THE PUBLISHED INTERVIEW FOR VOYAGE L.A. MAGAZINE

My last semester at ELAC.  May 2019

My last semester at ELAC. May 2019

// update // In a sudden turn of events and as of October 2nd of 2019, this interview has been published. You can find the article: HERE

// foreword // Here it is folks, my interview for VoyageLA Magazine that was rejected for reasons unknown. Although I have a strong inclination as to why it was rejected, this isn’t a gossip blog, so I’ll save that conversation over Mezcal if you’d like to hear my rant on the state of nepotism in the art community. As of this writing, it’s been three weeks since I’ve submitted the interview, I’ve sent them three emails, two DM’s and I’ve yet to hear back from them. I feel like a bad date that keeps getting ignored while the other person hopes I go away after a few unread DMs. This isn’t the first time my work and writing have been rejected because of my conservative values, nor will it be the last. It matters little to me however, since I create work that I’m happy with and I’m well aware not everyone will appreciate what I do or say and that’s ok. What matters most is that you’re here now and I sincerely thank you for that. And quick disclaimer, I wrote the entirety of this interview over a bottle of Gracias A Dios Mezcal while listening to a massive playlist of synthwave. I strongly recommend you listen to this playlist while you read this interview, click here.

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// introduction // My name is David Cruz and I’m a wedding photographer. I’ve been in business for a little over five years, though I’ve been taking photos for at least fifteen years I’ve only started to focus more on my photography business as of this year. Because I owe my success to those around me, I reached out to my clients and friends on Instagram and asked them what they’d would have asked had they been interviewing me. The answers to their questions offer bite sized morsels as to how I started my business, some of the struggles I faced and ultimately how I got to where I am today. I tried to stay on topic as much as I could when answering these questions because I tend to go off the rails rather quickly during any conversation, especially when it comes to current events.

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Your main appeal to stand out from a saturated wedding photography market is to use 35mm film, I’m sure it’s an expensive business model, why not switch to digital?
dreamy look I love seeing in indie cinema. Aside from the magical quality of exposing an image on a negative and waiting for it to be developed into a tangible photograph, film has a magical way of rendering light. In the process of shooting film, I’m present with my clients and models at every moment without the conflict of looking at the back of a digital camera. There’s definitely a strong, personal craft behind being a film photographer. I’m no stranger to digital however, as I use it for certain clients and time sensitive jobs. My sole purpose is to photograph my clients in the best light possible so in the end it doesn’t matter which format or camera I use, but I love how people look on film so I won’t be giving it up anytime soon.

You don’t seem like a thrill seeker, but what has been the most thrill-seeking experience you’ve had?
A year ago my classmate (@johnnyshots) asked if I would help out with this editorial, something I do often do for classmates. He wanted me to hold his cameras while he photographed his model in a flying helicopter. The helicopter was the size of a small car with no doors on one side and to my great fortune, I got the side without the door. Boy was I scared to fly out of that thing, not to mention the heavy ass air flow that prevented me from moving around and seatbelts that felt as if they would snap at any second. Thankfully I didn’t fly out and managed to take a few good shots of both East L.A. and Echo Park while flying by them. Would I do it again? Heck yeah, but I’ll have high-end digital camera on hand next time because its no easy feat changing rolls and I don’t have a good zoom on my film cameras. Check Anthelion Helicopters here.

While on the subject of thrills, do you believe in the supernatural?
I’m Roman Catholic of course I believe in the supernatural. The bible is jammed packed with references of angels, demons, ghosts, aliens, resurrections, etc. I’ve had my fair share of strange and usual things I’ve seen over the years and I even believe a shadow person has been following me around since we lived on the house on 64th street back in South Central. I’m not the only one that believes the house had a supernatural presence, so did my family. In fact, one of my Aunties refused to set foot in that house for a few months after the lettuce she was cutting levitated and flew across the kitchen. My own experience with the house spans a few years, so I might dedicate a blog post for the subject sometime soon. There’s nothing more that I love than to listen to people’s accounts of the bizarre. I want to have a YouTube series of these stories, but I can barely get my Mezcal show off the ground let alone get two.

Your editorial work is known for a bright and airy look to it, where do you get the inspiration to create this look? 
When I took the advance photography class at ELAC a year ago my instructors were amazed how I would create beautiful editorials based off horror movies. Often with the body of work having nothing to do with my source of inspiration. Most photographers get inspiration from famous photographers or artists, not me, I don’t care much for famous artists and photogs. Ask me about a famous photographer and I would know as much about them as my Grandmother knows of Donald Trump. I mean it makes sense from technical standpoint why I get my inspiration from indie cinema, since most horror movies are made on a shoestring budget and I mostly work alone or with a small team in natural light. I study how these film makers create something out of nothing. I take the basic, bare bones approach of storytelling of this genre and mold it into my own editorials. When it comes to The Twilight Zone series in which I draw heavy inspiration from, I take mental notes on wardrobe and acting, as it helps me direct my own models when I guide them through a scene.

