THE GUELAGUETZA HAS COME AND GONE

Oaxaca’s big annual dance folk dance festival had its ups and downs. While we did not actually see the performances in the giant amphitheater this year, we did get lots of reports from friends. The performances themselves, broadcast live, were excellent, and the audiences filled the 11,000 seats on both Mondays.

The parade down the andador (walking street), Macedonio Alcala, on the Saturday preceding the first Monday was an extravaganza, and the photos in this edition were taken from a balcony along the parade route. Unlike in past years, there were no “decentralized” small stages scattered around the city center. “Off night” performances were limited to a couple of stages around the church of Santo Domingo.

There was some innovation, particularly in the music from the north Oaxacan coastal region, settled long ago by people whose ancestors came from Africa. Afro- Cuban influences in the instrumentation and rhythms were more noticeable.

There was a major demonstration in the Zócalo against the commercialization of native heritage, the presentation of a happy face to hide the racking poverty and oppression that go on in the places where tourists do not go, and a host of political and social injustices. In order to get rid of the demonstrators, the government had to promise not to allow the booths selling handicrafts and other objects to be erected around the square.

The dislocation of the artisans, first to El Llano park, about a kilometer from the center, and later to a vacant lot behind the baseball stadium a mile away made the event a bust for vendors, and diminished the carnival atmosphere that had enveloped the Zócalo in past years.

THE YOYO COMES TO TOWN

The Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca (IOHIO, pronounced yo-yo) is a perfect example of how expatriates, visitors, and local Oaxacans come together to affect significant changes in the cultural landscape.

Governor Murat leads the parade.

In July, we visited Cicely Winter in the IOHIO office, located in the beautifully restored building that houses the Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca (stamp museum: MUFI). Cicely is the director of the IOHIO which she established together with part-time Oaxaca resident Edward Pepe in the year 2000, as a means of promoting the seven restored organs in the state and protecting the fifty-five which are non-functioning.

Cicely was trained as a pianist and harpsichordist, and as a result of the IOHIO project, has become an organist as well. We have had the good fortune to attend many of her performances here, including benefit concerts for the Casa de Mujer (woman’s house) and the Frente Común Contra el Sida (the common front against AIDS). She had never played a pipe organ until a few years ago, when she was inspired by listening to Ed Pepe play the organ in Tlacochahuaya (tla-ko-cha-WA-ya), just east of Oaxaca city.

Ed, a professionally trained organist and photographer, has collaborated with Cicely in the presentation of many organ concerts, has created a photo archive in the IOHIO of more than 3000 photographs of the 62 organs, and is engaged in an ongoing research project about historic organ construction in Oaxaca. Cicely, along with Ed and Oaxaca retiree Tom Smith, put on a concert that we attended in 2000 at the church in Tlacochahuaya (where we all had attended the “inaugural” concert played by French organist Dominique Ferran arranged by the local Alliance Francaise in 1994), and since then has performed many times on the grand organs at the Oaxaca Cathedral and Soledad Basilica, as well as Tlacochahuaya and other communities.

Of the scores of pipe organs dating from the 18th and 19th centuries that are known to exist (Cicely and Ed are sure there are more that are yet to be discovered), only seven have been fully restored, with an eighth restoration currently underway. However, once restored, they must be maintained, kept in tune, and played. At present, there are few organists in Oaxaca who are interested in the historic repertoire or can take time out from their other musical activities to play the organs, and no resident professional to tune and repair them. However, the IOHIO has been financing the training in organ building in Europe of José Luis Acevedo, a young Oaxacan architect. He is already able to help with basic maintenance and repairs and will be Oaxaca’s resident professional organ technician some day. Anyone interested in hearing a historic organ can attend the 12:00 Sunday Mass in the Cathedral; the concerts programmed the first Saturday of every month in the Basílica de la Soledad at 9:00 PM by an organist from Mexico City or his students; and during the month of August, informal concerts on each Tuesday of the month by Cicely on the Cathedral organ from 1:00-2:00 PM.

The IOHIO has been working closely with the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) which oversees the protection of the national patrimony) in order to develop standards for restoration projects. The IOHIO has been working for some time in collaboration with the INAH on drafting a national code to regulate restorations and all other interventions of historic organs all over Mexico. It will be the first Code of its kind in any Latin American country.

