Happy 85th , Diana:

Last month we sat down with about 14 good friends and true, to celebrate a milestone. Held in the dining room of the Oaxaca Ollin bed and breakfast (donated by the owners, our pals Jon and Judíth), with food prepared by Sophia their cook, while incidental music was played by cellist Luís Zárate, it was a simple but elegant affair. Diana’s eldest daughter and granddaughter were on hand. Most of the photos in this edition were taken in the course of “doing Oaxaca” with them, starting with the masthead photo of granddaughter Tisha posing with the monos outside the Artisan’s Co-op on Matamoros and Garcia Vigíl.

Sorry we’re late:

We haven’t forgotten you. It’s just that I’ve been ill. Another case of the cure being � at least in subjective real time � worse than the disease. I was diagnosed in July with early stage, well-contained prostate cancer, and given a hormone shot (Lupron Depot) to shrink the prostate and reduce the testosterone that feeds this type of cancer. We returned to Oaxaca , and very soon thereafter the side effects � about like the worst cases of menopause among the women I have talked to about it � has been (how best to describe it?) kicking the stuffing out of me.

Rather than go through another three months of this agony, which among other things has made sleep difficult, I have returned to California to begin a rather more strenuous course of treatment, known as brachytherapy, in which radioactive seeds are implanted in the prostate to kill the cancer, allegedly forever, though after having been told that the hot flashes would be mild and would disappear in a few weeks I will hang on to my skepticism. My first appointment with the radiation oncologist is in two weeks.

At long last, with the help of a medication whose purpose is to diminish the bad side effects of Lupron, I seem to be functioning on a higher � though not what passes for me as normal � level. Thus, this Newsletter.

[Maya shopping for mole at the 20th of November Market. I bought some powdered brown mole mix, and brought it up with me this time. It has a much more “rustic” taste than the prepared pastes I have been used to.]

Please do not send me well wishes: I will assume them, and there are a lot of you, too many to read, let alone to answer. I have been through most of the web sites, so please don’t write just to recommend one to me. However, if any of you have had, or have friends who have had, brachytherapy, I’d be interested to know how others have experienced it. You or they can write to me by going to http://www.realoaxaca.com/ and clicking on the �ask a question� button, or emailing me directly at realoaxaca (at) gmail (dot) com Thanks.

[This sculpture, and the one that follows, were on display as part of a show at the “Painter’s Museum” on the corner of Independencia and Garcia Vigil. It’s all wood (even the towel and the soap).]

Repression grows along with diversions:

One of the lessons I have learned by observation is that despots and illegitimate rulers and socially privileged people require, as their fame or their wealth or their impunity increases, more and more people to safeguard their interests. Lots and lots of people get employment as police, bodyguards, gophers, publicists, attorneys, etc. Their job is to make sure that those what got, get more.

These jobs tend to come and go, as fortunes shift, and they serve only to lift a few out of a life of poverty for a period of time. Unless of course they want to join their friends in dope or gun smuggling or kidnapping. Many ex-police do armed assaults of one kind or another: they already own the requisite equipment, since they had to buy their own gun. Basically, though, no matter how much they try, they rarely rise above their brethren, since addiction, prison, gang rivalry, or police street justice, usually cuts their careers short.

The “upper strata” appears to be growing more slowly lately, but still, less than 20% of everybody owns more than 80% of everything. The “lower classes” on the other hand appear to be growing by leaps and bounds, with more and more “middle class” people joining their ranks as the economy falls and the folks on top demand more and more.

Us Gringos are in our own class, one mostly excluded from Mexican society. We hover somewhere between Tourist and Interloper, tolerated, usually in a good-hearted way, but not much allowed “in”. Certainly, there are many of us who have developed some very close friendly relationships with our Mexican neighbors, but for most of our tribe, it’s the equivalent of Bridge at the English Language Lending Library.

Diana and I lead pretty quiet and unexciting lives, going about our daily business just like most folks. Occasionally, we attend various cultural functions along with some of “our” class and others. A co-attendant may be wearing a straw hat, scuffed cowboy boots, and well-worn work pants, but he’s probably a Gringo. The only time we see Mexicans dressed like that, they are either working at some menial job, or marching along with up to tens of thousands of others, shouting out for justice, or an end to “impunity”. Usually, they are a good deal darker and shorter than the folks we see at concerts and art gallery openings. Thinner. More serious. Demanding of us that we do not forget them; that they do not become invisible; hoping that they are more than an interesting side show or a mild annoyance to the people sitting in the sidewalk cafés around the Zócalo.

[The Alvarez Bravo photography museum had a dramatic and disturbing show of photos, taken during the 2006 rebellion, and blown up to very large dimensions. ]

While the economy is crashing (more so, I think, in Mexico than in the U.S.) the State government, in a desperate attempt to save at least some of the tourist dollars that are so fundamental to the Oaxacan economy, produces more, and more elaborate, diversions for visitors and those local folks who can afford them. As in the public primary schools, many of the events are free. Like the schools, where participation depends on whether or not the family can afford to buy the requisite shoes and uniforms, attendance at these events is limited by the cost of getting there.