What first sparked your passion for photography?
The spark was lit after I read an article in Men’s Health stating that being a photographer was the sexiest job for men back in 2003. However, I’ve always been into cinema especially horror and I wanted to be a film maker as a kid, but since my parents didn’t have the means to throw me into an affluent school, I managed with what I was given and went with photography instead. I graduated from Washington Preparatory High School in 2005 a school located in the Athens sub division of South Central. LAUSD never gave the school enough resources to have its own media arts department focusing its limited resources towards the football team instead. Which was a shame since the school was filled with many talented artists. I was fortunate however to have my Mom pay for disposable cameras and the film processing at our local Sav-On. The photos consisted of my friends doing stupid teenager stuff. After picking up the prints I would cut (because I didn’t know how to do it on Photoshop Elements) and scan them to upload them to our very own Yahoo! GeoCities website. I’m talking way back in 2003 when having your own free website meant you can only have ten visitors per hour ‘cause it would crash. The web page itself had the aforementioned photos of my friends, along other photos of random folk around school. Each photo had a snarky and sometimes very offensive caption that eventually had me thrown into the dean’s office a handful of times, based off the complaints the students made. They could never pin it on me since my name was nowhere to be seen on the web page. Not to mention I was the only kid with a disposable camera in the whole school. The web page was the Perez Hilton page of Washington Prep two years before Perez Hilton. I only wish I had sold the idea to him. Oh well. I do have a book version though if you ever like to see. 

// additional rant // You know how it’s said that you should create your own table if they don’t let you sit at theirs? Well, that’s exactly what I did high school when I ran and won my Senior Class President campaign in hopes to sway the popular opinion of supporting the football team (which never won anything) and focus instead on our student artists. It didn’t work, since I was forced to give opening pro-football speeches at games and school assemblies. At least I went down trying. However, what sparked the business side of photography was the local punk and ska scene after a friend of mine ask if would photograph his ska band for a few months at local venues, specifically at The Allen Theater in South Gate. 2003-2004.

What were you goals in the beginning of your photography journey and what are your current goals now? 
After my short-lived career of being a local band photographer in 2004, I wanted to be a Quinceañera photographer because I was tired of seeing the same cheesy, outdated poses in the Quince photos my friends would show me. Not to mention the awkward poses the photographer had us in when I was a chambelan, I only hope those photos are lost forever. Unfortunately, I’ve since stepped away from this market when I switched to an hourly fee business model. On account that photographing Quinceañeras requires you to be there all day and no way in hell will a client pay me to be there all day.


I was a late bloomer when it came to alcohol as I had my first drink at age 25 at a house party. A year later I educated myself as much as I could on the topic of Mezcal, alongside other ancestral drinks, i.e. Tepache, Pulque, Tuba, Aguardiente etc. I have since self-proclaimed myself a Mezcal Connoisseur and have made it my life goal to teach others about this spirit. With the financial help from my clients and fan base I uploaded my first Mezcal show episode of // dix・ee・be // a mezcal show. You can find it on IGTV, YouTube and right next to this paragraph. My hopes with for this show are to get others exited for Mezcal and hopefully land a coveted brand ambassador gig from one of my favorite Mezcal labels back at home in Oaxaca. I do want to have my own label in the not so distant future as well. At the same time, I’ve been traveling with clients as of 2017. This service invites my clients to take me with them on their vacations. They get to enjoy their vacation while I take photos of them walking around, relaxing, exploring the sights of the location and even driving them around acting as a faux tour guide. It was a goal I gave myself three years ago and I’m happy its finally coming into fruition. 

Outside the Beverly Center right after getting fired from Ritz Camera.  October 2006

Outside the Beverly Center right after getting fired from Ritz Camera. October 2006

Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’m Mexican of course it hasn’t been a smooth road. It’s in our nature as Mexicans to swim against the current. Let’s face it, being a working artist of any sort is more of a rich white kid thing seldom for Mexicans and even in Mexico these jobs are usually held by the wealthier class. I put the blame on my own culture however, as being a photographer is not a real job in the eyes of most Hispanic parents. Because Hispanic parents expect you to either one, go into the workforce right out of high school or two, go to school for a real career i.e. doctor, lawyer, teacher etc. Anything outside of that is not a real job and thus seldom affords the same level of support from parents as say for a child that takes the aforementioned career choices. Which leads to the whole, limited Hispanic representation in Hollywood. It stems at home, where Hispanic parents don’t support the children who want to go into the performing arts. The only ones to blame are ourselves. 

