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. 

LEYENDA DE CUILÁPAM DE GUERRERO | OAXACA

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Roughly 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 by public transit, the bus taking you to Villa de Zaachila makes a route stop in front of the former monastery of Santiago Apóstol or better known as the Basilica of Cuilápam by locals. What’s striking of this temple at mere glance is its incomplete state, the missing roof of the cathedral casts an ominous aura as you walk through its 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. Over the centuries local towns folk have contrived a more supernatural version of events that to this day, have been the canon of events that occurred as to explain 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 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 church 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 church. 

MONOLITH | YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

In the Spring of 1927 a young photographer but experienced climber, trekked deep into snowbound Yosemite National Park in California. But his hike didn’t go according to plan with the light about to die and just two glass plates left for his 4x5 view camera. Under pressure, he created what many consider one of the greatest masterpieces of American or any other landscape art, Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. Ansel Adams captured the great mountain in dramatic light and would change how Americans saw their country. When Adams came on this scene, it was an epiphany. It was like falling in love, but more importantly, he became not just Yosemite’s photographer, but its great artist, the high priest of its temple, of its stone, its light, its water. What he created in those landscape altarpieces, was an America irradiated with luminous majesty, taller than the highest skyscraper, more powerful than the mightiest business corporation, and he wanted Yosemite to be for everyone, as this is our land. By the 1950’s Ansel Adams’ photographs had become the iconic images of the American west.  

Starting in the 1920’s, Ansel Adams pioneered an approach that insisted photography was not simply a mechanical process, but a true art form. His method was to work backwards from the image he’d visualized then anticipate the moment when the light and subject could be seen at their most illuminating and then, with the press of the button, realize that vision. In 1960, the year John F. Kennedy became president calling for a new frontier, Adams published a book, This is the American Earth. It became an instant bestseller. More and more Adams’ photographs became preachy, but those visual sermons were radiant, mystical, ecstatic. They’re passionate statements of how humanity could be redeemed through the encounter with nature. He became a kind of patriarch of environmentalism, and every so often he’d put the camera down and even go away from his beloved Yosemite to try and persuade this or that president to his point of view, but throughout, he remained steadfast to his belief that his job in life was to give visual form to that silken cord tying together the fate of man with the fate of the Earth. 

It was the moment for some, when the photographer became a prophet. In 1977, when the Voyager spacecrafts were launched with a golden record containing images and sounds of Earth and its inhabitants, Adams’ images were among them. My photographs of Yosemite will never come close to those of Adams, considering he carried a 4x5 camera and tripod up there and I a modest, lightweight Nikon F3. After a two-hour hike in the middle of the rain and snow, I laid eyes on Half Dome. I cried. As I stood watching, I thought how this massive rock will be the most majestic thing I will ever see. I marveled at how many more millions have seen it, how many photographs have been taken, and how long Half Dome will it stand long after we’re gone. 

“We all move on the fringes of eternity and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion.” – Ansel Adams 

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.

LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE | AN ODE

Downtown Los Angeles has gone through profound changes over the last thirteen years, and depending on your politics and socioeconomic status, you might see this as a good or bad shift towards the future ahead. The crusade to clean up Downtown L.A. in order to compete with the likes of New York City, began around 2005 by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dubbed The Rejuvenation Project of Downtown Los Angeles. I personally don’t agree with some of these changes, on account the storefronts I grew up with in the early to late 90’s, have been wiped into nothing. But it’s not the town itself or the aesthetic I disagree with. Yes I’m pro-business however, I reluctantly disagree with the new wave of businesses that displace longtime residents and business owners of years past. These new businesses have alienated those of us who’ve grown up here, those of us who have romanticize the idea of Downtown L.A., and those of us who once lived here.

To my knowledge, no publication pushes this alienation far more than Los Angeles Magazine. To quote the headline in the article, The New New Downtown, as seen in the 2017 July issue, “The revival of our once idle city kicked off about a decade ago and it’s only picking up pace.” If I’m to understand correctly, the writer Marielle Wakim (deputy editor), and in turn Los Angeles Magazine, are essentially saying Downtown L.A. did not exist until after 2007. Nor did my weekends spent with family walking up and down Broadway Blvd., browsing through its once crowed swap meets, in the aforementioned 90’s. The businesses that existed then are also irrelevant to the writer because she’s a transplant from Ohio and thinks that if an area isn’t on Instagram or is Hipster friendly, or on a travel blog, it plain out doesn’t exist. Mind you, I’m not against gentrification wholeheartedly, but it begs the question on whether or not the writers of Los Angeles Magazine care about our local culture. I question when the said writers publish articles stating they alone have discovered Los Angeles and its diverse neighborhoods. and adjacent areas, worse yet, even take a pretentious attitude towards it. While I’m not a native Angelino, a term I hate using by the way, however I’ve been here practically my whole life, and I’ve seen many changes since 1994, so I’m not going to sit here tell you I know everything there is to know about this town. 

