Category Archives: Photography

Sunrise From New Mexico and California Berries

On a pre-dawn Wednesday this week, I was on a plane from Albuquerque to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. It was dark at take-off. The lights of the city sparkled against the black desert that met obscure sky. On the vast horizon I could see shapes of mountains and the lights of Santa Fe.

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Then, the eastern sky began to explode in color after the first sliver of orange cast a magic glow on the clouds. I realized I was grateful for the three-thirty morning wake-up so I could get to see this.

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Mexico is ever-present in New Mexico. The tales of conquest, weaving culture, adobe homesteads, Native American art and crafts, and blue corn are integrated into the physical and historical landscape. It is easy to transition from one place to the other. Both are conducive to a more relaxed lifestyle and many of my Santa Fe friends spent lots of time in Oaxaca, especially in winter.

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I’m here in Santa Cruz, California, now for one of my regular visits with my 98-year-old mother, sister and brother-in-law. California is another place where Spanish and then Mexican life prevailed before becoming a U.S. territory then state.

As Barbara and I approached and drove beyond San Juan Bautista and the historic mission yesterday, we passed fields of farm workers tending the fruit and vegetables we eat. Are they undocumented?  Likely. They harvest Driscoll strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and other brands we know from our supermarket shelves.

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Acres of red and green lettuces, and chard are laid out like a Mondrian painting. The workers kneel toward earth as if in prayer, just like in Mexico.  Their heads are covered, their bodies shielded from sun by long sleeve shirts. Some rise, stretch arms skyward, taking a break from back-breaking picking. Here the land is more fertile and the pay is better.  Eight thousand dollars a year is a lot in Mexico. Signs along the California 156 shout out Trabajo Disponible — work available. This is not a job for sissies.

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We were on our way to see Dr. Paul, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine my bad right knee, hurting since early July when I did too many dancing twists at a Best of the Beatles party in Teotitlan del Valle. Difficult for sustained walking. No broken bones, but after a cortisone injection and not much relief,  I’m considering a postponement of a year-in-the-planning trip to Barcelona with a September 16 departure.

Should I go it alone now or wait until spring and travel with my sister?  What do you think? And, why?

Labor Day and Saludos From Taos, New Mexico

We have this last 3-day holiday weekend of summer, Labor Day to honor the United States of America labor movement and workers around the world.

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

As I look out onto  panoramic scene of the Rio Grande River Gorge from my friends’ home on a high mesa outside of Taos, New Mexico, I think about the advocacy and personal risk required to create the child labor laws, safe working conditions and the forty-hour work week.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Today, some of us stretch the Labor Day weekend into perhaps a seven or ten-day holiday to enjoy the last of summer.   Yet, in Oaxaca, we still see young children peddling candy on the streets to make a few pesos long after bedtime and a standard six-day work week, Monday through Saturday, that likely may not include paid vacation time, health benefits or a retirement plan.

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I’m on the road for the next six weeks. The stop in Santa Fe was to visit my met in Oaxaca friends Martha, Sheri and Norma Uno who spend their time between Mexico and the “new” part of it. Mexico’s flavors and influences permeate here, hence Our Lady of Guadalupe images everywhere. As part of my experience, I even slept in a yurt in Norma’s garden outside her adobe casita built in the Pueblo style with modern adaptations.

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After a mighty fine brunch visit at The Tea House cafe in Santa Fe, I hopped on a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-skirts Twin Hearts Express shuttle service to take the two-hour ride to Taos, where my friends Karen and Steve picked me up.

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We have been gorge-gazing, eating, cooking, shopping and other sundry activities all weekend.  The scene reminds me of Oaxaca — big vistas, high mountains, lots of scrub oak and mesquite, grazing sheep and neighbors who are very fun.

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There are more cowboys and cowboy wannabes here. Snakeskin boots, Navajo bolo ties, turquoise and silver abound.  At the organic Saturday farmers’ market on the plaza  we foraged for wild golden chanterelle mushrooms picked by a retired French couple who live here. Turns out they know people in Toulouse, France, where I’m heading in two weeks to visit Brigitte and Ivan. And, look at that native corn. Perhaps genetically similar to the Oaxaca corn I know and love.

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Last night we went to a house party for an intimate soiree by Susan Gibson, formerly of the Dixie Chicks.  The night before found us on another mesa eating grilled lamb chops and drinking a some delicious red wine. Yum, yum. Our hostess concocted a great sautee of fresh corn and squash New Mexico style, which she says is her favorite mainstay.