Which lends to the difficulty of being a photographer in the Mexican market. Because it’s seen as a hobby by most, people don’t initially pay what you ask for. I’ve done nothing but push to break through this mentality and although I still face clients like these, in recent years the younger Hispanic culture is coming around and is seeing the value of paying top dollar for a photographer that cares about aesthetics. A reason why I use 35mm film as a key selling point when I sit down with potential clients. To offer them something other photographers no longer offer. It’s been a very rough career choice, not the sexiness I was promised from that Men’s Health article those many years ago. 

Because my parents didn’t have means to have me attend Brooks Institute of Photography (no longer in business) after high school and because I couldn’t sign up for the Air Force on account of my flat feet and poor vision, I went straight into the workforce after graduation. Which was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got a job at Ritz Camera in the Beverly Center and hung around for a year until I got fired. During that year I learned a lot about being an adult. I took the bus at midnight just to get back home at times. I learned how to drive and bought my first car. I had my whole life ahead of me. It was my first job. It was the first time I genuinely fell in love…. with two people. I understood who I was meant to be and it breaks my heart realizing I haven’t felt that way since.

If I get around to making Semiotic Nights into a magazine, this will be the cover of the first issue.

If I get around to making Semiotic Nights into a magazine, this will be the cover of the first issue.

I noticed you know your way around Los Angeles like no other person, is it because you’re a photographer?
To be honest I know the city in and out because I’m poor and I’ve had to move around out of necessity. I was born in Oaxaca and grew up with practically nothing, not even a real restroom or a floor it was dirt, both of them. Because of it, I’ve been able to settle pretty much anywhere and work with very little. When we first moved to this country we settled in what is now Historic Filipino Town a few months before the Northridge Earthquake, followed by South Central for a few years up until I graduated from Washington Prep. We then moved to Palmdale and I moved out in 2006 to Downtown L.A. when it was affordable, followed by La Cañada Flintridge, Riverside and finally calling East L.A. home for the following years. Not to mention the countless neighborhoods I’ve worked in during my retail career. Because I’m a people person, I love moving to new places and getting to know the sub culture of each neighborhood in our ever-expanding city. I’m currently living in Palmdale again with plans on moving back to Oaxaca in the following years.  

When you’re not photographing clients, what do you love to photograph?
My absolute favorite genre of photography is night architectural photography. Naturally I take it a step further with my own work and photograph on 35mm Kodak T-Max and the now discontinued Fuji Across. I started this side project, Semiotic Nights in 2006 as a love letter to Downtown L.A. and have slowly added to the collection of images. I love this project because what you see is definitely not what you get back on film. There’s plenty of room for error photographing at night, as each exposure takes anywhere between fifteen seconds to two minutes. Not to mention the level of danger one faces if a random killer pops out of nowhere. But I would love to get paid to photograph at night. I’m considering selling prints from this project. I’ll wait to see if there’s interest after the publishing of this interview. Hopefully I can make limited edition magazines when I have a solid set of images. I seldom advertise Semiotic Nights as it’s something I create for myself, although some of these images were on exhibit at the Vincent Price Museum in the Fall of 2018. You can find my second Instagram account here: www.instagram.com/semioticnights

Lend me your kitchen and I’ll cook for you.

Lend me your kitchen and I’ll cook for you.

If you weren't a photographer, what would you have been instead?
It’s funny because it took my parents a long time to finally realize that being a photographer was my real job. Even though it hasn’t made me rich or famous and considering my Dad is fairly conservative, he’s still waiting for me to finish the Real Estate License program I dropped out from after one class right out of high school. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve both been very much supportive of my ‘muerto de hambre’ career choice and they’ve both come around as I’m now being paid to travel with my clients. My parents wanted me to have an easy life and I believe they’ve paved the way for it. My life for the most part has been very good thanks to them. But to answer your question I think I might of have gone into teaching or cooking. I’m a rather gifted cook of the traditional Oaxacan pre-Hispanic kitchen.

My friend Jeffrey.  October 2005

My friend Jeffrey. October 2005

What advice would you give your younger self about photography?
If I could, I would tell my seventeen-year-old self to sign up for business and photography classes at the local community college. Advice that was given to me by my friend Jeffrey whom I met on MySpace those many years ago, who then introduced me to my very good friend Andy (@andyhairart). Jeffrey not only wanted me to go to school but also open my eyes to have a brighter outlook in life, he’s the reason why I try everything at least once yes, even that. Because of my stubbornness I never took his advice to go to school back in 2005. That was until I lived in East L.A. and I had some free time on my hands in late 2015 and I finally signed up for those business and photography classes at East Los Angeles College. I now hold a degree in Business Management, Marketing, Accounting and Photography. I believe success comes from those around you and I think I would of have reached success a lot sooner had I not been for my stubbornness and listened to Jeffrey’s advice those many years ago when we were sitting at the registration office at LACC. Though he passed away four years ago, I’m sure he would have been proud of my achievements of eventually going back to school.

