Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Dance of the Feather Tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan del Valle‘s Los Danzantes are famous throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. They make a commitment to the church four years before they actually begin their three-year term to perform La Danza de la Pluma — The Dance of the Feather — at all village festivals.

The Moctezuma flanked by Doña Marina and La Malinche, Mexico’s dualities

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, on December 12 and the days leading up to it, is an important part of their agreement.

Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield

On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.

Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers

These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.

Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows

They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.

Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them

It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.

Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico

The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.

Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design

If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.

Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow

As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.

Volunteer committee members pay respects

As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.

Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.

A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade

The band is an essential part of every fiesta

Children play atop the courtyard cross.

The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!

Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade

Side door entry to church from interior courtyard

A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church

If you visit, please make a donation for renovations

Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard

Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time

Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queen of Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle

The three-day celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, leading up to December 12 to honor Mexico’s favorite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, started on December 10 with a 5 p.m. calenda (procession) that began in the church courtyard.

Parade of the Canastas winds through village streets for three miles

But, I arrived early, at 1 p..m., to find a couple celebrating a wedding in the church, followed by a group of cyclists from Teotitlan who arrived at 2 p.m. at the end of their journey from Juquila. They had pedaled 36-hours in a caravan complete with altar and bicycle repair sag wagon.

Bikes parked in church courtyard while cyclists receive blessings inside

A photo diary of the afternoon:

Celebrants holding fragrant poleo, part of the calenda ritual

You need to understand that in the hierarchy of religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe is at the top. She is the embodiment of the pre-Hispanic corn goddess melded with the Virgin Mary by the conquerers. She is mother earth, goddess of nature and symbolic of life and the empowerment of women. God and Jesus are next in line. It’s what we call syncretism here.

Cousins Maya and Alicia were among the hundreds of young women chosen

Men volunteer to accompany, carry the bamboo baskets for relief

Onlookers at street corners take photos, applaud, acculturate children

And the band plays on, actually two of them!, accompanying Los Danzantes

At intervals, Dance of the Feather participants stop with a dance

Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith along the way

Little girls are acculturated early to the importance of community ritual and tradition

This serape is old, woven in the 1960’s I was told

The young women started out at the homes of the Mayordomos, Fidel Cruz and Bulmaro Perez, who both live on the main entry road to the village, almost to the main highway, MEXICO 190 (Panamerican Highway). At the end of the night, they were tired. Mayordomo definition: The chief sponsor, organizer and funder of an major village event.

Yes, these baskets are very heavy. They walked at least five miles.

Watching from the second story along the parade route.

Ixcel Guadalupe gets ready to start the calenda from the church courtyard.

This dancer’s protective shield was hand-woven by his father years ago

After all had assembled in the church courtyard, the procession began: first the children holding papier-mache stanchions of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and dogs. Then came the chief of the fireworks, sending spiraling smoke bombs into the air, then Secundino (age 90+) playing the traditional Zapotec flute.

Barbara, David and Jo Ann came from California and New Mexico

He was followed by the Danzantes (Dance of the Feather participants), then the young maidens in traditional dress holding elaborate, heavy baskets on their heads.

All ages enjoy the pageantry

Since there were two mayordomos, there were two bands and two groups of young women, sponsored by each. It was quite a spectacle.

The calenda: firecrackers, music, giant balloons, children with duck, turkey flags

I decided to follow and the pace was easy enough that I found myself often midway or at the front of the group — until I recognized village friends, stopped to chat, and got left behind, only to dash to catch up again. The three miles went quickly.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico

Dance of the Feather group with Moctezuma, La Malinche and Doña Marina

At the end, I joined Barbara, David, J0 Ann and Beverly for a quiet dinner of homemade memelas, yogurt jello, atole, and fruit provided by  host Bulmaro Perez and family. I brought the cuishe mezcal!

Assembly in the church courtyard at the end of the calenda, at dusk.

Tonight, Monday, the fireworks start at 9 p.m. The last fireworks I attended announced for 9 p.m. got going around 11 p.m.

I’m not sure I can stay up that late!

I took the dogs on a long, three-mile walk out to the border of our neighboring village, and I’m not very energetic.

Today’s walk in the campo, with a new discovery: swimming hole

Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12, the Dance of the Feather begins in the church courtyard, they say at noon and will go until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. followed by another calenda of the church committee.

Leaping Danzantes. They get off their feet.

The Juquila bicyclists’ sag wagon

Long live the Queen of Mexico, Virgin of Guadalupe

 

Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Schedule

From the looks of this poster, most of the festivities celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe — La Virgen de Guadalupe — in Teotitlan del Valle, will happen on Sunday, December 10, 2017 and Monday, December 11, 2017.

For those of you planning to be here on December 12, to celebrate Mexico’s most important saint, you may be disappointed! Not much is happening by then unless you want to attend the church mass.

Complete schedule for Teotitlan’s Virgin of Guadalupe Celebration

I know this poster is hard to read. So, here is the cut-and-paste I did for Sunday, December 10, schedule. 

