Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Belva and Enrique Veláquez: 26 years of calendars, continuity, and community

1994 Calendar
Artists Belva and Enrique Velázquez moved here from Guadalajara in 1989. While Enrique studied art in Guadalajara, Belva studied art in Colorado. She loves calendars, remarking that, because the weather here is so consistent, “They remind me of what month we’re in." When she went looking for a calendar, she couldn’t find one, so she rounded up some of Enrique’s pen and ink drawings and designed a calendar for 1994.

That first calendar had its issues. It was delivered as a stack of individual sheets, uncollated, unbound.  Belva collated, stapled and drilled the hanging holes in each of the 1,000 calendars she had ordered.  She even did all the caligraphy.
After listening to their many customers requests, in 2000 she designed a color calendar and began to do half of the images herself. The calendars capture the quiet beauty and every day life of the Lake Chapala area. They also list Mexico, US, and Canadian holidays, Jewish holidays and the new and full-moon.
2019 Calendar: Cajititlan

Flipping through my newly-purchased calendar for 2019, I was struck by the fact that it is a 13-month calendar. Belva’s explanation was even more striking and shows the depth of care for their customers. “From the beginning, we printed on good paper and designed the calendar with the idea that some people might want to frame the images. We always put the most popular image on the front of the calendar, but that’s always where all the words about the calendar are, so it can’t really be framed. So, we added the thirteen month and repeated the cover image so it can be framed.”

Enrique and Belva are busy, productive artists, who raised three children here and also survived the 1995 Peso Crisis, when the government suddenly devalued the peso resulting in a period of hyperinflation that reached 52%. (1) 

The continuity of producing a calendar every year for 26 years is an event to be celebrated … and they will do that with an open studio on October 5-6 from 4 to 8. In addition to food, fun and live music, they will be displaying all 26 years of the calendar. Come browse through the history of Ajijic.

It’s fascinating to talk with people who have been here  for many years. They remember things such as … when there were no stop lights … when there was only one artist studio in the village. When I asked Belva what change in their almost 30 years here has been most important to her, she said it was the art community that has developed here. “When we first arrived, there was one place to eat, one place to spend the night, one art gallery.” 
Now, we often take for granted the abundance of art, restaurants, and cultural opportunities that joins with the great beauty here to make this such a wonderful place to live.

Open Gallery
October 5 and 6, 4 pm to 8 pm.
16 de Septiembre, #7, Ajijic 
The Veláquez gallery
  1. Wikipedia: Mexican Peso Crisis

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Living in Mexico is an exploration of the relativity of time

Zacatecas man
Late last year, I started volunteering with Feria Maestros del Arte, an amazing organization that has become one of the best-known and most respected folk art festivals in México. 
Not only do I get to see incredible art from remote villages, I get to be part of an ongoing act of generosity that supports the survival of indigenous art forms. Artisans who show at the Feria pay no fees, no commissions, and no transportation costs. They take home all the money they make, and, for some, it is their primary source of income for the year.

My task for the Feria is to write and publish the blog and newsletter and, yesterday, I got myself into a NoB (north of the border) rush to send out the newsletter before the board meeting. It took a little longer that expected so I was late meeting the Founder before the meeting, and got myself into that old, familiar hyped-up, slightly-frenzied state of hurrying, trying to take everything I needed to run errands after the meeting. When your primary mode of transportation is walking, it pays to plan ahead.

Amate Artist: Rubelio Sánchez Santos
After the meeting, I went to a bazaar, chocked full of second-hand furniture and the collections of people who have transitioned to other places. I had seen some frames I thought might work for a piece I needed to frame. Nothing worked, so I went on to the frame shop where the owner and a client were chatting about the best way to frame a piece of amate art, a type of bark paper that has been manufactured in México for hundreds of year and was used to create codices (folded pre-Columbian books made by the Mayan, and mostly destroyed by the conquistadors and Catholic priests in the 16th century.)

