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The Door Creaks Open

July 1, 2020

Canada is celebrating its national day today, something I’m marking by taking my dog Punky for a clip of his straggling wool. Yes, the Punkster and I know how to party.

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There is a dog, Punky,  inside this shapeless wool rug.

Our town of Tepoztlan is trying not to party, but might flunk that effort. After three months of more-or-less quarantine, and a small but continually growing caseload of virus infections, it’s opening more restaurants today, albeit with well-spaced tables, while hotels that carefully check their guests can also open again. The barricades at the two entrances to the town remain in place, but I’ve been noticing more outsiders showing up since mid-June.

I blogged earlier about how difficult it would be for a community with an economy heavily dependent on weekend tourists to stay locked down for long. My neighbour’s taxi often just sits outside his house these days. Some people have had to move back in with parents or other family to cover living expenses. Street vendors struggle to get by when there are no visitors. I’ve not even seen the musicians of varying talents who normally haunt the market in town, because they’d have no audience anyway.DSCF2387

Naty’s restaurant, named for the owner’s grandmother, has been a Tepoztlan institution since 1987. But until this past week, it had been shut since March.

Yep, same story as everywhere around the world. Now it’s supposed to change, though by gradual degrees. But as other governments in other countries have found, many people take any easing of restrictions as a green light to drop all caution. Add to them the people I know (and am avoiding) who still think all this is a hoax, or something overblown (cue those 5G Facebook memes!), and you can see the emerging problem. Our municipality’s case numbers to date were under 30 just ten days ago, and yesterday the tally was 43. That number should probably be multiplied by three or four to give an accurate figure.

So, my more sensible friends are nervous, and so am I. At the same time, the idea of having a meal at an outdoor restaurant is irresistible after the monotony of my own cooking since March. I’ve been to a couple of outdoor places that have remained open because they can distance their tables, but the hunger we all get is for variety more than for lunch.

Nobody has found a good answer to all this. Or rather, no-one had managed to convince enough people to be cautious enough for any decent answer to work well. Infection curves might be flatter, but in not many places are they actually flat. Mexico has been particularly bad, and most of the country is still seeing serious increases in cases. Our official death tally is just under 28,000, while the national case count is 226,000. But many cases in smaller towns go uncounted, and there’s always the problem of whether an older person who died did so because of the virus, or because of the virus plus an existing condition.

Whatever the numerical reality, we’re not at a good news point yet. I’m glad I’m in a village when plenty of open space and quiet trails where I can go for a walk. It does makes things easier.

 

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A Preference for Emergencies

June 23, 2020

When dramatic naturla events happen, I need to remember that most people think “danger.” I tend to think “Oh, cool!”

Yes, I guess I never did mature past age 15, but thanks for asking. Or, as I prefer to think, I’m not as old as I look.

I upset a couple of people last month with a post I dubbed “Oh, I’ve Seen Fire…” (scroll down for that) that was about forest fires near here, and how I found them exciting. Why? Because they are.

There’s the personal threat aspect, obviously, and I have the care of a house I rent, and a small pack of dogs who’d need to be moved if any situation became bad. But one reason I like life in Mexico is specifically because it isn’t like life in a Canadian suburb. When things get touchy here, it’s because of such fires, torrential thunderstorms, the occasional volcanic eruption and, as happened this morning, an earthquake. As a kid, I was raised to be safe, and never thought to take up rock climbing, martial arts or hang-gliding. It took me years to realise how deprived I felt of risk. Mexico is my compensation.

I’m not totally consistent in this. We had no proper water supply on the weekend, because we ran out sooner than I’d anticipated. That left me anxious and depressed, not exhilarated, until water had been delivered late Monday morning; I don’t like inconvenience. We were able to fill some bottles from a public tap in the village, while my housemate suggested filling the dog-bath there, and bringing it back in the beat-up Ford I’m currently using. That was not the best idea, since in a moving car, water in an open dog-bath slops around …

But the Ford’s almost dry now, and besides, it was all a short-lived problem. A quake is different.