Further proof Los Angeles Magazine doesn’t care about immigrants, small businesses and most importantly local culture, I’ll turn your attention to the 2017 November issue with the article, All Hail the Pastry King. The writer, Joel Stein, a self-proclaimed Angelino, admits to stalking and kissing ass to pastry Chef, Dominique Ansel, French immigrant and inventor of the coveted Cronut, in hopes of getting ‘special treatment,’ once his new bakery opened its doors in the winter of 2017 at The Grove. The writer is then appalled to learn Ansel doesn’t care who you are once you’re in his bakery, with a firm, no-cutting rule, as to provide equal hospitality to all guests. The writer closes off by saying, “no matter how good his food is, he’s never going to make it in this town.” To be clear, Joel Stein isn’t a true Angelino, he’s in fact a New Jersey native. Los Angeles Magazine, if you’re reading this, don’t hire transplants who claim to be L.A. natives, who then virtue signal us as to who’s going to make it in this town, and who’s not. I’m tired of you bastards claiming you know everything and everyone is this town and the constant stomping of those of us, who hustle in our local, respective communities on the daily. Then turn around and slander those who don’t fit your mold, to further promote your unwanted gentrifying agenda.

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I’m sure I can dig up further examples, however, I have since cancelled my subscription as of last year, on account the writers Los Angeles Magazine employ, seem to have limited views and experiences that don’t reflect those of us who have been here our entire lives. However, and you can quote me on this, I greatly appreciate the handful of new businesses that keep the old buildings they move into and take the daunting task of restoring them to their former glory. Downtown L.A. has stunning architecture from different eras scattered throughout. From 1994, to around 2006, Clifton’s Cafeteria was our go to place for a hearty, American comfort meal. It was the first restaurant I remember walking into upon arriving in this country at age five. A quick ride on the Metro Red Line from our apartment, as at that time, in the early 90’s, the Metro Red Line only went as far as MacArthur Park and Union Station. My family and I would eat here at least once a week, my parents would get me the tilapia filet with a side of rice and I’d get to pick my own gelatin for dessert, admiring how fast the cashier ladies would punch in the numbers on the cash registers. After a while, I started asking for the slice of ham with scalloped potatoes and a few slices of Texas Toast on the side, providing a much heartier satisfaction. As the years went by, Clifton’s laid forgotten through the ‘revitalization’ of Downtown that began in 2005. Then one day, it closed. Years later it reopened, with much anticipation on my part. Sadly however, it wasn’t the Clifton's I remembered. Though the new owners pianistically restored it to its former glory of the 1930’s, the food flat out sucked.

As did the new owners of Clifton’s, so have the owners of the Ace Hotel Building, formerly known as the Texaco Building; otherwise known as the Jesus Saves Building by locals. As a photographer, it makes my heart jump for joy when I see gorgeous, Art Deco architecture fully restored and beautifully presented. I appreciate how accessible Downtown has become over the years. I would say it’s mostly due to the MTA (public transit of L.A.) implementation of the light rail Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Downtown as of 2003, and later with the 2009 East L.A. extension. I was living in Palmdale when the extension towards East L.A. was completed, irrelevant to me at the time. Who would of thought that a few years later, the Gold Line would become my main source of transportation when calling East L.A. my new home. I’m not completely against the changes Downtown L.A. is going through. I’m simply asking writers with a voice in a mainstream platform as well as new business owners of Downtown L.A., to promote the new while embracing the past. What do you miss of Downtown L.A. and if you were running things, what would you change, bring back or keep, do you agree or disagree with the changes?

THE ART OF STYLE | EVERYDAY LIFE

Art in everyday life, has a particular significance. It implies the belief that art may be so much a part of our daily life, that It’ll helps us to do the simple, homely things of life as well as the more unusual aspects, in a more beautiful and graceful way. As we surround ourselves with beauty, art becomes a part of our life and personality, not to be set apart for the occasional enjoyment however. Both beauty and art must be sought after and enjoyed in everything we do and in everything we select. As consumers, every time we make a purchase, however humble it may be, we’re consciously or unconsciously using our power to choose. Since art is involved in most of the objects seen and used in our everyday lives, one of the great needs of the consumer is knowledge of the principles of the fundamentals of good taste. Good taste, in the field of art, is the application of the principles of design to the problems in life where appearance as well as utility, is a consideration. With the development of our appreciation of these principles, the meaning of the term “principles of design” broadens and deepens. These principles should never be static. They should be regarded as flexible guides to be used in producing a desired result. It has been said that good taste is doing the right thing, unconsciously, at the right time and, in the right way. In the book Joseph Vance, Dr. Thorpe says, “I keep hoping for the development, in Joey, of the faculty of Good Taste…. It’s a quality of the inner soul, that gives a bias to the intellect.” Few people are born with this rare gift, but, fortunately for us, good taste in art can be acquired by applying the principles of beauty deliberately until the time is reached when the right thing is done, unconsciously.

- Art in Everyday Life, 1925