GOD'S FOOTPRINT ON EARTH | ETLA, OAXACA

About an hour’s drive north on bus from the capital of Oaxaca sits the birthplace of Quesillo, or Queso Oaxaca as it’s better known to those outside of our communities. It is believed the ancient ruins of San José el Mogote in Etla was once the capital of the Zapotec people as far back as 1500 B.C. and abandoned around 400 B.C. as Monte Álban soon became the new capital of the ancient peoples. Now according to Wikipedia, San José Mogote is considered to be the oldest permanent agricultural villages in the central valley of Oaxaca and probably the first settlement in the area to use pottery. It produced Mexico’s oldest known defensive palisades and ceremonial buildings around 1300 B.C., was an early adopter of adobe around 850 B.C., has the first evidence of Zapotec hieroglyphic writing within 600 B.C., and evidence of early examples of architectural terracing, craft specialization, and irrigation, 1150-850 B.C. Now keep in mind I have never been to this archeological site, so I’ll elaborate on the topic after I visit.

The municipality of Etla plays an important role in the Hollywood classic Nacho Libre. Filmed mostly in the chapel of Las Peñitas standing on top of a rocky hill overlooking the valley. For those of the Roman Catholic faith, it is believed that God himself took rest here while He created Earth. Leaving a footprint behind when He sat here to rest when the Earth was all but clay. If you visit, you’ll find this fabled footprint inside an enclosed area at the foothill of the chapel. I suggest you visit with your faith in heart. I’ve only had the pleasure of visiting twice, the first being when I was in my late teens with not much faith in my heart and the second in my late twenties with my faith fully restored. I make an emphasis on faith because inside the rock formation where the footprint of God has formed, you’ll find a small hole within the rocks and if you’re One of faith, you’ll see the image of Christ glowing in a blue flame inside it. Similar to the flame that Moses saw those many years ago before his return to Egypt. Visiting this site with faith was advice I took from the caretaker I met on my second visit and have held to those words since. Surprisingly both my Mom and Cousin did not see Christ’s image while both my Grandmother and I did. 

If you arrive to Villa de Etla by public transit be aware there’s no public transit from the town square to Las Peñitas. Although a local Moto Taxi will happily give you a lift to and back if you’re not in the mood for a hike. Just let your Moto Taxi driver know what time you’d like them to come back for you. I recommend you visit on Wednesdays for the outdoor market in the center of town. Be aware that it rains everyday during the summer.

NOCHIXTLÁN, OAXACA | A PILGRIMAGE TO THE PAST

While my Grandmother, Mother and I were born in the Central Valley region of Oaxaca, our roots dig further back to the Mixtec region of Oaxaca as well its peoples. Like most children, I was never curious to know where my Great Grandparents were from or my family for that matter. As I’ve grown older however and accepted my own mortality, I’ve grown fond with the small towns of Oaxaca and the connections they have with my family and where we’re from, as well as my family history which I may not comprehensively be able document. Though we no longer have living relatives in San Pedro Tidaá, I was adamant on visiting the town during my visit in October of 2016 to gain further knowledge of where my family had its beginnings. After all its where my Great Grandparents were born, met, married and now their eternal resting place.

My Great Grandparents were minimalists at heart and of few words, born in the early 1900’s in the village of San Pedro Tidaá, a satellite that sits in the outskirts of Asunción Nochixtlán, about a two-hour drive north of the Oaxaca capital. Both spoke little Spanish on account of the Mixtec dialect being their native tongue, an ancient language that dates before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors to the New World. Atage fourteen he asked her parents for her hand in marriage, she was twelve. In the early 1920’s, they married on August 6thduring a patron saints day festival of the town. During their mid-twenties, the construction of a main highway connecting the capital of Oaxaca to Mexico City brought him to Oaxaca as a laborer. After the highway was complete, they picked up what little belongings they had along with their three children and moved to Oaxaca, they later had four additional children. During the Mexican Revolution, the Presidential Building (record building) of San Pedro Tidaá was burned down forcing them to pick up new birth certificates while in Oaxaca, unfortunately they sort of made a date of birth up and because of this, we never really knew how old they were upon their death.

