Monthly Archives: October 2017

Getting Ready for Day of the Dead in Durham, NC

Durham, North Carolina is a long way from Oaxaca, Mexico — or so it seems. So many Latino families live in our region that while it is not as easy to construct a traditional Day of the Dead altar, it is not impossible.

Dia de los Muertos paper goods ordered from Amazon

Recently, I discovered La Superior Super Tienda Y Taqueria in the Braggtown section of Durham, about two miles north of downtown on Roxboro Road. This supermarket is filled with almost every Mexican branded food you can think of. The fresh meat market stocks chicken, pork, beef and chorizo, plus chicharrones and other parts that Mexicans use in their cooking.

Sugar skulls from Dulceria Estrellita, Durham

The bakery is filled with Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread), as well as concha rolls and other treats we only see in Mexico. The shelves hold Mexican chocolate (though not as good as Ernestina’s homemade Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca chocolate), and fresh and dried chilis and spices.

Catrina sculpture by Josefina Aguilar to adorn my altar

It is heaven for someone like me.

Oaxaca: The Day of the Dead from Bob Krist on Vimeo.

Almost every town in the USA has some Latino people living there or nearby. Hunt down the grocery store near you to get ready for Muertos.

Mezcal and oranges are a necessity.

In the neighborhood, while making at stop at La Monarca Michoacana for a traditional Mexican ice cream cone, I found the sweet shop next door, Dulceria Estrellitas.

And, amaranth honey bars called Alegria, from Dulceria Estrellita

There, I was able to find sugar skulls and cacahuates Japoneses — Japanese style peanuts coated in a crunchy, spicy sugar-coating that Mexicans love. The dulceria is filled with party treats and everything Mexican kids love for stuffing birthday piñatas. After hunting around, I also found amaranth honey bars called Dulce de Alegria (or Alegrias), too.

Arkansas Red apples from Laura and Bryan’s East Asheville farm

Then, I had to get onto Amazon to find skull design napkins, plates, and cups. Easy and fast delivery.

To the altar, I’ll add fresh marigolds and small squash that I’ll get at the Raleigh farmer’s market tomorrow afternoon, plus photos of my mom and dad, my dad’s favorite beverage — a beer, my mom’s favorite beverage — tea.  I’ll light the Teotitlan del Valle beeswax candles to illuminate the path to return for the visit, offer copal incense to guide them here.

Papel picado, cut out tissue paper flags, add a festive touch to home

Muertos is a harvest holiday, a memory holiday, a time of honoring our ancestors. It’s pre-Hispanic roots harken back to a time before photos, when people slept on petate mats on the floor and altars were at ground level.

Muertos is not Halloween, although the Spanish attempted to meld it into All Saints and All Souls Day. It is not to be feared. Death is a circle, part of life, and all Zapotecs I know embrace it.

A couple, united in death, as in life, by Josefina Aguilar

On November 2, when everyone is assembled at the Teotitlan del Valle panteon (cemetery), I’ll be here in Durham, raising a toast to life and its continuity. This is why I believe that Dia de los Muertos is universal, to be appreciated.

Kali’s 2017 altar to my parents in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

 

Video: Oaxaca Study Abroad with North Carolina State University

We organized a spring 2017 Oaxaca, Mexico, study abroad program for North Carolina State University faculty and students from the Department of Horticultural Sciences. Three faculty members and thirteen students came from Raleigh, NC, to study sustainable agriculture, landscape design, natural dyes, horticulture, marketing, and ecology. We visited an organic permaculture farm, archeological sites, sea turtle sanctuary, endangered ecosystems, an organic coffee farm and artisanal mezcal producers. The weeklong program can be customized to any university study abroad program with a focus on culture, community development, business development, sustainability, textile design and more.

Here is the video produced by Rafael Hernandez. I hope you enjoy.

Universities interested in bringing a study abroad program to Oaxaca in 2018, 2019 or 2020 should contact me to discuss costs and itinerary.

 

New Dates, 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

We have had overwhelming response to the Chiapas Textile Study Tour, Deep into the Maya World. The first study tour, February 13-22, 2018, is SOLD OUT.

We will hold a SECOND tour, February 27-March 8, 2018.

Are you in?  Send me an email. Here is the program description:

Chiapas Textiles + Folk Art Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World — 2018 — Arrive February 27, depart March 8, 2018.

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.

