Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Lila Downs Concert Is Mini-Guelaguetza Extravaganza

How could each Lila Downs Concert be better then those that came before? The Best Ever is what I heard people say who have gone to many in the past. I don’t know, but Lila Downs knows how to dazzle a crowd.

Grammy Award Winner Lila Downs

The Guelaguetza Stadium on the Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca city was full on Friday night, July 27. We got there early to be sure to beat the crowds and that gave us a chance to settle into our seats and audience oggle.

Our diverse group from Israel, South Africa, Italy, Mexico and USA

Love this tapete — handwoven sarape

I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of friends at the last moment. They had an extra ticket and offered it to me. Thank you, Patrice and Neal! Seems that to snag a primo seat means standing in line all night and someone they know did that for them. I was happy to pay the premium.

Lila loves wearing indigenous dress (traje) from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec!

Beribboned and twirling figures with  hand-woven hats

I had some serious doubts about whether my shout out for tickets would yield results. I was not successful finding online tickets via Ticketmaster. Nothing materialized and I gave up … until a few days before!

Whirling dervish cowboy dancer devils

We were in the third row, far left of center, behind the mixing station staff. Not great for photos, but a fabulous spot for listening and watching Lila’s husband Paul Cohen on his badass sax.  Even Lila made her way over on occasion. I did my best to get photos, but the strobes and movement of dancers made the conditions very challenging.

Little girl Flor de Piña dancers

In the row behind me, he sang every word along with her

I think what was fantastic about this concert is that Lila brought us her incredible traditional play list, the oldies but goodies. Everyone around us sang along. AND, the performance was built around the dancing and costuming of the annual Guelaguetza event held on the last two Mondays in July at the same venue.

Tlacolula de Matamoros Delegation

Benito Juarez, iconic Zapotec president of the Republic: respect human rights

With Lila’s singing mastery, great musicians and representative delegations invited from Tlacolula de Matamoros from the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec from the Sierra Mixe, Juchitan women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, girls from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca near Veracruz giving us the Pineapple Dance, and groups that are masked, twirling and whirling, the show couldn’t have been better.

La Bandera, the Mexican Flag, iconic and powerful revolutionary image

Lila Downs and Paul Cohen have a strong commitment to social justice issues in Oaxaca and Mexico. Her songs tell the struggle of poverty, lack of education and health care, discrimination, disenfranchisement, pain and tears, hopes and dreams. Together, they have been a powerful voice for human rights.

Lila sings La Llorona and the audience goes crazy

Artist woodcut projected as stage backdrop to band

The dynamic visual backdrop to the stage were photos and video of migrant farm workers, artist woodcuts of peasant life, the work of artisans and craftspeople, marching soldiers with bayonet rifles, heroic President of Independence Benito Juarez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca.

Sax and trumpet with lots of marimba band back up

Saxaphonist Paul Cohen takes a break to enjoy the Flor de Piña dancers

The fun was mixed with the message that we cannot be complacent about politics and world events. Half the seats in the audience were available to adoring fans for free.

The Grand Finale included everyone on stage

Guns at the border — NO

 

 

Flores y Cantos Mixed Media Art Exhibition at Museo Rufino Tamayo

The opening was last night. The food was amazing. The exhibition ethereal and dramatic. The premise: in the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, when the two glyphs flower and song are joined, the new meaning is art and poetry.  This concept was essential to the Aztec worldview, according to exhibition creator Carolyn Kallenborn, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And what do I take with me when I go?

Will I leave nothing here of me on this earth?

Do we only rise up and grow to then die in the ground?

At least let us leave flowers.

At least let us leave song.

Nezahualcoyotl, Aztec Poet

Flores y Cantos invites you to lose yourself in a surreal world of past and future, light, shadow and projected imagery of the ever-present and on-going cycles of nature. As you step into and move throughout the space, you add your own shadow and become immersed in the thoughts of life’s meaning and what is left behind by those who came before you. The artist asks, What will you leave behind?

Tree of life embroidery by Miriam Campos, San Antonino Castillo Velasco

For me, that leads to the ultimate and essential question, What is the meaning of life?

Tito Mendoza’s tapestry illuminated by a visual lake, you are on the beach

The exhibition has as its backdrop the pre-Columbian ceramic figures collected by Oaxaca artist Rufino Tamayo. While the individuals who created these sacred pieces, often deities that also refer to animals, plants, people and customs, are unnamed, we consider their legacy and that of their culture. They who believed in the eternal and the life cycle of birth, death and back again.

Enter into this other-worldly space, reflections

I sit on shallow steps, examining the tapestry of indigenous maize woven by textile artist Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, appreciating the fine embroidery stitches of a tree of life by Miriam Campos, I watch the movement of light, color, sky, water, nature projected. Sound conveys birdsong, waves, thunder-clap, peace, and I am immersed in another world, or is it my own, here and now?

Food for thought

At the buffet table, a visual feast

Carolyn asks us: Think about the following questions —

  1. What do you value that your ancestors passed on to you?
  2. What would you want others to remember about you when you are gone?