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Perhaps the most satisfying part of this leg of my trip is spending it with friends whom I have known for almost forty years. Our lives have turned in different directions yet the camaraderie and bond are constant.

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So, from Mexico to New Mexico, I find myself in the bosom of a shared culture, in a landscape that is familiar yet different, among a concurrent history of conquest, weaving, food and art.  I wish you all a satisfying and joyous weekend as I prepare to return to Northern California to visit my ninety-eight year old mother on Tuesday.

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at the Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico with Day of the Dead overtones

 

Art History Tour: Mexican Muralism, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

The Mexican Muralists, and especially the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the focus of our Mexico City Art History Tour: Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Arrive on November 13 and depart on November 17. DiegoFrida4Group-77 This intensive study tour takes you into off-the-beaten path public art spaces and those that are more popular where Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros worked. DiegoFrida4Group-65 Be prepared to walk, explore, discover, discuss and enjoy the Old World beauty of Mexico’s capital city.  You will learn more in three days about Mexico, her culture and ethos, than you ever imagined, and how Rivera and Kahlo helped define a national identity after the 1910 Revolution. DiegoFrida4Group-84 If you are intrigued by

  • the mystery of Frida’s relationship with her mentor Diego Rivera, whom she married twice,
  • social and political history of pre- and post-revolution Mexico,
  • Mexican Muralist Movement as populist outcry and government tool,
  • Aztec archeology,
  • Colonial and Belle Epoque architecture,
  • Mexico City as a food, culture, and art mecca,

This program is for you!

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Our art historian has postponed her graduate studies in Europe for one year, so we are fortunate to be able to offer this program again.

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If you have never traveled to Mexico City, this is a great introduction to the historic center and Casa Azul, the home Frida and Diego shared. Plus, we visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum that holds the largest collection of Diego’s and Frida’s work.

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Mexico City is easy to fly to from anywhere in the United States and Canada. The city is safe, clean and hospitable.  Our friendly hotel is located just two blocks from the Zocalo, the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral and the Templo Mayor archeological site of the Aztec power center. DiegoFrida4Group-5 Questions?  Contact Norma Hawthorne.  DiegoFrida4Group2-7

One Day in Capulalpam de Mendez: Oaxaca’s Pueblo Magico

High in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez, the mountain range to the east of Oaxaca city that borders the state of Veracruz, nestles Capulalpam de Mendez, one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos. The village is terraced into the mountainside and the views are breathtaking. Indeed, the altitude can take your breath away at almost 8,000 feet (2,350 meters, 7,710 feet to be exact).

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We are on a two-day adventure, me, Hollie and Carol.  We call it an adventure because none of us had been up this road before.  Little did we know what would be in store for us further along.  Before long, we will be called Las Tres Mosqueteras — female version of the Three Musketeers.

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We leave Oaxaca early Sunday morning in my faithful La Tuga (10-year-old Honda Element) to take the switch-back federal highway MEX 175, first to Ixtlan de Juarez, where Mexico’s reformist hero Benito Juarez was baptized close to his birthplace of Guelatao.  We climb nearly 2,000 feet in the distance of 62 kilometers or about 38 miles. The precipices are harrowing and the jam-packed shared taxis pay no attention to the solid yellow line that goes the distance to separate the two-lanes.  It takes the better part of two hours to make the trip.

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Soon we are in a bio-diverse ecosystem of pine, cedar and oak dripping with ferns, bromeliads and moss. It is a rainforest up here with water run-off, gurgling streams filled with trout and lots of roadside restaurants to eat them fresh.

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I took one seat out of La Tuga so I can haul an easy-chair and ottoman to an ESL teacher friend, the only gringa at University of Sierra Juarez in Ixtlan. On the return, I carry back a locally crafted pine dresser made from sustainable wood.

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After sleeping overnight at the very comfortable Ecoturixtlan ecotourism lodge (try the zip line), I propose we go further up the mountain a few miles more to Capulalpam. I had heard about it but had never been there and everyone is up for what’s next.

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Once we get there, we are lucky to find a comedor open for breakfast at the central market. The eggs are perfect and the climate even more so. We meet farmers and  innkeepers who tell us that there are only a few Zapotec speakers left in the village. We decide this a perfect spot for a writing retreat or just to chill-out for a few days.  Next time.

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Since the historic church doesn’t open until noon and it is only 10:30 a.m. local time (an hour later in Oaxaca City, go figure), we decide to scout out the road to the highest point in the village. There’s an overlook up there and we ask directions.