I never got a chance properly get to know my Great Grandparents, an unfortunate side effect of living in a different country. After fifteen years however, I finally got to see them for the first time in the summer of 2007. It was here my Great Grandfather told tales of finding ancient artifacts in the ground during the yearly monsoon season. Showed me a boulder he found at the hill near the ancient city of Monte Alban, which produces a sound like that of a ringing bell when hit with a piece of the same boulder, I concluded it was a meteorite. Advised me to save and bury my money, which I have not done yet, but then again, he did live through the Mexican Revolution where it was common to bury your possessions. During my daily visits to their house, my Great Grandfather made sure I had a cup of coffee at the ready when I walked into the house, I picked up the morning coffee habit thereafter. My Great Grandmother on the other hand didn’t talk much on matters but did mention how Oaxaca has never changed since she moved there, which is why she never left house at her age and prayed for it not change after she’s gone. A little less than a year after this visit my Great Grandfather passed away in 2008 at what we believe was at age one hundred and three.

I took a day trip with my Mom, Grandmother and Great Aunt to San Pedro Tidaá during my visit in October of 2016, we left Oaxaca in the morning and arrived in Asunción Nochixtlán around mid-day. I treated myself to some consommé and a pound of barbacoa at the local Mercado and shopped around for the elusive Aguardiente, while my Great Aunt picked up a few things to cook once we got to her property in San Pedro Tidaá. There’s no reliable public transit from Nochixtlán to Tidaá, however, with her ever-impressive negotiation skills my Grandmother tric…. convinced, a local taxi driver to take us out there and pick us up in the afternoon. Mind you, it’s close to an hour each way. Upon arriving we first stopped at the cemetery were my Great Grandfather is buried to pay our respects and decorate the grave site with marigold flowers (Flor de Muerto). My Great Aunt placed marigolds on the grave sites of our distant relatives as well, though I couldn’t tell, as Mother Nature had wiped the names off the grave stones. What took me by surprised was the way people are buried here. Men are buried on the north side of the cemetery, while the women are buried on the south. I asked why but got the usual “that’s just how things are done around here” answer. We didn’t spend much time in the village as there isn’t much to see or do outside of a patron saints day festival. I was on the phone with my Grandmother for a couple hours asking her questions for this blog post, it turned out the church where my Great Grandparents were married is still standing, which I will pay my visit sometime next year. My Great Grandfather was the bell ringer for this church in his youth, and the very bells he’d ring collapsed during an earthquake, but I was told these bells currently sit at the foot of the church. 

My Great Grandmother, the Matriarch of my family passed away in the landing months of 2017 at the age of a hundred, this was after my last visit to Oaxaca that year. With her went the ancient language of the Mixtec peoples as she was the last native speaker in our family. My Grandmother understands the language though not to the full extent as her eldest siblings who picked up the language sufficiently enough to speak it. However, I believe my Great Grandmother’s legacy will live on forever through her food, as she taught my Grandmother how to cook, who in turn taught my Mom, who then taught me the pre-Hispanic dishes of the family at an early age. I have done my best to carry on her legacy with my versions of these dishes when I cook for my friends. As I believe the best way to continue, appreciate and showcase my family’s culture and heritage, is through the food that has been passed down to me by the women of my family. 

My Great Grandparents lived through every major event of the 20th century, and were both superstitious and believed cameras to be soul thieves, so they didn’t appreciate their photo taken while I was around them during the summer of 2007, even if I asked kindly for a portrait. To my surprise on my last visit to their house while I was walking out after my goodbyes to them, my Great Grandfather stopped me in my tracks and asked to have his photo taken together with my Great Grandmother. He picked up his best dress shirt and hat, and she picked up her best shall, and both stood elegantly for the camera as if they somehow knew, this would be the last time I would see them both together.

HOME IN NOWHERE | Pt. II

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You have gone through heavy facelifts since I’ve met you those many years ago when I left my home in 1993. I remember spending my weekends on Broadway blvd. with my parents walking up and down the street stopping at each swap meet you once had, where I discovered my short-lived fascination for magic tricks from a magic shop that has now been replaced by an organic, farm-to-table something. One day those many years ago, my Dad bought a stereo off a guy on the street and when we got home to open the box, were met with a cinder block instead of the high-end stereo he purchased. On my seventh birthday my Mom took me to the Chuck E. Cheese knock-off you had on 3rdSt., it’s now a cell phone store and it breaks my heart every time I see it now.

I protested the changes you started going through in 2005 and against my best judgment, I moved in a beautiful building with my then ex-wife in 2007, though your parking sucked ass. I had my car broken into twice while parked on your streets, even got my car towed once and was billed $90 per hour for it.

