Sunday, February 27, 2022

Mexico City

A trip to Mexico City is a phantasmagoria of sights and sounds⏤always with surprises. Amy and I love visiting and hope someday to live there for at least a few weeks. The worlds fifth largest city, Ciudad de Mexico is bigger by population than any city in the USA. It is six hours away by car from our home in Oaxaca, or about 1 hour by airplane.

Along with two friends from Chicago, we went by air from Oaxaca City to Mexico City on February 22 and stayed until the 25th when our friends returned to Chicago and we flew home. As usual, our visit was fun, educational and dreamlike.

We like to stay at Le Meridien, a 17 floor, excellent hotel in the Reforma area, centrally located downtown. From there we take taxis to destinations, or simply walk.

This visit we went to The National Anthropological Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Antique Toy Museum and Diego Rivera Mural Museum. Amy and I had been to all the places but the Toy Museum, which Amy found online and because of her passion for such things was determined to visit. What a treasure it is! As we were leaving we met the founder and collector of toys, Roberto Shimizu, Sr and sat with him talking. Then we met his son, Roberto Shimizu Jr who is curator.

Here is a slideshow video of highlights:

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Monte Albán

Visible to the east from our rooftop patio, standing on a mountaintop is Monte Albán, one of the most important archeological sites in all of Mesoamerica. Several times since we moved to Oaxaca ten months ago we have attempted to go and visit, but found a line of vehicles waiting for entry. We turned around and left, choosing to try again later.

Recently Amy and I received our first guests to our home. Harold and Becky live in Chicago and I have known Harold for over forty years. With Monte Albán close by, we took a chance to go again, hoping for easy entry. Success at 11 AM on Friday! 

I felt a happy sense the moment I arrived in the parking lot and climbed a few steps of the ancient place.

Under blue skies we strolled in the midday heat, experiencing what was a metropolis and capital of the Zapotec people for 13 centuries, between 500 BC and 800 AD. Monte Albán is a world heritage monument and located on a low mountain range overlooking the city of Oaxaca⏤with its surrounding plains and villages. 

Exploring the site, I felt exhilarated with inspiration, sensing history and countless footsteps of those who had trod the ground under my feet. 

Monte Albán reminded me of another place of exceptional importance I have been to: The Acropolis on Mount Olympus at Athens, Greece. Its most famous structures, such as the Parthenon and Old Temple of Athena were constructed around the same time as Monte Albán. I thought of how remarkable that these very grand construction sites were also lofty places overlooking their surroundings. That meant they were very difficult choices for building sites. And such marvelous monuments were made! 
When something grand is made with human determination under extreme difficulty, in order to honor earth and heaven, it is holy.

Now that Amy and I know we can drive up the mountain sides and get to Monte Albán without too much hindrance, we are eager to go back often for inspiration.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Angels and Ants

 I thought about ants. They work so hard and industriously, making kingdoms on earth. In New Mexico, USA they seemed innocent enough, even noble, crawling busily over the high desert floor. At the time, I had traveled much and made art for over thirty years. Deep down I felt like stopping everything to simply become an observer. Watch ants work every day. Meditate.

Almost two decades ago, after my oldest daughter died, a poem came to me and included ants as a metaphor for elemental spirits of the world:

Angels and Ants

My pen tries to speak,
but the language it has learned 
is too sublime
for mere scratchings.
You taught me a new tongue—
the expressions of angels.
Alas, an ocean is between us 
which cannot be passed.
Wandering alone in a daze
I am left with the ants 
traveling over the dust of this world.

Amy and I have been living in Oaxaca, Mexico now for almost a year. For the first time in my life my home is in a place without winter. We grow flowers year around. The nearby plant nursery always welcomes us with myriad colors, exotic trees and shrubs and prices a fraction of what we would pay in the USA. Blooming rose shrubs cost 1.50 USD. Our eyes are dazzled and we make sure to smell them, to be certain of fragrance. 

Destroyed jasmine plants
I planted seven roses, caring for them, watching them slowly take hold and grow new leaves. Suddenly they were almost wiped out. By ants. Not just the roses, but many other of our trees, vegetables, and shrubs were being decimated. The jasmine plants in pots by our back door were denuded. By day I could not see much activity, but at night, by flashlight I saw legions of ants in long lines carrying cut leaves to their holes in the ground. 

The old lady, matriarch of the family who owns the nursery, when asked what could be done about ants, looked us steady in the eye and said, “kill them”.

I dug up my roses and put them in pots, then took them to my roof patio where they have revived and are producing marvelous blooms. Meanwhile, sadly I have had to declare war on the ants.

I have had to ask, plants or ants? 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Inside Your Darkest Everything

It started a couple of years ago when I made an oil painting of a young Frida Kahlo,_(Mexican,-6 July 1907 – 13 July 1954)with a skeleton whispering in her ear and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. I copied her own self-portraither first of many, then added a skeleton and a quote of hers: “I want to be inside your darkest everything.” I have tried my hand at painting skeletons and find that I like it. 

Amy and I have lived in our home in Oaxaca, Mexico going on one year. There are many festivities during the year, but undoubtedly the biggest, most famous, is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that occurs at the beginning of February. Significantly it is time for prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died. Its universally observed in Mexico, but also regions with large Mexican populations. In Oaxaca, skeletons and skulls are widely depicted as emblems of death and afterlife, and can be seen year around on walls.

This past year, as Dia de Muertos approached, I had an idea for a painting with skulls. With a bit of trepidation I began work on it. After overcoming some negative emotions, I continued until it was finished. Standing back, I liked it very much and determined not to sell it. It is called "Memento Mori", meaning an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull.
My neighbor Mayolo stepped into the picture when he made a fantastic tin frame for me, complete with skulls, crossbones and roses. 
Recently Mayolo made another masterpiece frame for my next muerto painting. It has sculptures and engravings with incredible filigree work in tin. At the top are two miniature violins with exquisite detail.

It seems I am in a process of making a series of muerto paintings.
The one to the left is my latest and almost finished. Many ideas come to me. 

Twenty one years ago my daughter died of cancer. It has taken me this long to make a painting that includes death as protagonist.