More Music, Music, Music:

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Music School of Benito Juarez University. School faculty members performed in the “Capilla” (chapel) of the ex-convent-turned-fancy-hotel Camino Reál. It was free, and pretty darn good. The next performance is on the 13th of September at 7:30, for those of you who might be in town then.

All that glitters:

There’s a gold rush going on in Oaxaca, but it bears no resemblance to 1849. You won’t see nary a single lone prospector, a-sittin’ on his mule, picks and shovels a-clankin’ as he moseys off into the sunset in search of El Dorado.
Nowadays, the prospectors wear wash-and-wear plaid shirts, and travel around in 4-wheel drive pickups and SUVs. They have documents in their hands: purchase offers for land, bills of sale, and eviction notices. They are followed by people in blue or grey uniforms (I’m guessing at the colors) providing “security” for land on which other people in blue or grey work clothes and steel-toed boots have erected “no trespassing” signs; and later by operators of machinery to widen the access to give passage to the machinery used to drill core samples, and the earth haulers that will take the ore from various locations to a central processing unit.

Of course there are jobs created, for the families whose land they have confiscated at intolerably low prices with the assistance of local “law enforcement”, who act as enforcers for the local cacique (boss), with whom the people who negotiate such things for the prospectors have come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Unfortunately, the new jobs pay poorly, are often demeaning, and dirty, and all too often dangerous and poisonous.

Forests are cut down to make roadways and in preparation for soil stripping. Erosion brings ecological change and washes away downhill topsoil used for agriculture.

[This outfit is worn by men: the only one on display]

Farming becomes a dream of the distant past, as water normally used for irrigation is diverted to the ore washing facility. Runoff is directed back into the river. Tailings are dumped down the hillsides. The heavy metals that are released in the refining process leach into the groundwater and pollute aquifers that serve whole regions. Cancer rates increase, as does the percentage of the population suffering congenital defects and mental retardation.

If this seems like exaggeration, consider the mine in the northern Sierra Juarez mountains, near the village of Capulálpan. The nearby spring, known as “Y”, is being poisoned by mine activity. That spring is the headwaters for a small river which feeds one of the major tributaries of the Papaloapan river, a major river in Mexico that ends up flowing into the Gulf. The local population has been complaining to the company, the government agencies, and the “non-governmental agencies” (NGOs) as people sicken and die at an increasing rate. Heads are wagged. “Tsk tsk” is heard. No pasa nada (nothing is happening). The defenders of Capulápan have a website in Spanish laying it all out.

[There is a poster art show, “Opening Consciousness” going on at the Music School of the University, UABJO. We haven’t seen the show yet, but really liked the “raw” effect of the announcements, plastered on walls along Macedonio Aclalá street. ]

There are laws in place that sanction people and companies who pollute; and there are many agencies on all levels of government whose job it is to inspect, investigate, and prosecute violators. Yet it is extremely unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted, few will be investigated, and inspectors – if they know what’s good for them, and for their bank account – will find little fault.

Oaxaca has become a major gold and silver find. International corporations, almost all based in Canada, have so far bought up tens of thousands of acres of land in the eastern Mixteca Alta, the mountainous area between Ocotlán and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The stakes are high because the profits are potentially enormous. The mining companies will be loathe to give up any share of profit in favor of ecological, environmental, or human protections.

In some places, the local folks are reacting to their bleak reality and their bleaker future by mounting armed patrols, and it is not unusual for a foreigner to be stopped by some local grandmother angrily demanding to know where the visitor comes from, and what business he/she has in her village. Canadian mining engineers are not very welcome.

Army units have been moved into the area, ostensibly to deal with drug cultivation. Many locals believe the army – along with additional federal police patrols – are there to assist in the eventual evictions as the mining companies gear up for extraction and production. For more on this issue, go toMining Watch . While the site is not up-to-date, what it has is good, and it will point you to other sources of information.

Organ music in Oaxaca:

After a one-year hiatus due to the uprising, the sixth annual International Organ and Early Music Festival has been scheduled for November 8-13. Sponsored by the Historic Organ Institute of Oaxaca (IOHIO in its Spanish initials), this year’s Festival will bring organists from Mexico and abroad.

Organizer Cicely Winter has planned concerts in at least six of the seven churches in which organs have been restored under IOHIO’s auspices – the seventh may be unavailable because of structural repairs – as well as master classes, and visits to as-yet-unrestored organs. The Festival schedule and fees will soon be posted to the IOHIO site. If you want the information sooner, just write to and ask for the announcement to be sent to you by email.

