Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

My North Carolina visit is coming to a close and I return to Oaxaca on Saturday, April 30. While I’ve been here, I’ve eaten a lot of grits, tomato gravy and fried green tomatoes.  I love grits.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

A particular pleasure is catch up time with important friends with whom I have a deep, long and connected relationship. It makes me think about living here more during the year and buying instead of renting.

So, I went on the Durham, North Carolina bungalow tour with my friend Hettie, organized by the historic preservation society. The temptation to own one of these beauties is powerful. Hettie and I spent time cruising neighborhoods for home ownership possibilities for me.

Durham is gritty, one of those places that people are calling The Brooklyn of the South. Property values are skyrocketing and renovated bungalows in coming-back neighborhoods are snapped up within a day or two after being listed for sale.

Thanks to the New York Times and the plethora of imaginative restaurants here, Durham is a surge community. Soon-to-be opened condos in the city center are going for over $1 million. A few years ago, no one wanted to live here. It is becoming the epitome of upscale elitism and monied funk. Disparities are showing up here big time, pushing poor people out, raising the tax base.

I’m mesmerized by mixed Durham neighborhoods with ethnic, racial and economic diversity where 1200 square foot 1930s bungalows are selling for$300K+   That’s not my price range!

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

As I begin to explore planting my feet here for part of the year, going back and forth to/from Oaxaca, I imagine what it would be like to be a home owner, support a mortgage, pay insurance, do maintenance and be with women with whom I have shared a connected intimacy over many years.

I’m open to a dialog about this. Now, for today, off to look at small houses in affordable neighborhoods that would be an entirely new living experience for me.

Why am I considering this?

  • Close to long-time, intimate friends
  • Having a base of my own in the USA
  • Access to university medical center health care
  • Living for today with a plan for tomorrow
  • Claiming a stake in real estate investment

What would be the downside?

  • Less discretionary income
  • Limited and less frequent international travel
  • Fewer opportunities to meet up with friends who live elsewhere
  • Fewer visits to west coast family
  • Higher fixed costs
  • Lifestyle changes

 

 

Somewhere Beyond Mexico: North Cackalacky, USA

North Cackalacky is an endearing slang term that many of us call our beloved adopted state of North Carolina. Also famous for her hot spicy barbecue sauce called, yes, Cackalacky. I just came back from a weekend in the mountains where apple orchards, dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

The young maple leaves were that deep limey color we see in these parts, a Oaxaca counterpart only known by the juice I put in my Victoria beer. They don’t know Michelada (Mexico City style) or Suero (so-called in Oaxaca) here in North Cackalacky, but they do know beer.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Asheville has a beer pedal pub that holds 12 and goes up and down the streets, many of them hilly. You have to pedal while you swill, not an easy feat. Asheville has 30+ micro-breweries.

Hanging out at the Mothlight, West Asheville, NC

Hanging out at the Mothlight, midnight, West Asheville, NC

I gave my Asheville waiter the Suero recipe. He came up with fresh lemons. Lemonade beer. Not bad, but not Oaxaca. Bless his heart.

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hills and valleys. Winding roads that actually have lines painted down the middle and no potholes. Unlike Oaxaca. The hollers (that’s hollows in North Cackalacky) are the valleys between the hills where million dollar retirement houses and double-wides can sit side-by-side.

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

We cross the Eastern Continental Divide. Climb to a bit over 3,000 feet. Look out at 6,000+ foot Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. In Teotitlan del Valle, we nestle in the Tlacolula Valley on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks.

Coming to North Carolina is a homecoming for me. Here, I connect with family like friends who nurture my heart and soul. I eat soul satisfying food like grit cakes, hush puppies, sweet potato fries and liver ‘n onions at the Moose Cafe. I watch the Chef & the Farmer on PBS and hope to eat there, Downeast in Kinston, NC, someday.

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

And, I’m also getting some things done, like finalizing my will, living will, health care power of attorney and medical directives, and completing some other essential legal paperwork.

Tomorrow, I go to Comeback Grit City, Durham, North Carolina, where renovated tobacco plants and warehouses promote urban dining and living. Friends will nurture me and we will revisit our long history together. I have brought along Gin Mezcal to get our tongues rolling.

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Kathryn says she wants me to write about our trip down the mountain on Highway 9, from Hendersonville through Bat Cave to Old Fort, NC. It’s a long and very winding road through some backcountry neighborhoods. I’ll save that story for another time.

Cozy neutrals, branch cotton at K2 Studio

Cozy neutrals, cotton stems at K2 Studio, Asheville, NC

 

 

 

Artist Hollie Taylor Creates Frida Kahlo Retablos

At Casa Azul in Coyoacan, Mexico City, one of the largest collections of folk art ex-votos (also called retablos) hangs along with pre-Columbian art and memorabilia collected by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Ex-voto in Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City

Traditional ex-voto/retablo in Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City

They were avid supporters of artists who had no formal training but who represented the naive, populist art of Mexico.

I am broken but I am happy. Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor

Ex-votos are small devotional paintings that offer thanks or prayers to a saint for a gift granted, wish fulfilled or for good health. It usually includes a hand-written note of gratitude at the bottom of the painting.

