Postcard from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca: Carnaval customs as creative as their carvings

Brightly painted, intricately carved copal figures of real and fantasy animals, alebrijes, from the small town of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, are known around the world. Whole families of carvers pass down their traditional techniques to provide their livelihoods, with every home seeming to double as a retail outlet.

Every year they unleash that creativity to stage a mezcal-infused celebration of Carnaval, the final day of wild indulgence before Lent. Despite the loss of young men who have left to find work in el norte, there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers willing to smear their bodies in motor oil in hopes of planting kisses on young women unafraid of ruining their clothes. We witnessed no such embraces, but the afternoon was still young.

Other young men engaged in crossdressing, some quite convincing, as though there were not more women than men remaining in the community. The formally attired bridesmaids created a colorful entourage parading through the streets prior to the sham wedding of the bride and groom performed by a jovial padre of sorts.

Outsiders were embraced, so much to the point that our friend, Clyde, padre-looking himself, was drafted into the ceremony to provide the blessing of the bride and groom by exuberantly splashing water on them and anyone standing in close proximity.

American politicians should take note. We didn’t meet the town’s mayor, but he or she knows how to encourage enthusiastic support. The mayor’s ambassadors were freely distributing shots of mezcal and dipping into buckets of tepache and horchata to quench the thirst of all, whether residents or tourists.

Maybe San Antonio should forget spending money on expensive advertising for visitors. Mayor Ivy Taylor simply needs to enlist volunteers to offer complimentary shots of tequila and margaritas along the River Walk. Word of mouth about San Antonio’s hospitality would spread like wildfire.


Postcard from Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca, Mexico: The temple of the patron saint of librarians

Having heard about the ornate ceiling of the Templo of San Jeronimo in the small town of Tlacochahuaya, we tried to scare up a priest to unlock its doors more than 20 years ago. No luck.

Since its 1991 restoration, gaining admittance is no longer an issue – ten pesos at the door.

Construction of the stunning Dominican church and its relatively modest convent dedicated to Saint Jerome, the well-read patron saint of librarians, was begun in 1586 atop Zapotec ruins. Zapotec bats carved into the base of some of the gilded columns are among the few symbols slipped into the church by the priests’ indigenous helpers.

A magical organ, supposedly with a stop that mimics the sound of songbirds, was added to a new choir loft around 1725.

One of the traditional seven-pointed star piñatas was suspended in the middle of the courtyard of the ex-convent0, but this one bore banners dangling from each point. Our driver said those listed what are known as the seven deadly sins, including envy, gluttony and sloth. When the blindfolded (the blindfold symbolizing faith) batter shatters it on the first of the year, those temptations are knocked out of the forecast for the coming year. The goodies spilling out of the piñata represent bestowal of blessings of heaven.

Not sure what it means that these particular temptations remained intact even after Three Kings’ Day. A temptation-filled year ahead for residents of Tlacochahuaya?

Art you must see at SAY Sí

More than 200 small-scale works of art that you have never seen before hang on the walls of the galleries at SAY Sí.

Oda al Otoño by Guillermina Zabala
Oda al Otoño donated by Guillermina Zabala

Here are some of the reasons you need to make time this week to view these pieces:

  1. These original works of art are by more than 200 different artists, some you might know, some awaiting your acquaintance.
  2. There is no charge for enjoying this artwork this Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  3. By Saturday, March 23, this opportunity will be lost; most of these works of art will never be seen in public spaces again.
  4. If you fall in love with any of this art, you can own it.
  5. If you fall in love with a piece of this art before Wednesday at 7 p.m., you can pay a small fee over its value to purchase it before others have an opportunity to outbid you.
  6. You might even get a bargain; bidding opens at a fraction of the value of the finished work, and people get distracted (Jump to Numbers 16 and 18.) In many cases, opening pricing probably does not even cover the cost of framing. But that is not the point; all proceeds benefit SAY Sí, serving San Antonio’s youth via a year-round, long-term, non-profit multidisciplinary arts program providing students opportunities to develop artistic and social skills in preparation for higher educational advancement and professional careers.
  7. Sure you possibly can get a bargain by waiting until the last minute, but pick up a pencil and bid. Bids attract bids; re-read No. 6.
  8. Where else can you get to know the work of so many talented area artists so quickly? The works in the show are good. The artists’ reputations are at stake, so they submit some of their best work.
  9. Many of the artists participating in this show normally work in a much larger format. This means, they often create a smaller piece just for SAY Sí. This also means, you might have the opportunity to collect something by an artist you love but cannot normally afford to buy in large-scale.
  10. Established artists donate to this show because they believe in offering a hand up to the young and talented. Re-read No. 6. So bid.
  11. Artists get nothing in return. In fact, the IRS only lets an artist deduct the cost of materials as a charitable donation; for example, the cost of the piece of paper and the frame. So bid, they deserve bids as nods of appreciation of their talents and their contributions.
  12. If you invest in a small piece of art, it might make you rearrange your collection at home. Rearranging your art makes you notice and appreciate it all anew.
  13. Attend the closing silent-auction party from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, March 22. You can offer additional bids, and there will be beer, wine, food, friends and fun.
  14. Many of the artists attend the closing auction, so you can meet and visit with them.
  15. If you don’t fall in love with a piece of art, maybe you will fall in love with an artist. Sure, artists have their quirks, but they make life interesting.
  16. Visit SAY Sí before Friday night because there is no way you will be able to view and ponder more than 200 works in even the entire 135 minutes before the last wave of the silent auction bidding closes. During those minutes, you also will be eating, drinking and chatting with friends, both old ones and newfound.
  17. If you cannot preview this show in person in advance (See No. 16.), you can view the works online (Hint, this doesn’t seem to download properly until you nudge it with an additional click.).
  18. You should bid early, because you might get distracted during the party and not be able to make your way back to your favorite piece (Refer to 13-16).
  19. You should bid early and often (Refer to 6, 7 and 11.).
  20. Sure, there are many more reasons, but aren’t the 19 above enough?
El West Side, papel picado by Kathleen Trenchard
El West Side, papel picado by Kathleen Trenchard

This posting represents my act of contrition. Although I have contributed to this auction in the past, I somehow let life’s distractions interfere this year.

But don’t you let life’s distractions make you miss this show at SAY Sí. Whether you fall in love and bid or not, you will enjoy the art.