Sunday, December 25, 2022

¡Feliz Navidad!

Amy packed the piñata until it was almost bursting. I found a tree in our backyard with open space underneath, then hung the piñata from a limb. A piñata is a container, often made of papier-mâché, pottery, or cloth, that is decorated, filled with candy, and then broken as part of a celebration. Ours was decorated to resemble a pineapple. A rope attached gave enough length to pull the container and make it jump at the end of the line. 

The vecino kids began arriving at 3 PM. We had a group of ages ranging from 3 to 13, with one mother. I offered the duty of yanking the rope to one of the strong boys. The littlest child, a wide-eyed girl went first, taking the bat and hitting the Piñata with a tiny tap. I laughed and she became very shy and walked away. The kids took turns, youngest first, while Eber yanked the rope. 

Too soon, after about 12 strikes the piñata burst. A mad melee immediately ensued, with kids diving for treats. Big kids grabbed the most, but we made sure everyone went away with plenty in the bags we gave them.

Some of the children with their bags of treats.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Fireworks for the Virgen


We are almost getting accustomed to explosions in the air. At all times of day or night. Rockets that whistle up into the sky and then explode into a puff of smoke, causing deafening shock waves, bursting through silence, like a rock thrown into a pond sending ripples outward. 

Mexico sees more than 5000 traditional festivals and events celebrated each year. And then there are birthdays, weddings, and such.

If transplanted foreigners complain, they are often rebuffed for attempting to interfere with cultural tradition.

Last night Amy and I went with our neighbors to an event in our pueblo barrio. Three days in remembrance of the " Virgen Patrona” of our village, La Soledad. We arrived around 8 PM to a compound with a small capilla, or church. Food was being served and an enormous construction rose from the center of the grounds. 100 feet in the air, it had multiple arms attached with wheels that were able to spin. 

We stayed close to our friends, and mingled a bit. A brass and percussion band played off and on. Not many people had arrived. After an hour, Amy decided to go back home when our friends daughter decided to leave . Amy has been trying to recover from an injury to her ankles and leg. I stayed on, determined to witness the spectacle about to unfold and take photographs. It took awhile, but around 10 PM, music became more strident and young men began coming into the arena with papier-mache bulls, "toritos", loaded with fireworks. It became a game of tug of war to see who could arrest control of the bull. All the while it was exploding. At one point my neighbor came to pull me back and tell me it was dangerous.

Eventually, the arena was crowded and someone climbed up the scaffolding to light the big structure and set the explosions off. It cackled, whirled, sparked and spun. Everyone was dazzled.

Monday, December 05, 2022

A Slice of Life


Almost as a lark, I looked online at houses listed for sale in the area of the famous south central Mexican city Oaxaca. Most of the better homes listed in town were too expensive, but one, on the outskirts jumped out at me. It seemed everything I wanted in a house and entirely affordable. I showed Amy and she liked it too, agreeing it was splendid.  I had been ready for a change of living. Amy and I visited and liked what we found. 

We have been living in our home 2 ½ years now. It is in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, population 3800, a pueblo a few miles west of Oaxaca. Our “pueblo” has municipal offices, a church and smattering of businesses. The drive 7.5 miles from our house to the center of the city takes about 40 minutes. In the USA it would take 20 minutes. The difference is because Mexico is the land of “topes” or speed bumps. We have to cross over about 50 to get in to town. But they play a part in reducing traffic accidents. I notice fewer accidents than in the USA. 

Our property has beautiful plant life. The German woman who built the adobe house with her Mexican architect husband was an agronomist. I spend considerable time tending the plants, but admit to enjoying the chores. 

San Pedro Ixtlahuaca does not offer much entertainment or other such opportunities, so Amy and I paid for a membership to an established hotel in the city. Hotel Victoria has extensive grounds. I gained access to a marvelous outdoor swimming pool. It is just right. Amy can lounge poolside reading a book while I swim. Food and refreshments are served up and usually the area is almost to ourselves.