In the frenzy of Guelaguetza, the Oaxaca event that attracts thousands to the city, this is a respite that offers calm and consideration.

Carolyn, Miriam and Tito joined by family and friends

I am grateful to be writing about this after the almost two-hour trip from the city back to Teotitlan last night. The city celebration brings much-needed tourism and also Los Angeles-style gridlock. I’m going to be here on the hammock for a while as I think about what Carolyn asks me to re-examine.

Nicuatole pre-Hispanic corn pudding with Teotitlan mole negro tamales

Is life a blur or is there a kernel of meaning in this picture?

Feet up, swinging in the hammock, a meditation on blue skies

 

 

 

 

Wear Your Apron: Photos From the Feria del Barro Rojo

First, the last day of this year’s (2018) Feria del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola is tomorrow, Monday, July 16, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Grammy Award-winner Lila Downs is feria Madrina, charms us all, gives her all

If you go, wear your distinctive Tlapazola apron, like I did. It’s gingham trimmed in folded ribbon that ends up looking like frosting on a wedding cake. Too much fun. And, that’s exactly what it evokes — the hilarity of a gringa (otherwise known as Huera — White Girl) wearing indigenous dress. I get called Huera a lot in these parts.

Oh, those aprons! All handmade icing on the cake

If you don’t have an apron, you can buy one at the fair.

Now, we know I will never pass as a local and even if I tried, I’d never get away with it. But, that’s not the point. The point is to honor and appreciate the local culture and one way I’ve found to do that best is to make a point of dressing like a local. Everyone in the village finds this more than amusing. They like it. They smile, giggle, laugh and wave.

Front and center, beautiful red clay pottery

They invite me to sit with them and have a tejate (not a Tecate, which is a Mexican beer). They offer an embrace and accept mine.

Lila Downs speaks with everyone, congratulates them, shakes hands

Some of the ladies I know from years of meandering and buy from them at the Tlacolula Sunday market and they recognize me.

Beribboned young women comprise the welcome delegation

I have time. I sit a while. Visiting with people and taking your time is another way to show respect. It was late afternoon and my second visit of the day after taking two friends to Mitla. (I decided to return for a more leisurely visit and to pay for a blouse I put on hold.)

Meet Paul Cohen, Lila’s husband, and their son, oh, and me

We broke open a bottle of wild agave tepeztate mezcal and shared a sip or two with fair organizer Gonzalo Artuza from the Oaxaca Government Office of Social and Economic Support in Oaxaca, that underwrote the event.

Red clay with painted design

Sometimes I like to travel solita just to experience the serendipity of what can happen by just being somewhere with no other plan than to just BE.

My apron, bought last year, gives my friends a giggle

Many of the women here are the pottery makers whose work is distributed by and sold under the name of others more famous. Few of them get personal recognition. The fair is a great way to collect this beautiful ware and to offer much-needed economic support in this Zapotec village of about 3,500 people, while directly supporting the women makers.

Sometimes the only roadblock is a bull and a bunch of cows

How to get there: Drive through the main street of Tlacolula and go southwest, toward the coastal mountains. Follow the main road out of town. There are no road signs. In the distance you will see a village straight ahead — that’s San Bartolome Quialana. Don’t go there. Tlapazola is the village to the far right, so as you get closer to Quialana, there is a road (unmarked) that will take you to the right and directly to Tlapazola. This road has curves, straightaways, potholes and some smooth pavement. If you use GPS, it’s pretty accurate. Just look for the church with the rounded red dome off to the right in the distance!

Many farmers are giving over their corn fields to the planting of espadin agave for mezcal production. It is now a high-paying cash crop. The road goes through these fields and it’s gorgeous.

Who can stop taking photos of beautiful, talented Lila Downs? Not me.

And, our last laugh! They are acculturated to be serious!

I want to recommend Maria Aragon Sanchez and Gloria Cruz Sanchez for their excellent red clay dinnerware. Privada del Porvenir #1, San Marcos Tlapazola, Cel. 951 281 3329 and email: lucinam@live.com.mx

 

 

 

Feria del Barro Rojo del San Marcos Tlapazola 2018: Red Clay Pottery Fair

Who wants to join me for lunch in San Marcos Tlapazola tomorrow, Saturday, July 14? I’ll be there by 11 a.m. in time to see Lila Downs, the madrina (patron) of the celebration, cut the ribbon for the official opening.

This is the third year of the festival and each year it grows bigger. In addition to selling the specialty ceramics of the village — the beautiful red clay dinnerware and accessories — you can dance, eat, take photos, drink atole and mezcal, buy aprons, and just overall enjoy the festivities.

My own Teotitlan del Valle kitchen has a shelf of red clay dinnerware made by Macrina Mateo Martinez, one of the more famous artisans.

San Marcos is located in the hills about 20 minutes above Tlacolula. You could combine this with a visit to the Sunday market, too.

