Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Handmade in Oaxaca Group Sale, December 19 + 20, 2014

This Friday and Saturday, December 19 and 20, the plaza at the corner of Calle Rufino Tamayo #800-C and Xolotl across from the Stone Cross — Cruz de la Piedra — will come alive with an exhibition and sale representing some of Oaxaca’s most talented young artist designers. Here you will find all handmade textiles, clothing, furniture, jewelry and ceramics. Artist list below. Don’t miss it!

 @ La Tiendita del Barro by 1050 Degrados

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Sleek, Functional Contemporary Oaxaca Pottery with Classical Influences: Innovating Tradition

Oaxaca’s cultural identity is defined, in part, by her ceramic arts. For thousands of years before the Spanish conquest, indigenous artisans were giving shape to local clay to form functional cooking and eating vessels, images of dieties for worship and jewelry for personal adornment.

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Now, after six years of operating from various temporary locations, La Tiendita del Barro/1050 grados and Innovando la Tradicion recently opened a gallery to promote its ceramic arts cooperative and new eco-tourism program. It is located at the corner of  plaza de la cruz de piedra, Rufino Tamayo 800-C and Xolotl, near the 16th century aqueducts and Calle Garcia Virgil.

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I want to say that this is social entrepreneurism, activist art. The program, developed by talented young Oaxaqueños, is committed to sustainable development.  Here you will find stunning pottery that satisfies both a classical and contemporary aesthetic. The work is sculptural and refined, smooth and simple. Emphasis is on form followed by function. The result is timeless beauty. The cookware and serving pieces are lead-free and can be used over a gas burner or in the oven.

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If you’ve never seen a Oaxaca potter at work, here’s a video of a traditional technique:

Rufina Ruiz haciendo una chilmolera from Innovando la Tradición on Vimeo.

Innovando la Tradicion is organizing half-day public tours to various villages, where visitors will meet potters, participate in hands-on demonstrations, and have an opportunity to buy directly from the artisans. Artisans receive 50% of the participant fees that go toward improving their workshop/studio space. The rest goes toward program administration.

                 Join Norma’s Pottery Tour with Innovando la Tradicion                                 Monday, January 5, 2015, Cost: 629 MXN pesos

I can’t participate in any of the January public programs already scheduled and I really want to go on this tour.  So, I’m inviting YOU to join me for a private tour on January 5.  Are you interested?  Send me an email. All the funds go directly to Innovando la Tradicion and I will send you registration information as soon as I hear from you!  Space for 5 people. Reserve before December 15.

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Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. Join us!

Oaxaca Road Trip to Hierve el Agua: Perhaps the World’s First Infinity Pool

Final Hierve A-3Hierve el Agua is an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec ceremonial site located about an hour beyond San Pablo Villa de Mitla, one of Oaxaca’s archeological wonders. Hierve el Agua, meaning bubbling water, is a wonder in its own right, nestled on the edge of a mountain ridge in Oaxaca’s Sierra de Juarez.

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A cluster of small pools are carved out of the rock, formed by bubbling underground springs that are no longer hot but lukewarm. The stunning calcified waterfall is one of only two in the world.

Final Hierve A-7Look out at the pool’s edge and there appears to be a shear drop-off into the steep canyon below.  The calcium formations on the surface create interesting patterns and are like stalactites found in caves. Touch them. They feel like a coral reef, sharp and hard. We wore water sandals to protect our feet and to keep from slipping over the edge!

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Rivulets of water bubble up from holes and run in small streams toward the hollowed out pool.

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This is a perfect place for swimming and sun-bathing. Be sure to bring a towel, bathing suit, hat and sunscreen.  I even saw some swimmers wearing goggles.

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Since I didn’t plan too far ahead, I went dipping in my sun dress and undies. A very refreshing interlude to a hot day in November in the Oaxaca mountains not far from the village where I live.

Final Hierve A-10How to get there? You can travel in your own car like we did and follow the Carretera Nacional (Pan American Highway) MEX 190 from Oaxaca to Mitla, then connect on MEX 179 and follow the signs. It’s pretty easy. Click here for a road map.

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Getting there takes the same route as the trip to San Juan del Rio, one of my favorite mezcal making villages. So you might think about combining this as a day trip.

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Another option is to take a tour van from Oaxaca city. This is limiting, since you only get about an hour at the site and the tour may combine this trip with a stop at Mitla and Teotitlan del Valle.  In my opinion, this route deserves an entire day if you have the time. It’s a perfect place to enjoy and relax.

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I also saw that people came out on collectivos connecting from Mitla. So, there are independent travel options if you are so inclined!

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January, 2015. There is space for you!

 

Stone Soup in El Tule, Oaxaca: Lunch and the Life of Bloqueos

I have been driving around for hours trying to get through the roadblocks that have closed the three major highways leading into the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Jacob and I set out from Teotitlan del Valle well in advance of our three-thirty lunch reservation to meet our friend Aline on the rooftop terrace restaurant at Casa Oaxaca. When we get to the Microplaza shopping center in Col. Santa Lucia on the Carretera Nacional–the Pan American Highway that runs through Oaxaca — all traffic stops.

