Last year was the first year I was here during Guelaguetza, the cultural festival that takes the city by storm for the last two weeks of July. Even though I’ve lived in Oaxaca for more than four years, I’m usually gone when it’s going on. By this July, I’d moved from living under the white auditorium so close that the sounds broke through closed doors and windows, and the fireworks left debris on my terrace.

IMG_0600There’s a certain two-sides-of-the-coin feeling about Guelaguetza. The Zapotec word means something vaguely like the “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services” in keeping with the importance of sharing and extended community in indigenous cultures.


There’s the positive wonderful, shiny, show-off-our-town feeling like other huge festivals — Mardi Gras in New Orleans and  the Cervantino festival in Guanajuato come to mind. Let us show the world how proud we are of our cultural heritage, how we bring in folks from all over the world to see what a party we can put on.

There’s that tawdry side too, of the not-quite dried puke on the sidewalk the next morning after a few too many, of the pickpockets who come in from all over the country to take advantage of just those kind of people not used to partying so much. So much trash left behind that there must be a whole extra horde of early morning sweepers to take care of it with their big branch brooms.


Fiestas are the dual side of life, aren’t they really: the manic fun and orchestrated dance that last for such a fleeting moment before we have to clean up after the party and go back to work the next morning.

It’s the selective memory that says yes, weren’t those the days – when we were young and idealistic and couldn’t see into the murky crystal ball of a tedious future.IMG_0685

 At the end of the day, from what I’ve seen of those who know they’re leaving this world behind, we have the memories of those shining, brief moments that superseded the tedium, the notes of music that were so pure they made your heart ache, the one forbidden embrace so tender it didn’t matter that it never came to a lifetime of living.

At the end of the day, I think we all just want to remember the Guelaguetzas.

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