In-Between, Let It Rain, and Murex Sea Snail Purple Dye

August 26, 2013–In Mexico City it’s raining, it’s pouring.   I left Oaxaca this morning to a full-tilt drizzle that went on through the night.  The maize fields are almost saturated.  Whew!

My Zapotec friends told me about the mysteries of the ancients. Don’t worry, they said a few days ago.  It will start raining on August 26.  I didn’t believe them.  Yes, they said, the ancient Zapotecs know.   It’s part of the natural cycle in time for the Calendula. It will rain throughout September, they said. Ah, hah, I discovered the rain will produce the wild marigolds so essential for Day of the Dead celebrations.  The rhythms of nature.  When we move too fast, we don’t have time to put our ear to the earth and remember our history.   This has been a wonderful part of my learning experience living in a small Mexican village.

A friend sent me an email that I read during the six-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Mexico City.  I am in-between leaving Oaxaca and arriving in the USA.  We are in-between two tropical storms, Ivo and Fernand, bringing rain on two fronts, east and west, one from Baja, the other from Veracruz.  I am now sitting in the shelter of historic Downtown Hotel, sipping a tequila (they offered it gratis, though I prefer mezcal) and listening to the deluge pouring on the soft roof of the courtyard just beyond my door.  It is a wonderful sound. The earth in Mexico is thirsty.

Mexico City has become another stopover favorite, in addition to Puebla.  It’s why I like to take the bus and take a few extra days between Oaxaca and the USA.  I can stay over a night or two and discover another part of Mexican culture.  Tomorrow morning I’m meeting a writer friend for breakfast.  Then, rain or shine, I will make a beeline to see more Diego Rivera murals and revisit the street food vendors I met in July.  What I like about this hotel location is that it’s two blocks from the Zocalo, walkable to everything, in a restored colonial house with great restaurants and textile shops.  Very convenient.

On Wednesday, I leave D.F. on a very early flight to Chicago for a reunion with friends and the Grant Park Jazz Festival.  Then, briefly back to North Carolina, before going on to North Africa.

When I retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, where I raised $23 million, for endowments, student scholarships and faculty support, the Foundation Board of the school gifted me with a surprise.  A trip to anywhere!  I am SO grateful.  Now, almost two years later, I’m going to use that gift to travel to Marrakech and Essaouira, Morocco, for three weeks in September-October, with a very brief stopover on the way back in Madrid.  I’ve never been to either of these places and I’m traveling with a friend who knows Morocco well.

My question is:  Are you interested in hearing about my experiences in a part of the world far from Oaxaca?  The connection, of course, is the history of weaving, textiles, and natural dyes.  I plan on investigating whether the purple dye once used to distinguish the togas of Roman senators is still in existence on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  The murex sea snail is at risk of extinction on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast and is guarded carefully, under governmental regulation.  The rocky shoals of Essaouira, Morocco produced some of the finest purple in the world.  And, I understand the textiles there are magnificent.

Let me know your thoughts.  If I write about it, will I be digressing too far from your interests?

Thanks for the feedback!

26 Responses to In-Between, Let It Rain, and Murex Sea Snail Purple Dye

  1. Please, please tell us about your trip to Morocco. I have always wanted to go there and one day I will!

  2. Hi Norma,

    Would love to hear about murex collectors in Morocco!

    I was on the Oaxacan coast last March on a textile tour and saw a gentleman collecting the murex dye; his village had been murex collectors and dyers for hundreds of years. Previously, I had only heard that the ancient Phoenicians had collected the snail for royal/ritual dyes in biblical times. More recently, I’ve heard that a group in Israel is trying to bring back murex dyeing there.

    Have a great trip!

    • Marsha, great to hear from you and thanks for sharing your Oaxaca coast murex experience. That’s an interesting information about murex being cultivated in Israel. Please pass along the source. I’d like to look into it. I’ll keep you posted on what I find in Morocco. All my best, Norma

  3. Oh please do write about your trip to Morocco!! Those of us who are addicted to textiles thirst for new venues (even if Oaxaca is my personal favorite place)….. weaving is a web that joins the world in a common thread.

    • Julie, thanks so much for your support and encouragement. I’m getting overwhelming response in favor of writing about Morocco. May the world of textile lovers come together in appreciation for all the people who make glorious cloth by hand. I will do my best to tell the story of Morocco to reflect culture, art and traditions.