We’re actually off the main fault-lines, and I can only recall a couple of occasions when I’ve felt the ground shake. I wasn’t here for the big one in 2017, though several big, old churches in this area are still being repaired after that one. When I felt I was tipping off my seat at a coffee shop this morning, I assumed it might be a persistent balance problem I have, not a temblor. It was only when I saw pictures on the wall swinging on their hooks that I knew it wasn’t me, but two tectonic plates shifting and grinding someplace.

The city hall in Tepoztlan was evacuated for forty-five minutes, as a precaution, so the adjoining market area was crowded for a while. Otherwise, nobody reacted much, and the evacuees even spaced themselves appropriately. I don’t think the waitress in the coffee shop even realised what had happened, it was so slight. I sat down again after a few moments on my feet, since the danger was minimal, and my seat was a mere three feet from the wide entrance. Only hours later, with people’s videos uploaded, could the extent of the event come clear. At least four people died, and there was a tsunami alert, since the epicentre was close to the Pacific Ocean. There were also, of course, aftershocks in that area.

So, while it might have been life-changing down in Oaxaca (“Wuh-HAH-kah”), here it was just a brief distraction. I spent way more time on Facebook explaining its insignificance (to us here), than I did being concerned over it. There just wasn’t enough kinetic energy where I was to make it memorable.

No matter. I can see the evening clouds gathering, so maybe we’ll get a real, rip-snorting, power- and internet-cutting thunderstorm tonight. One of those where the rain buckets down noisly, and the thunder crashes and echoes off the hills, and I lie in bed snug and dry, wondering how the wildlife out there handles it all.

 

 

 

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Here Comes the Rain Again

May 5, 2020

This year, our rainy season appears to have started a month early. Normally it hits in the later part of June, but a small storm on the night of April 30 began an intermittent pattern of rainfall that, combined with lightning strikes, has twice knocked out our electrical power.

I’m not a great fan of the rains, which tend to breed flies and mosquitoes, as well telling the plant life in the dogs’ corral that it now has permission to overgrow all the available space. This year, I also wonder if the drop in temperatures they bring, combined with less sunshine, will enable to virus to spread more easily. Covid-19 is a very strange disease, as we’ve all read, but there are indications it doesn’t like heat or sunshine, which we’ve had in abundance since February. That advantage now dissipates.

That said, the rain fills our cistern, running through a triple filter system that keeps out vegetation and small bits of stuff in general. That means we don’t need to buy non-potable water for a few months. It also produces aesthetic effects such as evocative cloud formations, or full-on Wrath of the Gods lightning storms. Those terrify at least one of the dogs, and I’m quite likely to find she’s disappeared yet again, only to show up cowering under my bed while sharp claps of thunder resound off the cliffs surrounding the village.

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Evocative cloud formations: misty wraiths stalk the hillside opposite my house. Photo from June 2019.

This May, after a long dry winter, there were fears of a vintage year for forest fires breaking out on the mountains behind us. That possibility is now drastically reduced.

While the barricade outside the village is still manned by solid numbers of volunteers, 24 hours a day, there is anticipation that the town of Tepoztlan might relax its police-enforced separation from the rest of the country in a few weeks. That would mean the barricade, which is legally a very dubious enterprise, would follow suit. Anticipation is in the air along with frustration, but I’m sure we’re not yet ready to drop our protective measures.

And this assumes, of course, that the drop in temperatures, combined with possible relaxed social and commercial restrictions, doesn’t bring a surge in infection. In a week Tepoztlan has gone from two cases to five, which is not a lot, but is also isn’t encouraging. Everything this year is in question.

Hence, the rains themselves are reassuring, simply because they remind us we’re connected to a grander cycle of nature. That cycle doesn’t follow an exact calendar, but its existence, demonstrated most recently by last night’s brief storm, is one of the things we’re all clinging to in this bizarre, disorienting spring.

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Cicadas, Sanitizer and Hysterical Misery

April 18, 2020

Yesterday, I heard a buzzing in the plants outside the kitchen. I found it came from a cicada that was having trouble. I tried to help it up, but then discovered it had developed with one wing shorter than another. In an hour, it was dead.