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume, 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. 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

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

• Chiapas folk art and handcrafts

• Chiapas amber — rare and affordable gemstone

• market days and village mercantile economy

• local cuisine, coffee and chocolate

• how to determine the best textile quality and value

• cultural history, nuances and the sociopolitical history of Maya people

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 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!) Recommended reading for the trip!

San Cristobal is international crossroads for great food

I have also engaged one of San Cristobal’s most well-informed guides, born and raised in San Cristobal, a fluent English-speaker who will travel with us to give bi-lingual services. His interest is in cultural anthropology and local history.

We will travel in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as we go deep into the Maya world.

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 27: Travel day. Arrive and meet me at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. I will send you complete directions for how to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet or Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Cost of transportation (about $55USD) from airport to San Cristobal is on your own. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

Textiles from the weaving villages of Cancuc and Oxchuc

Wednesday, February 28: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient 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 Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, 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, D)

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Thursday, March 1: 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 Pedro Meza and his mother Doña Maria Meza Giron.

Romerillo cemetery is rocky, steep, protective and festive

We’ll also stop in Romerillo to see the larger than life pine-bough covered Maya blue and green crosses. Return to San Cristobal del Las Casas for lunch and dinner on your own.  Lunch along the way. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

An amazing ceremonial cloth, handwoven, modeled by Sheri

Friday, March 2: We go to a wonderful weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. 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 healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Textile museum figure, traditional clothing

Saturday, March 3: 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. In neighboring Aguacatenango, we will pull up to the small zocalo in front of the church. Within moments, ladies with their beautiful embroidered blouses will appear. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Sunday, March 4: 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. We will then continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamulan woman in her rural home surrounded by sheep and goats. She will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider.(B, L) Dinner on your own.

San Juan Chamula Sunday market

Monday, March 5:  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 hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at the hand-made workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

Tuesday, March 6: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse your-self with a family of weavers in a rural home. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host an expoventa for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Rosa with Barbara, and a Pantelho blue emboidered top

Wednesday, March 7: 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)

Our 2016 group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Thursday, March 8: Depart. We will coordinate departures with included van service from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. Please schedule your flight departure time for mid- to late afternoon. You will connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country. If you are going from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, you can fly direct on AeroMar. We will coordinate departure times and your trip will cover the cost of transportation from the hotel to the airport.

What Is Included

• 9 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center

• 9 breakfasts • 6 lunches • 2 dinners

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

• transfers to Tuxtla Gutierrez airport from San Cristobal on March 8

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 • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) 

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice to make your 50% reservation deposit. We will send you an invoice for 50% of the final balance that is due on or before December 15, 2017.

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

Market scene, Chiapas

Reservations and Cancellations.  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.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have 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 because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This  may not be the study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Detail, cross stitch needlework bodice

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! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 30 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time from San Cristobal.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips. Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes 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.

Indigenous, organic, non-GMO corn — staple of life

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, Coming Soon

It’s time to turn my attention to the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — when memories return to the people we love who have dropped their bodies and whose souls rest in peace.

In this PBS Series, Borders, this story of Latinos celebrating Day of the Dead in Los Angeles warms my heart and helps bridge cultural understanding.

Thanks to my friend Carol Lynne Estes for sharing this with me so I can share it with you.

On October 28, I’ll participate with friends in a Raleigh, NC, Day of the Dead 5K Race to raise funds for the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. I plan to wear my Day of the Dead T-Shirt acquired years ago from deceased artist Arnulfo Mendoza at La Mano Magica in Oaxaca. His family always gathers graveside in Teotitlan del Valle to celebrate his life.

Then, later that night, a celebration with my friend Barbara S. and her husband.

I’m thinking about where to build my altar  at home in Durham, a tradition to celebrate the life and memory of my parents, Dorothy Schafitz and Ben Beerstein. I’m thinking of a candlelit and flower-strewn path of marigold petals leading to a fall harvest table laden with oranges, flowers and mezcal.

Will you be in Oaxaca for Christmas?

Come with me on a one-day cultural immersion.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

I find Day of the Dead to be a soothing, multi-cultural approach to honoring memory with traditional Mexican fiesta style. It fits well into my world view of attending to the spiritual part of being human, a hankering for mysticism in a concrete jungle, and remembering ancestors, giving thanks to them for the life they created in us.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Soon, I’ll investigate my local Mexican markets and convenience stores where I might be able to find some of the necessities for altar making and not succumb to the Halloween frenzy.

May the preparations begin.

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

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

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!