  4. Hi, Norma!
    You’ll be in Chicago tomorrow? I am here – just north of downtown in Lincoln Park. Would you have time to come over? (5-10 min. cab ride from downtown). Or, I’ can come to you.
    Call me – 773-388-8912
    Suzanne

    • Suzanne, I’m staying with my friend Natalie Klein on S. Michigan Avenue near Roosevelt Rd. We could possibly meet at Water Tower on Friday. Let me know what might work for you. I’m leaving Chicago on Monday morning. Would love to see you if we can work it out.

  5. i am very interested to read your moroccan postings and would love to talk with you before you leave if you have a minute. just let me know a good time and i will call.
    ahh, mexico rain, sounds wonderful.
    hugs to you and happy trails!

  6. Hi Norma,

    We met briefly in Oaxaca 2 winters ago through fellow Santa Fean Norma Cross. Yes, to hearing about Morocco as others have suggested. Better yet,
    any chance of meeting for tea in Marrakech or Essouria? I’ll be there with 3 traveling companions from October 7 – 16th.

    • Bette, great to hear from you! Yes, I remember you. Good idea about tea. But, unfortunately, we will miss each other. I am leaving Morocco on October 1 and flying from Madrid to the US on October 4. Maybe, we can meet in Oaxaca? Un abrazo, Norma

  7. I’d love to hear all about your trip to Morocco!

  8. Of course, Norma – please write on your adventures to Morocca too! I love getting your cultural commentaries. And what a fabulous gift!

    • Marnie, thank you for your encouragement! Yes, I am SO grateful for such a magnificent and generous gift. Amazing. I will do my best to report on the cultural arts of Morocco as I see it. I appreciate your feedback. -Norma

  9. Of course! Since I have not traveled there myself, the next best thing is to hear about North Africa through YOUR eyes, and in your words.

  10. You may want to consider adding Fes to your itinerary, the process they use to dye leather is extraordinary. And Fes is the artistic capital of Morocco, with what I consider the most authentic medina in the country. Enjoy your travels.

  11. Yes, of course, I’d love to read about and to hear about and to see your photography of your new adventure.
    A little note about a memory of your using your IPad for photos of a taller and of the templo Sto. Domingo: Just found out yesterday that one of the professional photographers here in Steamboat Springs pretty much only uses her IDevices now and has taken to calling it Iphotography — or something similar — maybe it is IPhone-agraphy… .
    Enjoy your trip. Hoping to meet up w/ you in December.

    • Mary, thank you for encouraging me to photograph and write about the Morocco trip. Since I lost my iPad, my only i-device now is my iPhone 4S. The later technology of the iPhone 5 gives better photos, so I am committed to traveling with my weighty Nikon D7000 and weightier 17-55mm lens, which gives me stunning pictures — at the price of being very heavy :( Until I am able to find something that weighs less and equals the optics, I’m not likely to switch :) See you in December. Un abrazo, Norma

  12. Your blog opens up the world to me and I would love to see Morocco through your eyes. The exhibit I saw at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca featured textiles from around the world and the similarities were striking – I’d love to see what you find . I’m reading “A Perfect Red” by Amy Butler Greenfield and I know that Mexico’s cochineal is in all parts of the world – it would be great to see what they use in Africa for their colors. (especially as I prepare for the Dye workshop in Oaxaca in January!) I love the glimpses you give into the lives of the people in your travels. I do know that you need respite and replenishing of energy – - if you need to take time and not write while you are there – I will be patient! Enjoy every moment.

    • Claudia, I think A Perfect Red was one of the first books I read about natural dyes in Oaxaca. It is a wonderful combination of the history and politics of COLOR. I recently lent it to Eric Chavez Santiago who is teaching our dye workshop in January. He wants to re-read it! Yes, I can’t wait to see what the people of North African used for their natural colors. There are similarities all over the world, as the Museo Textile de Oaxaca teaches us. Thank you for your support of my plan! Un abrazo, Norma

  13. Hello Norma,

    Yes, I most certainly would like to hear your impressions and descriptions of these other parts of the world. My original reason for visiting Mexico was to look at the use of natural dyes (especially the insect-based cochineal), and the textiles that result from them. The murex sea snail is yet another in this category. Knowledge about its use specifically and textile production in general in Morocco would be a wonderful complement to the Mexican knowledge that you have already provided. Additionally, any impressions of North African handicrafts (especially basketry) and the use of plants in their manufacture would be most welcome. I look forward to your travel tales. Have fun! Jim

    • Thanks, Jim. From my preliminary research I see that a lot of the indigenous Berber crafts and practices survive. I am eager to discover this part of the world and will pay special attention to the basketry. With appreciation, Norma

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