Which was not a problem for the cicada population as a whole. This morning, they began that high-pitched chorus that, at its peak, sounds like an iron foundry. It was so loud, I considered getting the earplugs I keep for when the dogs in the village stage a 1.00 am bark-athon.

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A cicada and its abandoned larval casing.

But I was glad to hear it, since it reminded me that most of nature was still doing its thing, unhindered.

In town, more stores seemed to have closed up, and the market was almost deserted. The Zocalo, the main square, is sealed off to prevent people socialising, and no-one can enter the market without first using hand sanitizer.

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Before entering the market, you must use hand sanitizer. Last week, they had young people policing everyone who tried to sneak in with their hands unsanitized.

Emma, who runs Buenos Tiempos cafe, was happy to see me for the first time in more than a week, even if I only wanted to risk a take-out cappuccino. Like most store owners in Tepoztlan, she has laid off her staff and is managing on her own.

I bought an oatmeal cookie that was dry, because she’s sold so little recently.  I hadn’t the heart to complain. This must be the toughest time she’s ever faced.

Back at home in the village, I noticed that the plum tree on the other side of this property is already coming into full leaf. There are even tiny plums forming in the branches.

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The plum tree is putting forth leaves, without benefit of rain.

We’ve had no significant rain for months, and nothing at all since March. How does nature manage to re-start when there is nothing to moisten the soil, or to signal to cicadas that it’s time to come out? I don’t know, but it happens, and it’s happening now.

The people manning the village “frontier barricade” are still there. Last evening I saw they had a bamboo rod to make a more visible barrier to incoming traffic. There’s often a small truck parked by the side of the road that they won’t admit. People here drive around collecting scrap metal, or selling bread or fruit, but they’re not being admitted to Amatlan. It’s hard for them.

Oddly, if you rent a place that you hardly ever use, but have a signed lease, you can still get in. I was out getting a tlacoyo for lunch (a folded-over taco, basically) when I passed a gaggle of rich hippie kids. Their tattoos were very professional, and their quasi-Indian clothing was clean and nicely finished. And until I said my “Buenas tardes,” which we do here, they were going to ignore me, like all the other rich hippie kids who come in on weekends.

The quarantine continues, but it’s selective. More reason, I felt, to feel fed up.

This afternoon, while I was in the bedroom cleaning, I heard what sounded like another stranded cicada, but in the living room. It turned out to be a lovely green songbird that had flown in through the open door, and was knocking itself out against the window. When I used my hat and my hand to trap it, it went limp, as if it assumed its time was up.

Moments later, it realised it was outside. I removed my restraining hand, and it shot off back to freedom. This happens once or twice ever year, because I leave the living room door to the patio open for two of the dogs to come in and out. It’s a little tense, since injuring small birds’ wings is easy to do. But each time it also makes a lovely moment of contact with the wild world that lives around my house, with the added pleasure of exhilaration as the creature flies free.

Then, yet another “Bill Gates is a terrible murderer” meme showed up on Facebook. In this episode, the tireless evildoer had, apparently, taken over one of India’s health agencies and forced children to receive a flawed polio vaccine, for which he was personally responsible. Many had died.

When I checked, I couldn’t find any actual source for this story beyond the meme. The fact that viable and safe polio vaccines have already existed for decades should have been the clue, but paranoid fantasies about this latest supervillain are apparently helping some people cope with the tension of the lockdown.

I kind of understand this. Simultaneously, I’m left sad and frustrated that so many think spreading nonsense is how they can “help.”

And now it’s late afternoon, and I’m sitting in my living room, lazily writing a blog post and looking out the windows. The Sun is shining on the cliffs opposite, creating that effect that makes the rocks, with their hundreds of partly eroded strata, look like the intricately carved temples of Angkor Wat. It’s hazy today, from dry-season dust and some farmers who are burning the stubble in their fields, but the detail is still there.

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The effect of “temples” is lost in a photo, but the strange beauty of the rocks is still evident.