So this is a slice of life here.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Just Like Life


Sleeping Buddha, Hilo, Hawaii. by Steven Boone

Recently I was publicly accused of disrespect by someone I do not know. It happened when I posted a photo online in a Facebook camera group I am a member of.  The photo was one of the street photos I love to make. I have thousands from all over the world spanning decades.  When I first read the comment, I did not understand it. “This is no respect.” I assumed the person that posted could not speak good English. I thought he referred to the person I photographed who was unkempt. Then, later I realized he was referring to me. Several other comments were negative. Others positive.

Hurt, Oaxaca, Mexico, by Steven Boone
(This is the photo that caused the controversy.)

Here is the story:  Several days a week Amy and I go from our home in a village outside Oaxaca, Mexico into the city to shop for necessities. We were walking in Oaxaca Centro. I always take my camera to be ready if I want to take a picture. I know how to look and see amidst the crowded, sometimes broken streets full of traffic. Among the shamble of shops and pedestrians a swirling kaleidoscope of variations occur and usually I take a picture or two worth saving. This day, as we walked carefully over a crumbling sidewalk, I saw ahead an impoverished young man with severe problems. Without shoes, dressed in rags with one foot bandaged, the other exposed leg had many sores. Slumped against a wall, on the steps of a financial institution, he was sleeping. I paused and took the picture. Scenes such as this are part of the fabric of life. We all need to be aware of how others live and suffer. And, yes, it is difficult to see.

After taking the photo, I took change from my pocket and rested it on a ledge by his arm. Then Amy gently put banknotes in his hand. We walked away. I looked back as we crossed the intersection. He was smiling and staring after us.

Canada,  -Vivien Maier, (American, February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009)

In the annals of photography there are great examples of fleeting candid moments where the subject is unaware of being photographed. It is when maximum honesty exists.

It is legal to take photos in public places that include people. No permission required. Candid photography to me is almost always better than posed. But it is more tricky to get a good result. There is no set upit is all spontaneous. 

Trolley, -Robert Frank, (Swiss, November 9, 1924 – September 9, 2019)

It begins and ends in a fraction of a second, and happens millions of times a day on earth. That is photography. No use to try and kill it with rules. It does not belong in a box and will always escape confines. Just like life.

Ireland, Josef Koudelka (Czech-French, b. 1938)
Sophia Loren and Jane Mansfield, by Joe Shire, (American 1917-2006)

The Terror of War, Nick Ut, (Vietnamese-American, born 1951)

After the Opera, Weegee, (American, June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968)

Famous street photographer Quotes:

“I have no inhibitions and neither does my camera…,” “To me a photograph is a page from life, and that being the case, it must be real.”  -Weegee

“Photography can be a mirror and reflect life as it is, but I also think it is possible to walk, like Alice, through a looking glass and find another kind of world with the camera.”  -Tony ray jones

“Most of my photos are grounded in people, I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face.” -Steve McCurry

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Keeper of the Key

"Keeper of the Key, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 70 cm

Amy´s newest painting from our studio in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Mexico, outside Oaxaca.
In her own words:

The seated figure holds a key that invites one to explore the inner self. Like Turtle, her Mother, she is still and yet clearly present. Her garment of blossoming beauty represents the bounty of La Madre Tierra and a tribute to growing things.
She is grounded as the result of life’s long journey. Like Mother Turtle, she waits and watches in silence. She, like ourselves, always will remain , the Ancient Child, born from life giving waters, the splendor of moonlight and the magical realms of spirit, of which…we ALL possess the key to journey within.
Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent reminds us that though we may be surrounded by forces we cannot comprehend…fear will not be our response. 

Many years ago, I wrote the text for a children’s book I called, “The Turtle’s Daughters”. I created it as a pageant piece for a grand elementary school event in St. Paul , Mn. The event was sponsored by Art Start/ Art Scraps of St. Paul, an amazing non profit that brings art experiences to underprivileged communities. Several artists were hired to  work within the schools to help the children create images and objects which would be part of our procession. On an overcast Saturday afternoon, over 1000 children and families participated along the banks of the mighty Mississippi river. We honored Turtle Island (Our Earth) and her lovely water daughters, the great rivers of our planet. I read my story, accompanied by a Native American elder who softly played his flute, which mesmerized the atmosphere allowing the story to come alive.

