons but especially crime that he imagined and also climate change studies. Brent is my “survivalist” brother. He married a woman from Mexico about five years ago. L
ast we spoke, he said he would be coming down soon, “Well, how am I going to find you?” I replied that I can give him a GPS location. Actually, it will be easier to meet him at the village church, next to the mayor’s office.

There are inconveniences we face everyday here in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Mexico. But because of the house, and having each other, along with a few good people we can call friends, we are hopeful and happy. The house is the most comfortable I have ever lived in. It has further possibilities—and is paid for in full. Cost of living is a fraction of what we were spending in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. We have all we need.

I can’t speak or understand Spanish. Amy does to some extent. The climate is indeed hotter . . . with only two seasons: wet and dry. We are now at the end of the dry season, and have had a couple rains. Thank God because the landscape has been brown. Now some leaves are coming out on trees that I thought to be dead. 

The other surprise is insects. I have been spoiled by Santa Fe where there is hardly a fly to speak of and no mosquitos—only some garden pests, yes. But here I have killed three scorpions in the house so far. We have both been bitten by mosquitos and maybe some other critters. Oh well, I remember coming home to a rattlesnake coiled up in my front hall in Santa Fe.

Another thing is some inevitable culture shock. The main one being poverty and a sense that beautiful surroundings are not necessary. I have experienced this before in world travels. People have little to satisfy basic needs. Homes outside the center of Oaxaca are often merely pasted together sheets of tin, or unadorned cinder block houses without adornment or beauty. 

There are trees blooming here now that are simply divine. Especially the jacaranda. We have two—one in front and the other out our back door. If I were to make a painting of them, I would use a color called cobalt violet light. It’s my favorite color.

Sunday, April 04, 2021


Our house is magical; it drew us into itself. All the way from New Mexico USA to Oaxaca, Mexico, near Central America. 

We have met neighbors who know the history of this place and of the couple who built it. Everyone in these parts knows it as a landmark. Standing around a bend, on a hillside—unlike every other house for miles.

A Mexican architect designed it and his wife financed construction. Alfredo Figueroa was married to a German agronomist. There are stories about him. It seems he was a tall man with a long beard and something of a mystic. Our neighbor, who is a talented artist and craftsman, knew Alfredo and said that he made this house as if designing a sacred cathedral. And this is the way we feel living in it.

Our art work now adorns the walls. The neighbor Mayolo, has designed a magnificent wrought iron railing for our stairs rising from the front entry to the flight above. He built us curved curtain rods to go above the vaulted windows in our bedroom. We can see Mayolo’s house down below the hillconvenient because he can do so many artistic tasks for us, and knows how to help us with our new culture. The problem is he only speaks Spanish; like almost everyone.

We live among poor people. Dwellings are very humble compared to ours. Mexico reminds me of other developing countries I have lived in, like Egypt or India. Infrastructure is problematic, and being surrounded by manicured beauty is an unaffordable luxury. Amy commented that not many of our friends would like the conditions apparent in our villagei.e dusty roads, hardscrabble little dwellings that are hastily built . . . lack of sophistication.

I like that we often hear singing from the neighborhood evangelical church nearby. There are birds in the trees at our home that make remarkable songs . . . the best I have ever heard. Days are hot but nights are sublime. People are friendly and many have gone out of their way to insure our well being. Our magnificent cactus is beginning to bloom and attracting hummingbirds. We have bought a sturdy comfortable car—a Honda CR-V four-door with plenty of space.

There is a large paper wasp nest outside our bedroom window. It is at eye level hanging from an eve. To me, a thing of beauty—and I respect wasps because they help control insect pests.

The house is built of adobe blocks. Adobe consists of earth and straw. It is excellent at insulation and moderating temperatures. That is why it is commonly used in countries that are typically dry. We knew beforehand that this home has no heating or cooling systems. It is self modulating. We installed a ceiling fan in the bedroom and it is perfect.