The natural cycle goes on. And at some point, our human world will also pick up. Haltingly but steadily, with a lot of accumulated hurt, it will come back to something less scared, angry and bored. And perhaps the online mob of angry people, who wield memes instead of pitchforks, can calm their fevered imaginations.

Freud’s famous line comes to mind in this context:

“Much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health, you will be better armed against that unhappiness.”

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Turning Up The Heat

April 12, 2020

This past Thursday morning was when the manure hit the ventilation system. That was the day Mexico’s health ministry let it be known that while the national count of Covid-19 cases was officially still under 3,500, the reality was probably around 26,500. A low level of testing, and delays in getting test results, was affecting the national tally, so this was their best guesstimate.

Within hours the mayor of our town of Tepoztlan had sent police to the town’s entry point from the freeway that comes from Mexico City. Anyone not from this locality was turned back. Further, the main square in town, the zocalo, was sealed off, so people wouldn’t hang out there as they usually do.

A short while later, I discovered local residents had taken vigilante action, and had blocked the only road into my village. It helps that I’m part of a visible minority, and they knew I was a local resident and let me through. Oddly, I have no ID that has my current address on it. So, as often happens here, I had to trust to people’s nosiness (they know who I am better than I know them), plus their goodwill, to get me through.

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The barricade on the way into our village. (Photo: courtesy Robin Rainbow Gate)

Others were refused admittance. And since farmers have things like machetes, and aren’t afraid to use them for non-agricultural purposes, there wasn’t much argument.

The next day, I tried to buy a garafon or large bottle of drinking water. Every store in the village had been cleaned out, and there was no certainty about when re-stocking would happen. One little store had somewhat smaller bottles, so I bought two of those to last me till mid-week.

Finally, people had gotten religion.

But it wasn’t all common-sense and community well-being. One small town 20 miles from here had a minor riot when people protested against admitting patients with the virus to their local hospital. They actually threatened to burn down the facility if this happened, fearing the disease would be imported into their community.

In other places, nurses have reported being abused in public, for the same reason. This isn’t just a Mexican thing, I found out, and some stores and banks in Quebec are refusing to serve hospital personnel. “You’re heroic in what you’re doing, but stay away from me.” It’s understandable, but depressing at the same time. Any problem has a solution. How about a sign reading “Please wear a mask in here, ’cause even if we love you, we’re a bit scared of where you work,” for example?

The effects of the epidemic have become apparent by degrees over the past few weeks. The town was getting progressively more deserted, and my next-door neighbour, a cab driver, has been home a lot. Face-masks are finally starting to show up, and I’m seeing more ads for restaurants offering home delivery. The little cafe in our village that closed three weeks back is now offering coffee and a limited selection of meals on a take-out basis.

Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been consistently unhelpful. After giving Bolsonaro-ish bad advice for weeks, he ordered many industries deemed inessential to shut down for a month, while demanding that company owners continue to pay the staff. I’m no rabid free marketeer, but I do understand basic economics. And we all know shutdowns can be extended.

First the breweries were ordered closed, and they complied: then they were told they could re-open. Then, they were again deemed inessential by the Health Ministry. Who’s in charge here? That depends on what you mean by “who” and “in charge.”

The best estimate right now is that Mexico’s wave of infections will peak by the month’s end, or maybe at the start of May. The very warm weather in this part of the country is probably minimising the count, but it hasn’t, as many people hoped, managed to stop the disease.

Social cohesion in general, however, seems solid right now, at least if we don’t count the attacks on nurses. Last night our village, which has a speaker system on its church, broadcast instructions in Spanish and English, issued by the local mayor. They were sensible and fair, given the circumstances, and the inclusion of expats who are predominantly English speakers was heartening. Even if their federal government is a dubious enterprise, I still maintain my support and gratitude to Mexicans as a people.

 

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The Delusions of Andres Manuel

April 4, 2020

The last three Mexican Presidents are not looked on as howling successes. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is acronymmed as AMLO, and came to power in 2018, will probably go down as the worst of a weak bunch.

