Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Travel for Texture and Oaxaca Natural Dye Workshop

Natalie and her mother Olga traveled north from Guatemala, through Chiapas and came to Oaxaca to take a natural dye workshop with Taller Teñido Natural. We scheduled a two-day program for them to go deep into Oaxaca’s traditions for using natural plant materials, including indigo, fustic and wild marigold plus the cochineal bug to create glorious color.

Natalie is a textile designer from Washington, D.C. and writes the blog Travel for Texture.  Here is her post A Wooly Mexican Rainbow about the workshop experience, as well as her travels through Guatemala and southern Mexico.

And her photos are to dye for! During the two days, Natalie and Olga made 18 different colors and went home with formulas and a palette of sampler yarns.

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Please contact me to schedule your own customized natural dye workshop for one, two or three days when you are in Oaxaca. It’s a great way to experience the local culture. Cost is based on number of people participating!

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Death in the Family: Oaxaca, Mexico

It’s quiet. The sky is covered over with a blanket of thin clouds. Birdsong accentuates the space. Though it’s the end of June just before the solstice, the morning is chill. A breath of wind rustles the guaje tree branches outside the kitchen window. I need a wool wrap. Breakfast is hot oatmeal with goat yoghurt and fresh mango. I am conscious of each bite. Conscious of my mouth chewing, my tongue curling around my teeth, the swallow of sustenance. It is quiet. I feel the solitude. Perhaps this is the morning calm before the sky opens in an eruption of sun and heat, later to be soothed by afternoon rain.

She died yesterday. It’s as if she is waiting to take flight, her soul soaring skyward to the heavens, as her body is prepared by loved ones for burial before the procession to the cemetery. The street in front of her house is covered in a raised white tent, a shelter and a blessing on all who exit and enter. It is a sign to know she has passed to where the gods will take her. This is how it’s done here in the Zapotec village where I live in southern Mexico.

We know other life cycle events by the red and blue striped tents that cover patios and courtyards and streets. These are the happy times: baptisms, quinceaneras, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. Life here is a constant celebration.

Early summer. Just plowed fields wait to receive indigenous seeds: corn, beans and squash. The earth is moist with rain, fertile volcanic soil is enriched with manure plowed under over centuries. Crops rotate. Fields go fallow. The dry season comes in winter to welcome snow birds. The rainy season cycles around again.

The band plays in her courtyard. It is a dirge. Familiar. Known to all. A call to the dead and those still living to pay attention, pay homage, give thanks, pause, embrace family and mourn. I climb the stairs to the rooftop to look out over the valley and the street where she lived. I didn’t know her well, only in passing. She was a slight woman, quiet, mother of eight, who battled diabetes for the past ten years and died well before sixty.LevineMuertos NormaBest11Xoxo10312013-6

Church bells ring. Sobering. Somber. Soon the procession will form, led by a drummer, followed by the band playing the dirges. Pallbearers will carry her casket, followed by women whose heads are covered in black rebozos. They holdy flowers and candles as they likely did centuries ago. They will walk slowly, thoughtfully, carefully, one foot before the other, through the cobbled streets to the cemetery where she is buried today.

The family will sit in mourning for a week, receive visitors who bring bread, chocolate, flowers, candles and condolences. A black bow will cover the doorway to the house. The bow will stay there forever, until it disintegrates in the wind, rain, sun, over time.

In nine months, her grave will be dedicated with a cross, placed in front of those who passed before her. Until then, it will be unmarked. When they put her to rest in the earth, they will move aside the bones of her ancestors to make a space for her. Her soul will return to visit loved ones during Day of the Dead each year following the scent of cempazuchitl and copal. May she rest in peace.

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Evoking Frida Kahlo: Workshop to Make a Mixed Media Altar

Mexico is filled with altars that usually include sacred images and a Virgin of Guadalupe retablo. During Day of the Dead a family altar displays photographs of departed loved ones. We are taking this mixed media art workshop, based in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, beyond the norm to create a three-dimensional altar suitable for display. Frida Kahlo is our muse.

4 Days, February 25 – 28, 2016

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e·voke. əˈvōk/. verb

bring or recall to the conscious mind, conjure up, summon up, invoke, elicit, induce, kindle, stimulate, awaken arouse, call forth.

Frida offers us inspiration for constructing an altar about life, womanhood, loved ones, family, health issues, successes and set-backs. We hold up Frida’s image, perhaps in self-reflection, to imagine her life and its challenges and to evoke meaning for our own. We then translate these concepts into an altar or shrine that can be used for wall art, to display on a surface or to design as a shelving unit for collected objects.

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Frida was an avid collector of exvotos and perhaps you would like to merge this simple expression of thanksgiving and devotion in your work, too.

