Another visit to the Tule tree:

Every time we take a friend to visit “the big tree”, there is something more to see. Known for its topiary and its lush gardens, which employ several locals full-time, the village of Santa Maria del Tule was going through a mini-boom until all the tourists went away. Even so, as the photos in this issue show, they are continuing with their ongoing civic beautification project.

The masthead photo is of one burl in the great tree. The day we were there, there were no “guides”: teenagers who, for a fee, will take you around the tree and point out the animals represented in various swirls and fissures of the tree. I see a snake. How many do you see?

The cheese-and-squash-blossom empanadas in the market are still worth the trip, and there are a few very fine “barbacoa” style meat eateries as well. The “suburbs” of Tule, El Retiro and Tlalixtac, are being slowly discovered by gringo settlers.

The new highway by-pass makes Tule more accessible, and keeps the traffic of the Pan American Highway away from the center of town, while there is plenty of bus service from the city. If you don’t want to live in “the smoke”, you could do a lot worse than Tule.

The APPO is back – in a new location:

Having been forced to abandon its center of activities in the Zócalo, the Oaxaca People’s Assembly has moved “uptown”. The area around the front of Santo Domingo church is now “tarp city”, with central tables for giving money, getting news, locating and reporting the arrested, disappeared and killed “compañeros”, and registering representatives’ arrivals, located on the Alcalá across from the Internet store.

Caucuses are going on in front of the church, and the Museum (which is closed), as well as along Gurrión street on the south side of the church. Movement vendors are selling cd’s, audio tapes, dvd’s t-shirts and posters in the immediate area of the tables. On the block between Bravo and Allende, the usual gaggle of music, video, clothing, jewelry and gewgaw vendors hold forth. Below that, between Morelos (where the PFP are barricaded in) and Bravo, spontaneous creations of street art can be seen.

It is clearly a smaller presence than was in the Zócalo, no doubt due to the return of most of the teachers to their classrooms, and a changing strategy by APPO, which appears to be sending more folks to defend the few remaining barricades in other parts of the city. (We hear that most are being dismantled, but conflicting rumors abound: for instance, the APPO announced that the barricades around the University would be removed, but the student wing, mostly responsible for maintaining them, flatly refused.) It is remarkable that, in the midst of all the paramilitary and police activities against their organization, the APPOistas hold their position in front of Santo Domingo without any sort of impediment for anyone who might want to harm them. No tires, no buses, no tin, nada.

Completely disregard the previous information:

It was written on the 20th, at about 1 p.m.

By 4 p.m., our friends, Jane P, and Victor Vasquez of Teresita, had been teargassed (innocent bystanders, two of scores, we just happen to know about them), anywhere from 20 to 60 people had been injured and/or arrested, and a battle was raging inside the Law School building on Macedonio Alcalá and Independencia. During the melee a masked crowd of youngish-appearing males broke a bunch of windows and otherwise vandalized the Camino Real Hotel, which then closed down.

Cars and buses were hijacked, and some were burned.

Subsequently, barricades were erected at the corner of Alcalá and Bravo, and after some tear-gassing and pepper-spraying and head-thumping,in an attempt to remove them, the police withdrew to their previous positions. Later that night, around midnite or 1 a.m., a contingent of unidentified thugs (PFP, PRIistas, state Judicial police, or some combination thereof) attacked the APPO tables and the puestos (sales stalls) that had been set up nearby, and destroyed them. They burned all the information, photos, and other stuff that they could find, as well as the tarps, tables, chairs, shelves, and what-have-you. No injuries were reported, as the APPO people had long since departed for the night.

We took a stroll into the area about 11 a.m. on the 21st. In spite of the carnage, APPO people were slowly returning to the area, determined to set up their information tables again. More demonstrations were being planned. As far as we know, there was no attack on that night (last night as this goes to press).

Things change so fast around here, that by the time you receive this, all this info will be old. Keeping up is a full time job.

A marionette show at the San Augustín Art Center:

The old textile mill in San Augustín appears to be going pretty much full tilt these days, although the machinery is long since silent

. There are classes available in most aspects of art, and there is a magnificent show featuring international ceramicists in the first floor gallery space. The big surprise for me was the wonderful pieces from Turkey: I had not thought of Turkey as a ceramics center, but now I will always associate the two.

We found out about the marionettes from San Martín carver Jesus Sosa. He and eight other carvers and painters from the village have been commuting to the Art Center to take part in a workshop being taught by a couple of Czech masters. On Saturday, after more than a month of work, they put on a play, on the second floor of the building. Of course when you start out with a group of master carvers, it is no surprise when you get a work that rivals that of most professional puppeteers.

The workshop is continuing, and a brand new opus is scheduled to be performed – much closer to us, thank goodness – on December 12, 13, and 14, at 5:00 p.m., in the plaza between Carmen Alta church and the Graphic Arts Library (IAGO). If you’re in town, don’t miss it.