I celebrated my 21st birthday with you and married my then girlfriend with you by my side. In recent years I’ve managed businesses along your dingy streets, waited for the bus late into the night, watched people eat fancy dinners while I walked hungry in the rain, got a $350 jaywalking ticket, walked through streets filled with urine and poop and sadly, grew a sour, loathing taste for you. But now that I live around you, I’m beginning to see why I fell in love with you those many years ago when I moved from Oaxaca and called you my new home. Unfortunately, I can longer afford what you ask for rent, but I much rather see you from a distance where I live now; and I have to say you’re looking as beautiful as ever. I never thought I could miss anything as dearly as much as you, but I believe I’m going miss you when I move back to Mexico in a few years, though I’ll never forget what you provided for me while I lived with you.

Downtown L.A., how I wish you were a real person even for a single second, just to tell you how much, I love you. 

MEZCALES DE OAXACA | A LOVE AFFAIR

My self-discovery and love affair for Mezcal began in 2017 during an excursion to the outskirt desert towns in Oaxaca. Halfway through the trip, the Mercedes-Benz minibus made an hour pit stop at El Rey De Matatlán. A small, but productive Mezcal Palenque (distillery) that rests by the roadside of the main highway towards the community of Teotitlan del Valle. It was at this distillery I kissed Mezcal for the first time, was taught how to identify genuine Mezcal and learned of the variations of Agave and Mezcales. As my knowledge of Mezcal grows, so does my pride as a native of Oaxaca almost as if Mezcal runs through my veins as it does with the Maestros and Maestras of Mezcal (Master Mezcal Distillers). As stated in my first Mezcal journal entry, it’s near next impossible to know everything about Mezcal. New information of its origin is always brought to light, new stories of the Mezcal Masters in the field are told and new Mezcal labels are introduced into the market as the popularity of this spirit grows in the cocktail communities. For your consideration I’ve compiled a list of a handful of my favorite Mezcal labels in hopes you’ll try them and by doing so, help support our local Mezcal producers back in Oaxaca. To be clear, this list is by no means exhaustive or definitive. 

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Mezcal Los Amantes Oaxaca

MEZCAL LOS AMANTES
My initial curiosity for Mezcal was sparked while watching an episode of Munchies, Guide To Oaxaca, where the host makes a stop at Mezcaleria Los Amantes in the heart of downtown Oaxaca. After watching, I made it my mission to not only visit this bar but learn as much as I could about Mezcal while visiting Oaxaca in October of 2017. Mezcaleria Los Amantes is small artisanal distillery in the town of Tlacolula, while its bar sits in downtown Oaxaca, a stone’s throw from Santo Domingo. The bar is small, sensually lit and walking in is like walking into a shrine for Mezcal with knowledgeable bartenders. The Mezcal to kiss here is the young Espadín Mezcal. This Mezcal in particular has been the most refreshing one I’ve tried, it has identifiable fruit tones and a mildly smoky after note with a sweet, citrus flavor end with a slight herbaceous mid note. The aroma of this Mezcal is refreshing and humid almost as if you’re right under a waterfall. A perfect introduction to Mezcal for those not familiar with this spirit.
- Website: www.losmantes.com | Instagram: @losamantesmx

Mezcal Cuish Berta Vasquez Oaxaca

CUISH
During Mexico’s prohibition era in the 1920’s, women played a significant role in the history of Mezcal and up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities of Oaxaca and Maestra Mezcaleras (women Mezcal distillers) were unheard of. Similar to cooking, the feelings and emotions of the Maestro or Maestra are unconsciously infused into the Mezcal during its production. If the they were happy or of sweet nature, the Mezcal will be sweet however, should they have strong tempers, the Mezcal will have a dry, punchier aroma. One Mezcal the emphasizes this theory is that of Maestra Mezcalera Berta Vásquez. Specifically, the wild Tobalá Agave Mezcal which is exclusively distilled for Mezcal Cuish. It’s earthy, herbaceous, exceptionally smoky and slightly humid and produced in the mountainous region of San Baltazar Chichicapam. An absolute rarity even for Oaxaca, as this 50% Mezcal to my knowledge, is only produced for Mezcal Cuish. Mezcal Cuish doesn’t produce its own Mezcal rather, it sources Mezcal of the highest caliber from within the Mezcal regions of Oaxaca. Their commitment to support our Maestros and Maestras sparked a heavy interest in me to move back to Oaxaca promote and possibly work for this brand exclusively. If you’re unfamiliar with Mezcal I do not recommend this Tobalá Mezcal due to its high alcohol content and strong smoky aroma; prior experience with the Espadínes is highly recommended. At this time of this writing, this label of Mezcal is not available anywhere in the States.
- Website: www.mezcalescuish.mx | Instagram: @mezcalescuish

