Category Archives: Photography

Jumping for Joy at Oaxaca’s Jardin Etnobotanico — Ethnobotanical Garden

North Carolina State University students and faculty jump for joy, a tradition

While I edit and process over 1,500 photos from last weekend’s WARP textile conference in Oaxaca, I thought I’d share with you the last set of photos from the May 2017 study abroad program with North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Sciences from Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden. 

Tuna, the fruit of the nopal cactus, is rich in Vitamin C, makes a delicious drink

The garden was rescued from the hands of developers. In the last century, it was a military horse stable, a shooting range and a garbage dump. The plan was to build a luxury hotel on the site. But, through the efforts of Maestro Francisco Toledo and Alejandro de Avila, and others, the area next to Santo Domingo Church and monastery became the beautiful garden that we know and enjoy today. It opened to the public in 1998.

Cactus trees, over 20 feet tall, offer shade; Santo Domingo backdrop

Our bilingual guide, Georgina Rosas, was exceptionally knowledgeable, explaining that the gardens are divided into the diverse ecosystems that reflect Oaxaca’s desert, mountainous and tropical landscape. One can only enter the garden and explore it through an organized tour.

Guide Georgina Rosas explains botanicals to NCSU student Matt

The English language tours are on Thursday and Saturday mornings, starting at 11:00 a.m.  Tickets are a modest 100 pesos per person — well worth the two-hour walk through the plot. It is off-season and we were lucky.

Reflecting pools and organ cactus fences frame the space

There was our group of sixteen people, plus another four visitors on the public tour. A small gathering in comparison to winters when there can be 30 to 40 people participating.

Flor de Mayo in full bloom hot pink and yellow

It was delightful to be in the garden during the spring blooming season. The Flor de Mayo,  as it is known here in Oaxaca, was resplendent in color. We know it as plumeria rubia or frangipani. Of course, the landscape design students loved seeing it, picked up the dropped petals, and the young women attached them to their hair behind their ears.

300-year-old Biznaga cactus, rare and endangered, an unusual, mature specimen

The tropical section of the Jardin Etnobotanico is a lush oasis filled with palms, fruit trees and a dampness that mimics the climate of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast. Tucked into the far corner of the garden, beyond the plant propagation area, is a two-story glass greenhouse.

A metal bridge at the top of the greenhouse for long views

The greenhouse was designed by Mexican architect Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido. It is a transparent structure with a center staircase that we could climb for a second-story view of the city and adjoining countryside. Georgina says on a clear day you can see the distant village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Looking down through the glass to earth below

We came to find out that Professor Ricardo Hernandez from NCSU is one of the world’s leading experts on greenhouse lighting. He took a special interest in this structure.

Orchids, bromeliads, moss cling to branches, drip in humidity

I think what the garden does best is connect the dots between past and present, and gives us an outlook to conserve the future of our planet. The plants are intimately connected with the indigenous people of this region. We get a perspective for this listening to Georgina.

The Garden is a teaching laboratory for Mexicans and visitors alike.

We hear about agave as a beverage and fiber source. How the leaves are pounded, washed and then the fibers woven into clothing and field bags.

Professor Anne Spafford explains something she sees to student Ricky

We see the stand of corn, growing with squash and beans — all native to Mexico, her gift to the world — and the agricultural system of milpas.  This is the interdependent chemistry exchange between these three plants that give sustenance for the people, and when grown together, nutrients for the soil.

Beneath the walkway, an ancient aqueduct

Sourcing and conserving water has always been a key part of living in Oaxaca. Georgina explains that there was a water capture system and that water came to the city center from San Felipe del Agua in the foothills above the town.

Maize crop, native to Oaxaca, non-GMO, higher fiber and nutrients

When the Jardin Etnobotanico was first conceived of, the space was barren, bare. It needed to be excavated and prepared with raised beds.  In the process, they discovered an ancient water system and well here, as well as a path that led to what we now know as the Pan-American Highway MEX 190.