AMLO draws a crowd and wears a sash:

On the 20th, Revolution Day here in Mexico, as promised, Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the man who won the vote and lost the election, declared himself the real President of Mexico. The cheering multitudes that overflowed the Zócalo are now free to ponder just what it means to have a President who has no army, no police, no treasury, and a 20 point plan for transforming the nation.

Meanwhile, the Fox government is busy turning the Chamber of Deputies into a bunker. Amidst complaints from all those living in the neighborhood, a ring of security has been set up at a perimeter of a few blocks, with multiple checkpoints for all who attempt to enter the area. Rumors abound that the Presidential Guard will enter the Chamber itself, and forcibly hold the Deputies in their seats while the formality of handing over the sash of power (the one that comes with an army, a police force, and a treasury) to Felipe Calderón. This in order to prevent the opposition parties from taking the podium and denying it to the usurper, as they did to Fox when he tried to give his final State of the Union a while ago.

According to the media, several heads of state will attend this ceremony. They will get a birds-eye view of what the steel fist looks like when the velvet glove is removed…

[More street art. This piece was lying on the paving stones in front of the MACO. The cartoon shows two crowds, one poorly dressed and sporting a banner with a shouting mouth; and one well dressed and sporting a banner that says “sshhhhh”]

What about Christmas?

The question continues to be asked in numerous emails: what will the year-end holiday season look like? Will there be a Radish Festival? Calendas (candle-light parades, featuring tableaux on flat-bed trucks) on Christmas Eve? Will things have “settled dlown”?

The brief answer is, of course, that I don’t know, but I can guess.

There will be a Radish Festival. Otherwise, what will they do with all the giant radishes being raised for the purpose? Aside from being a big tourist draw (in years when tourists are not cancelling their reservations right and left, as they are this year), the Festival is a big investment not only for the municipal government (the radishes are grown in government sponsored and supervised fields) but also for the farmer / carvers who spend a lot of time tending their plots in hopes of winning some pretty hefty prizes in the judged competition. Most likely locations are the Plaza de la Danza and El Llano park, but smaller venues such as Conzatti would do if all traffic were banned on adjacent streets.

There will be calendas, but they will be smaller, less elaborate, and likely confined to the area around the sponsoring neighborhood. This is partly due to the lack of money (the last six months have taken a terrible toll on the common weal), and partly due to the likely unavailablility of the town square as a focal point, which will still be occupied by the PFP..

Which brings us to the last, and the most fundamental question of all: will things have settled down in the next month. Much to my sorrow, I must predict that they will not have. My reasoning is that the resentment of the people over the occupation of the PFP and the predations of the death squads goes much deeper than is immediately apparent; that it has to do with the governor (who actually told a meeting of religious leaders that Governors can only be removed by God), and the stolen Presidential election.

I need to say here that many very rational, scientific, and thoughtful people – some of them reading this Newsletter – believe that Calderón did indeed win the election, and that AMLO is just a sore loser. But there is certainly room for disagreement here, partly because the Election Court took a Legalistic rather than a Pragmatic approach to the controversy. The general public believes that, given the chance, their government will lie, cheat, steal, and betray them, and without proof to the contrary, they are going to believe the election stolen, because that is what they perceive as “normal”. I tend to see things their way. A recount, box by box, would have gone a long way toward preventing the social disruption that is bound to occur on December 1st when Calderón takes office with the help of the Palace Guard; and Oaxaca, a stronghold of PRD sentiment, is one of the places most likely to convulse.

If Days of the Dead was any indication of Christmas, it will be quieter and festivities will be somewhat curtailed in the city of Oaxaca. On the other hand, the villages of the Central Valley, most of which are little affected by tourism in the first place, will be celebrating in a more traditional and in many ways more pleasing fashion. There is a Posada on Christmas Eve in most villages, celebrating the Holy Parents going around from house to house looking for a place to crash, usually followed by a party with fireworks, a band, and lots of food and drink. So, if you’re not wedded to a Zócalo Christmas, and willing to go a little out of your way, the rewards could be very great indeed.

[This is a photo that somehow got mis-filed, whcih I discovered on one of my not-frequent-enough cleanup details. Among other things, they are demanding that their road get paved. For all you cold warriors out there, these women are (shudder) Communists. At least they said they were…]

Happy Thanksgiving:

We celebrate Thanksgiving the same way we celebrate Passover: as an excuse for a good meal. The turkey, with stuffing and gravy, will, as it has for the last few years, come freshly smoked and piping hot from the oven at Gudrun-the-German-Sausage-Lady’s house, delivered just in time for us to get it carved and served.

It will be a nice respite between the battles of the barricades and whatever action APPO has planned for the 25th, when, it has announced, it will completely surround the PFP and prevent them from entering or leaving the Zócalo.

I intend to wear my latest acquisition to dinner, a t-shirt that I was recently given titled “Homeland Security”, with a picture of a Native American hunting party, and a lower caption saying “fighting terrorism since 1492”. I’ll wear it every Columbus Day, too.