A little culture in the middle of the conflict:

Last Friday, there were two gallery openings in Oaxaca. We attended both. One was at the photography museum “Manuel Alvarez Bravo”, consisting of three separate artists’ exhibitions. Taking the prize for weirdest show was a video loop of a firing squad shooting some shelves full of paint, with the resulting “paintings” being the product of the random swirls and runs from the shattered containers. Some of the “abstracts” that resulted were displayed as well…

Also shown was a series of “squatters” – literally. What appeared to be mostly older men of south Asian and Tibetan origin, squatting on their heels. The photography was simple, stark, and unique.

The second show, at the MACO museum, was on a grand scale. The masthead picture, and a couple of the heads are shown here. Fabricated by sculptor Javier Marin, of resin, wax, wood and other materials on a steel frame, these giant sculptures were indeed impressive.

The free bar was better at MACO, but the food was far superior at the Bravo (there was no food at MACO).

An update from the War Zone:

Today is November 3. It’s a good day for ex-pats: the day when we receive our Social Security checks.

Yesterday was a good day for the “movement”. In spite of overwhelming odds, they managed to stave off a concerted attack by the paramilitary Federal Preventative Police (PFP), elements of the army, and death-squad operatives loyal to the governor on the state university, Universidad Autónomo Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO).

[This guy was demonstrating an embroidery gadget. He was doing a great business on the street on the day before the PFP showed up.]

Bombarded by tear gas dropped by helicopters and fired from police rocket launchers, knocked down by water cannons firing water mixed with pepper spray, shot at and beaten, students, political activists and just plain folks from the neighborhood stood their ground and – as hundreds more poured in to reinforce the resistance, called to do so by Radio Universidad (the voice of the “movement” and the object of the police action) – surrounded the police. An appearance by the rector of UABJO to demand that the police not violate the University (by Mexican law, police may enter an autonomous university only by direct invitation from the rector) helped to turn the tide. Confronted by the illegality of his orders (nobody does anything here without clear orders from the top), the Interior Secretary ordered the police to desist. The militants opened an aisle for the military to retire, and when they were gone, commenced to build anew the barricades that the tanks had destroyed.

This appears to be the strategy of the APPO (People’s Assembly of Oaxaca), who are in the leadership of the resistance: wait the PFP out (as in the case of the Zócalo, where there are millions of dollars worth of tanks, trucks, and other strategic vehicles parked), or drive them back; then move in to the vacuum again; pop up in new places with new barricades. Replace old, destroyed barricades. Retreat, feint, resist, re-occupy. Classic guerrilla tactics.

[This equal opportunity entrepreneur just sold an ice cream to that soldier – on the same corner that the embroidery guy had occupied only a couple of days before. ]

There may be short-run victories such as the abdication of Ulises Ruiz, the governor, and the release of many of the political prisoners. Whether this will work in the medium run is still doubtful. The oligarchy is old, with a long and vengeful memory, and while they are getting weaker all the time, they are still both powerful and ruthless. The long run belongs to the “movement”, however. Too many people suffering too much for too long needed only an organizational framework within which to rise up, and the Zapatistas, with their “from below and to the left”, non-violent model, are giving that framework to the people. Change – fundamental political change – is in the air.

The APPO has called for a giant march on Sunday.

The clouds of black smoke wafting up into Oaxaca’s blue skies during yesterday’s confrontations is gone today. For now, Oaxaca is relatively peaceful, but nobody doubts that scores more people will join the hundreds of dead, disappeared, arrested and tortured before this battle ends.

[This Day of the Dead altar was on display in the gallery space of the Mayordomo restaurant on the Alcalá]

A new photo album:

Diana has posted a new photo album, consisting of “neighborhood watch” banners, which have sprung up as individual neighborhoods have moved to fill the vacuum left by absent police. To see it, just click HERE . When you are done looking at it, just click on the back arrow of your browser, and it will return you to this Newsletter.

[A large sand painting on the Alcalá, about a block up from the troops.]

Some impressions of Oaxaca:

All the paving stones in the “new” Zócalo, which were pink when they were installed, are gray now. The grime from the cooking fires, the burning tires, the general accumulated dirt of five months of occupation has been ground into them. It’s a perfect setting for the grey-clad troops with their grey-painted armored vehicles. The street vendors are gone again. Most of their stands have been broken up and carted away. There are a few sidewalk cafés open, but there is little joyousness.

