Sunday, June 27, 2021


Stop signs have frustrated me in life. I get up to speed making real progress going to a destination, when suddenly the sign looms ahead; ordering me to a standstill. The impatience is my fault. But perhaps warranted when I see no reason to stop. Oh well.

Oaxaca does not have stop signs, only traffic lights.  Instead of stop signs are “tope” (pronounced toe-pay). In the USA they are called speed bumps.  After several months living here am I accepting them without much of a grudge. I have learned to ease up just in time to roll over them before gathering speed again. A couple times I did not see the tope before crashing over with a thump. Amy and I have seen them on dirt roads too, where people make them to slow traffic. Amy counted almost forty between our home in the village and the nearest shopping center a couple miles away.

The other adjustment to life we are making is learning to live with insects. For more than four decades in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, I often gave thanks for being free of mosquitos, flies and chiggers. That has changed and insect bites are common. And plants are eaten by pests—mostly ants. It brings back memories from my childhood in Illinois, and later Washington DC.

Just today I noticed some flowers gone we had grown from seed, called Jamaica, that make a nice tea. Yesterday 20 were about two inches high in a neat row and today only two were left standing. A similar attack occurred on rose bushes. I had to dig up denuded plants and put them in pots where I can keep an eye on them as they recover. We joke that they are in the hospital.

Standing at our back door this afternoon I remarked to Amy, “Oh well, there is so much to be thankful for. Look at our marvelous plants, and how happy the earth is now.”

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Dog's Life

Most dogs in America do not have a “dog’s life”. If they came down to Mexico, they would go running back home with tails wagging. Dogs’ in Mexico mostly have to fend for themselves, and rarely get to have owners that tend lavishly to them. 

Amy and I see dogs wandering around, flea bitten and bedraggled, with wounds from fights or collisions. Our village has many. Many people live in little more than tin shacks. Unfortunately veterinary care is out of the question and the mongrels have multiple litters. 

The poor creatures tug at Amy’s heartstrings more than mine. “At least they are not being eaten like the dogs in China,” I told her. Then I added, “It might be better to be eaten.” 

We have property that is mostly fenced, but dogs’ have come in. I chase them out and have patched some entry points. One dog is acceptable—“Benito," who we learned belongs to a neighbor. He comes several times a day for treats, and has taken to barking at intruders. I have to say, I really like him, and Amy adores him. I joke and call him “Freddy the Freeloader," and Amy calls him “Loki”.

The thing about Benito is we cannot touch him. He will snarl and snap. As a companion he is good if I simply acknowledge him. He occasionally licks my hand and a couple times jumped up to hug me. But touching him is not allowed. Same with Amy, who is his major benefactor. No touching, though he will lick her hand. 

Little hungry mongrel

We have noticed animals sometimes are slapped or kicked, so maybe if that has happened, the dog will be defensive. The other day we went for our second covid vaccination. A young dog came to us and stayed by for a couple hours. It was raining lightly. A group of ladies was behind us and one swatted the dog with her umbrella, and kicked it once. It stayed with us until the end. We felt like taking it home but maybe it belonged to someone.

Recently one of the neighbors’ dogs came on the heels of Benito to our back door. He was thin, just little more than a puppy and looked at us so hopefully. Amy gave him some dog food. (She buys dog food now at the grocery store.) He ate it quickly and looked around for more. I warned her, “If you start, soon packs of dogs will arrive at our door.”

We have heard of a dog sanctuary in Oaxaca, started by Americans who doubtless felt sympathy and had the time and resources to make the humanitarian gesture.

We have Loki; or Benito, or Freddy the Freeloader . . . whatever his name.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Phoenix Rising

 Lluvia is the Spanish word for rain. Now that the wet season has come to Oaxaca, the rain falls most days—and it is sweet. The dry, brown landscape so brittle, hears the thunder and opens its arms to embrace the downpour. The earth has softened and breathed again, changing from brown to green.