He’s had some international press for his most stupid remarks, including telling people to go to fiestas and continue eating in restaurants during this emergency. Having hugged as many people as he could reach at public events, he refused to quarantine himself, for fear that it would allow conservative opponents to take over while he was sequestered. The tale gets still sillier, but you probably have the point by now.

There are also well verified stories about him pulling funding from health programs last year, while presenting himself as the man who cares about poorer and indigenous people. An estimated 10,000 medical professionals were laid off across the country. He looks, by the way, about as blond as I do, except he has more thatch on his scalp. Mexican Presidents are rarely stellar, but a surprising number have had remarkably good hair.

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President Lopez Obrador – the man with the right hair.

I dwell on this man because people are starting to wonder if a coup might be necessary. Almost all coups are really bad, of course, and cause lasting damage to the countries in which they occur. But I caught the gossip this afternoon, after a trip into town, and wondered if it could happen. The country has no clear leadership – even a leader who postures and struts and moans about fake news, as I’ve heard might exist in at least on other place.

I’ve explained previously that people over 60 are supposed to stay home, and I’m 70. But there is no enforcement of this. My supposedly sneaky food-shopping trips into town only raise eyebrows because I wear a facemask; today I saw only eight or nine people with them on. Two were the people who “snuck” into town with me. The mixed messaging from the top has made people here decide to ignore any sense of alarm, and wait to see what God requires of them.

Now, I expected something like this, and I’m not shocked. As I’ve written already, I appreciate their attitude, as well as their refusal to try living on no income, private or governmental. But as the tally of Covid-19 cases rises, I keep wondering how people are going to manage the impact. The President is enabling denial, not trying to abolish it. The face-masks will come out here, but far too late to make much difference.

The one statement I keep hearing that does drive me bats is, “We’re probably safer here than in other places.” It’s obvious nonsense, since it only needs one person to transmit the virus, and away we go. But when the guy at the top indicates the situation’s not all that serious, then no-one here is going to be serious. Most of the state governors realise the risks, and there are some draconian measures being implemented (not always sound, I add), but “The Autonomous Republic of Tepoztlan” is going its own way, convinced it is uniquely admired and blessed by the Creator that endowed it with such splendid mountain scenery.

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The mountains north of Tepoztlan, taken from one of the highest.

The old journalist in me is fascinated by all this: the pride, the self-sufficient attitude and the sheer myopia of the approach. It’ll be a marvellous tale to tell later. The old guy inside me is nervous.

Tonight, though, I simply wonder whether that man in the Presidential residence (the Palace is only used for certain formal events now) really thinks he knows what he’s doing. Or whether, as a believer, he’s assuming God, or the Virgin of Guadalupe, the nation’s Mother-figure, will sort it all out for him. For the sake of the currently un-masked, I’d prefer he was an atheist.

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Fleeing from Yourself

They’d come from San Miguel de Allende, they said, to check out Tepoztlan. Retired Americans, San Miguel had been their home for many years, but now it was starting to become overrun with chilangos.

The term ‘chilango‘ refers to someone from Mexico City, and implies a self-absorbed obliviousness to local people and local traditions. My friend and I tried to explain that Tepoztlan, too, is a chilango magnet on weekends, as well as becoming increasingly built up and expensive. We made some suggestions about outlying communities, but the mountains here and the slightly less expensive lifestyle than San Miguel were clearly drawing these two.

San Miguel is a combination of legend and tourist trap. Its artistic associations are rich, and it’s a refuge for many wealthier Americans and Canadians. My own solitary visit left me turned off by the degree of private wealth on display, since in Mexico you’re never far from people struggling to get by with little. Tourism does provide a substantial cashflow, though, and the outside presence offers a lot of poorer Mexicans an opportunity to build a better life. It was just a bit too much for me.

The discussion with the two people reminded me of an observation I’d made a few nights before, coming home just after sunset. There’s a point on the road into this village where the land drops away past a meadow, and you can see the lights all over the plain below. I remember it when I first came here, speckled with lamps; today by comparison, it’s ablaze with street lights and illumination from housing developments.

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The view down to the plains and their communities – though I couldn’t manage a decent night shot.