I joined the discussion and then we moved on to how to frame "Zacatecas Man" for the gallery.
Galería del Futuro, our gallery that will open soon
Then it was time to be off to home … or would have been except that it started to sprinkle so I took refuge in my favorite coffee shop. In a corner, one of my friends, a former Apple teacher, was coaching a woman on how to better use her iPhone. After her client left, we talked about a workshop project we had just decided to work on together.  
New car color, reflecting wall painted by Leonardo

After coffee, the rain had stopped (it seldom rains much during the day here), so it was time to walk home, except we ran into another friend, a blogger and creator of amazingly intricate mandalas. We had to catch up with her progress on a mandala we had been following on Facebook and talk about our blogs before moving on down the street.

My friend left to go one way and I popped into a gallery to talk to a young artist, Leonardo, who I thought might be interested in painting some chairs for the new gallery and to show him a picture I had taken a photo of a wall he had painted as it reflected onto a parked car.

He liked the photo but didn’t think the painted chair idea would work, so I moved on down the street on my way home. 
Duct tape chair

However, I had to pass the bar/restaurant where I had seen the chair that prompted the idea for the gallery. It was still there and I wanted to know more so I called, “Hola,” through the wrought iron gate and Joel appeared. We talked about the chairs … not painted, decorated with duct tape … and his art which was food and the plans he had for starting a restaurant.

He invited me in and we looked at several chairs, talked about whether or not they were for sale … they were, so I told him I wanted nine. He said I would have to talk to the owner so I gave him my card. Then, José, another bar/restaurant owner showed up and we all talked about food and menus before I excused myself to head home.

Javier Zaragoza in his studio on a previous visit.

On my way home, I passed Javier Zaragoza’s studio. He wasn’t there but I made a note to come back and talk to him about his memories of Neill James, another project I'm working on.

Walking by the long horse park reminded me of the pictures I took the day before, which was El Día de Charro, the day of the cowboy when the horses are blessed and hundreds of beautiful (and clean) horses, handsome cowboys, and festively dressed children are everywhere. 
México is called the land of a thousand festivals and September launches a season of almost back-to-back celebrations.  
Memories aside, I was now on my way home when I heard a shrill whistling. Trying to see where it was coming from, I saw a man headed my way, occasionally blowing into a yellow whistle which produced the irritating sound. He was carrying something on his shoulder but I couldn’t see what it was. As we passed, we exchanged greetings and he said something more which I recognized as a solicitation but I didn’t catch the words.

It was only after I moved on that the word for knives connected in my mind and I turned back to see if he was a knife sharpener, something I needed. Yes, indeed, Ernesto was carrying a grinding wheel and we made arrangements for him to come to my house a week from Thursday. The conversation was 80% Spanish and 20% hand gestures. My hand gesture skills are advancing faster than my Spanish.

Now, I was ready to head home, thinking about how different life is when you walk through it, open to the weather and friends, memories and opportunities. 
Life here seems to be, at once, slower and faster. I am moving more slowly as I walk through life, but things seem to be happening faster … more connections with friends, more spontaneous moments and things coming my way. I know this wasn’t what Einstein meant when he talked about relativity, but maybe the laws of physics also impact the world of social interactions.

Always lots to think about as I walk through life in this small village.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Children's Art Camp at LCS

Children and art have a long history in the Lake Chapala village of Ajijic, Mexico. In 1954, Neill James, writer and arts patron, started the free, Children’s Art Program which has continued under the guidance of the Lake Chapala Society, also founded by James. Over the years, thousands of children have explored their creativity on Saturday mornings in the LCS garden and for the one week every summer when there is an art camp that draws over a hundred children. 
Danielle Page

Co-sponsored by the Ajijic Society of the Arts, and under the guidance of Danielle Page and sixty other volunteers, the summer art camp offers materials and time to explore painting, mosaics, clay, and needle crafts under the gentle guidance of professional artists.

Many of the local professional artists were mentored by Neill James and have continued to give back to local children for decades. The children may not recognize it, but they are being guided by the best artists in the area. 
Javier Zaragoza

Jesús Lopez Vega
Robina Nicol
The concluding event of the week is an art sale where children who want to can put their art up for sale. Imagine the pride and excitement of having one of your first works of art sold! To date, over 10,000 pesos have been paid out to the young artists.
by Oscar Orlando Ibarra Lopez
Over the years, many of the art pieces have also been made into cards. I was able to track one young artist, Oscar Orlando Ibarra Lopez, through years of his development. This year he was a volunteer at art camp, helping other young artists begin their journey.  