Cactus flower, another beauty in the Jardin Etnobotanico, nestled among pulque

Today, rainwater is collected in cisterns beneath the patio of the garden as one of the many conservation measures.

Amazing place for reflection and photos

I’d like to personally thank Jardin Etnobotanico founder and curator Alejandro de Avila B. for permission to publish the photos I took in the garden. The space is unique, featuring only Oaxaca plants. It gives us remarkable perspective into the diversity of people and regions in this magnificent Mexican state, and the interdependence of plants to people as source of food and shelter.

This is definitely a space for meditation and contemplation

I also want to thank Professors Ricardo Hernandez and Juliet Sherk for putting their trust in me to organize this study abroad program for North Carolina State University. It was a pleasure to work with them and to know their very talented students.

Nopal cactus flower

This tropical tree produces fluffy seed pods that indigenous people harvested and spun for clothing fiber.

Seed pods emit fluffy tufts

Oaxaca is textiles, culture, history, people and plants. If you want to know all of Oaxaca, please take time out to visit the Jardin Etnobotanico, at the corner of Reforma and Constitucion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Saving Sea Turtles

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. It’s Pacific coast is rugged, rocky, with swirling turquoise water, warmed by ocean currents. Our group from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science has been based in Puerto Escondido, a favorite spot for world-class surfing, too.

NCSU students take part in sea turtle release

This is a global sea-turtle nesting area, among the top five in the world. Preservation efforts to protect the eggs are a priority by volunteers and wildlife preservation group.  Several species have been on the brink of extinction.

Amanda and Ricky’s expressions of delight, fascination say it all

Harvesting sea turtle eggs has been banned by the Mexican government since the early 1990’s, but ancient cultural traditions are powerful. Coastal indigenous communities have depended on turtles and turtle eggs for food long before the conquest. It is difficult to change ingrained habits.

Green sea turtles, just born, ready to go to the ocean

Poachers still roam the beaches in the midnight hours to find nesting sites and steal eggs.

Sunset illumination on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast

One of the most incredible experiences of this journey with students and faculty was to take part in a baby turtle release on the coast just north of Puerto Escondido. We arranged this through our wonderful hosts at Hotel Santa Fe.

John couldn’t be happier — he’s about to release a baby turtle

The gender of a sea turtle depends on the warmth of the sand and where the eggs are laid in the nest. Climate change has a huge impact on future populations and reproduction.

Students hear environmental protection practices from volunteer

I remember visiting the coast village of San Mateo del Mar in 2008 to meet the Palafox family weavers. Located on the coast, surrounded by lagoons, the fishermen of the village depended on sea turtles for food.

Nearby luxury beach homes at water’s edge

A huge pile of turtle eggs graced the center of the dining table at the lunch prepared for us. I couldn’t eat, and I know it was rude to pass the bowl without taking one.

Watching the turtles move toward the sea — fascinating

This week, there were faces filled with delight as each student scooped up a tiny baby turtle with a coconut shell bowl to carry it from the nest to the edge of the sand, where it would make its way into the ocean.

Wolfpack tribute on the beach near Puerto Escondido

The group left Oaxaca yesterday. They are an amazing set of young people, smart, curious, sensitive and courteous — a tribute to North Carolina State University. I am impressed by their intelligence and caring, and I will miss them.

It was a privilege to work with the faculty at NCSU to develop this program.

A big, brilliant Oaxaca sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Our donations to participate in this activity help to fund the on-going preservations efforts of the sea turtles along Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

Baby turtle before release

Volunteers patrol stretches of beach throughout the night. If a volunteer encounters a poacher who finds a nest before s/he does, the volunteer can offer money or most likely backs away to avoid confrontation.

Another view, sea turtle release

 

 

NCSU in Oaxaca: Monte Alban Archeological Site

Students and faculty from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science are in Oaxaca for a study abroad course on Sustainability in Emerging Countries.