[The state marimba band, sporting their new shirts, at a noon concert in the Zócalo]

I first met Cicely and her husband Marcus (he’s the guy who “wrote the book” on Monte Albán) shortly after I moved to Oaxaca in 1994. They live in a house in San Felipe del Agua, a town that was “out of town” when I first came to visit in 1973, but was part of Oaxaca by 1994: the city’s population had grown about six-fold in the intervening score of years.

I had moved in a few blocks away, to “Rancho San Felipe”, part of an old estate. Owned by the children of an ex-governor (he was such an outrageous thief that he became one of the few to be drummed out of office for stealing from the state treasury; so as you can imagine, it was a large parcel), it was an agglomeration of modern homes, a crumbling old mansion with an MGM type swimming pool complete with a Venus fountain in a clamshell niche (none of which worked), and a clutch of apartments, townhouses and bungalows in various states of disrepair.

“El Rancho” was one of those places where many an expat of our acquaintance had first found lodging, along with “Los Ladrillos”, the two story apartment building on Juarez, and Roberta French’s place on Crespo. It was one of the “Rancheros” that introduced me to the Winters.

The first benefit concert I attended in Oaxaca was at the newly restored Macedonio Alcalá Theater. It was in aid of the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (the Common Front against AIDS), and featured Cicely on the concert grand piano. The second, which was the first benefit concert for the Casa de Mujer (the Women’s House), also in the Alcalá, was performed by Cicely and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra flautist Cynthia Stokes. (For the next eight years, Lila Downs took over the task.)

[One of the paths in Conzatti Park]

Cicely is a co-founder of IOHIO, and its current Director. During the process of finding, cataloguing, and restoring the church organs, the lack of local organists to play the restored instruments inspired Cicely to found the IOHIO Music Academy. The Academy teaches keyboard – mostly piano – to students of a variety of ages and means. There are scholarships. While learning piano, students are encouraged to consider the organ, once they have reached “intermediate” level.

Cicely asked me to mention that the Academy needs keyboards, “…any type of inexpensive tabletop keyboards, the fewer fancy buttons and features the better.” If you know of any that are available, please email with the brand, model and condition.

A Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) update:

The Mexican government just announced that a contract will be let by the end of 2008 for a stretch of the new highway going east from just past Mitla toward the Istmo. It will be a free ride with a big bag of gold at the end for whichever firm is chosen: much of the cost of construction will be paid by the Mexican government, and once completed, the builder will be PAID to operate the tollbooths (from which, it is claimed, the operator will share the profits with the government). If this sounds too fantastic to be true, here is a link to the source material.


*Conzatti Park is being torn up for yet another big-ticket renovation of dubious utility, ala Zócalo and Llano. Plans – according to the banner – include removing the comfortable iron benches that have backs – as you can see, that has already begun – and replacing them with concrete slabs, presumably to discourage people from hanging about too long. For the estimated two to three month excavation period, the Friday market has been moved to the north end of El Llano.

There are rumors that once Conzatti is renovated, the governor has no intention of letting the vendors come back: for one thing, Llano has far more space for more stalls, which means more money for the PRI cronies that control the market; for another, a litany of complaints by local residents – and particularly by the politically influential owners of the upscale Hotel Conzatti – about traffic congestion and parking problems on Friday.

*Amigos del Sol language school has moved from its old home at Libres 107. The new location is in the 800 block of Pino Suarez next to DocuPrint, across from Parque El Llano.

*Pan & Co has moved down the block, to the corner of Allende and Garcia Vigíl. More space, and easier entry.

*Comala restaurant has relocated, also to Allende, just across the street from the Indigo gallery. Really good 45 peso comida Corrida.

*“Black Box”, the shop with articles of quirky design, has moved from “los arcos” to a new home in the complex on 5 Mayo just down from Santo Domingo which also houses Café Gekko.

*”En Amor Arte de Oaxaca” is a new “calendar” that limits itself to “art”. It displays posters from upcoming events, without comment. Note that it does not list upcoming events unless there is a poster available.

*Sachmo gallery and school of art, still going after all these years, is offering a class in line drawing using live models and still life objects, starting in mid-September and lasting nearly a month. Well respected local artist and Sachmo co-founder Saúl Castro is the teacher. If you are interested, go to their site for more details.

*The Mexico File has printed its last issue. The website is no longer online. Instead, David Simmonds will concentrate his efforts on a new website, “Move to Mexico”, which features David’s relocation and real estate representation services, along with some information on transport, culture, and other topics.

*Long-time Oaxaca resident Elaine Sendyk passed away, suddenly, from massive gastrointestinal bleeding, in the Molina Hospital in Oaxaca at the end of August. The remains were cremated. No memorial has yet been announced.