All by way of saying that we, like many in our “class”, are caught in the contradiction between the “fun” of being in Oaxaca and the awareness of the false imprisonments, death squad assassinations, crushing poverty and limited opportunity that goes on all around us � if not often “in sight”. For example, take the case of Magdalena Apasco, in the municipality of Etla , where villagers are being plundered by a gang of self-proclaimed “comuneros” who by force of arms have taken over the local treasury. If the residents complain too loudly, they may meet the fate of other similarly afflicted villages: the PRI-controlled legislature declares the village “ungovernable”, and orders the removal of all officers; they suspend “usos y costumbres” (the system by which the villagers meet as a body to choose their municipal officers, without using any party affiliations); and order the governor (who is the chief thug, and of course also of the PRI) to insert a replacement regime. This is happening in Jicayán, where recently three teachers from Section XXII were shot by other teachers belonging to a rival union local, over who gets to teach the town’s children (and collect the salaries for doing so). Bread (less) and Circuses (more).

[The “triqui market” along the south side of Labastida Park, shot from the Crepe restaurant above Amate Bookstore]

A whole new Monte Alban:

It has been announced by the national archeological ministry (INAH) that beginning sometime next year, a completely new section of Monte Alban , located closer to Santa Maria Atzompa, will open for public viewing. Among other attractions, it will sport three “ball courts”, two of which are larger than the largest in “old” Monte Alban . Thought to have been a bedroom community for the more familiar complex on top of the hill, built about the time of the historical peak of old MA, it is part of the increasingly robust investigation and re-creation of what is still, archeologically, a vast and as-yet under-developed pre-Hispanic city.

Also announced for 2010, a state-of-the-art laboratory on the site, which will both contribute to the analysis of the stellae to discover more of the language of the early Zapotecs, and to teach others the techniques for doing so.

Work being done east and south of Oaxaca city, includes what appears to be a successful negotiation between the Frizell Museum , in the city of Mitla and INAH preserving and cataloging thousands of specimens; and a massive tree-planting project.

Will UNESCO take away Oaxaca ‘s ” World Heritage City ” designation?

In the 15 years that I have lived in Oaxaca , I can remember at least three occasions when this rumor gained some traction, and as far as I can tell, none of those foretold crises even came close to happening. Now, it’s being raised again.

As we have noted several times in these pages, Oaxaca suffers a plague of ugly, senseless, and pointless graffiti (even though there is much graffiti of high artisitic quality as well). Anarcho-punks disguised as radical anarchists and Communists (strange bedfellows?) smear “Fuera Ulises” (get out (of the governorship) Ulises) on government buildings, venerable edifices, and churches. Gangstas spread their crude tags on newly painted surfaces. The political stuff is usually painted over more quickly than the gang tags: the government dislikes criticism far more than it abhors mere ugliness.

[“Good graffiti”, made with materials provided by the State, being displayed on the Alcala. While I was watching, the person painting the middle work set down ner paint brush and walked away. After a few minutes, someone else came along, and painted out everything but the face. I don’t know what he did after that because I had to leave, but talk about anarchy in action…]

It may indeed be that UNESCO is feeling unloved, and perhaps with some reason. However, removing the “Heritage” designation is probably a lot more complex than awarding it. More likely to be happening is an attempt to manipulate more money from the federal agencies that donate to Heritage sites, probably in order to divert the dough to the coffers of the PRI’s election campaigns.

“A” is for Armando; “M” is for Moisés:

I read an article in the San Antonio Express-News on August 23, about a new book, “AbeCendarios”, which uses photos of alebrijes (the carved and painted wooden animals) made by the Jimenez family of Arrazola to illustrate words and concepts, in the service of teaching Spanish to children and slow adults such as myself: �A� is for �armadillo�, for example.

What I found most interesting about the article was the description of the differing expectations of the author and two of my favorite characters, Armando and Moisés. You don’t have to know them (as I do, from dealing with them on behalf of others) to appreciate the story, but knowing them is sure to add to the experience. The article can be found at http://blogs.mysanantonio.com/weblogs/fine_print/2009/08/

[Part of a show at the old Governor’s Palace, now functioning as a multi-purpose facility, and calling itself a Museum.]

Medicare said to be considering covering patients at the ABC Hospital :

The fanciest, most up-to-date, most English-speaking (ABC stands for American / British / Canadian) hospital in Mexico , located in Mexico City, and affiliated with Methodist Hospital in Texas , is negotiating with Medicare, according to a press release from the ABC. If that happens, it will be a great boon to folks like me who have to come all the way back to the States because they can’t afford the full price in Mexico � as low as it is � even if they can find the treatments (20% co-pay in the States still is cheaper).

Here’s that little class thing again: According to a recently released government report, in Oaxaca 72% of the population lack medical services. Infant mortality since 2000 went up. The National Institute for Nutrition declared that 76.9% of the Oaxaca population is undernourished and only 10% are well fed. In 2005, the population in 337 municipalities suffered severe malnutrition. Of 100 municipalities named nationally as the worst off, 45 are in Oaxaca , the majority indigenous, with curable illnesses, infections and parasites rampant among the children. 34% of children over age five don’t attend school. In the agricultural sector where 51.39 % of the population works, federal investment fell from 3.03 % to 2.9% of funds available. The sale of maize suffers from NAFTA rules. Add to that a severe drought, and output this year is predicted to be less than 25% compared to last year.

Rosa vs. Wade:

Oaxaca just passed a very strict anti-abortion law, with exceptions for rape, possible maternal death, or “deformed fetus”. That makes 16 states so far.