Smug, stupid gringo ex-pats sit smirking in the sidewalk cafés showing their indifference to the suffering of the Oaxacans around them, happy to have “their” Zócalo “back again”, preferring the monochromatic military to the colorful Triqui vendors. It must be that uniforms are somehow reassuring – within their comfort level – whereas banners calling for revolution are not. The waiters must wonder if repression of dissent is the price of their patronage, since they were rarely to be seen in these last months, before the soldiers came.

Helicopters circle overhead from time to time. Troop trucks come and go, presumably to shift squads from this to that battleground. If you took the police out of their uniforms and dressed them in civilian clothes, they’d look a lot like the teachers they have replaced (only younger): sitting around reading, taking naps, eating in the improvised field kitchens, joking with each other. Only of course there are no women or children…

[This altar is in a corner of the plaza in front of Santo Domingo church. The sign reads “Oaxaca: showing its face to the nation”]

Every day since Monday, there have been marches. Not very large, but very vocal. They walk right in front of the troops, shouting slogans and telling them to go away. Day of the dead “tapetes” (a kind of “rug” of sand, flowers, and other elements) have been drawn in the street right at the feet of the soldiers. There are Day of the Dead altars all up Macedonio Alcalá street, including the environs of the Santo Domingo church about five blocks from the Zócalo, where the APPO are maintaining a presence. Every one of them, without exception, lists some or all of the opposition dead. Brad Will figures prominently in several.

From The Field:

After five years of a wonderfully rewarding collaboration for us with George Colman and Michele Gibbs, they have decided to cease regular publication of “From The Field”. We will continue to archive all five years of their writings and art-works. Occasionally, as the spirit moves, they may add to the treasury. Meanwhile, the latest (and last regular, but hopefully not last ever) edition is now available by clicking HERE. When you’re done reading it, just click your “back” button until you come back to this page.

Remember that many of Michele’s works are available for sale. Inquiries can be sent directly to her by clicking the link at the bottom of her pages.

[This hard-working fellow in San Martín Tilcajete has to be the youngest taxi driver I’ve ever seen. I was there last week, and saw not one other non-resident. Business is simply non-existant – for everyone but him…]

“Inside Mexico” debuts:

“Inside Mexico” (IM) , sub-headed “The English Speaker’s Guide to Life in Mexico”, put out its first issue recently. After a year of struggle, publishers Aran and Margo Lee Shetterly launched their bid for commercial and literary success in Mexico City. A tabloid sized, colorful mix of articles and pictures, facts and opinions, advice and “tribal knowledge”, IM even includes a monthly rant by yours truly, and occasional photos by Diana. This edition was strong on facts and opinions; how-to and how-not-to. Interviews and profiles added to the mix. Hopefully, the future will bring some in-depth investigative reports on controversial issues.

Meanwhile, it’s an exciting venture, and the schedule of upcoming events and the thorough coverage of a single neighborhood in each issue (this issue, Condesa was featured, including a map listing all the restaurants, hotels, cybercafés, etc.) make it worth grabbing off a rack near you. And, best of all, IM is free. To view it on the Web, just click HERE.

Llano almost completed:

The remake of Parque Paseo Juarez, known to most of us as “El Llano”, is entering its final stages. While there are still details to be completed, the general shape and design is clearly visible. All in all, I can live with it.

While almost all of the native stone retaining walls have been replaced by concrete; while some of the big trees have bitten the dust; while the central plaza feels in some ways more like a parade ground than a restful place to hang out; while no outcome could justify the reconstruction project taken on without consulting anyone by the authoritarian and secretive governor – still, I find it hard to work up much anger over the finished product.

Trees grow, and the new plantings will in their turn become mighty. The concrete is smoothly finished and has a rounded feel at the corners. The soccer players and the scout marching troupes love the open space, as do the sports organizations, family associations, foundations and others who hold expositions, bake sales, conventions and other activities.

For me, the removal of the trees along the boulevard whose roots were pushing up the old concrete slab sidewalks and the replacement of the slabs by paving stones is a great improvement. Along with hundreds of other residents, I can now do my exercise walking without tripping and falling flat on my face.For bureaucratic construction, not too bad…