Where are you from? Where are you going? Oaxaca, Mexico. Durham, North Carolina.

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina. On the early morning flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City, I met Carina Pacheco from San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca. She was on her way to Cabo San Lucas where the family has a shop that sells famous Mitla woven cotton textiles.

Where are you from? she asks me. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I say with some pride in my voice. And, I’m sure to add, Durham, North Carolina, too, also with equal pride. Durham will be my new home, too. Carina and I promise to stay in contact. I’m certain we will. Oaxaqueños keep their promises. Plus, we live only a few villages apart down the Panamerican Highway.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

In Houston, a young man named Stefano helps me load my two giant suitcases (I’m moving, after all) onto a trolley to go through customs. Stefano is from Puebla. His great, great-grandfather came from Italy. He lives in a small town near Cholula, Puebla, populated by Italians, and speaks excellent English.

Mexico is a melting pot, filled with immigrants: Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, Germany, France, Philippines, China, and yes, the USA. They are Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and more. A long history of diversity shows in their complexions and features. Racial and cultural intermarriage is accepted here.

Where are you from? says Stefano. Two places, I answer. Oaxaca, Mexico and Durham, North Carolina. It’s beginning to sound real as I prepare to move into my apartment/condo in downtown Durham, which is why I’m here now. We sit down to share a meal together before he goes on to Tampa, Florida. This only happens to me with Mexicans!

Durham is an old tobacco town undergoing urban revitalization. Its downtown is filled with great restaurants and street musicians who are steeped in the South’s blues culture. I’ll be close to good, longtime friends who I miss.

I’m also here in a Blue Bubble, where I can make a difference by participating in the NAACP and changing the course of my state’s and country’s political history. Ojala! (That’s Spanish for, god willing.)

It’s been four years since I’ve had a home in North Carolina and I’m grateful to be back. Oaxaca is my home, too, where indigenous identity speaks to me. This is where I look out over mountains and valleys where textiles woven and dyed with the hands of the artisans are a song.

And, what are in my suitcases? Oaxaca whole bean coffee. A cotton bedspread woven by Arturo Hernandez. A rebozo from Tenancingo de Degollado. A blouse from Cuetzalan, Puebla. A poncho from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Borders are seamless in the end.

Yet, an airline representative steps onto the plane in Houston and says that due to heightened security, we will be escorted to immigration. I don’t remember that. Another new form of intimidation?

 

 

 

 

Bug Poetry to Whet Your Appetite: Oaxaca Inspiration

I asked my writing sisters who attended the 2017 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat to write about their experience tasting Oaxaca edible bugs after I wrote the essay for Mexico News Daily. I just heard from Lee Schwartz, who offered up this poem as a taste bud tickler.

Birds, Bees and Witchery Grub by Lee Schwartz, New York City

He won’t eat bottom feeders,
shrimp, scallops, mollusks,
he says it’s not healthy
and religion has nothing to do with it.
I say, more for me.
As for red meat, or free range birds
he says he doesn’t need
to kill an animal to have a meal.
He’s happy with kale, tofu,
chick peas, yogurt from contented cows —
and water.

I’m not that zen. I will eat anything
that tempts me. Maguey worms on
matzoh, chicatanas on a bun.
I have no righteous reasons
to turn down fries, fructose or fajitas.
Give me some crunchy chapulines,
I love to pick the little legs out of my teeth.
Serve me stink bugs and ant larvae
down Oaxaca way,
And from Africa, termites lightly roasted,
with nutty bread crumbs is quite a delicacy.
And then you kiss me,
swirl your tongue in my mouth,
lounging on ocean bed crawlers,
scraps of ants and hoof legged lamb.
Tangled in our wet throng,
you lean in to me and taste the forbidden,
the unsavory, the agribusiness
of death and poor husbandry,
crowded pens, feathers flying.
My moist and warm cove,
the enemy you embrace,
the dreaded morsels of sustainable love.

Roasted, edible gusanos — the larvae of the maguey worm

Interested in participating in 2018. Dates are set: May 2-9, 2018. Still working on a place. Send me an email if you are interested.

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour 2018

Oaxaca Valley and Coast Textile Study Tour is set to start Sunday, January 14, 2018, in Oaxaca city and end Wednesday, January 24, 2018, in Puerto Escondido, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. In between, you will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy great cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This is an eclectic study tour with a focus on textiles and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture. It also includes visits to graphic arts studios in the city.

There are THREE (3) spaces open! Contact me to register.

Limited to 10 participants.

Study Tour Itinerary*

1) Sunday, Jan 14. – Arrive in Oaxaca City and check into our comfortable bed and breakfast inn.

