Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in Oaxaca

In planning for a visit to India in November 2016 and on the recommendation of a friend, I ordered a copy of Emma Tarlo’s book, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India. What strikes me are the similarities between Mexico and India and the politics of cloth as a statement of belonging, assimilation and independence.

Emma Tarlo is a British cultural anthropologist and the book is based on research for her doctoral degree. Identity is tied to the quality of cloth, where it’s made, how it’s made and by whom, style (is it westernized or indigenous) and how a person feels about him/herself in their chosen attire.

Clothes are symbols for who we are, where we come from and who we aspire to be. They are also symbols for keeping people in their place by banning attire or requiring that people maintain a dress code based on their ethnic identity.

Oaxaca's khadi cloth, with native coyuchi and handspun, naturally dyed cotton

Oaxaca’s khadi cloth, with native coyuchi and handspun, naturally dyed cotton

Indigenous dress can convey a strong sense of pride or shame. Handmade cloth is more costly than machine woven textiles and often unaffordable to most.Handmade can be code for poverty, class and rough quality. In Chiapas, metallic, synthetic thread is all the rage by Chamula women. It is difficult to find natural dyes there now.

The first section of the book addresses the politics of cloth, India’s M.K. Ghandi social movement to eradicate manufactured and imported cloth and reinstate khadi cotton as part of a national independence movement.

It was curious to me to read this because Khadi is also the name of a Oaxaca cooperative that hand-spins and hand weaves native cotton using the type of spinning wheel used in India. The textile is soft,  airy, comfortable and easy to wear in Oaxaca’s climate. Yet, I had no idea until reading Tarlo’s book how closely tied this identity of cloth is between the two countries.

I’ll be writing more about as I re-enter Oaxaca. It’s important to look at indigenous clothing not only as beautiful textiles but as significant for supporting local economic development. Cloth has value. It is a root of identity.

 

 

Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

My North Carolina visit is coming to a close and I return to Oaxaca on Saturday, April 30. While I’ve been here, I’ve eaten a lot of grits, tomato gravy and fried green tomatoes.  I love grits.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

A particular pleasure is catch up time with important friends with whom I have a deep, long and connected relationship. It makes me think about living here more during the year and buying instead of renting.

So, I went on the Durham, North Carolina bungalow tour with my friend Hettie, organized by the historic preservation society. The temptation to own one of these beauties is powerful. Hettie and I spent time cruising neighborhoods for home ownership possibilities for me.

Durham is gritty, one of those places that people are calling The Brooklyn of the South. Property values are skyrocketing and renovated bungalows in coming-back neighborhoods are snapped up within a day or two after being listed for sale.

Thanks to the New York Times and the plethora of imaginative restaurants here, Durham is a surge community. Soon-to-be opened condos in the city center are going for over $1 million. A few years ago, no one wanted to live here. It is becoming the epitome of upscale elitism and monied funk. Disparities are showing up here big time, pushing poor people out, raising the tax base.

I’m mesmerized by mixed Durham neighborhoods with ethnic, racial and economic diversity where 1200 square foot 1930s bungalows are selling for$300K+   That’s not my price range!

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

As I begin to explore planting my feet here for part of the year, going back and forth to/from Oaxaca, I imagine what it would be like to be a home owner, support a mortgage, pay insurance, do maintenance and be with women with whom I have shared a connected intimacy over many years.

I’m open to a dialog about this. Now, for today, off to look at small houses in affordable neighborhoods that would be an entirely new living experience for me.

Why am I considering this?

  • Close to long-time, intimate friends
  • Having a base of my own in the USA
  • Access to university medical center health care
  • Living for today with a plan for tomorrow
  • Claiming a stake in real estate investment

What would be the downside?

  • Less discretionary income
  • Limited and less frequent international travel
  • Fewer opportunities to meet up with friends who live elsewhere
  • Fewer visits to west coast family
  • Higher fixed costs
  • Lifestyle changes

 

 

Somewhere Beyond Mexico: North Cackalacky, USA

North Cackalacky is an endearing slang term that many of us call our beloved adopted state of North Carolina. Also famous for her hot spicy barbecue sauce called, yes, Cackalacky. I just came back from a weekend in the mountains where apple orchards, dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

The young maple leaves were that deep limey color we see in these parts, a Oaxaca counterpart only known by the juice I put in my Victoria beer. They don’t know Michelada (Mexico City style) or Suero (so-called in Oaxaca) here in North Cackalacky, but they do know beer.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Asheville has a beer pedal pub that holds 12 and goes up and down the streets, many of them hilly. You have to pedal while you swill, not an easy feat. Asheville has 30+ micro-breweries.