Sunday, December 10, schedule

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the celebration continues with young women of the village dressed in traditional clothing and canastas (baskets) filled with flowers, who gather in the church courtyard with the Dance of the Feather dancers.

At 4 p.m. begins the Calenda (parade) along the main streets of the village, accompanied by the band.

At 7 p.m. they arrive at the house of the First Mayordomo C. Fidel Cruz Lazo.

The schedule for Monday, December 11, 2017 is …

Monday, December 11, schedule, Teotitlan del Valle

Looks like Monday, is the big day. At 2 p.m. there is a celebration of mass with vespers. Then, at 7 p.m. will be the calendas followed by a castle of fireworks at 8 p.m.

Hope to see you at the Calenda!

The Mayordomos and Committees who make the celebration possible!

The Mayordomos and Committees

Adopted Campo Dogs at the Casita, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico: Where are they now?

This is a five-month saga that began at the end of June 2017, when a homeless field dog gave birth to two puppies in the tall grass behind my casita in Teotitlan del Valle. The pups, both females, were the size of my fist. I’m little.

Let me first say: I have never owned a dog before ….

Listening to Brahms: Violin Concerto and Double Concerto and violinist Gil Shaham

….except for the time a boyfriend gave me one for a birthday present and my mom promptly gave him away, and then another time, as a young mother, when I took in an Irish setter who, after having been chained for a year, escaped out the front door and was instantly killed by a car. I swore never again. And, I didn’t, until now.

Tia on the left, Mamacita on the right. Bed a gift of Sylvia.

In the intervening months, first Sylvia Johnson Feldman and then Kalisa Wells came to stay and care for the dogs. Then, a female dog  with a strong resemblance to Mama (I named her Mamacita) showed up. Sylvia says this young female was always there in the background. We didn’t know the relationship so we called her Tia. She joined the family and offered auntie services to acculturate the babies.

Natural tranquilizer, Gil Shaham’s violin!

Mexico Free Spay Neuter Clinic — Click on DONATE

Count: FOUR dogs at the casita.

Sylvia took charge of adopting out the two original pups, Luz y Sombra at ten weeks to great Zapotec homes. They had their puppy shots and a clean bill of health. The new owners promised to spay them.

Sylvia went back home to the USA and Kalisa arrived from San Diego to take over.

Count: TWO dogs at the casita.

The Foundlings playing with Tres por Diez towel. Thank you Kalisa.

Kalisa was walking the dogs daily down to the nearby river. One day she came upon two abandoned female puppies. She called them her Foundlings. First, she fed them at the river and then, of course, they followed her home.

Tia nuzzling a Foundling; mother surrogate. Just old enough for wet food.

We thought we could adopt out Tia, who was a young, beautiful teenager.

Count: FOUR dogs at the casita.

Kalisa at the Spay/Neuter Clinic waiting their turn.

With the guidance of Merry Foss’ Teotitlan del Valle spay and neuter clinic, Mamacita and Tia were spayed by Veterinarian La Doctora Alma from nearby Tlacolula de Matamoros. The cost was 200 pesos (about $12 USD) per dog to cover the cost of medication and surgery. They recovered.

Merry is our hero. We call her Maria de los Angeles de Perros.

Note: The village President opens his house for the clinic. He doesn’t want any more dogs poisoned, shot or abandoned.

One day, one of the Foundlings came home with a kitten in her mouth.

Count: FOUR dogs and ONE cat.

Kalisa taking Foundling Sol and kitty to La Doctora Alma

Our friend Arnulfo adopted one of the Foundlings with the promise of a free spay when when she was old enough.

At this point, Kalisa and Merry cajoled La Doctora Alma into finding a home for the remaining Foundling and one kitten. By now, Foundling was almost too big to carry in a woven market basket. The kitten fit nicely into the pocket of Kalisa’s apron.

All was calm for a while, except for after midnight barking and yowling on the patio.

I returned just before Thanksgiving.

Out for our daily walk, back road to Macuilxochitl.

Count: TWO dogs, Mamacita and Tia.

Mamacita recognized me immediately, even though I was absent for almost four months! Tia, who I want to rename Nelly (as in Nervous Nelly) was VERY stand-offish but is getting used to me. She is Kali’s dog!

Taking a break at the stream.

Now, I want you to understand, these are SURVIVAL dogs. They may have been born in the campo (field) or discarded as unwanted female puppies (no one here wants a pregnant dog) to live or die on their own.

Mexico Free Spay Neuter Clinic — Click on DONATE

Merry Foss says she has spayed/neutered almost 400 dogs and cats since she started the clinic a few years ago. Now she has the help of the pueblo president to promote responsible dog ownership. Villagers consider their animals as GUARD dogs, not pets, for the most part. They are MUTTS that roam the streets and fields in search of food and shelter. We see very few purebreds here.

A happy dog owner with Merry after spay procedure

Yet, they are both now eating out of my hand!