2) Monday, Jan. 15 – After breakfast, we will introduce you to Oaxaca folk art and textile culture with a noted local expert. Then, we’ll explore more with afternoon visits to meet textile collectors and artisans, and graphic artists. Then, we will gather for a welcome dinner at one of Oaxaca’s outstanding restaurants. (B, L, D)

Hand-carved gourd art from Pinotepa Don Luis

3) Tuesday, January 16 — Natural Dye and Weaving Textile Study Tour in the Oaxaca Valley, a full-day exploration into the small weaving and dye studios of some of Oaxaca’s greatest artisans. We will travel by luxury van and have lunch at a great village comedor (family restaurant). (B, L)

Wild marigold over-dyed with indigo will become green

5) Wednesday, January 17 – Half-Day Natural Dye Workshop: Indigo Blue. You will understand the principles and chemistry of working with indigo, then make a cotton shibori scarf. Afternoon on your own. Oaxaca is famed for fine silver and gold filigree jewelry. We fit in a silver jewelry expoventa, too. (B)

6) Thursday, January 18 —  Fly from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido very early in the morning, settle in and relax at our hotel on the Pacific Coast beach. Includes airfare from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido. (B)

Tending the dye bath in Teotitlan del Valle

7) Friday, January 19 – – Follow the textile trail high into the mountains to visit the famed weavers of San Pedro Amuzgos and San Juan Colorado, where they use back strap looms and natural dyes.  We’ll stop at coops, visit markets, and have a few surprises along the way. Overnight on the Costa Chica.  (B, L)

Intricate figures woven into Pinotepa Don Luis textile

8) Saturday, January 20 — Continue our adventure into textile villages along the Costa Chica, and then make our way back to Puerto Escondido in time for dinner. (B, L)

Odilon’s aunt, from San Pedro Amusgo, embroiders cloth together for huipil

9) Sunday, January 21 – We’ll attend Dreamweavers Expoventa, a highlight of our textile study tour, to be held at our hotel. This is a textile extravaganza with the Tixinda Cooperative from Pinotepa Don Luis! They bring their finest garments dyed with murex (purple snail), woven with coyuchi (natural wild Oaxaca brown cotton), and posahuanco skirts You will meet the weavers, see demonstrations, and be amazed by what they make. Plus, the artful hand-painted Converse tennis shoes will be here, too. (B)

10) Monday, January 22 – We’ll take a three-hour early morning or late afternoon birding/ecology tour on the Manialtepec lagoon — beautiful and fascinating — where you will see a rare bio- luminescence…one of only two lagoons in the world to have this phenomena. And, perhaps a surprise visit from Chatino embroiderers (we are working on this).  (B)

Chatino blouse detail, cross-stitch. Photo from Barbara Cleaver.

11) Tuesday, January 23 — This is a day on your own to take a day trip to the sea turtle sanctuary in Mazunte/San Agustinillo, or to explore the town of Puerto Escondido, and begin packing for the trip home.  Grand finale dinner to say our goodbyes. (B, D)

Fine example of Chatino bag from Barbara Cleaver

12) Wednesday, January 24 – Transfer to Huatulco airport and your connecting flights home. Please schedule your departure after 12:00 p.m. (noon). (B)

Sunset on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca in winter

Our resource experts are Sheri Brautigam, author of Textile Fiestas of Mexico, and Barbara Cleaver, collector and owner, Hotel Santa Fe, Puerto Escondido. Sheri will travel with us on the coast to offer her textile expertise. You can read more about Dreamweavers Expoventa in Sheri’s book.

*Note: Itinerary is subject to change. You may want to arrive early in Oaxaca city to acclimate to the 6,000 foot altitude. You may also want to stay later at the beach or travel elsewhere in Mexico when the study tour ends. After you register, we will provide you with hotel contact information if you want to make these arrangements directly.

Odilon Morales promotes his people through Arte de Amuzgo cooperative

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • carding and spinning wool, and weaving with natural dyes
  • clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
  • 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
  • graphics arts to express Mexico’s social, political culture

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me at the Oaxaca coast to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Oaxaca textiles. She is author of the Thrums 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!)

What Is Included

  • 10 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
  • 10 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 2 dinners
  • luxury van transportation for day trips as outlined in itinerary
  • complete guide services
  • airfare from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido
  • transfer from Puerto Escondido to Huatulco airport

Example of very fine Amusgo back strap loom weaving

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 to Participate

  • $2,695 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • Add $400 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

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

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, 2017. The second 30% payment is due on or before December 15, 2017. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2017, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

The Terrain and Walking: Oaxaca is a colonial town on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot mountains. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, some narrow and some with high curbs.

The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight but we do tread with caution.

If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let me know. I would encourage you to consider that this may not be the study tour for you. When you tell me you are ready to register, I will send you a health questionnaire to complete first.

 

Bugs in Mexico: More Than Transportation, Edible Insects

Bugs are ubiquitous here. Most often you see them driving down the cobblestone streets in the historic center of town or along the highway, packed with family members. I’ve seen eight people in a VW bug, five kids in the back seat, the driver behind the wheel, and his wife with a baby on her lap next to him. These bugs have been around a long time. Some are shiny with aluminum wheels. Others are rusted out, spitting smoke, and you wonder whether they have enough oomph left to get moving when the light turns green.