Serious work supported by generosity 

As I wandered through the grounds from group to group, two things struck me:

The seriousness of the kids as they worked on their projects, and the generosity of the camp ... the lush garden to work in, the abundance of the art materials that allowed the young artists to experiment with many approaches and materials; and the constant attention of caring teachers. It made me want to be a kid again (for just a moment).

Here are just a few photos from this amazing and generous event. 


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Hero Story: Augustin Vazquez Calvario

Augustin Vazquez Calvario
Lake Chapala is an incredibly beautiful area with its lake and mountains and almost perfect weather. What is not quite so easy to see but is just as beautiful is the generosity of its people, both locals and immigrants. This video tells the story of one hero who inspired the action of hundreds of volunteers to help people live better lives through the program Operation Feed.

"We are helping people
 and making people happy."
-- Augustin Vazquez Calvario 

Click here to see the beautiful and inspiring story.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Light and Death: Choosing the way of the firefly

This picture drew me to Puebla (Photo Source)
The luciérnagas (fireflies) were awesome.
  • A woman died.
The deciding factor for going to Puebla in July was to see the spectacle of the fireflies during mating season.
  • Five years ago, Nanacamilpa    was just a tiny village in the verdant, high farmlands of Tlaxcala. Last night as hundreds of the more than 100,000 people who show up to experience nature's "new gold” during June and July, one woman started up the forested hill, following her own journey, and met her destiny on that twisting path.
Our 15-passenger van left the Puebla Zócalo in late afternoon with me as the only gringa on the van. Isolated in a wash of Spanish, fleeting thoughts of California struck me as we wound through the familiar looking rolling green hills. Leaving the highway, we joined a bumper-to-bumper stream of cars, vans, and buses, a temporary intrusion to this peaceful countryside.
  • She sat in the seat in front of me. I didn’t know her name; didn’t know enough Spanish to make a connection even if the opportunity had arrived. She was youngish, looked about 40, heavy set, wearing skin-tight, flamboyant leggings that are popular here.
We lemminged our way through the village with hordes of vendors lining the street selling rain ponchos, pulque, and anything else that might be wanted by the solid stream of firefly pilgrims. Through the village and down the narrow, rutted dirt road, we crawled to a park-like setting at the foot of the mountain. There we found a playground for children as well as food, drink, and a chance to visit with our trip mates. I met another couple from Chihuahua who spoke decent English. They took me under their wings and, with Lule, a woman from Puebla who was my seat mate, we had a lovely time eating epilotes ... corn cut from the cob, mixed with lime juice, mayonnaise and chili (of course) ... and sharing stories. They wanted to know about my favorite places in Mexico and shared theirs with me. They laughed and said I knew Mexico better than they did.