Mezcal Mezcaloteca Oaxaca

MEZCALOTECA
On the backside of Santo Domingo sits one the best old world Mezcal bars you’ll find in the city of Oaxaca, Mezcaloteca. I took a Mezcal tasting crash course here and was lucky to have co-owner Silvia as my bartender and taught me how to identify genuine Mezcal and instantly fell head over heels for this label, its culture and of course the bar itself, which is sensually lit and perfectly decorated to the aforementioned old world feel. Silvia is a living, breathing Mezcal encyclopedia, patient and insanely knowledgeable with all things Mezcal in fact, 90% of what I know of Mezcal I learned from her. Mezcaloteca is unique in that they have Mezcales from various regions of the Republic with an emphasis on the Maestros that produce each one. Naturally, the ones from Oaxaca were my favorites during the tasting. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are sweet and delectably smoky with strong earthy end notes, ranging from 45% to 60% proof, whilst managing to go down smoothly due to their strict artisanal cultivation, distillation and fermentation processes. The Mezcal that stood out from the rest were those made from Karwinskii Agaves, better known as Cuixe. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are rare in the States but do offer an export label, Mezcalosfera.  
 - Reservations: www.mezcaloteca.com | Instagram: @mezcaloteca

Mezcal Meteoro It Fell From The Sky

MEZCAL METEORO
During my half year stay in Oaxaca in late 2016 to early 2017 I searched all over the city to find the best possible Mezcal I could find. Some I found through word of mouth while others I found through Instagram searches, one being Mezcal Meteoro. Surprisingly I couldn’t find this Mezcal anywhere in Oaxaca, even though it’s distilled here. After a little digging I found it at La Europa, a high-end liquor shop on the ritzier side of Tijuana. Mezcal Meteoro can be described as a dry, slightly spicy Mezcal, with a strong earthy aroma, leaving no mid or after note to lust after, giving you a warm happy feeling after each kiss of this rather rare Mezcal. I recommend this Mezcal for a cold day and definitely worth the trouble of finding it, both for its uplifting characteristics and bottle aesthetics. As far as I know this label does not have a Mezcaleria anywhere within the Mexican Republic, which is probably why I had a hard time finding it. The tag line "it fell from the sky," perfectly describes the rarity of this Mezcal.
- Website: www.cayodelcielo.com | Instagram: @mezcalmeteoro

Mezcal Marca Negra Espadín

MEZCAL MARCA NEGRA
The quintessential beauty of Mezcal is how no two are ever alike, even those of the same label. As the aromas and flavors of each Mezcal is unique because of the region in which it’s produced, the water used to ferment, and the techniques used by each Maestro or Maestra when producing Mezcal. These and other factors contribute to the unique characteristics of every batch of Mezcal. Though aromas and flavors will be for the most part, consistent within each label, each bottle will have its own life and characteristics due to its artisanal process. The Espadín Mezcal Marca Negra distilled in San Juan Del Rio, by maestro Mezcalero Isaías Martínez Juan, has a strong identifiable fruit tone and a very humid aroma, think cave under a waterfall, similar to Los Amantes but with a much stronger aroma. Marca Negra’s Espadín Mezcal has a sweet, citrus flavor ending with a herbaceous note. As with any Mezcal, Marca Negra is not a common spirit found in the States. 
- Website: www.marcanegra.com | Instagram: @mezcalmarcanegra

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MEZCAL DE DON RENE
The aroma of this Mezcal is similar to being under a waterfall or near a rushing river. On par with taste it’s very refreshing, goes down smoothly and has a slight herbaceous end note. My grandfather has been buying this Mezcal for decades from a man known as Don Ren. Don Rene does it old school as he personally picks up the Mezcal from San Baltazar Chichicapam, a town in the southern sierra region of Oaxaca, and sells it by the liter to those whom have purchased from him before. I was fortunate to have sit down with Don Rene and talk Mezcal when he delivered a five-liter tank to my Grandparents house while I was there on vacation. By far this is the most prized Mezcal in my collection, but I think it’s due to the sentimental value it has with my Grandfather. As you’ve guessed, there is no label for this Mezcal, hence no official bottle. I did however go on a hunt for a bottle worthy of this Mezcal and thanks to one of Instagram fans,  I found this gorgeous bottle in a local shop/art gallery that sells artisan wares and products from local Oaxacan artists.
- Get the bottle here | Instagram: @tiendaq