Do you see the escamoles hidden under lettuce and radishes?

But, these are not the bugs I’m talking about here. I want to focus on the edible kind: ants, grasshoppers, worms, beetles, larvae and grubs.

Now, I hear you. Most of you are saying eeewww or ugh. If you are a visitor or expat who does not venture beyond the ken, your utterance might be particularly vocal.

Don’t stop now! 800 words more. Click Here!

Mexico’s Ubiquitous Bugs in Mexico News Daily

by Norma Schafer

Footnote: I had the idea to write about edible insects in Mexico a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t until our 2017 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat that I was truly inspired. Where else could I find a group of adventurous women, who come to Oaxaca to write, to join me in the conspiracy of eating culturally foreign food?

I’m “hamming it up” for the camera. Hmmmm, good. Yes, I ate it.

It had also been two months since I contributed a feature to Mexico News Daily and I surmised the publisher thought I had dropped off the map. So the writing retreat became my inspiration for this essay. (I also wrote about other things.)

This is a regular part of Janet’s cuisine, just a bit fancified at Casa Oaxaca.

One thing I’ve learned, you never know what you are capable of (doing or writing) unless you try.

Are you interested in our 2018 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat? Send me an email and I’ll put you on the notification list.

Chiapas Notebook: Maya Cemetery at Romerillo

The day is cloudy, overcast. A mist hangs on the hills like a coverlet. It’s late February, still chilly with winter in the Chiapas Highlands. Fuzzy wool cape weather, even in the early afternoon. After our visit to Tenejapa for the Thursday market, we make a stop at Romerillo before returning to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
I am taking a waiting list. Email me to add your name.

From the road, the Romerillo Maya cemetery, majestic

Romerillo is a tiny hamlet with an impressive cemetery. The stand of turquoise blue Maya crosses carved with ancient symbols are sentries, erect on the crest of the hill. Tethered sheep graze at the base. We get out of the van and walk slowly to enter sacred space.

Pine planks cover the mounds so the dead stay where they belong

We moved in a matter of a few miles from textile sensory overload to quiet meditation. After our guide introduces us to the Maya world of death and life, we each walk silently, separating, alone, stepping across dried pine needles, around the mounds of earth designating grave sites. There are things to think about.

Four ancestors share this grave, each buried at ten-year intervals

One of us gets a call to come home to tend to her mother’s dying. Another suddenly loses a brother-in-law just days before. Most of us quietly mourn a parent, a husband, friend, perhaps a child, a relationship.

The cemetery site is rocky, uneven, steep, protected, festive

It’s months past the Day of the Dead season. There are remnants of marigolds, fresh fruit dried by the sun,  graves covered by wood planks to keep the dead secure in their underworld habitat until the next uncovering.

People drink fizzy Coca Cola at ceremonies. Burping is the voice of gods.

The mounded burial ground: scattered pine needles, dried pine boughs tied to the Maya crosses, toppled flower pots, an empty coke bottle, a tossed aside cigarette butt, an overturned flask once filled with pox (pronounced posh), a fresh grave.

(Mary Randall reminds me that the Romerillo hill was featured in the indie film, El Norte, a testimony to the Maya struggle for independent identity.)

Toppled urns of dried flowers. All disintegrates (except plastic).

How do I know of this recent burial? From the lingering aroma of copal incense, scattered green pine needles, flowers still too fragrant in their urns.

Grand vistas from 7,000 feet high, ethereal

Life and death blend together in Maya ritual. The mounds bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Fresh pine boughs are the portal to the other world. There is afterlife, often reincarnation depending on status. Memory must be kept, attended to. Here is ancestor worship — generations buried in the same space. The pine needles represent infinity, too numerous to count.

By February, pine boughs have dried crusty brown, stay until next year

The blue and green crosses are symbols, too, portals of entry for contact with the ancestors. Mayans believe the ancestors are guides and give them counsel in their problems when asked. Blue is significant throughout the Maya world.

Inscription at the base of a giant Maya cross

On November 1, Day of the Dead, family members lift off the wood planks. Sit around the grave sites of their loved ones, carry on a conversation. There are elaborate rituals here that bring people closer to the natural world.  The sun, moon, earth, stars are imbued with meaning, embedded in all that exists. Everything has a purpose, is connected.

Our groups hears the explanations, wants to disperse

Some of us sit. Others walk. The tall crosses guard the land. Small crosses guard each grave. Sometimes I see several crosses marking one grave site. I know from my experience in Oaxaca that each identifies one person in this resting place, that ten years must pass before another can be buried in the same space. There is continuity on this path.

Small crosses designate each grave site

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
I am taking a waiting list. Email me to add your name.