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Go to the end of the pavement. Take the dirt road up, says a local woman.  So we do.  I turn left, climb higher, shifting between first and second. With each curve there is a vista more spectacular than the one before. Then, we face it.

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A seventy-degree hill (okay maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit) rutted from rain run-off with a base of gravel and rock. I stop the car.  Carol says, Well, we could get out and walk. I say, Well, I think we can make it. Let’s see what La Tuga can do. I press the clutch, push the stick into first and up we go. Except we make it only about half way until the clutch starts to burn and the car begins to swivel sideways dancing toward the edge.

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I brake. Oops, I say. Roll down the window and honk, then yell,  Necessito un ayudante. I need a helper.  Ayudame. Help me. Un hombre. Un hombre. A man.  A man. Hilarious, you might think, despite the fact that we are independent women trying to make our way in the world solita. Alone. Hah.  Hombre, I yell again.  Two children materialize at the top of the hill and look down at us. I imagine they are thinking, Gringas Locas.

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Then, David appears. He runs to the passenger side of the car as Hollie is attempting an exit, tells her to get back in. Carol is unusually quiet. David guides me, tells me how to exactly turn the wheel so I can back down slow, straight and sure. Thank goodness my Spanish is good enough!

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At the base of the road, I turn the car around around. David invites us all into his house to meet his wife Martha and drink fresh guava juice.  His view hanging over the mountain side was pretty darn good.

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But, we still want to find the Mirador, the very top of the mountain. David offers to guids us up there and climbs in the back seat. Amazing views.

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We joke about our adventure all afternoon. Later, we invite David and Martha to join us for a trout dinner, exchange phone numbers, and I get contact information for his two adult children, a son and a daughter, who live in Los Angeles and who he hasn’t seen in seven years.

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If I hadn’t made that turn, I wonder what this story would be like.

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P.S. Find the whole wheat bread baked in the wood fired clay oven.  Stay overnight at Hotel Chorromonte, 01 (951) 53 92052, with WiFi, beautiful, clean, from 200 pesos a night. Eat breakfast at Comedor Mau-Mau in the village market operated by Betzabeth Cosmes Perez.

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Guelaguetza 2014 Photo Out-takes — Oaxaca Folkloric Fesitval Dazzles Crowd

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It’s more like a party than a traditional performance. Oaxaca’s annual Guelaguetza folkloric festival draws crowds from throughout Mexico and all over the world.

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If you hang around the stage at the end while most of the crowds leave, you might be handed a small cane cup filled with mezcal and get a close-up photo, too.

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I hosted a group of Australians and we had third row seats. That’s the luck of the draw, plus mostly getting to the tourism office early.  We bought these tickets in early June.

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Even photo out-takes are worth looking at!

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For a discussion about the cultural and political controversy surrounding Guelaguetza, see my July 24, 2014 post.

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People ask me all the time if Oaxaca is safe.  There were 11,000 people in the audience, plus all the performers. Instead of the crush, we did the WAVE!

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The exit is through a narrow underground tunnel and then down the Cerro del Fortin steps.  Most of us left that way!  Everyone was calm, helpful, friendly, gracious and orderly.

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We took a few minutes to stop and look at the stunning views of the city and the Santo Domingo Church below.

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Is Oaxaca safe?  YES!

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One big crowd pleaser is the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma. It is a story of the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. Many villages do this ritual dance. It is an important part of indigenous Mexican identity.

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The chief dancer is the Moctezuma, and featured are two girls, each representing the duality of Mexico — The Malinche and Doña Marina – who are one and the same.  How high the dancers leap is a feat of pure prowess and determination.

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Everyone in the crowd was hoping to catch a pineapple — one of the Guelaguetza gifts thrown — actually hurled — from the stage into the audience by each village represented.

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If we had our hands and a hat up, we got bread, radishes, lettuce, palm hats and fans, rolls, tortillas, sticky tamarind fruit, ritual bunches of fragrant greens.

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I managed to catch a bunch of bananas that I shared with my neighbors in keeping with the meaning of Guelaguetza. Only the front row received the pineapples. I think the organizers were afraid of injury!

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By the time we left the auditorium it was almost 10 p.m. We were hungry and thirsty. Somehow, sweet rolls didn’t seem enough. My mantra: time for a mezcal margarita and a good meal. This is the hour most Mexicans have their dinner! It was way past my bed-time.

Guelaguetza2014-29Our group of five women walked about six blocks to La Biznaga where we were lucky to find an open table. Beware: the margaritas are especially potent! The spinach lasagna (yes, Italian) was wonderful. Safe? Yes!