After a foot amputation, Kahlo gave us this inspiration, interpreted by Hollie Taylor

Hollie Taylor is a North Carolina artist who loves Mexico and Frida Kahlo. On Friday, April 8, the North Carolina Crafts Gallery in Carrboro, hosts an opening reception for Hollie and artist colleague Madelyn Smoak from 6-9 p.m., Dreaming of Frida: Hollie & Madelyn at Casa Azul. 

Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor Novak

Hollie has  adapted the ex-voto concept to offer thanks to Frida for her courage, strength, femininity, resolve and creativity by creating Frida Retablos. These are small devotional wall plaques with many of the icons and sayings that represent Frida Kahlo.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Kahlo studio at Casa Azul

Kahlo studio at Casa Azul, just as she left it

As we know, Frida’s health issues — childhood polio and a debilitating accident at age 18 that rendered it impossible for her body to carry a child — defined her and shaped her art. French artist Andre Breton named her a surrealist, a brand she refuted.

I paint because I need to. Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor

She was a woman who painted her emotions and that is what makes her a great artist. We can identify with her pain, passion and joy.

I paint self-portraits because. Frida Kahlo Retablos by Hollie Taylor

Hollie captures the spirit of Frida Kahlo in the retablos she created for this show. At the gallery, the retablos are offered at $58 USD.

Shrine to Frida Kahlo by Hollie Taylor

Shrine to Frida Kahlo by Hollie Taylor

You can order your retablo from Hollie at a direct-from-artist price.  They are lightweight, ready for hanging, made from collected objects on hand-painted rice-paper covered foam core.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Hollie also teaches retablo workshops in her Chapel Hill home studio. Email her at hollietaylorart@icloud.com her for details about ordering and scheduling a workshop.

Hollie Taylor Novak, mixed media artist

Hollie Taylor Novak, mixed media artist

 

At the Dolores Olmedo Museum: Pablo O’Higgins Prints

The entire Frida Kahlo permanent exhibition of paintings at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Mexico City is on loan to the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, until April 30.

We discovered this last Sunday as we made our afternoon visit as part of the Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Tour. Disappointed? Yes.

But, the Rivera galleries were intact and we were treated to a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins lithographs in the space that usually holds Frida’s work.

Pablo O’Higgins, one of Diego Rivera’s most talented disciples, participated in the making of Rivera murals in the public education building, and then painted his own at the Abelardo Rodriguez market.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He is an enigma to many. He changed his name from Paul Higgins Stevenson (there is even controversy about his real original name) when he arrived in Mexico  at age 20 to obscure his upper-class family origins and identity. His father, a conservative lawyer participated in the death sentence of miner and labor organizer Joe Hill.

Writer Susan Vogel addresses the question of his identity in her book, Becoming Pablo O’Higgins: How an Anglo-American Artist from Utah Became a Mexican Muralist.

The character of O’Higgins is fascinating if not fully articulated. Here is a blonde, blue-eyed giant among the Mexican working-class, painting and drawing powerful images of average daily life.

This exhibition, combined with the one at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera, shows the skill and directness of O’Higgins’ work. Real. Intense. Honest. Compelling.

So, ultimately, we were not disappointed. The visit was enhanced by this special exhibition.

I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, now, and will be here for the month of April, taking care of legal and health care check-ups.  (Don’t worry, all is well.)

On Friday evening, my artist friend, Hollie Taylor Novak, is opening an exhibition at the North Carolina Craft Gallery featuring her Frida Tributes. I’ll be writing more about that later.

Saludos from the state that needs to elect a new governor!

2016 Summer-Fall: Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera–Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our expert guide is a bi-lingual Mexican art historian! Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 8 people for quality experience. We don’t rush you, either.

 

Summer and Fall 2016 Schedule: Take Your Holiday Weekend Here!

  • June 30-July 3, 2016
  • September 1-4, 2016

We can customized dates for groups of 4 or more people. Contact me.

Arrive and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe mimics destroyed Rockefeller Center mural

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation.

If you want to register, send me an email. Tell me the dates you prefer!

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history who is about to embark on a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

MuralsSEP+Best81-28 

Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives if you do.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park

Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño holds the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. Lola Olmedo was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera who became executor of his estate that included Casa Azul.

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival;  Palacio Bellas Artes mural

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants! Visit the Anthropology Museum.

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet market, Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and graduate Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

DiegoFrida4Group2-5 copy 

Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at Restaurant Azul Historico near the Zocalo. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.

Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation. Lunch on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home.

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Base Cost: $895 USD per person double occupancy, includes 4 nights lodging.
  • Single Supplement offered: $1,195 USD

We will stay  at a comfortable bed and breakfast inn or hotel located in the historic center of Mexico City with breakfast included.

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany ceiling, El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

What the base cost does not  include:

  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

MuralsSEP+Best81-22 MuralsSEP+Best81-21MuralsSEP+Best81-24 

Base Cost: $895. USD per person double occupancy, includes B&B lodging with breakfast, private bath for four nights, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Otherwise, all exceptions noted above apply.

Single Supplement: $1,195. USD for private room and bath.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date. Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make arrangements months in advance of the program. Deposits or payments in full are often required.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email. After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, soon after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook & journal; notice the deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them