Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Life of Its Own

The great jazz player Louis Armstrong said, “Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them.” I have always thought artists don’t retire.

Amy and I have slowed down our usual pace of making art. The huge project of moving to Mexico and into our big house on a fairly large property absorbs us. The number of hours we work has not changed much. 

I enjoy the grounds. We arrived at the end of the dry season and it seemed many of the plants were dead. Not so. It has begun raining and they are all turning green. Below our home, down a hill I spied a clump of yellow flowers all in a heap. On further inspection, they turned out to be what was left of a tree cut down many months ago. The limbs had enough life that they were blooming. Kind of like a chicken that has its head cut off continues running around. I brought many of the limbs home and stuck them in our pond that receives the waste water for the house. It has aquatic plants that clean and filter the water. That was a few weeks ago and the blooms have continued. I dug holes and planted them this past week and they are showing signs of growth. This magic occupies my imagination and inspires me.

As for art, Amy is working on making a bilingual edition of the book she illustrated called Dreamcarver, (El Tallador De Suenos) by Diana Cohn. Some of the images are reworked and the text includes Spanish. And she has begun work on a painting of Tonantzin: the original mother deity of ancient Mexico who predates Guadalupe.

Painting in progress. 50x50 cm, Frida Kahlo, oil on canvas.

I am at work on an image of Frida Kahlo that is taking far longer than usual for me. I made a few mistakes early on and had to go back and fix them. Paintings have a life of their own. Some children are born in a wink of the eye, others seem to take forever.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Warm Embrace

I was surprised to see Amy crying, because it is rare. She broke down while reciting the poem, Cultivo una Rosa Blanca, by José Martí, (Cuban,January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895). We had welcomed guests to our house for an unveiling of art, and birthday celebration. Ten people stood in front of a covered iron railing in our front hall, anticipating the unveiling to occur shortly. Expressing gratitude for the diverse friendships that Amy and I have forged in Oaxaca, Mexico, I acknowledged the special qualities our friends bring. 

Amy spoke next—to the people who showed us such loving kindness. Delivering in Spanish the poem she learned as a child from her grandmother, tears began rolling down her cheeks:

Cultivo una rosa blanca

en junio como en enero

para el amigo sincero

que me da su mano franca.


I cultivate a white rose

In June as in January

For the sincere friend

Who gives me his hand freely.

Mayolo, the artist who made the railing, finished the ceremony by unveiling his work while explaining the symbolism he instilled in his creation. Two globes at either end represent the sun and moon, also alpha and omega. The twisting curves of iron with delicate leaves attached repeat a design throughout, and represent spiraling universes. Two deer heads with horns are fused to the railing. They represent Amy and  I—the “Dos Venados” of which our house is named. They are inscribed and one, directly in front of our entrance doors has the hand of Fatima facing out for protection.

Hiram, son of Mayolo and Marta, is a famous Oaxacan chef. He began preparing food for the gathering many hours in advance at his restaurant, and then came to our kitchen and served everyone seated at our big dining table.

Mayolo, Frida (grand daughter) Marta, Hiram

Our lovely home filled with happiness as it gathered us all together in a warm embrace.

(The full poem by Martí:)

Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca

Cultivo una rosa blanca

en junio como en enero

para el amigo sincero

que me da su mano franca.


Y para el cruel que me arranca

el corazón con que vivo,

cardo ni ortiga cultivo;

cultivo una rosa blanca.

I Cultivate a White Rose

I cultivate a white rose

In June as in January

For the sincere friend

Who gives me his hand freely.


And for the cruel person who tears out

The heart with which I live,

I cultivate neither nettles nor thorns:

I cultivate a white rose


Sunday, May 09, 2021

A Party Is In Order

A party is in order. An artist has completed his masterpiece—an ornate railing for our stairs—and for that there must be an unveiling and celebration. Coinciding with this is the arrival of my birthday, so our home will be set for a “fiesta” this Friday. A small affair with people who have made our move to Mexico a happy one. Mexican folk with a few Americans sprinkled in. Our realtor John, an American who was instrumental in our purchasing the house is very busy with sales activities on the coast and had to beg off.

Several guests of note: Manuel Omar Rito Cortes moved some of our essential belongings from Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA to Oaxaca. He speaks fluent English and also helped us to buy our car here in Mexico. His wife is a dentist and the couple have two children. Omar owns Oaxaca Exprience Tours, but when business slowed drastically because of Covid, he stripped his tour bus of the seats and made it into a moving van. 