Hanging out at the Mothlight, West Asheville, NC

Hanging out at the Mothlight, midnight, West Asheville, NC

I gave my Asheville waiter the Suero recipe. He came up with fresh lemons. Lemonade beer. Not bad, but not Oaxaca. Bless his heart.

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hills and valleys. Winding roads that actually have lines painted down the middle and no potholes. Unlike Oaxaca. The hollers (that’s hollows in North Cackalacky) are the valleys between the hills where million dollar retirement houses and double-wides can sit side-by-side.

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

We cross the Eastern Continental Divide. Climb to a bit over 3,000 feet. Look out at 6,000+ foot Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. In Teotitlan del Valle, we nestle in the Tlacolula Valley on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks.

Coming to North Carolina is a homecoming for me. Here, I connect with family like friends who nurture my heart and soul. I eat soul satisfying food like grit cakes, hush puppies, sweet potato fries and liver ‘n onions at the Moose Cafe. I watch the Chef & the Farmer on PBS and hope to eat there, Downeast in Kinston, NC, someday.

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

And, I’m also getting some things done, like finalizing my will, living will, health care power of attorney and medical directives, and completing some other essential legal paperwork.

Tomorrow, I go to Comeback Grit City, Durham, North Carolina, where renovated tobacco plants and warehouses promote urban dining and living. Friends will nurture me and we will revisit our long history together. I have brought along Gin Mezcal to get our tongues rolling.

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Kathryn says she wants me to write about our trip down the mountain on Highway 9, from Hendersonville through Bat Cave to Old Fort, NC. It’s a long and very winding road through some backcountry neighborhoods. I’ll save that story for another time.

Cozy neutrals, branch cotton at K2 Studio

Cozy neutrals, cotton stems at K2 Studio, Asheville, NC

 

 

 

Chiapas Textiles + Folk Art Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms. Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Tuesday, February 14 to Wednesday, February 23, 2017, 9 nights and 10 days in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

Small group! Registration limited to 12 people.

Man from Zinacantan with hand-woven straw hat

Man from Zinacantan with hand-woven straw hat

I am committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory, but it’s not physical! That is why we are spending nine nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions. Our day trips will take us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro with vintage textile collection

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro with vintage textile collection

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • spinning wool and weaving with natural dyes
  • clothing design and construction
  • symbols and meaning of textile designs
  • choice of colors and fibers that reflect each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
  • mystical folk medicine practices that blend Maya ritual and Spanish Catholicism
The church at San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico

The church at San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico, February

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Chiapas Maya textiles. She is author of the Thrums soon-to-be-published Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping. (I’ve contributed two chapters with photos, one for Tenancingo de Degollado and the other for Teotitlan del Valle!)

San Cristobal de las Casas, international crossroads of great food

San Cristobal de las Casas, international crossroads for great food

I have also engaged one of San Cristobal’s most well-informed local guides who will travel with us to provide bi-lingual services for understanding the nuances in translation. We will travel in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as we go deep into the Maya world.

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 14: Meet me at the Mexico City Airport. We will fly together from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez and transfer to San Cristobal de las Casas (SCDLC) by pre-arranged van service together. I will let you know which airline/flight to book and meet you at the Mexico City airport as soon as you register. If you prefer to not coordinate air travel, please make your own arrangements to get from Tuxtla to SCDLC. Arrive in time for group dinner at 7 pm. (D)

Textiles from the village of Cancuc

Textiles from the weaving villages of Cancuc and Oxchuc

Wednesday, February 15: Our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas orients you to the Textiles in the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil for the finest regional textiles made, and meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church. We will then guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Thursday, February 16:  Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags here. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron who founded the Sna Jolobil cooperative. We’ll also stop in Romerillo to see the larger than life pine-bough covered Maya blue and green crosses. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Hand carved colonial wood detailing on doorway arch