I see taxis and trucks parked perpendicular across the road. Cars are making U-turns and driving down the wrong side of the road to retreat. Everything is at a standstill.

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Bloqueos, as these roadblocks are called, are a way of life here. They are political expressions that convey the discontent of many: teachers, taxi and truck driver unions, bus unions, students and others who believe they have no other voice. Please note: This is not a political commentary, complaint or endorsement of this process. It is a description of events.  Just Google protests in Mexico to find out more. 

These types of manifestations are a civil right in Mexico, protected by the constitution. They are scheduled in advance and announced on Twitter to usually start and end at a specific time. Today, I had no idea this was going to happen and neglected to read any notices. I now know better.

After following a string of cars and taxis around and through small villages for almost two hours, believing they know a way around the bloqueos, all we find are dead-ends.  There is no way to get to the city.

I call my friend Abraham, a taxi driver from Teotitlan del Valle, to get the latest news about the bloqueo. He says all roads will be closed until at least seven at night. When in doubt, always call a reliable source!

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I remember Caldo de Piedra, the stone soup restaurant on the outskirts of El Tule on the Mex 190 business route. I had just traveled to San Felipe Usila, the Chinanteco source of this fantastic fish stew made with either fresh red snapper or tilapia. So we make a U-turn and head back in the direction from which we started hours earlier.

 

Fortunately, the restaurant is open and they prepare it exactly the same way as they do in the mountain village far from the city. We linger over the stone soup, comfort food. It is only five o’clock. And, then, fortified, we attempt the bloqueo again. It is Eric’s birthday party and we want to get to the city.

IMG_4774So, we park in line at the bloqueo, waiting for it to open up. I turn the engine off. About an hour-and-a-half later, I hear engines start and cars move. Someone approaches me. I offer a donation to get through.

 

We arrive at the party almost five hours after we start out. Just in time and before the surprise party gets underway! Feliz cumpleaños at Eric. Y gracias a Elsa por una fiesta grande.

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Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca: Day of the Dead Cemetery Before Dark

Before the crowds descend on the cemetery, before the tour buses and vans arrive, before the photographers with strobe flash and tripods begin their crawl among the gravesites at dusk, I arrive in Xoxocotlan.  Marta and Citlalli are with me today.

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It is the perfect time, the magic hour between day and night, when there is a glow that illuminates the world.

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Xoxocotlan on Halloween, the night before All Saint’s Day, has become a major party venue for Oaxaca visitors. By seven in the evening, the new cemetery will be packed with revelers who come dressed in costume, as well as families who sit reverently by the grave sites of their loved ones.

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I focus my visit on the old cemetery, Panteon San Sebastian, which continues to draw me back year after year. The space is small. An adobe chapel built in 1684 is now remnants, destroyed by earthquake. It’s ancient walls that still stand are cordoned off by plastic tape warning of peligroso, danger, caution. The tape is new this year. Who knows when the next earthquake will strike?

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Don’t step on the graves, Citlalli says. My grandmother told us if you do, the dead will grab your feet and drag you to the underworld at night.  We step carefully out of respect.  Some of the grave sites are ancient, unmarked, crumbling.

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Many tombs are marked with a date of death in the 1970’s. Citlali says there was a cholera epidemic then and many in Oaxaca died.

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I ask Luis Conseco if I can take his photo. His face is interesting, weathered. He stands upright, squares his shoulders. He says he wants to go the the United States to work to make more money. It is a dream of many. He is sixty-eight years old.

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He tells us that the shape and form of the tombstones signify the wealth or poverty of the person buried beneath. There were many simple tombs made of flat brick. This is all people can afford, he says.

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Things are changing in Xoxocotlan. The old cemetery is getting a facelift. There are men working on a new, paved entry way. The paths between the grave sites have been raked, leveled and cleared making passage easier, more visitor friendly. The outside walls are painted bright green.

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Locals, now used to having their photographs taken, look up in greeting. I still ask permission each time, though. And, it is fun to engage in conversation. Do you like visitors pointing cameras in your face? I ask. And, everyone laughs and beckon me closer!

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We even get an invitation to come into the ancient, crumbling walls of the old chapel where a man is decorating the grave of his grandfather. He takes us to the tomb of a Spanish priest resting behind a gated sanctuary.

Xoxocotlan2014  As we leave the cemetery, the groups begin to come in. I hire a moto-taxi tuk tuk to lead us out of town. The roads are starting to get clogged with in-coming visitors. It’s about six o’clock at night. Just in time to get back to Oaxaca for a dinner of enchiladas de jamaica (hibiscus flowers) at Restaurante San Pablo.

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But not before getting some last minute street shots before we leave. I decided to skip Atzompa. So many people, so little time! Welcome to Muertos.

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January. There’s a space for YOU!