Mayolo Martinez Galindo is a gem of a person, and very talented artisan. He says he is happy we arrived because we are intellectuals and artists. He bonded with us immediately and we are soul mates now. Mayolo does not speak English and neither do I speak Spanish, but we bonded nonetheless. Thankfully, Amy knows rudimentary Spanish. Mayolo helped us register and receive our first Pfizer covid shot. He helped us put the electric service in our name. He has made us arched curtain rods for over our arched windows, has made window screens, and most importantly created a magnificent railing for our stairway that is at the center of our home. He imbues his work with spiritual imagination. We have named our home Casa Venado, or “Deer House” because we live on Camino Cuatro Venados, or Four Deer Road. Mayolo put deer heads at the top of our curtain rods, and very special ones in the design of his ornate railing. They have symbols that are meaningful to us. One deer head is inscribed in Spanish “Amor, Steven and Amy," and the other is inscribed “Por Siempre,” or, Forever.

Salomon Garcia Moreno has lived in our house as a caretaker over the years. He had a special relationship with the German agronomist woman who owned our property. He is married with four children. His village is about three hours away, where he is head of an agricultural cooperative that grows coffee, and special herbs and spices like vanilla, cardamon, ginger and more. He brings us delicious coffee, "miel," or honey, and sacks of compost. Today he brought me a container of earthworms. 

When our house sold, Salomon received a parcel of land where he is building a small home near ours. He shares with us everything we need to know about surviving here. He speaks only Spanish, but we get by, and are able to make sense  with each other. Entirely honest, he has a big heart and is gracious, even going to the TelMex offices with us downtown to register the internet service in our name. 

I am a plant savant and so is he, so we are symbiotic from the start.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Bird in Flight

I followed the bird in flight. It came from where the sun had risen along craggy cliffs at Mazunte, Mexico on the Pacific coast. Breakfast had just been served. 
Amy and I sat on a patio overlooking the sea. The air felt soft in early morning, heating up moment by moment with a playful breeze caressing everything it touched. Thunderous ocean waves crashed below, rushing in and out along the coast while making bellows from the deep.

The blackbird, just a few meters away and close to where we sat, soared gracefully on the currents and took my eyes with it sweeping across the sea vista. The bird settled on the top of a post jutting from sand further from our cabanas. My eyes continued to where waves crashed on rocks, casting white spray in the distance. I could see a couple of dogs playing tag, happy to frolic early in the day—before the heat. A family walked together, scampering to evade the rushing waves, laughing when someone was knocked over by the force of roiling water.
I took a sip of fresh squeezed orange juice in a tall glass carafe, Amy beside me, and simply gave in to the perfection of the moments.

A funny thing happened last night. This is the story leading up to it: We had arrived in the afternoon from the Sierra Madre Mountains where we spent a night in chilly fog among the clouds in a village known for magic mushrooms used to alter consciousness. Hippies still go to 
San José del Pacífico. Most of the time clouds float among mountain peaks. The town sits above them. We needed jackets to walk after dinner in the cloudforest and slept under heavy blankets.

To get to the coast, we drove on a small winding road, called highway 175. At the start, we spotted a village with brightly painted church. It had stunning views and Amy pointed out in the distance a cemetery high up. We went there and walked among the graves. Many of them, even old ones had fresh flowers.

Highway 175 has so many sharp curves that we were warned in advance to bring medicine for motion sickness. We both got dizzy, and after a couple hours, I really wanted to get free of the snake.

We arrived at the ocean—and it is hot. From the road I could see the ocean, and stopped the car by some beach shacks to take a look. Amy and I walked to the beach at Zipolite, and soon engaged in a conversation with a man named Israel, a Mexican who offered to take us out in his boat to see dolphin and turtles. A man walked briskly by, stark naked. Then a few more, followed by a woman with her bare boobs bouncing. I thought, “We must be on a clothing optional beach.” Ten minutes later we were at our hotel to stay two nights and three days.

It is hot and humid. Typically around 90 degrees during the day and near 80º at night. We like our room. It is high up, with a king sized bed, nice bathroom, big sliding doors with screens that go out to a terrace that overlooks the ocean and beach below. Last night, we set a fan by the open porch screen and directed air currents in the direction of our bed, then lay naked and watched a movie. Lights out to go to sleep, even with the fan we sweltered. I managed to fall asleep. Amy flipped directions so her head was closer to the fan. She flopped around uncomfortably, but noticed a wide, squat box over our bed, easily missed because it is white like our walls. “Is that an air conditioner?” she wondered.  She did not want to wake me up, but fortunately I woke anyway. “I think we have an air conditioner over the bed.”