(Photo Source)
  • It was only 2 kilometers from the park to the firefly viewing area. However, it was uphill and we were already at altitude, maybe 8,000 - 8,500 feet … maybe more. I wasn’t worried. I’ve been walking a lot and was about to have a 90,000-steps week. We listened to the repeated instructions of the guide … by now I understood most of them … no cell phone noise, no camera flashes, no talking. We heard the safety precautions for people who might have bad knees or heart problems and the recommendations not to carry backpacks to avoid fatigue. I carried mine anyway.
Foto: Flickr
The hundreds of people milling around waiting for the adventure to begin created a logistics issue of matching guides to visitors and again explaining the process and restrictions. Finally, we began. Probably too fast. The viewing time to watch the fireflies only lasts an hour.
The path was wide enough and clear but it was definitely up hill and, within minutes, my breath was ragged and I was hot, too hot. I knew I needed to slow down so I fell back and noticed others who were also having problems. 
A few minutes after we stopped for a break and I was beginning to get my breath back, I checked my Fitbit for my pulse rate … it was still 132, far above my resting rate in the mid-50s. I felt a twinge of fear and knew I was hitting the edge of my zone. I was going to have to take it slower.
  • During the break, I noticed the woman from the bus. She seemed to be having problems. Our guide was talking to her and when we started again, he set a slower pace.
The light was fading and, with our slower pace, I noticed a few fireflies showing up in the bush. It reminded me of my childhood. I had stripped off a couple of layers of clothing and Jorge, my new friend from Chihuahua, insisted on taking my pack. We walked on for a bit and then halted again. The fireflies were dancing and it was quiet and lovely. Enough fireflies were around us that we could notice the synchronization of their blinkings. The word we shared, quietly, was increíble, a word that works in both languages.
  • Suddenly I heard shouting, muffled by the mountains and trees. I couldn’t understand the words, however, the sound was ominous.
(Photo Source)
We still weren’t moving but the fireflies were mesmerizing so we didn’t mind just standing and watching the show around us. 
Thunder began to rumble in the distance and flashes of lightning occasionally lit up the forest around us. It didn’t take long before the wind picked up and rain started. We put on our rain ponchos, but the rain was light so it just added to the atmosphere … for awhile. Then the lightning got closer, the rain fell harder, and we began to move down the hill. 
I assumed it was because of the rain and lightning hazard. The dark path now was wet and a bit scary. Lule grabbed my hand and together, step-by-step, we retraced our steps, hearing “cuidado” (careful) frequently as we descended.
  • At a bend in the path, we came to a group of people huddled on the ground. In the dark it took a bit for all the pieces to come together. Light shining on a bare stomach on the ground … the rhythmic movements of CPR … the woman from the bus. There was nothing to do. Everything was being done.
We continued our descent. Silent. Still gripping hands. One step after another. Lule brought out her cell phone flashlight. The restrictions about light and noise were already broken. We didn’t say much; just kept stepping carefully. At one point we tried to sing away the horror and the fear. Cielito Lindo. It drifted away into the night.

We thought about the possibility of rescue … of life … as we kept walking through the night, through the rain, through the reality of death. One of the things we learned about fireflies is that they like humidity and rain. But, on this dark night, even the fireflies were gone.
  • On the trip back, one passenger short, it turned out that no one on the trip knew the woman. She was sola (alone). While I had called her la mujer (the woman), the people on the bus called her La Señora, which seemed so much more respectful. After a long period of quiet, the group began a prayer from their shared religious background. Even though I did not understand the words or share the background, it felt comforting.
It took an hour and a half to inch our way from the mountain back through the village and to the highway, stopping frequently on the narrow road to let emergency vehicles pass on their way to do whatever was left to be done. I wondered what brought her on this journey to see the fireflies. I wondered who she was, what she loved and who loved her. I couldn’t help thinking about my own situation, my own life, the possibility that it could have been me, alone on a dark night on an unfamiliar mountain. 
"I can't believe this happens on planet Earth"
Firefly Symbolism

I came on this journey because I wanted to see a natural phenomenon. I wanted to see a carpet of magical fireflies doing something that is little understood by the world of science as these fireflies create light without producing heat for one month of their two-year life ... the rest is spent under ground.

However, my experience on the mountain intersects with the book I just finished: The Magician of Lhasa, which on several occasions states: it’s not what happens, it’s how we interpret it. For more thoughts about what fireflies symbolize, I turned to Google and find people stating:
- "When fireflies come into our lives, they are there to guide us to ways of living that are more earth-friendly, and soul-friendly. Fireflies teach us the value of living simply, and relying on our own inner voices for illumination. Fireflies also come to us with a message of creativity, and remind us that our paths are made lighter by the beauty that we allow into our lives.”  

- "An ordinary looking creature during the day, admittedly, the firefly is a remarkable sight when it glows at night. This is a symbolic message to us humans that although our physical appearance may seem one way - it is our internal makings - what is inside us (such as our spirit) that makes us shine from the inside out. That which is within us will always illuminate us and those around us.”
- "In addition to using no heat to produce her light, the fact that fireflies eat very little is another symbolic meaning of economy or efficiency. Adult fireflies use their environment to the most effective extent possible in order to gain their energy. This is a lesson for us to use the resources we have available to us, and not waste or consume to excess." 
This led me to wonder what the lessons of this strange and beautiful night. What were the lessons of  the fireflies?
*** I never saw the light in La Señora. I’m not sure I even see the light in the people I see every day. Maybe that’s the message I need to have: See the light. I don’t have to hike up a steep path on a dark night to see beauty and incredible magic. I simply need to open my eyes. Right now I am on a bus going to Mexico City. It is filled with fireflies. It is my choice as to how many I see.
*** Maybe it’s also to let my own light shine ... without creating heat. What would that mean?
*** Or perhaps it's about feeding my own glow. What makes my light shine?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Puebla: a week of coffee shops

