It’s Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, we have our own version of Mardi Gras or Carnaval in the Zapotec village of San Martin Tilcajete. The people know how to put on a good party.
A group of artists, collectors and supporters of Penland School of Crafts from North Carolina are with me and certified tour guide Rene Cabrera for a week. Our time is almost over but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write a blog post.
Our days have been packed visiting artist and textile studios, attending workshops, rising early to get to markets, and staying out much too late dining in Oaxaca’s exquisite restaurants.
Today we arrived in San Martin Tilcajete early to get a jump start on the comparsa that we were told would start at eleven in the morning. But, life in Oaxaca is on Zapotec time. The Zapotecs know that whoever controls time controls the world. In reality, the formal festivities didn’t begin until four in the afternoon.
So we shifted plans, went to the workshop home and studio of famed alebrijes carvers and painters Jacobo and Maria Angeles. What was planned to be an hour demonstration of alebrije-making techniques became a full day of watching the carvers and painters become transformed into revelers and merrymakers.
Jacobo and Maria welcomed us and invited us to stay. They are warm and hospitable people, the largest employer of talented painters and carvers in their village and do so much to promote the artisans of the village and Oaxaca.
After lunch — anyone for a tlayuda? — several of our more courageous Penland participants were invited to join in the face and body painting to become part of Jacobo and Maria’s comparsa entourage.
We then followed them down village streets, costumes with cow bells clanging, voices ringing in shouts, cheers and grunts, breaths panting, dust kicking up under our feet.
It was ninety degrees fahrenheit in Oaxaca today and this was no easy task, keeping up with young men painted to the nines and ready to party. We sucked a lot of water to stay hydrated and pulled sun hats down over our faces in protection.
The smarter villagers huddled in the shade of their doorways to watch the revelers shout and clang up and down the streets.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to keep you up to date. This week we did an indigo dye workshop and made shibori scarves, took a cooking class and made mole amarillo, visited San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site and entered the inner sanctum of Oaxaca artist Rudolfo Morales’ bedroom and studio. We met painters and lithographers, learned about Oaxaca’s contemporary art scene, and tried our hand at making a woodcut. With a mezcal tasting, we learned about this Oaxaca art form and how this artisanal beverage is crafted.
On Thursday, seven of us will be continuing on to San Cristobal de Las Casas to explore the art and archeology of that wonderful region. More to come!