Some months ago, I chatted with an architect working on a small construction project outside the village. He described his half-dozen homes as offering an alternative to city congestion, a notion that struck me as a little ridiculous: spreading urban sprawl into the countryside solves nothing. It’s like trying to flee from yourself – you’ll never get away.

But, Mexico’s population is growing, there’s more money than there used to be, and people want homes. Nice homes, if possible, with a garden and a garage. And in nice places.

Here, for instance.

There’s no point in my complaining that this area is getting built up. I end up sounding like a driver complaining that he can’t get somewhere because of all the traffic, when he’s part of the problem. There’s still land available round here, even if the price has doubled in the past four years, and lots of people – chilangos, expats, local people who’ve saved or borrowed enough ­– are going to buy it and build on it.

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Workers building a house in our village –  in this case, mine.

But the issue preoccupies me, since like the San Miguel refugees, at times I think of going somewhere less popular. And since I spend too much time reading news and news analysis, I’m very aware of the increasing environmental crunch that we’re all helping to bring on through our spread. There’s now even an emerging specialty of psychotherapy for people distressed by what’s happened and what’s coming environmentally.

Determining exactly what the breaking point is for any particular zone or region could only be possible after the infrastructure and community structures have failed. A lot of things will take many years or decades to hit that point, and I can’t see the entire planet collapsing. Maybe that’s just because I simply can’t imagine it doing so, but generally I have a good imagination for disasters. Disintegration is going to occur sporadically, as far as we can foresee it.

That leaves me watching the continuing influx of people who are doing just what I did a decade ago, and hoping that not everything disappears. We want homes, this corner of Mexico is still affordable for most gringos and for better-off Mexicans, and the houses will continue to go up.

But you can’t ignore the changes, or pretend their effect doesn’t count.

Then and Now – and Pizza

Tim, who runs Juanito’s restaurant in town, wants to open a second place, with a different menu. One of his motivations, he told me, was a slice of pizza he had a while ago, which was soggy, and flopped in his hand. Tim has worked in foodservice for most of his life, and he knows his pizza, and he knows the proper recipe.

All the news media have been running retrospective lists of everything that happened in 2019, so I’ve found myself reflecting back through the year and then back to my own earliest visit here around 2006. Tepoztlan was a quieter town then, and Amatlan, my village, was perhaps twenty percent less populous. From a certain point along the road into town, I could see the lights down in the plain below, and there were fewer of them than there are today.

There were also just two places in town offering uniformly limp pizza, something I’ve successfully avoided in Mexico since.

J, who has lived here since the 1980s, tells me Tepoztlan was a paradise when she first came here. I don’t know if that observation includes the experience the local people had of their lives, but it was definitely much quieter and more traditional. My first visit showed me a place that seemed barely awake at 10.00 am on a weekday. There was no Moroccan restaurant, nor an Indian one, almost no bars, and far fewer hotels. And no Juanito’s, of course, so the only available burgers were pretty bad. The town that attracted filmmakers (The Magnificent Seven and Two Mules for Sister Sara were partly shot here) because of its unchanged nature is now filling up with souvenir stalls and posadas offering weekend getaways.

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The main square, pictured here with a half-dozen fruit and food stalls around 1950, is now home to the main Tepoztan market.

The specific trigger for this post today was the sight of three men trying to heave a large metal signpost into place. It indicates which way to drive for this hotel or for that location, where ten years ago, a visitor would simply have asked a local person for directions. Even now, travel articles still refer at times to Tepoztlan as a village, despite it having around 14,000 permanent residents.

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Inside the market today, on a quiet Tuesday. There are about 60 stalls, more on special market days. The fountain is still there in the middle, though it’s often dry.

There’s little point complaining about the changes, since all of us who’ve come here have helped drive them. Weekend refugees from Mexico City have bought or built houses here, and Airbnb has had a bad effect on the availability of rooms and apartments, helping push up rental costs by more than half in the past four years.

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The Avenida de la Revolucion 1910, pictured c. 1950. There were, reportedly, only two or three cars in the town then. The big church is the Convent of the Nativity.