7/23 - Day #1: MondayThe Italian Coffee, (I know, a chain, but it seems to be popular here.) At the corner of 16 de Septiembre across from Jardín de Carmen Americano. Watching amistad in action as five middle-aged men chat while drinking their coffee. Amistad ... friendship ... Mexico has a long history of oppression where friends and family were the first line of defense. Therefore, spending time with friends has become a vital part of their culture.

As I observe the morning, the first man leaves the table of five. He carefully shakes hands with all the others, making comments to each. Later a woman joins a different group, giving a deep hug to one friend and then a hug and cheek kiss to each person at the table. When leaving people hug and kiss again. On the streets as they’re parting, another hug and polite kiss. Best observation place. ****

7/24 - Day #2: TuesdayTarlets Coffee near the Zocalo got me with their motto: “The best coffee is the coffee you like.” Since it was in English, it must appeal to English-speaking tourists. At 9 am, the place is empty. Lovely lemon tart. Somewhere back in history I read about a study that claimed eating chocolate cake early in the day helped people lose weight. I dismissed it as fake science, but have decided to test the theory that something sweet with coffee might not be a horrible way to start the day. Loud, jarring music, Tiny cups but real cream. Interesting art. Loud traffic. ** (Neither Google Translate nor I know what their tagline means. ;-) 

7/25 - Day #3 WednesdayCatalina … funny little place … walk in downstairs, tables upstairs. By myself at 8:30. Lemon cake for breakfast was dense and yummy. Coffee was okay. Nice photos of some onyx lamps. No observation opportunities. **

7/26 - Day #4 ThursdayZaranda, near the Zocalo. After googling "coffee shops" and finding the first three not open, wound up here at a nice table by the window. 8:45 and no one’s here. Pastry selection was almost nil so I will have one I bought at the local panaderia … which, of course, just flaked all over me and made a mess that clearly showed I had brought my own food in  ... even after an attempt to clean up the damage. There are some quotes on the wall … “Toda gran obra literaria nos propone imaginar." — Carlos Fuentes. Google Translate: Every great literary work proposes to us to imagine.  My take: Every great work of literature aims to make us imagine. ***

7/27 - Day #5 Friday … Café Colibrí on Juarez. I’ve been seeing this chain everywhere. This is a large one but empty right now at 8:30. Having Cafe del Puebla and it is quite good, sweet with spices. Comfortable seating with many choices. Music is not overpowering. Not sure when the people come to fill this large space but it’s now 10 and there is still no one here. A few people have come and gone. Good for studying Spanish but not good for eavesdropping on Spanish since no one's here. Maybe I’ll move on to another place. ***

7/27 - Perro Caffe … on Juarez. A step up: young, hip with creative touches. While it’s a bit English oriented with sayings such as: Creatives working …, Work hard; dream big … Stalk us … the language of conversation is still español so I’m not completely out of immersion.

Turns out this is a franchise from Free & Green, whose tagline translates as “creating experiences” and lists their values as: innovation, humility, honesty, congruency and passion. I love this phrase from their website:  Donde consolidar sus sueños y pensar diferente … which basically means it’s a place where you can bring your dreams together with a different way of thinking. ***** My favorite.

7/27 - Punta del Cielo cafeínabar … on Juarez.  How can you say no to a coffee shop that bills itself as a Point of the Sky? Besides I've decided to finish the final exam of Warren Hardy Book 3 before quitting for the day.

Here I’m trying matcha, cold plus the best pay de límon I’ve had on my travels. Wikipedia explains that matcha is "finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves.” Claims are made that it is particularly beneficial to health … "Because matcha is made from high-quality tea, and the whole leaves are ingested, it's a more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea. ... Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.”