Children of many cultures from several city schools came together to march with their creations in a marvelous parade. Some performed my tale as a dance, complete with a moving gossamer blue river made from yards of fabric. Many groups carried handmade animal banners, large painted cardboard deer and buffalo. Children carried puppets: flocks of papier-maché  birds, turtles , frogs, and many more creatures. 

Our purpose? A call to grownups to wake up, see, and acknowledge that “progress and profit” should NOT be our main goal, as human “Beings.” Together, we must work as one to protect the fragile beauty of Turtle Island, and of those of fur, feather, and fin, who have no voice…  whose survival also depends on the well being of our sacred planet.  

The students answered my call that day. They became “Child Warriors of the Healing Earth”. Although, I never submitted my story for publication, I have never forgotten the power and beauty of that somewhat rainy day moment in time.

Nothing could have stopped us.

The memory lives with me still. Every now and then, I add another voice through my imagery to make that story live on.

Bendito Sea

For more artwork: Amy Córdova Boone


Sunday, November 06, 2022

Dia de Muertos

It is a beloved time of year in Mexico, bringing families together, and whole communities. Dia de Muertos, in English means “day of the dead.” It might sound macabre but it is not. It is when death and life meet in celebration. A time when departed souls are honored and called to return for a visit “home” to loved ones left behind. A time for happiness.

Like most of Mexico, we made an ofrenda for our home. It is an altar to honor and commemorate our relatives and friends that have passed away⏤hoping that by honoring them in this way, they will come back to us and visit. We decorate with fine cloth, offering fancy breads, flowers, artwork, photos and objects signifying the passions of those remembered.

Oaxaca, in the south central mountains of Mexico is an epicenter for Dia de Muertos during the special days between October 31  -  November 2 when it is celebrated. Hotels are all booked solid well in advance as tourists from all over the world descend upon the city. This year, Amy and I hosted a group of tourists from the USA at our home in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, a village on the outskirts of town. They came to meet us⏤two famous artists living the authentic Mexican life. Our friendly neighbors made a traditional lunch. 

The next afternoon of November 1, we arrived in Centro and quickly found a couple just setting up to paint faces. We looked at their samples. Amy chose a style, as did I, and we both sat amidst the crowds and had our faces painted.

Each day Amy and I went to town to wander among the crowds and relish the atmosphere. I am a photographer as well as painter, so took plenty of photos. Everywhere we turned the fantastic sights of people with face paint and sometimes elaborate costumes dazzled us. Street performers and musicians entertained. A sense of excitement and happiness abounded. Especially starting around 4 PM and going into the night.

Yesterday, November 5, Amy and I were driving by our local cemetery in the late afternoon. We stopped to take a look. Nobody was there but a caretaker. The place was awash in flowers that covered all the gravesites. The experience took my breath away. I felt privileged to come in behind all the worshipers who had brought gifts of love for their departed loved ones, then sat and communed with them. 
It is what Dia de Muertos is all about.

Sunday, October 23, 2022


After we moved to Mexico Amy wanted a dog. Not me. I had not owned a dog for over twenty years because I traveled frequently for extended periods. 

When I met Amy in 2017 she had an old chihuahua named Unica. It died within a year. We married in 2018 and moved to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2019. Here, especially outside the city, many destitute animals wander around neglected. Three adopted us. It was because we pitied them and fed them. After the first two I told Amy not to show compassion any more. But a starving brown dog was too much for her to look at⏤and then there were three. One was murdered by a roaming alpha male that asserts himself over the vicinity. One we care for cannot be touched. Each has his own set of fears.

