Postcard from Mexico City: Meanwhile, outside the Cathedral

There is a hubbub of bustling activity immediately outside the solemn confines of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Vendors hawking their wares. Dancers performing as though re-staking their ancestral Aztec claims to the land seized by the Spanish conquistadors.

And an abundance of shamans offering alternative services to the ceremonies performed by the Catholic priests inside. We are unsure how one chooses among the shamans, whose attire ranged from casual jeans and tennis shoes to more formal midriff-baring loin cloths, feathered headdresses and anklet rattles, huesos de fraile or bones of the friar, made from ayoyote seeds.

All of the purported intermediaries between the natural and spiritual worlds were equipped with similar tools of their trade, smoking copal incense and bundles of herbs. Their ancient cleansing rituals involved much circling of their clients with the incense and brushing with the fragrant herbs, the strong scents of both lingering on the newly purified for quite a while.

The shamans seem malplaced, their stations exuding bad feng shui. I fail to comprehend how anyone paying for the services could possibly slip into the proper receptive state amidst all the surrounding chaos.

Cross the street to the expansive Zocalo, and the level of noise and activity often is multiplied by special events. While we were there, the main plaza was occupied one week by a book festival, one week by Day of the Dead events and the final weekend by a youth concert with the loudest amplification I think I have ever endured. When they cranked up the music, we fled the plaza as quickly as possible. Surely the overwhelming noise forced even the most determined shamans to pack up their medicine bags to head for an alternate locale.

Postcard from Mexico City: Bloomers trumpeting their presence

The promotional banner appears superfluous with birds of paradise pointing the way to the National Museum of Anthropology. A giant agave attracts attention in the midst of the Aztec ruins of the Templo Mayor adjacent to the zocalo. Trumpet flowers flamboyantly tout their beauty profiled against a royal blue wall in the garden of Casa Luis Barragan.

But, on the practical side as our balcony planters age, I want to remember the simple cinder blocks adapted as containers for succulents in the botanical garden in Chapultepec Park.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Surrounded by sounds of entertainment

Anyone longing for a bit of live music can simply stroll to the Zocalo in the heart of Oaxaca almost any time of day. Student orchestras and the full state band perform regularly, often challenged by street musicians trolling for tips nearby. Guitars, flutes, marimbas, horns, accordions. Wedding parties parade around town on weekends followed by bands and dancers.

The Zocalo attracts couples who have danced together for years, hardly needing a nudge from partners to stay completely in step executing the most complicated maneuvers of traditional danzones. But the youthful exuberance encountered on a Friday night in Parque El Llano was a refreshing hoot. The high heels and tennis shoes in the photo above managed to partner up for dancing at the end-of-the-week party.

But who brought on the clowns? Clowns increasingly amplified with wireless microphones. People of all ages crowd around, laughing and applauding as on cue.

This enduring affection for street performers clowning around is found throughout Europe. It never translates into anything close to amusing for me.

I grew up laughing over Bozo the Clown and the Three Stooges. How did I get so jaded?

Clowns make me frown, but music makes me smile.