Somehow, I’m not sure the slightly sweet, milky frappe I was served was particularly healthy, although it was refreshing. 

7/28 - Day #6 Saturday … La Parroquia de Veracruz.  Wanting a full breakfast, I also got a comeuppance. I’ve never been a real coffee aficionado so I normally opt for an “Americano” or a latte if I’m being adventurous. 
After looking at the menu, I opted for a normal coffee, even though the menu used terms I wasn’t used to (I had chosen the Spanish menu). What I saw on the tables around me looked like coffee and milk so that should be okay. What came to my table was a glass with about an inch of dark, strong-looking coffee. I tried to tell the waiter that I didn’t want that … I wanted the coffee/milk looking stuff I saw on other tables. 
I’m sure I saw him do a gringa-eye roll thing. Somehow he managed to convince me that things were going to be okay and shortly thereafter, another waiter arrived with an aluminum teapot and when I asked, “Leche?”, he nodded and proceeded to artfully pour a stream of hot milk into my glass. With some stevia, it turned out to be quite good. 
The feeling of being the country bumpkin only lasted a short while. In case you ever come across the term “lechero,” this may be what you’ll get, although Google Translate thinks it may be a dairy or a milkman. I think milkman may be the idea as there were several guys wandering through the guests with their aluminum pots of hot milk.

The other amusement here was watching a Mexican family trying to get their 3-year old daughter to eat her breakfast, which she refused to do even though it was spaghetti on top of frijoles. Breakfast was good and lots of opportunities to observe life in Mexico. **** 
So, that's it. A week of exploring coffee shops here in Puebla. Searching for new coffee shops pulled me into areas I might not have explored and made me a little more observant.  Not a bad combination and made me think of my friend Lynne Snead, who taught me to like working in coffee shops.

Mexico: Heartbreakingly beautiful and fascinating

Mexico is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful and fascinating.  
On the Zócalo, Puebla's historic and lovely square, surrounded by the Cathedral, busy restaurants, shoe shine stands, balloon vendors and clusters of families and friends enjoying a summer day. 
In one upscale corridor, an ancient woman sits on the hard tile floor, in a position that I'm not sure I could hold for minutes, let alone hours, while the bustle of commerce flows around her. I'm not sure if she planned to sell something or just hoped for hand outs. I just know that, somehow, I was not handed this particular challenge in this lifetime.
I am staying in an airbnb near a busy street where I often walk going in one direction or another. On this street there are a variety of street jugglers … small children, older kids with flaming sticks, and the most amazing to me are the kids who stand on the shoulders of another while juggling. Of course, once they stop juggling, they pass through the cars asking for hand outs.

This morning, I saw a mother squat down so her tiny daughter could get on her shoulders and juggle. I wanted a photo and it was clear that every time there was a red light, they would do their act. So, I positioned myself for the next red light and when the mother squatted and the little girl climbed up to start juggling, I raised my camera. 
Instantly, the mother pulled the girl down and they started away from the street. It was clear that she did not want her picture taken. The closest I can describe the look on her face was fear. I put the camera away and crossed the street after her to give her all the change in my pocket. She took the money and said something although I don’t know what. It wasn’t Spanish and I had no idea what she thought or felt. I walked on and when I looked back, she was once again in the street with her daughter on her shoulders. 
A block away, I found this boy juggling. It’s Friday and somewhere, I assume, there is an empty seat in a classroom because this child is in the streets, juggling for money to help support his family. As I took his picture, I had to wonder once again at the ethics of street photography. Am I merely a voyeur?

I grew up poor, but I never knew poverty. Being here in Mexico reminds me frequently of what a privileged life I’ve led. Mexico is a rapidly developing country and shows signs of becoming a booming hub of commerce. However, veined through the new prosperous shopping areas, new businesses and schools are the left behind: the mothers and children and handicapped who have no safety net, little or no education, and few, if any, opportunities. 
My life experience hardly holds space to imagine a life that depends on taking to the streets to collect a few pesos … or walking thousands of miles to escape violence in order to find a peaceful place and better life for your children. Living and traveling in Mexico is heart opening. 
Just a flower on the street.