I took the photos below in 2015, the year I separated from my wasband, still deciding how I would spell my new last name which is a derivative of my mother’s maiden name (in case you were wondering why the names don’t match!).

Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola, photo by Norma Schafer

Fueling the kiln at San Marcos, photo by Norma Schafer

Portrait of a potter, San Marcos Tlapazola, photo by Norma Schafer

Mujeres del Barro Rojo, San Marcos Tlapazola, photo by Norma Schafer

 

In The Cloud Forest at San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, Ixtlan, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oliver Sacks, medical doctor and writer, talks about Oaxaca biodiversity and you can read about it in his Oaxaca Journal.  He talks about coming to Oaxaca for forty years. You can also easily experience the climate range by visiting the Ethnobotanical Garden behind Templo Santo Domingo, where there is a sampling of the microclimates found throughout the state.

The cloud forest at San Antonio Cuajimaloyos, misty mountains

But, nothing quite matches the real thing — a visit to the cloud forest high above the Oaxaca valley floor in the Pueblos Mancomunados where eco-tourism is front and center. A packed dirt road (that could be called a trail) goes between the villages along the spine of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range.

I imagine the Cotswolds might look something like this

Here you will find  rustic cabins, simple and delicious comedors with local food prepared in homestyle kitchens by knowledgeable cooks, and a range of outdoor activities to delight hikers, bikers, runners, climbers, horse riders, and zip line enthusiasts. Some people like to go village-to-village to fully experience the mountains.

Flower gardens and succulents thrive in this climate

Perhaps not much could be better than being up here in a hot summer, when ten to fifteen degree cooler temperatures prevail. But, this has been no usual summer and cool weather in the valley means it is much cooler higher up. But, summer has just begun here and who knows? I may head for the hills again.

A beautiful hill town with vibrant color everywhere

San Antonio Cuajimoloyas hosted a race last Sunday and I decided to go along with Eric and Elsa, since he decided to compete with his Oaxaca running team. That meant leaving Teotitlan del Valle at 6:30 a.m. for the about forty-minute (plus) ride up the mountain on a very curvy road via the Tlacolula intersection.

Under cloud cover everyone is bundled up

We passed Diaz Ordaz and the vegetation started to change: dense pine forest, huge cactus the size of a cow, leafy ferns with arms outstretched ten feet, steep hills, flowing stream beds, an occasional bull plowing a vertical field.

It’s an un-selfie. Too cold to be fashionable.

Atmospheric, colorful houses, tin and lots of weathering

As we ascended, Eric turned on the windshield wipers as we entered the cloud cover. It wasn’t really rain per se. It was more like a soft blanket of drizzle, comforting, though the road was obscured and we couldn’t see more than twenty feet ahead.

Elsa in front of a giant, non-mezcal producing agave. Brrr.

Road signs welcomed us to San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. The scene was like a diffused Rembrandt landscape painting, the subjects in the foreground sharp and those in the background fading out to a blurred gray in the fog.

Runners wait for the horn to signal the race start

Packed dirt path makes for great hiking, biking, running

We climbed the 45-degree angle cobbled streets to the trailhead where the race would begin. There were two groups: the half-marathoners and those running a 10K.  At this altitude, 10,490 feet, I needed to stop for breaths even though I’m a seasoned walker at 6K feet altitude. My Fitbit claims I climbed 23 flights of stairs that day.

Taking a long stretch to get those muscles ready

Those assembled looked much like USA runners and those all over the world. They had on the gear:  hydration packs, polypropylene shirts and shells, familiar shoe brands, caps and scarves for warmth. We live in a small universe with much in common. Perhaps some day, the current government in the USA will recognize that.

A running team posing for the camera

Racers gather at the starting line and sprint as the horn sounds

Gosh it was cold up there! Refreshingly perfect for exercise and to be in nature.

Taking a hot chocolate break away from the cold

While Eric ran (10K in 58 minutes, a great time for him), Elsa and I hung out on the main street in a cafe, sipping Oaxaca hot chocolate and dunking sweet bread into the rich liquid.

After the race, let’s have some water! He’s happy with his time.

By The Way: We haven’t had much rain here since I returned in late June, so I’m hoping the clouds will give enough moisture for the annual Wild Mushroom Festival held in August in Cuajimoloyas. (Who says there’s no Global Warming?)

Another finisher who ran the 1/2 marathon

Onlookers or are they getting their morning exercise, too

On the way down the mountain, a San Miguel del Valle border sign

A view of Tlacolula and Teotitlan del Valle from up high

Where Teotitlan lands end, at the border of Cuajimoloyas, in Spanish and Zapotec

Our stop on the way home included barbecue goat tacos for breakfast at the Tlacolula Sunday market, and home by 1 p.m.

Barbecue goat taco, Tlacolula Market

Eco-Tourism in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas: One to Three-Day Tour Operators

If I am missing anyone, please let me know and I will add them to the list.

P.S. This is not an endorsement. Please do your research and if you decide to go, choose a tour operator best suited to your own needs.