Hand carved colonial wood detailing on doorway arch

Friday, February 17:  Today is a walking day, devoted to visiting textile cooperatives in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, D)

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Saturday: February 18: Amantenango del Valle and Aguacatenango to see the whimsical and functional wood and dung fired pottery – the way its been done for centuries. Wonderful roosters, spotted jaguar sculptures and ornamental dishes. This is a textile village, too, where women embroider garments with designs that look like graphic art. We’ll travel to neighboring Aguacatenango, to visit a well-known embroiderer who has won many awards. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Sunday, February 19: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Then we’ll meet weavers and embroiderers in their home workshops. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs, then visit the home workshop of a Chamula woman in her village outside of town who will give us a full demonstration that includes spinning, back strap loom weaving, dyeing, and the unique Chamula process for making the long-haired tunics. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

At the textile museum, an outstanding collection

At the textile museum, an outstanding collection of Maya weaving

Monday, February 20: We will set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home/of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic and jewelry collections. We walk the gardens and learn about Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After lunch at Na Balom, you will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B, L)

Jaguar pot, Amantenango, Chiapas

Jaguar pot, Amantenango, Chiapas

Tuesday, February 21: Today, we want to give you enough time to know and discover San Cristobal de Las Casas. We will suggest destinations to explore on your own: the Maya Medicine MuseumJade Museum, Chocolate Museum, and Coffee Museum. We can also recommend an optional cooking class with one of the city’s top chefs and make those arrangements for you in advance for an added cost. You may want to use your time to explore the town’s wonderful churches, learn about the Zapatista movement, revisit textile shops or just stroll the lively walking streets stopping for a great cup of Chiapas coffee and people watching. A surprise artisan demonstration, show and sale may pop-up sometime during the day, too. (B)

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

The best vintage from Magdalenas, Chiapas — if you can find it, buy it.

Wednesday, February 22: Men from Magdalena Aldama who weave bags made from ixtle, agave cactus leaf fiber, join us at our hotel after breakfast. Accompanying them are the women who make flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

San Juan Chamula Sunday market

San Juan Chamula Sunday market in February

Thursday, February 23: Depart. We will coordinate departures with included van service from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. You will connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country. Please wait to make you airplane reservations until you hear from us about van departure time.

What Is Included

  • 9 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance of the historic center
  • 9 breakfasts
  • 6 lunches
  • 3 dinners
  • museum and church entry fees
  • luxury van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services
  • transfers to/from Tuxtla Gutierrez airport

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary.  We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost

  • $2,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $2,795 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

There will be a sign-up in advance for a cooking class on Tuesday, February 21. Please let me know if you are interested in this option. Cost to be announced.

Home goods from Chiapas textile cooperative

Home goods from Chiapas textile cooperative

Who Should Attend

  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

In years past, I have purchased lengths of used hand-woven ikat Maya skirt fabric to repurpose into clothing and upholstery.

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The first 30% payment is due on or before October 15, 2016. The second 30% payment is due on or before December 31, 2016. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 31, 2016, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 31, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

ChiapasBest45-18

Detail of cross-stitched bodice, called punto de cruz

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 30 days before departure.  In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We ask that you return this to us by email 30 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer.

This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Old woven ixtle bag used to hold pulque or lunch

Old woven ixtle bag used to hold pulque or lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing + Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice

For the 7th year, women will gather in retreat for a week of creative writing, daily yoga, meditation and exploration in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our workshop is limited to 10 people. Will you be one of them? Some of us are novices. Others are published poets and writers. All are welcome and encouraged. If this is something you have always wanted to do, please do not hesitate. We fill quickly!

In 2017, we are based in Oaxaca City — a UNESCO world heritage site!

Arrive by Friday evening, March 3. The workshop ends Friday morning, March 10, 2017.  The workshop fee includes 7 nights lodging in a top-rated Bed & Breakfast Inn, all instruction, daily yoga, personal coaching sessions, daily breakfast and some lunches.  You might want to arrive a day early to settle in, avoid a late night arrival or missed connection.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico from rooftop terrace