NCSU students and faculty setting out to explore Oaxaca

Here’s what a few students say about our first day at Monte Alban.

“We went to see Monte Alban first to give us background about Oaxaca and culture we are stepping into.”

Climbing the pyramids for a long view of the archeological site

“People here in Oaxaca take pride in this historic archeological site.”

Copal tree flowering and with seed pods — sap used for ritual incense

“You don’t know what people are talking about until you see the significance of this place.”

A long view of Monte Alban, with Observatory in distance

“It was a good foundation for what we would see and experience.”

Monte Alban is one of those spectacular archeological sites that grasp your attention, teach about the sophistication of Zapotec leadership and demonstrate the astronomical prowess of indigenous people.

Guide Pablo Gonzalez explains development of this major Mesoamerican site

The visit there gave students an opportunity to see native plants and understand the local plant life and landscape.

Pencil cactus becomes tree, with poisonous sap

As we climbed the temples and examined the plant life, saw the glyphs carved into the stone, and understood the ancient systems of water retention and cultivation, we gained a greater insight into the importance of Oaxaca as the source of corn that was first hybridized here almost 10,000 years ago and spread throughout the world.

At the top of the Zapotec world, 1,000 BC to 800 AD

We approached from the north side of the Monte Alban. The site is on a mountain-top between the city and the ancient ceramic making village of Santa Maria Atzompa.

Caretakers take a break in front of “Los Danzantes,” the Dancers, carved stone

The glyphs and carvings tell a story of conquest and dominance over surrounding villages, as well as the glyph language of rectangles and circles. Figures carved upside-down into the stone represented conquered leaders from local villages.

Another view of Los Danzantes

The gold treasures from Tomb 7 are on view at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center next to the church. They were wrought by Mixtecs who occupied Monte Alban in the late classical period.

Stelae carved with circles and rectangles — ancient vocabulary

Students participating are studying agriculture, horticulture, landscape design, business, and nutrition. Each day, they have an intensive discussion with their professors about food sourcing, fertilization, bio-diversity and cultural impact on climate change.

In the clouds at the top of Monte Alban

Zapotec rulers lived high above the agricultural valley below. Humans leveled the mountain where the elite lived. The Spanish named the place Monte Alban. When they arrived the mountain was covered in trees with white blooming flowers.

A videographer with the group will make a documentary about the experience

Students will write a paper and receive three-credit hours toward their degree program. We have one doctoral student with us, too.

Oaxaca Inspired Sweet-Savory Orange Chicken Recipe: Mango and Carrots

My first day back in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after a six-week Durham, North Carolina hiatus. I had to drive La Tuga, my 2004 Honda Element to Tlacolula for clutch repair, so I handed 200 pesos (the equivalent of $11 USD) to Federico and asked him to pick up a few things for me at the village market. My cupboards (and refrigerator) were bare.

On the cook top, mango carrot orange chicken

I specified only a bit of chicken, some fruit and veggies. He returned with four carrots, four Ataulfo mangoes — now in season, two onions, one orange pepsicum, four red apples, four chayote squash and some limes. The key seemed to be the number four. Oh, yes, two chicken drumsticks and two thighs equal four.

So, I give you Sweet-Savory Orange Chicken with Mango and Carrots.

Utensils: four-quart, oven-proof clay baker or stainless steel pot, paring knife, utility knife, large spoon. You might want to use a slow cooker/crock pot. That would work, too.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken thighs and 2 chicken drumsticks, skinned
  • 2 teaspoons salt and fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 carrots, cleaned and peeled, sliced 1/4 inch thickness
  • 1 white onion, large diced
  • 2 Ataulfo mangoes, cut as shown in photo
  • 2 red apples, skinned, sliced thin
  • 1 orange pepsicum (sweet pepper), diced
  • 1 very small mild red chili pepper, seeded and stemmed
  • 4 cups water

Add salt (I prefer sea salt) and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Put pot on top of heat diffuser. Cook on slow simmer for two-to-three hours.  Serve first course as a consomme/chicken broth.  Serve second course of chicken with mango/carrot melange over steamed rice, accompanied by fresh steamed chayote or zucchini squash.