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AGUARDIENTE
My Grandfather calls it Holy Water and the folk in the rural, hidden town of Eloxochitlán in the region of Papaloapan (northern most point of Oaxaca) go as far as calling it a gift from the Gods themselves. This rare spirit known as Aguardiente, is only distilled locally in micro batches and almost illicitly by a selected few. To be clear, this spirit known as Aguardiente is not a Mezcal and though both spirts parallel each other with the distillation & fermentation processes, they each share a class of their own. Aguardiente is more compared to a rum, as it’s distilled from sugar cane and to my knowledge not commercially produced and acquiring a few liters of this spirit demands a two-day journey outside of the capital. Describing the smoky, delectably sweet aroma of this spirit is complicated, the smell almost burns your nostril cold. Each kiss gives you one hell of a punch on the face, burns your throat for a few seconds, then leaves a very sweet after note. I picked up a few liters of this Aguardiente from a tailor after my Grandmother asked a shop keeper if she’d kindly guide us to an Aguardiente vendor. The tailor shop was lit by outside light, it was dusty and unorganized but felt cool and fresh compared to the outside hot, humid weather. Then I saw it, the massive teal glass jug filled with Aguardiente. The tailor was a very knowledgeable old timer and after a customary shot of Aguardiente, he siphoned a few liters into two three-liter Coke bottles. 
- Get the bottle here | Instagram: @tiendaq

Mezcal Bosscal Joven Cenizo Durango

MEZCAL BOSSCAL
As a Sagittarius and in my early twenties during the ‘finding yourself phase,’ I came across the Chinese Zodiac and found I was born a Fire Rabbit. The further I studied, the further I agreed with the views of this philosophy, because it accurately described who I am and have since had a deep respect for the rabbit thereafter. It was then no surprise I immediately gravitated towards Mezcal Bosscal during my Mezcal research last year, you guessed it, because of its rabbit logo. Mezcal Bosscal is a micro Vinata (palenque/distillery) from Durango, Mexico, with a beautiful philosophy towards its elaboration and use of a rabbit as their logo, paying patronage to the land, their ancestry and the moon. Their Mezcal is distilled from the wild Cenizo Durangensis Agave, producing a Mezcal with a strong smoky aroma, a slight earthy flavor and a balanced after note. I don’t know what it is about this Mezcal and its sister Damiana, but they tend arouse your sexual desires after a few kisses. From what I understand, the locals consider both of these Mezcales as aphrodisiacs. Open a bottle of Bosscal Mezcal next time you’re alone with your lover and love as rabbits do. 
- Website: www.bosscal.com | Instagram: @mezcalbosscal

LEYENDA DE CUILÁPAM DE GUERRERO | OAXACA

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Six miles south of the capital of Oaxaca sits the small town of Cuilápam de Guerrero with a sinister tale of the macabre. If arriving on public transit, the bus en route to Villa de Zaachila stops dead front of the former monastery of Santiago Apóstol or better known as the Basilica of Cuilápam by the locals. Striking at mere glance is the incomplete state of the temple, with a missing roof and incomplete pillars. Construction of the temple began in 1556 with Antonio De Barbosa as chief architect and used a mix of architectural styles that were predominant in Europe throughout the 16th century. Construction suddenly halted around 1570 for unknown reasons, though official records state it was due to financial disputes on who would bear the cost of the project between the Crown of Spain and the [Hernán] Cortés family. After Hernán Cortés overthrew the Aztec Empire, Cortés was awarded the title of Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca and ruled with absolute authority from 1529 to 1541, dying six years later in his native land of Spain. However, over the centuries local towns folk have contrived a more supernatural version of events explaining why this church was never completed.

❡ For several nights the convent of Cuilápam was met by a presence of a dark shadow that only met with the Prior General, Domingo de Aguiñaga late into the night hours. This shadow person wore black silky robes matching the black of the dark sky itself and arrive in a luxurious, aristocratic wagon coach pulled by two Friesian black horses. One morning, the Prior asked the Friars to no exit the dormitories the following night, as something strange and otherworldly would take place outside their very doors. As promised by the Prior, dark shadows moved around the convent passed midnight and among these shadows, the same dark presence that met with the Prior could be seen hovering throughout the makeshift construction site. 

The shadows began mixing concrete, raised pillars, walls and arches with remarkable speed and efficiency. These shadows began building the holy temple commissioned by the Crown of Spain that was promised to the clergy of the region. As they finished the central dome of the temple just before dawn, a rooster was heard crowing nearby. Construction stopped immediately, and the shadows disappeared leaving the temple unfinished. Years later on his deathbed the Prior General confessed that the dark presence was the indeed Devil himself and offered to construct the temple in a single night, before the crowing of a rooster at dawn in exchange for the souls of the congregation. ❡ It’s told Domingo de Aguiñaga never meant to keep his end of the deal and set a trap to make the rooster crow before dawn to allow the Devil to build most of the temple and not take the souls of the congregation with him. It is also said that the head of the murdered Zapotec Princess Donají is buried underneath this unfinished temple.