These dogs came to us. But in her heart, Amy wanted the dog that is considered an emblem of Mexico, called Xoloitzcuintle. I had never seen one before moving to Mexico. At first sight I found them rather repulsive. Hairless, wrinkled, with often a tuft of colored hair (moica ) shooting up between their eyes onto the forehead. Amy had an attraction to the Xoloitzcuintle. Maybe because she is a person who deeply feels cultural roots. The name is from the Nahuatl language. Nahua people primarily live in central Mexico and comprise the largest indigenous group. The Aztecs and Toltecs are descendants.

Famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had several  Xoloitzcuintles. Frida's favorite was “Mr. Xolotl,” after the Aztec canine deity and guardian of the underworld.

Amy began following online posts about Oaxaca Xoloitzcuintle. We almost bought one, but it was just before a two month trip to the east coast and Europe. While we were gone, our house sitters took care of feeding the “adopted” dogs that showed up at the backdoor each day.

It happened quickly. Amy saw on Facebook that the breeder here in Oaxaca had a puppy for sale. It was available because the people who had asked for it had not responded to phone calls. We went to have a look, meeting at a nearby coffee shop. The breeder, Enrique, arrived late. Opening the front of his jacket, two big ears popped out, then a little face with inquisitive eyes. With a half hour it was done. We drove home with our Xoloitzcuintle. It will be a medium sized female. 

So far so good. Her name is Malinalli, a day in the Aztec calendar associated with the god Patecatl. Patecatl is associated with medicine, healing, and fertility. She is the most intelligent animal I have ever had. Curious, attentive, playful and sometimes obstreperous. She trains quickly.

Amy is her favorite. 

I call her Molly.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Opportunities Given

It hurt. Children we host at our home outside Oaxaca, Mexico, on Sundays for art lessons stole two keys from our door locks. We don’t know for sure who took them. Last Sunday at the end of the session the keys were missing. Amy and I were aghast. Everybody denied knowing what happened before one of the keys was found under a tree. Mysteriously.

I had misgivings about allowing any of the youth in our house. It is far too grand. They begged, Amy took them in, and for awhile it was okay. Amy had group baking sessions, (an oven is at our home) the bathroom was available, children went through the front door and out the back to play in the yard. Now that has changed. We will allow only one person at a time to come inside to use the bathroom, and an adult must be nearby.

Basically, there are two groups. A mother, Remedios, comes with her daughter, son, and sons best friendall talented, bright and highly courteous. Another group, all girls, come from the neighbors above us that have many problems. We love them and have had  good relationships so far. The theft came as a surprise and blow. Certainly we knew in advance that the children are coming from highly difficult circumstances. Two are almost homeless. Another did not go to school, and then changed her mind and is attending. The homes are impoverished and they see bad things.

Amy and I teach free art classes once a week, on Sunday afternoons. We provide all the materials, arrange projects, serve refreshments, and host at the front patio at our home, which is safe clean and enjoyable. We do all this as service to our neighbors who do not have such opportunities given to them.
Today, Sunday, soon we will begin our session with a talk. Not to shame anyone but to say our feelings have been hurt and respect is necessary to go on. We love everyone and are happy to continue serving. There must be mutual respect. Of course, we know it is one or two kids that acted impulsively without regard . . . this should not cause everyone else to suffer.  

(Picture at top: cups made of painted gourds)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Helping the Animals

"We don't have two hearts, one for animals and one for humans ; we have one heart or we don't have any."
(Alphonse de Lamartine)

Amy and I are still not accustomed to the sight of half starved creatures roaming roads. Often they are maimed from being struck by vehicles. Twice we found dead dogs on our property and buried them. Two dogs show up at our doorstep every day to be fed. I told Amy after the first one not to feed more. But another one was so pitiful with its bones poking out she fed it and now it is “our” dog. 
Mexican dogs have it rough compared to their northern counterparts.

Avion (foreground,) and Loki
I am Facebook friends with an American woman living in Oaxaca. She is doing marvelous work helping the animals here. Recently she developed a couple of Spanish language coloring booklets to teach children how to handle animals with respect and care. Since Amy and I are teaching in our pueblo, she sent and we printed out an 8 page pamphlet. Soon to be shared during our Sunday workshop at our home.