I bet you could make this in a crock pot, too.

How cut a mango: lengthwise to separate two halves from seed

Serves two to four, depending on appetites.

Some years ago, many, in fact, I owned a gourmet cooking school and cookware shop in South Bend, Indiana. It was called Clay Kitchen.  I contracted with famous chefs from around the world to teach, and taught a few classes myself. My preference, still, is to see what ingredients I have at hand and make something up. This one, today, tastes pretty darn good and you should smell my kitchen!

A remaining pepper from my winter terrace garden, seeded, crumbled

Clay Kitchen, Inc. is a memory. We were in business for just under five years during one of the roughest financial downturns of the early 80’s when interest rates on inventory climbed to over 20 percent. Pre-internet, a Google search only comes up with our Indiana corporation registration and dissolution.  There is no other documentation.

My business partner then remains an important friend now. We modeled ourselves after Dean & DeLuca in NYC and aspired to greatness. When we closed, we cried and moved on.

Mexico City Architecture: Luis Barragan House Photo Essay

True Confession: In all the years I’ve been visiting Mexico City, I never made it to the Casa Luis Barragan in Colonia Condesa. One of the benefits of staying in this neighborhood is to make a pilgrimage to the home where this disciple of Corbusier lived. You MUST make a reservation in advance to visit. Only small groups go through the house and studio with a guide.

Textured and adjoining smooth walls add drama

Luis Barragan, winner of the Pritzker Prize, is one of Mexico’s most famed architects who influenced an entire generation of architects, including Ricardo Legorretta, has volumes written about him. His work is documented with great photography. I hope you read more.

What fascinates me is how he uses space — sometimes spare, sometimes cluttered, always calculated. His brilliant and punctuated use of color is incorporated into serene, cloistered rooms. I am surprised to move from small, intimate spaces into large living areas with high ceilings, walls, partitions, bringing the outdoors into the interior. There are design lessons to be learned here for how to live with a few, very meaningful objects.

Center piece. Lots of tables and niches and nooks to settle into throughout the house.

Twenty foot ceilings make small rooms larger.

Photo of Barragan, exceptionally tall, posing on floating staircase

The Miguelito Chair, designed by Barragan

Floating staircase leads to small study on second floor from library

Intimate, small library, cozy, comfortable

Painting by friend Mathias Goeritz is like a mirror

Color, louvered doors accentuates space transition

Rooftop terrace at Casa Luis Barragan

Stunning hot pink wall is backdrop to blooming vines

Mexican flowering vine Copa de Oro

Tonala, Guadalajara hand-blown glass globes reflect in every room

Luscious color in entry way, detail

One small lamp illuminates Barragan’s private dining room

Barragan, a very private man, loved his solitude. His small, dark, private dining room is like a cloister. Extremely tall, very religious, he designed spaces with small door frames and low ceilings, requiring him to bend as if in prayer, as he moved through his home and studio.

Reflection from inside to out, bringing the spaces together.

Collection of old ceramic mezcal jars are focal point of small patio

Patios have small water features, either fountains or large lava rock or ceramic bowls to collect water, that reflects nature.

Hot pink door opens to verdant green space.

My sister Barbara in the living room through the glass.

Warm colors of studio — he painted skylights and windows yellow

Outside a neighbor’s house, a whimsical sculpture

I love these globes. You can buy them in patio shops throughout the USA.

Sister Barbara in silhouette. Large windows bring green to interior.

Studio space is used as a gallery for featured shows now.

Where we are staying: In a penthouse apartment owned by Nai, with a terrace overlooking the treetops and rooftops of this walkable neighborhood. I highly recommend this location. See it on Air BnB.

We are getting around using UBER. Most rides are under $4 USD. Safe, on-time, dependable, secure.