Even before restoration, there is the matter of preservation: preventing the continuing deterioration of existing organs whose townspeople have never heard them played, and have not therefore developed an appreciation of their organ as a valuable legacy. In many cases, just the fact that someone thinks them important enough to show up, gather together the pieces, clean the choir loft, and spend time measuring and photographing the organ, will serve to reinforce a sense of local pride and appreciation. The IOHIO delivers a framed picture of the local organ to the municipal government office, to help remind public officials that the organ is worth preserving, and a CD recorded on Oaxacan organs so that they can imagine how their organ might once have sounded, even if it no longer functions at the moment.

The church of Santo Domingo, and the Juarez mountains frame an enthusiastic crowd.

The job is daunting, and what started out as a simple desire to play antique pipe organs has mushroomed into a full time coordinating task that has presented an immense challenge to Cicely and her colleagues. In 2001, the IOHIO organized an annual International Festival of Organ Music, to which are invited pipe organists of national and international stature who are experts in the Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese), and related historic repertoire. This year’s festival is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14-17.

The office space and a monthly allowance to cover operating expenses are donated by the Amigos de Oaxaca Trust, founded by former Banamex director Alfredo Harp, and have been essential to the continued existence of the project. As well, the IOHIO gratefully accepts private donations from anyone interested in their work. Just e-mail Cicely at iohio@spersaoaxaca.com.mx There is also a Newsletter available.

Local, national, international; native Oaxacans, immigrants, residents, and visitors. IOHIO works.

BIG CHANGES IN ZAPATISTA COUNTRY

After almost two years of relative silence, Subcomandante has just issued a spate of announcements. The first, about a week ago, stated that the EZLN will no longer recognize any political office or politician, and will not have anything to do with any political party (the latter, after only 41% of the electorate bothered to vote on July 6, seems to reflect popular opinion). Also issued was a warning to the Army and the paramilitaries, that the EZLN is prepared to retaliate in kind for any attacks on their territory: “an eye will cost two eyes, a tooth a mouth full of teeth”.

A few days ago, the word came down that the Zapatistas will no longer accept any aid from any source, unless they have requested it and worked out the terms and timing with the donor in advance. The people of the liberated zones have had it with old computers that don’t work, shoes that come in singles, medicines that are woefully out of date.

Next was a declaration that all the “Aguascalientes” community centers will be closed, and that security will be tightened in the face of increased military and paramilitary buildups; that autonomous communities will be organized into five autonomous “municipios” (sort of like counties); that each municipio will have identified persons acting as spokespersons; that these spokespersons will be the final authority on who is or is not “Zapatista” – a necessary step to resolve confusion caused when some con artist comes to town, claims to be EZLN, and rips people off, as has been happening.

Then, yesterday, El Sub issued an invitation to the world to come to Oventic, in the heart of the liberated zones, for a three-day conference and celebration of the “new order”, at which the new municipal representatives will presumably be introduced, and from which the inaugural broadcast of Radio Zapatista will originate “sometime” on August 9, the last day of the confab: 49 meter band, 5.8 megahertz on your shortwave radio dial.

AND SPEAKING OF CHANGES

We’re moving. After five years living smack dab in the center, we’ll be renting a newly remodeled two-bedroom place, about a mile north of the Zócalo, in colonia (neighborhood) Xochimilco. It will be the first time either of us have had a place completely to ourselves in Oaxaca, and we are looking forward to the privacy. There is a plot of earth for Diana, and a place to park a car if we ever get one. The kitchen and bath are both larger, as are the bedrooms. Lots of windows, and we can sublet (something our current landlady did not allow), so we may – if the time is right and the location is of interest – be open to house exchange in a few months…

The next two newsletters will undoubtedly chronicle the travails and joys of moving, so be prepared to agonize along with us over the delayed telephone installation, the woes of getting a change-of-address assignment in our residence documents, the wonder of new furniture and a tomato plant or two; all illustrated by Diana. Somehow, in the midst of all that, we will also keep up as best we can what is happening around us.