I have had some misgivings. What if the children go back home and the adults are insulted that we are advising their children. These are poor people who cannot afford cars, water heaters, and sometimes do not send children to school for lack of money. How are they to pay for vet care, neutering, good pet food, grooming etc.? It is like showing them inadequacies.

Yet Amy and I want to make the project fun, and we will show how to make a stitched booklet. The kids can make art for the covers. 

"Animal protection is education to humanity." (Albert Schweitzer)

"Animals often talk more reasonable with their eyes than humans with their mouths." (Ludovic Halévy)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Dance of Death

Over the years I have come to realize my best artwork elicits strong reactions and not necessarily favorable. People have cried in front of my paintings. I have been assaulted in fury, with invectives hurled. Folks have swooned. 
Most of my career has been as a landscape painter. From the start of life I have been a nature boy. In school I often gazed out the windows to the landscape beyond, wishing to be free as a bird. I am tactile, feeling things to help me connect and understand. Thankfully the world has responded to my creative efforts and I have been able to make a living as an artist all my adult life. 

Keeping Score, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches  c. 1996 

I struggle to make work that pushes boundaries and reaches into human psychology. A painting series called Hangups, begun in 1993 and continued for a decade were faces hanging from clothespins suspended on lines. The images originated in my subconscious. With the contortions and props, they elicited a wide range of emotions, from happiness to comic laughter, frustration, anger and repulsion. One, called Van Gogh All Hung Up, is in the permanent collection of the Foundation Van Gogh, in Arles France.

French, Middle Ages

Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have been working on a series of “Memento Mori” paintings. The Latin phrase literally means, "Remember that you must die." Each time I begin work on one, I touch raw feelings such as sadness or grief. Also come feelings of closure, laughter and relief. 
The famous French painter Matisse made the statement: “Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I say that is not all art must be.  

The biggest annual festival in Oaxaca is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is time of remembrance and celebration of souls departure from this earthly existence. Most Mexicans consider death as not just a misfortune but also an ultimate state of liberation. Many positive images associated with the skeleton can be found in Mexican culture.

Skeletons in art have a long history. Some of the most memorable works in my mind are by Albrecht Durer, Pieter Breughel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch⏤famous artists from medieval times. In the Middle Ages the skeleton started to be used artistically as a personification of Death, i.e. in Dance of Death artworks, and as a symbolic element in other 'macabre' artistic themes with memento mori content, such as the Triumph of Death.

Detail from Pieter Breughel the Elder, Triumph of Death, 1562

In these contemporary times, the dance of death continues with different plagues: world wide pandemics, global warming and the ensuing natural calamities, wars, famines . . . you get the picture.  Death does not care, it comes to all that live. The skeleton represents spirit released of the body; a medium that connects life and death, conscious and unconscious. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Cup Runneth Over

As the saying goes, “the cup runneth over.” When children arrive to our home on Sundays for art projects it is high energy in our otherwise mostly tranquil setting. They are excited before they arrive. Girls sit together and two boys are side by side, with a mother and sister at their table. The happiness level goes up even more once materials are taken up and projects begun.

Recently we have been working on making an alebrije; a magical creature of wood painted imaginatively in bright colors. On our recent trip to the the USA, Amy found wooden grasshoppers at a second hand store. There were many of them in boxes. “Hey, these would be great for our childrens classes!” she said. They come with a stick that makes a cricket sound when rubbed against the ridges at the bottom. We bought a bunch and brought them back to Oaxaca. The children have been painting them.
We allow limited entry in our house, mostly to clean up, use the toilet or head to the backyard. The kids are highly curious of our home since it is luxurious. Their eyes get big and mouths drop open. They are amazed we have two bathrooms, and hot water. Often the girls beg to stay when it is time to leave. 

There is a big tree in our backyard and when class ends the two boys jump up and run to it. The girls follow and before long all are swinging from limbs and laughing hard tumbling on the grassy earth.

Next project will be painting gourds. 