Our dogs are nocturnal day sleepers and have the opposite sleeping patterns from me. To get up several times a night to let them in and out of the patio when they bark and howl is not what I bargained for! Please forgive me.

View of Picacho, Teotitlan’s sacred mountain, from the trail

So, last night their bed went into the carport and I got a complete night’s sleep with ear plugs and the white noise of my fan. I think we are going to make it!

Macuil’s sacred mountain. Zapotec villages have shrines atop them.

 

Roasting a Thanksgiving Turkey in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I bet you thought I disappeared! This is my first post since returning to Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca, a week ago.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

I came back to my casita filled with aromas created by professional cook Kalisa Wells, who has been house sitting my two adopted street dogs. All kitchen surfaces were covered with culinary ingredients. It was a sight to behold.

A cook’s kitchen, filled with every imaginable local chile variety, herbs, spices

And, then, Thanksgiving was a mere four days later.

Cuni Cuni Guajalote. Yummy Yummy.

From Durham, North Carolina and via Facebook, I ordered organic turkey raised in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca from Cuni Cuni Guajalote before I left. This took some sleuthing, hunting down their whereabouts via the Facebook group Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society — the source for everything Oaxaca.

La dueña de Cuni Cuni — Araceli Jimenez

As it turns out, we decided on two smaller birds instead of a 9 kilo (20 pounder) when we did the pick up at La Cosecha organic market at Macedonio Alcala #806 — enough to feed a crowd that kept expanding beyond local family and intimate friends as I settled back in to village life. We were worried about one big turkey fitting into a basic gas oven.

Merry, Kalisa and Rosario with preparations underway

It was the roasting pan and rack that had us stymied. Neither of us brought a sturdy vessel or rack from the USA and the only thing we could find were flimsy aluminum, so we bought three and stacked them. There were no racks to be found as I cruised the aisles of the super mercado.

Kalisa’s Camote (Oaxaca sweet potato) Pie with the flakiest pastry crust

My eyes lit on a stainless steel dish drainer. Sure, it had those upright racks to hold the dishes vertical and immovable tall sides. I bet my friend Arnulfo and I could figure out a way to modify this, I said to myself. Into the cart it went.

And, here’s how it turned out.

Flattened, cut dish drainer. Be sure to remove plastic feet!

One of the great pleasures of being in Mexico is that we learn to innovate, modify, imagine and manifest. Things we need don’t always come easily, but there seems to be a way to improvise and make it work. I have learned this from my Mexican friends who are masters at adaptation.

Friends and family enjoying Thanksgiving dinner on the patio

And, if you live in Oaxaca, I encourage you to think about ordering your Christmas turkey from Cuni Cuni Guajalote. You will love it. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes. This is NOT your Sam’s Club or Walmart frozen commercial turkey.

Organic beet hummus appetizer — veggies from Tlacolula market

How we roasted the turkey!

Kalisa loves butter. I found the local dairy-cheese man from the Teotitlan del Valle market and bought up all the butter he had. Probably five pounds. Kali coated the turkeys in butter, stuffed them with oranges, rosemary, apple peels (no pits), celery and carrot ends, covered the turkey with foil and put it into a hot 450F degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then she lowered the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to roast covered at 18 minutes per pound until the drumsticks wiggled easily and the juices ran clear. We didn’t have a meat thermometer. We were also cooking at 6,000 feet altitude using an oven with Centigrade settings, so we converted everything.

Jacki’s family sweet potato recipe

  • 300F = 149C
  • 350F = 176C
  • 400F = 204C
  • 425F = 218C
  • 450F = 232C

We needed this conversion for the camote and apple pies, too. But had to jack up the heat because we are running off a propane tank at a higher altitude. So, it was check, check again, triple check.

Thanksgiving buffet feast.

NOTE: We did not stuff the turkey because this is the most common culprit for botulism.  The turkey must be completely thawed and at room temperature to be stuffed and cooked successfully without risk of infection. Many people stuff a partially thawed turkey (oh, it’s just a little cold in there, it’s okay) and the inside becomes an incubator for the bacteria.

An array of artisanal mezcal

Everyone who came brought something to contribute: mashed potatoes, cranberries, Boulanc rolls, salad, organic black beans, tortillas made with local field corn, chocolate, wine, beer, mezcal. Yes, I smuggled fresh cranberries from Whole Foods but Jacki found them locally.

Setting the table, Teotitlan del Valle.

Earlier in the week, Kali and I made a visit to Macrina Mateo Martinez in San Marcos Tlapazola to get large platters that would serve as pie pans and some extra dinner plates.  They are my go-to family women’s cooperative for fine barro rojo that those of us who live here love to use.

Mama Dorothy’s Apple Pie baked in a barro rojo plate

I’m very happy to be back in the village, surrounded by mountains, warmed by the sun, a hammock on my rooftop handwoven by the daughter-in-law of Mitla’s Arturo Hernandez. Despite the barking dogs and crawling critters, I am now embracing a slower pace of life — for the moment.  Tours and workshops start up in mid-December!

Feliz Fiestas, amigos.