Typically, the rain arrives with the clouds that roll in during late afternoon and evening. Temperatures are cooler, and water cleanses all it touches. I like it. The sun always come out again but the earth is rejuvenated and never gets bone dry. Plants that I thought were dead are showing verdure and unique beauty. It is like a phoenix rising from ashes.


By Hafiz

My phoenix long ago secured 

   His nest in sky-vault's cope; 

In the body's cage immured, 

   He is weary of life's hope. 

Round and round this heap of ashes 

   Now flies the bird amain, 

But in that odorous niche of heaven 

   Nestles the bird again. 

Once flies he upward, he will perch 

   On Tuba's golden bough: 

His home is on that fruited arch 

   Which cools the blest below. 

If over this world of ours 

   His wings my phoenix spread, 

How gracious falls on land and sea 

   The soul-refreshing shade! 

Either world inhabits he, 

   Sees oft below him planets roll; 

His body is all of air compact, 

   Of Allah's love his soul.

Sunday, June 06, 2021


Book making is a wondrous and beautiful process. The best efforts are preserved for eternity, but most fall into oblivion. The book Amy and I are working on, called DreamCarver, has already proven to be an enduring work of art. It was first published in 1993 and became a traveling opera, visiting cities across America.

Diana Cohn and Amy collaborated on it. Publishers Weekly wrote: “Inspired by the life of renowned Oaxacan woodcarver Manuel Jiménez, newcomer Cohn and Córdova (My Land Sings) tell of Mateo, a young woodcarver who bravely breaks with a generations-old artistic tradition. The subsistence farmers of the boy's village are known for their juguetes, tiny carvings of wooden animals "so small they could fit in the palm of a hand," carved by men and boys, and painted in fiesta-bright colors by women and girls. But Mateo dreams of carving life-size animals, with surfaces that tingle with vibrant, improbable colors and surreal patterns. "I see animals so big and bright that I will need to carve them with a machete!" he tells his disapproving father. When Mateo ultimately produces a glorious wooden menagerie—including a quetzal with majestic feathers—he wins over not only Papa, but the entire village, and a new way of carving is born. Cohn captures the boy's pursuit with straightforward eloquence, whether describing a child's heady experience of a fiesta or articulating the imaginative forces that set apart and drive a true artist. Córdova chronicles Mateo's artistic development in radiant, double-spread tableaux, setting off the text with festive decorative borders. She borrows the highly stylized characterizations and flattened perspectives typical of Mexican folk art, but she animates the compositions with big, bold shapes and electric, saturated colors. A fitting tribute to the energy and power of an artist's distinctive vision.” 

From our perfect vantage point in our home in Oaxaca, just a village away from Arrazola where the woodcarvers make the “alebrijes” magic animals carved of wood and decorated with complex designs in a riot of colors, we are remaking the book with new illustrations and bilingual text.

Amy said, “Back in 1992, my dear friend, Diana Cohn and I visited Oaxaca with the intent of creating a children's book about the origins of the fantastical, colorful alebrije carvings. We visited Manuel Jimenez , who is attributed with starting the entire movement. As a result of our love of the art form, we created the book Dream Carver, which was published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco. Since then , our agreement has expired and we requested the return of rights. 

Fast forward, rights granted ! Since then, I have spent the last many months reworking and creating new images, with the goal of enhancing those images and creating a bilingual edition. Diana and I have revised the text, so that the format of two languages is not compromised. Steve has spent hours photographing and doing incredible layouts of text and image. Pages now look breathtaking! I am still painting. A labor of love, for certain.”

The Dream Carver tradition is alive and thrives today. The original artist, Manuel Jimenez, now deceased, passed his tradition to his sons, and one of them, Isaias, continues with his family to produce marvelous works. He opened the DreamCarver Museum and had students create murals based on Amy’s illustrations. He is very eager for the book, originally in English, to be published as a bilingual.

Our goal is to have books in hand for a big celebration at the Museum during the Dia de Muertos festival November 1 and 2, 2021.