April 1990

This selection from an early letter to Pa from Oaxaca rambles about Eric's U. of New Mexico course, the beginning of his class project of learning a bit about the various ways of working with clay by apprenticing, guiding some visiting potters, and his excitement about salsa - the music!


Life has been good - Alive! - almost as good as it gets. It will be as good as it gets soon enough - I'm meeting Rachel in Mexico City on May 11tth at which point we will begin a summer of exploring deserts, jungles, temples, cities, and pueblos, beaches, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and love.

Language classes ended a week ago - what a relief - it was just too many class hours to manage. Next time Andres Diez brings the program down he says he'll cut sown the class hours. The thing is, above all he doesn't want this program to have a reputation of being a vacation. Apparently in the past with other professors, things were pretty casual and it didn't go so well with the big boys back home. So we played some, but we also worked our hinds off and learned some Spanish, read a novel (Spanish), and wrote enough compositions. But classes are over and now begins the time of realizing our projects - creating masterpieces of this program.

People are doing a variety of things, looking at the market structure, orphanages, oral accounts of the revolutions, folk medicine, etc. All being researched and explored with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

A traditional Coyotepec water jug

I am fairly obsessed with my project. I am working as an apprentice with a potter in the sleepy pottery village of Coyotepec - the village where the very beautiful black pottery comes from. I slop around in clay next to chickens and turkeys sloping around in heaps of cornhusks and melon rinds. I'm working with Pedro Guzman Salas, who is a very interesting man. We share some very similar worldviews. Five years ago he went with five other Latin American potters on a fellowship to Italy to study ceramics. I would imagine he's about the only person in Coyotepec who has been out of the State - not to mention the country. Sometimes I explain to people I meet in the countryside where Guatemala is, where the ocean is. But I guess I should mention that some of the folks in the family I am staying with sown here know way more about the U.S. and our ways than I do.

So I work in Coyotepec - no throwing wheels or gas/electric kilns used here. And the clay comes from up the hill in baskets on burros.

I've also got some potter friends in Atzompa - another nearby pueblo. Almost every house there has a stone kiln in the yard. They make a distinct type of pottery there (from Coyotepec) and use wholly different techniques and different clay - two villages probably 20 miles apart.

I met a Danish couple in Atzompa, probably in their late '50s - well known artists and potters in Denmark. They've been travelling through Mexico and Guatemala for the last three months doing nothing but visiting and writing about potters. They know a lot about clay, but little about Spanish. I played interpreter (what a role!) and we hung out for two days, swapped clay stories and visited potters - what fun!

And the salsa down here is hot! I'm talking about music - the other salsa is hot too, but I don't try it, having a very sweet and tender white tongue.

It's spring up there and I imagine it is extremely beautiful and fragrant. I hope you are enjoying the green hills, oaks and wildflowers. The rains come here in late May and, at least in the southern jungle, rain solid for three months. I've got my rain jacket and I'm ready to go.


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