Category Archives: Creative Writing and Poetry

Oaxaca Women’s Writing Retreat: Registration Open

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Details, Another View of Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul

In the last three years, I’ve probably visited Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived with Diego Rivera, over ten times. I come because I organize the art history study tour, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo Calderon, daughter of Jewish Hungarian father and Oaxaquena mother

Can you get to Mexico City next weekend?

On this latest visit last Friday with a group from Australia and New Zealand, I served as a consultant for their leader who wanted a one-day quick immersion into Frida’s life for her group.

Frida’s father and mother, her portrait of them

I wondered: How do I continue to take photos of the same iconographic details of Frida and Diego’s life?  The paint brushes. The photographs. The furniture. The folk art collection.

Detail of studio paint brushes, her strokes became weaker at the end

The pre-Hispanic ceramics and lava rock sculpture. The clothing. The frog urn that contains her ashes. The paintings she created out of pain. Reverence. Disappointment. Courage. Commitment to love and family. Passion.

Watermelons. Celebration of Life. Finished just before death.

Go to the details, I told myself. Captures the parts, not the whole. Focus on the brush strokes. The lace. The color. The shadows and reflections. The images of the men and women she loved.

Colored oil crayons, still neatly boxed, waiting. Ready.

Go to the details. Find the ribbons. Find the ribs of the plant leaves. The shape of flowers. The accoutrements of the corsets and built-up shoes to hide her deformities. The textures and reflections.

Palm ribs in the expansive garden, Casa Azul

She put such a strong, uplifting face to the world despite her injuries — physical and emotional.

She called Diego “Toad” and “Panza” — ashes contained within the frog jug.

This trip to Casa Azul was different for me and I used the experience to examine the infinite, small parts of life that we often scan over to take in the big picture.

Visceral, the insides of a gourd, like a fertile womb ready to give seed. But she couldn’t.

If you want to join me in Mexico City, Thursday, July 29, for a July 30 morning start to a three-day immersion into the murals, paintings and lives of Friday and Diego, there is a space for you. It’s so easy to fly in and out!

Lover, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, in Mexico

Why is Frida Kahlo an icon? Perhaps you would like to help me answer this question.

Supported by a frame, a corset, exposed, bare and barren.

What does she represent for women who aspire to be independent, strong, feminine and vulnerable?

Painting from a wheel chair, Casa Azul

She hid her misshapen body beneath glorious hand-woven and embroidered dresses, put her best foot and face forward. Persevered and thrived.

Loved by photographer Nicolas Murry. She was devoted to Diego.

Today, she is more famous, more revered than Diego Rivera because she exposed herself and revealed the internal, damaged self.

Frida refused to let her polio define her, though she wore a brace, sturdy shoes.

Andre Breton called her Mexico’s surrealist painter. She is more than that. Surrealism conjures up Salvador Dali and the distortions he saw in life. Frida reflected on her own distortions and created beauty from them.

Saludos, Norma

On the bus, a fateful day of destruction and a lifetime of reconstruction

Would Frida have become the painter she did without having suffered the trolley car accident that sent a metal spear through her uterus?

Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954

Self-portrait, through Frida Kahlo’s looking glass

Sometimes courage requires that we each put one foot in front of the other to move forward, despite set-backs. We love Frida Kahlo because through her story she teaches us that life requires risk, innovation, and that being afraid is part of our existence.

Painted gourd adorns kitchen table in Casa Azul

When Frida died, Diego Rivera wanted to establish a museum to honor her. She was not yet recognized. He convinced his friend, Dolores Olmedo, to invest in purchasing Frida’s paintings and Casa Azul.

Closet where Frida’s belongings were sealed for 50 years

But, he made her promise not to open the green closet door, where clothing, diaries and photos remained secreted for fifty years.

In 2006, the closet was opened and art history was rewritten.

The garden at Casa Azul

Poco a Poco: Unpacking Oaxaca in North Carolina

My first week here was busy. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and are crowned champions. I managed to stay up until midnight to watch it all and celebrate.

North Carolina living space with Oaxaca treasures.

The NCAA, in its infinite ignorance, announced it would lift the sanctions and bring sports tourneys back to NC since the state legislature amended the anti-transgender bathroom law (a sham piece of legislation that still violates civil rights).

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo alebrije now tops my bookcase.

And, I’m unpacking and settling in. A work in progress. One of the greatest pleasures of being here is rediscovering and becoming acquainted with my Oaxaca folk art collection that I haven’t lived with for four years.

I thought I had downsized to the bare bones when I dismantled my household back then, keeping only what would fit into a five foot by fifteen foot storage unit. But, my goodness, there are many more filled boxes in the upstairs loft space to unload. But, there’s no rush.

I’ll be here until mid-May. And, perhaps a folk art sale is in the offing!

Old brick tobacco warehouse walls in urban Durham condo

My new space is in an old tobacco warehouse listed on the National Historic Register. Ceilings are twenty feet high. One wall is old brick. The floor is beat-up maple, solid, showing almost one hundred years of wear. I’m downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

In the morning and again at night, there is the sound of the engine whistle as the train moves between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Cars on the street below are muffled reminders of city life.  From the top floor, I look out on tree tops.

Galley kitchen.  Alfredo Hernandez Orozco cloth/copper lampshades

This is a juxtaposition to living in the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca countryside, beneath the mountains where my rooftop terrace commands a 360-degree view of the Tlacolula valley. It is not quiet there either, but the sounds are different.

Arturo Hernandez, Mitla, Oaxaca, wove the bed spread, Chiapas pillows

I hear donkeys, goats and turkey. I hear the SONI Gas truck announcing its arrival via loudspeaker. The tortilla vendor sings in the distance. The church bell announces a wedding or funeral. Then, all goes quiet, and there is nothing to capture my attention but my own imagination.

Cozy corners, lots of light, another retreat

Here in Durham, the lulls are less frequent. I am embraced by long-time friends. The circle of life expands so that I have the pleasure of enjoying both spaces, different and comfortable. I am no longer an ex-pat but a seasonal bird.

On Monday, I managed to host twelve of us for a Passover seder, including four wiggly little boys who loved jumping on the hardwood floors and climbing the loft stairwell. Our three core families have known each other for forty years and now we get to “enjoy” the grandkids. My poor neighbors!

 

 

 

 

 

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, now 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.

Weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca: “I made your clothes.”

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. It’s a pedestrian lifestyle. I’ll be close to good, longtime friends who I miss.

Downtown Durham, NC — where I live now, too

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.