Also, we will hand out and discuss booklets made by an American veterinarian who lives in Oaxaca. It is how to treat animals respectfully. They also are coloring books.

We know we are making a difference in lives here in the little pueblo of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico. And we are being transformed as well!

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Las Mañanitas

Marta with her mom and two granddaughters

Sitting among friends in the home down the hill from us, I experienced contentment. 
Our frame maker Mayolo had come to us the day before to invite us to a birthday celebration for his wife Marta. The two of them are about the same age as usa little younger with grown children. We promised to take the short walk down our road and meet them at their house 2 PM the next day.

I knew I would be awkward because of my inability to converse in Spanish. The same as if I were at a party in Italy, or Japan or anywhere while people joked and laughed and looked at me longing to talk but I could not. I resolved to be in my core, as a loving entity among friends who would not judge me harshly.
I have been in these situations many times across the globe. If I am invited into a humble home by someone who is a friend, although I may not speak fluently with everyone, love speaks louder and can be conveyed through eye contact and gesture. (See an earlier post from Egypt: What I want and More )

Amy speaks better Spanish and can stumble along in conversations rather well. We enjoyed meeting the extended family and sharing the love. Wonderful food was served and an organic homemade cake. A fireworks candle flared from atop the cake in front of Marta as she sat with her twin granddaughters on each side. Then the group sang Las Mañanitas, the happy birthday song.

When we got home with a few gifts we were given I felt happy and content. Amy told me Mayolo had merrily shared with the group his happiness at knowing us and had spoken of our talents and virtues. I had heard him speaking and did not understand all he said. He is a special man and friend, gifted with talents and a loving heart. I hope to be able converse with him when I learn more Spanish.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Where is Your Blog?

The first of my 720 blog posts was written and uploaded 16 years ago: Friday, September 29. 2006. The average novel contains about 80,000 words. There are 587,287 words in Tolstoy’s great novel, War and Peace.  I am reading it now, for the second time. (I first read it when I was eighteen years old.) 

My Fairytale Life
taken together as a whole, is my War and Peace.

The last time I posted was June 12, three months ago. Usually I post every weekend. I have been amiss.  Especially since it has not been for lack of experiences to share. My cousin in Dallas, Texas, a retired surgeon, asks, "Where is your blog?"

When Amy and I returned from a sojourn to Europe in May and June, our village celebrated its annual festival after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic. San Pedro Ixtlahuaca puts on a feast of sights and sounds, especially at night with the whirling dancers with fireworks strapped to their bodies.

Amy's two paintings, and Steven's "Rooster Serenade."

Within a month we set out again for three weeks, this time driving from Oaxaca to Santa Fe New Mexico, USA, 1720 miles and four days. Amy also flew to Nebraska and did a workshop during that time. We brought three paintings with us and delivered them to collectors in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  The drive from southern Mexico into the USA is long and arduous, though entertaining too. Those days could be chapters in a book not written about here. 
Our storage unit in Santa Fe is where we have art stored. We sold about ten pieces during our visit.

We returned in time for the finale of Guelaguetza at the end of July. The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro, is an annual indigenous cultural event that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, and nearby villages. The celebration features traditional costumed dancing by gender-separated groups. The parade we witnessed through the streets of downtown was jubilant, stirring, colorful, full of music, with costume and dance and totally pleasing to the crowds lining the avenues.

Taking advantage of the rainy season we planted some big trees around our property. Everyday I begin work after breakfast by cutting brush and waist high grass, surveying our precious trees and plants for evidence of insect damage or blight and tending to needs of our cultured “plantas.” The big issue now is grasshoppers by the millions. They eat all the time! I have to spray poison. Today when I went out to a corner of the property I seldom visit, a mature nopal cactus had toppled down because of the weight of its paddles. If I had been more perceptive, I would have trimmed it.

Our neighbor children have come on Sundays for free art projects that we sponsor. Our hearts are becoming intertwined. 

The next big event is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead at the beginning of November. It is fabulous and this year Amy and I are going to go in costume with faces painted.

There is plenty to write about each week.