This being Christmas week, the town is full of visitors and people here to stay with family. The Avenida Revolucion de 1910 is closed to allow the slightly (or severely) drunken to wander safely past the stalls selling t-shirts with cutesy Frida Kahlo images on them, quasi-shamanic tchotchkes, or gaily painted terracotta skulls. I go there to buy food, but I don’t stay long when the town is so full.

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This week, Avenida de la Revolucion 1910 is closed so more people can stroll the stalls. The Convent towers peek into the frame, top left.

I have no cause to complain about the changes, since my presence here helps fuel them. My village is still a farming community, with splendid views from the right spots, and clean air. There’s no rush-hour, no pressure, no harried commuters. The micro-bus gets full in the evenings, but people retain their courtesy and mutual goodwill.

The year-end being a time to consider what’s worthwhile in life, this is a pretty good place to be. But like all things, it’s changed, and it keeps on changing. The next generation of expats might need to look for somewhere else.

Unless, of course, Tim has, by then, improved the pizza.

Tepoztlan Wall Art

December 1, 2019

Yesterday, I took a walk through a part of Tepoztlan I only visit every month or two. And lo, there were some new murals I’d not seen before, at a quiet intersection. I assume they were done by local artists, of which there are many, for the Days of the Dead, although there are obvious non-Mexican influences in them.

I love the street art here, and so I’m reproducing a selection of the finest work. No claims, naturally, are made to ownership of the images. I’m not even sure how copyright works in relation to murals in public places, but I’m happy to post these photos of my favourites. Some of the artists’ signatures are visible in the photos.Dark woman.jpg

This brooding lady of the night, complete with cartridge belts, evokes those who fought and fell in the 1910 Revolution.

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A little night music, perhaps? A skeletal trombonist.

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The Lord of Mictlan, I believe: the Land of the Dead.

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Skull and candle on a wall.

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A skeletal figure partying the night away.

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More ex-people partying.

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A brooding figure with a candle.

An Annual Tradition

September 12, 2019

Mosaic art made from seeds shows up in many places. I don’t know who began the tradition in Tepoztlan, but it dates back at least fifteen years, to before I started coming here.

Every summer, the main gateway of the former convent is decorated with panels depicting a traditional Mexican story. Last year the theme was Quetzalcoatl’s visit to the underworld, and this year it’s about part of the story of Ce Acatl Topiltzin (Seh-Akat’l-Topeeltseen – Our Prince One Reed), the human being who became (or was, or embodied) the Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl.

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The panels adorning the gateway. Behind are coloured streamers from a separate religious celebration.

According to what has survived of the old legends, he was born in a cave near my village of Amatlan, a few miles from Tepoztlan. He rose to become a revered Toltec leader and teacher. The ‘One Reed’ in his name derives from an early mesoAmerican calendar, identifying his birth-date as May 13 in 895 CE.

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The left-hand panel, showing incidents from Ce Acatl Topiltzin’s early life.

I’m cautious about the details of his life, since what was recorded seems intended to make the Spanish see him as an okay guy. The invaders burned all old records of the peoples they conquered, and it was Franciscan monks who later copied down versions of the myths, to provide the most trusted account. They appear to have been diligent scribes, but without original corroborating sources, it can be frustrating knowing what is true and what was altered or edited to appease the Mexicans’ new overlords.

Right panel.jpg

The right-hand panel, combining scenes from his adult life.

There is no such ambiguity about the seed mosaics. Using beans that are white, green, yellow red-orange, brown and black, the panels are designed afresh every summer, and installed over the gateway for visitors to admire. A friend of mine was invited to join the team making them, since it’s meant to be a collective local effort, not one artist’s solo effort. Also, covering over 100 sq ft of panels with tight-packed seeds is very labour-intensive.

After its year of glory, when it is photographed thousands of times, and features in countless selfies, the mosaic will be taken down and discarded. The creative process adheres to the principles of perishability governing the panels’ organic ingredients.

I find that a little sad, but well in tune with the traditions the bean-art is trying to acknowledge. The connection to the land and the natural cycles is still strong here, and the seed mosaics celebrate this fact instead of ignoring it.