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When we think of Frida Kahlo, we may conjure up many images and words to describe her: a woman of strength, power, frailty, independence, weakness, accomplishment, talent. Biographers say she was fierce, passionate, defiant, innovative, creative, vulnerable. We know she was deformed, in pain, proud.

 

Your personal altar can be based on your own experience. We embrace Frida as a metaphor to jump into a new creative realm. Your altar might be a tribute to someone you love who is living or passed on. Your altar might contain a message to send or include as a gift. It can be about you, friends, family or Frida herself.

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About Hollie Taylor, MFA, Workshop Leader

Hollie Taylor earned the BFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on painting and printmaking. She then went on to the University of Georgia and received the MFA with a concentration in printmaking.

Hollie taught drawing, printmaking, painting and ceramics at the college, middle and high school levels. For over 20 years, she has taught adult workshops in handmade paper-making, screen-printing, woodcutting, photo-imaging on clay, ceramic hand-building, mixed media art and art journaling.  

She is a recipient of the North Carolina Museum of Art annual artist scholarship award. Her work is published in Art Voices South and The Village Rambler. She earned the prestigious National Board Certification for Teaching Excellence and her students placed repeatedly in national shows. 

Hollie encourages deep personal exploration, offers demonstrations and samples of finished products.  Art produced at her workshops is highly individualistic, broad ranging in style and expressive of the maker. Participants come to the table with varied past creative experiences and she accommodates fully for this range of novice to accomplished artist. She gives personal feedback and encouragement and holds informal discussions to compare intent with outcome, noting what has been learned. A workshop with Hollie is engaging and fun!

A new project for Hollie involves making a book using found family letters and archival photos from Brazil during World War II. This will become a mixed media art show installation based on composites she is rendering in Photoshop to glean new meaning from the material. 

 

Process and Materials

Using found objects, copies of photographs, paint, paper, memorabilia and embellishments, you will construct either a 8” x 10” three-dimensional sculptural piece or a 12” x 16” flat art wall piece.

Materials We Provide: We provide step-by-step altar-making directions and construction materials, plus selected art supplies such as self-healing cutting mats, box cutters, some acrylic inks, assorted decorative papers, handmade clay medallions and selected ephemera art associated with Frida Kahlo.

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Materials To Bring: A sharp pencil, rubber bands, assorted size small brushes, embellishments such as stamps, charms, shells, milagros, copies of photographs, textiles. Try to imagine what will symbolize the different attribute’s of your altar’s theme and bring what will enhance its meaning. After you register, we will send you a complete list of supplementary supplies to bring. Participants often share for a wider range of choice.

 

Resources: Hollie recommends Crafting Personal SHRINES, Using Photos, Mementos & Treasures to Create Artful Displays, by Carol Owen, Lark Books, 2004.

Our Schedule: Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. includes catered lunch  

Day One, Thursday, February 25: We look at images of altars and sacred boxes, visit church and private home altars, and talk about Frida Kahlo – her style and what she valued. You will come with a concept for your creation, and with Hollie’s guidance you will finish the design and begin to build your project.

Day Two, Friday, February 26: Continue to build your altar, wrapping it, painting it, and gluing it together to form a completed container for what will come next. You may also want to add a door and small shadow boxes to display memorabilia reflecting your concept.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Day Three, Saturday, February 27: Finish altar construction. Begin to decorate and embellish your altar with photos (copies), writing, drawing, found objects and memorabilia you have brought with you.

Day Four, Sunday, February 28: You will add the finishing touches before we hang your finished work for a group show and presentation of your piece, followed by a grand finale mezcal margarita cocktail reception.

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Workshop Cost

Base Cost – Workshop Only: $495 per person, includes all instruction, materials to construct your altar or wall art, hand-outs, guided visits to family homes and churches for altar research, 4 lunches and cocktail reception. This option is designed for people who do not need lodging, and want to travel back and forth daily from Oaxaca city.

Upgrade 1 – Workshop + Share Room: $665 per person shared room with private bath en suite. Includes all of the above plus 4 nights lodging, arriving on Wednesday, February 24 and departing Sunday, February 28 by 6 p.m. Includes 4 continental breakfasts. We assign rooms in order of registrations received. Contact us for availability.

Upgrade 2 — Workshop and Private Room/Bath: $795. Includes all of the above.

How to Register

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We can arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense (approximately 280 pesos).

Reservations and Cancellations A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last payment for the balance due (including any add-ons) shall be paid by January 6, 2016. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.  After January 6, refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before January 6, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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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 witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you a map, instructions to get to the workshop site from the airport, and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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Too Much Fun and Where to Eat in the Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain, is a food and wine lover’s paradise. It is one of the best tourist attractions in the city. Here, your eyes can be bigger than your stomach. So, watch out!  Most dishes are huge enough to share by two people.

