Celebrations for the new year begin at sundown on New Year’s Eve with the sound of firecrackers and bands playing throughout the village. Small groups of young men gather at street corners waiting for something to happen. Water is sprinkled on courtyards and stairways by women with brooms in hand to sweep up any dust and debris. A 3 p.m. comida for extended family is common followed by a grand midnight supper. This is an all night affair.
My birthday celebration begins at 5 p.m. in the courtyard of Las Granadas. The sun will go down in an hour or so and we all bring along extra sweaters, jackets and shawls. Federico has packed the special bottle of Chichicapam mezcal and a bottle of white wine. We arrive to a festive table set with a big bouquet of white lilies and red geraniums, four bottles of wine (two red, two white), mezcal shot glasses, and a pitcher of fresh made jugo de jamaica. I am surrounded by my Teotitlan family and friends: Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife, Dolores Santiago Arrellanas, their children Eric Chavez Santiago, Janet Chavez Santiago and Omar Chavez Santiago, Eric’s novia Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Annie Burns, Roberta Christie, Sam and Tom Robbins from Columbus, Ohio, and Las Granadas proprietors Josefina Bazan Ruiz and her mother-in-law Magdalena. In the kitchen is daughter La Princessa Eloisa Francesca, age 17, who is in her final semester of culinary school in Oaxaca, the young sons Willibaldo and Eligio, and two sobrinas (nieces) who are helping with the preparation and serving. Eloisa’s betrothed, Taurino, also pitches in. (Josefina tells me he is very helpful around the house and is weaving to earn Eloisa’s hand.)
We open wine, raise toasts to the new year, and I tell them how important each of them has been to me in my journey of Teotitlan discovery. We raise a toast to my husband Stephen who is home in North Carolina and I let them know I will Skype with him later to send their best wishes. Annie first invited us to Teotitlan to visit, where we were the first guests in the trial to establish a bed and breakfast at what was to become Las Granadas. We slept in Magda’s bedroom where we used a clothesline as a closet and did our best to ignore the shotgun on the wall. We celebrated Eloisa’s Quinciniera and the boys’ birthdays. We shared lots of mezcal toasts over the years. In our wanderings on that first visit, we met Eric and Janet selling rugs in the corner market. As a textile artist, I could see that what the Chavez Santiago family created was exceptional and fairly priced. I heard the story from Eric about their use of natural dyes, the reluctance about paying tour guides 40 percent commission to bring customers to their house, the hard work of the family. I met Dolores, Federico, and Omar and our family-like relationship began. Elsa Sanchez Diaz, Eric’s novia (girlfriend) of five years, is also part of the family, and has stayed in my NC home when she joins on U.S. exhibitions, lectures, and demonstrations. Roberta came to Teotitlan the following year, also through Annie, and set about helping Josefina construct first rate B&B, while building an apartment on the second story of the courtyard complex. She has become a good friend, too. Sam and Tom Robbins are black and white art photographers from Columbus, Ohio, who I met two years ago at Casa de los Sabores and we have had several reunions in Oaxaca as well as North Carolina. Eva Hershaw, a documentary photographer, who I have been communicating with via this blog and email to record the process of growing and making food with traditional maize, also joined in. It was a special group assembled to help me celebrate.
For me, the assembly was more about the people than the food, but the food was spectacular. Magda, Josefina and Eloisa prepared chicken tamales in mole amarillo, a veggie mix of fresh cut and steamed green beans and potatoes, and a plate of chopped succulent chicken to pass around. One does not need anything else besides wine and tamales. It is heaven sent. I think I ate four or five, but wanted to save room for the cakes, the chocolate layer cake extravaganza with chocolate cream icing, and the chocolate cake topped with flan. We lit huge sparklers that the two boys, Willi and Eligio twirled. I blew out the one candle (thank you, I’m only 39), and wished each other a joyous new year, filling up again on mezcal and raising our glasses in salud.
Night had come over us and it was getting chilly. It was now 8:30 p.m. Federico and Dolores needed to return home to light the sweet copal incense to purify the house, and make preparation for the midnight party they would attend at the home of Fede’s brother Jose. For me, the sparkling winter sky gave light to the future, and it was getting time to say goodnight. Descanse. Suenos dulces. The assemblage wished each other happy new year with hugs and good wishes. On New Year’s Day the party will continue.