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Remember you can always order more. Unless you take a grazing route through the market nibbling on cheese, red wine, raw oysters, crusty bread, Spanish ham, olives and the most divine desserts I’ve ever seen.

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On our first full day in Barcelona, we roamed the market in search of El Quim tapas bar (recommended by friends) and never found it until after lunch.

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The allure of plates of fresh cooked shellfish was too compelling to dismiss. We scouted the restaurants to determine which one was the most packed with locals and settled on El Cochinillo Loco (The Crazy Pig), which we walked by thrice before deciding.

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The fresh shrimp, langostinos, clams, oysters, mussels, octopus, squid, sea bass and other unidentifiable frutos del mar were piled high and our eyes got bigger just looking.  So, we waited for two seats to open up and sat between two local couples immersed in platter sharing. It was 2:00 p.m. Boqueria_49 Best-11By 4:00 p.m. we had finished our sangrias, had too many leftovers, and become best friends with our lunch neighbors.  We were happy to divide the remains with them since we couldn’t carry out to our hotel!

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Then, one couple ordered a bottle of Spanish cava (sparkling wine) while the other bought a basket of fresh organic strawberries. The strawberries landed in the sparkling wine. Of course! I have many more photos of all of us hugging, laughing and giggling, too many to publish here.

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I can’t imagine a better way to get a cultural immersion and practice Spanish than to share lunch and a bottle of wine with Ines Natera, who works at the Universidad Politecnica Catalunya and her husband.

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Then, my sister reminded me we had a dinner reservation three hours later at the Michelin 1-star restaurant Alkimia. How were we ever going to get our appetite back? Since dinner doesn’t really start until 9:00 p.m. we were hopeful.

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So we said goodbye to our friends and set out for a market walkabout. By now, our eyes could not deceive us and it was easy to pass by the chocolate covered berries, the nougat, the dark chocolate coated orange rinds, and the custard tarts… (well, not really)

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the freshest fruit, bottles of sweet red vermouth, mounds of crustaceans, farm vegetables, sardines, anchovies, and every imaginable food gift perfect for a special friend (or yourself).

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To walk it off, we took a circuitous route back to our hotel through the medieval old quarter of Barcelona bordering La Rambla, and then into the narrow streets where locals were celebrating Sant Jordi Day with gifts of flower bouquets for sweethearts and books for beaus.

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We didn’t take home the emu eggs or crustaceans or pintxos or tapas. We did bring home Catalunya olives, vermouth, Iberian ham, super ripe stinky goat cheese, and lots of chocolate.

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And, what did we do on our last day in Barcelona. Stock up with a final visit to the Boqueria market, of course, followed by a run through the basement food section of El Cortes de Ingles at Placa Catalunya. Can you tell? I’m in love with Spain (second to Mexico, of course).

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Boqueria Market Eateries

  1. El Quim (Located mid-section of the market on one of the center aisles. It’s a very small bar. You could miss it. Great tapas.)
  2. Bar Central. There are two locations in the market. I like the one with long bar in the back.
  3. El Cochinillo Loco, Portico Sant Josep 6-8, Tel. 93 119 19 54

Footnote: Since returning to Oaxaca earlier this week, I haven’t done much except sleep, eat, visit with a few friends and venture out for a few afternoons in search of wifi service. I have none at the casita, so my communication is limited. I’m sitting in the wonderful fresh breeze at Tierra Antigua Restaurante in Teotitlan del Valle, with a delicious lunch and internet. Hallelujah. In celebration of small wonders.

 

Travel Day (and Night) to Oaxaca, Mexico

You might think that a short post about taking an airplane to Oaxaca belongs in a Tweet or Facebook post. Federal elections will be held this Sunday, June 7, and this is wrecking havoc in Oaxaca. The Oaxaca airport was closed yesterday and news from friends there on the ground is that it is closed today, too.  The CNTE teachers union Section 22 has shut down the airport and Pemex gasoline stations in and around Oaxaca. Access is limited.

This is a way of life in Oaxaca. We are never surprised, only discouraged that we have to find alternate routes, interrupt plans, do a work-around and accept. What I have learned from living in Mexico is patience and acceptance. As a visitor, that’s all I can do.

I arrive in Mexico City this evening. My plan is to take an overnight ADO bus to Oaxaca arriving tomorrow morning. This way, I’ll avoid the Oaxaca airport. I hope there is a taxi driver and enough gasoline to get me home and no delays along the way.

Friends from Oaxaca and Philadelphia are also scheduled to arrive into Oaxaca this evening by air from Houston. I hope it will be an easy day for them, too.

Hasta pronto from SFO, Norma