Category Archives: Teotitlan del Valle

Cafe Culture in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Tucked into Pino Suarez #45 at the corner of the main drag, Benito Juarez, in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is Cafe Vid. Almost smack in the middle of town. It has seven tables and 15 chairs, with all the warmth and intimacy you can imagine including excellent, custom-made coffee drinks and delicious snacks.

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It’s what you might call a coffeehouse if you lived in San Francisco or Los Angeles a generation past, complete with recorded jazz, blues, and reggae playing in the background. This would be a perfect meeting spot for writing or conversation.

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The owners are friends who have known each other growing up all their lives in this tight-knit village: Erika Mendoza Vicente and Miguel Esai Montanez Pedro, both age 26, and Sandra Vasquez Perez, age 25.

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The cafe has been in operation for five years. Erika, Esai and Sandra saved to finance the start-up themselves. In preparation for ownership and management, they each worked in the food industry in Oaxaca to get experience. They told me this was an experiment when they were young (smile). They have learned a lot in the intervening years.

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Erika, Esai and Sandra used their own money to outfit the cafe, buying all the commercial grade equipment mostly from restaurant supply companies. The Waring commercial waffle maker, comes from Guanajuato, made in the USA.

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Each is an accomplished barista. They learned to make coffee from the owner of La Brujula, one of Oaxaca’s great roasters and makers, who taught them the nuances of espresso, cappuccino, latte, frappe, moka and more.

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The coffee beans here are the best. Cafe Vid buys from La Brujula and Nuevo Mundo, another of Oaxaca’s excellent organic roasters.

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The menu includes flavored Italian sodas, hot and cold coffees, teas, hot Oaxaca chocolate, and frappes. You can order waffles, crepes (sweet and savory), homemade cheesecake, light sandwiches and baguettes of cheese and turkey ham.

You might want to save your appetite for an incredible Belgium waffle topped with fresh fruit and a drizzle of cajeta, big enough to share. Try the crepe spread with Nutella, then neatly folded into a triangle. You could pretend you are in Paris, if you wish. But there’s no need. You are in Teotitlan del Valle, one of the best villages in all of Mexico.

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Cafe Vid offers a frequent drinker card. Get seven stamps and the next drink is free. If you come to stay overnight for a few days at either Casa Elena or Las Granadas, two local guesthouses, it wouldn’t be hard to reach this threshold.

Every Zapotec has dreams. Erika, Esai and Sandra dream of a bigger space, a larger menu. They want to make breads and more desserts, roast their own coffee beans. I may even give them a lesson in how to make and bake a New York style cheesecake, a speciality I developed many years ago when I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school in the midwest.

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These young people are dedicated, hard-working full-time weavers, so the cafe opens daily from 6 to 10 p.m., seven days a week. When you are in Teotitlan, consider a visit. Call them on their cell phone: 01 951 186 0743. The only thing lacking is an internet connection, since they can’t get phone landline service from the closest telephone pole because it’s at capacity. Darn.

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Other good village options: Cafe Drupa, Avenida Benito Juarez, up the hill two blocks beyond Av. 2 de Abril on the left. A family operation connected to a weaving workshop. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with wi-fi connection, good coffee, paninis and more.

Teotitlan del Valle Young Photographers Show at Oaxaca Photography Center

The work of young photographers, ages seven to twelve, from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, were featured at a festive gallery exhibition that opened last Saturday at the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

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They participated in a year-and-a-half photography education project called Nuevas Visiones. Narrando historias visuales en Teotitlán del Valle —  New visions: Narrating Visual Histories in Teotitlan del Valle, sponsored by the photography center and various donors.

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The students met monthly in their village learning camera techniques, lighting and composition, and were given assignments, mostly just to wander and capture what interested them most.

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Juan Enrique Mendoza Sanchez, age 12, Teotitlan del Valle, in front of his photo

Participants

  • Uriel Bazán
  • Adriana Vicente Gutierrez
  • Montserrat Vicente Gutierrez
  • Juan Enrique Mendoza Sánchez
  • Beatriz Ruíz Lazo
  • Antonio Ruiz Lazo
  • Juan Diego Gutierrez Martínez
  • Uziel Montaño Ruiz
  • Javier Lazo Gutiérrez 

The instructor is Eva Alicia Lépiz. Thanks to Javier Lazo Gutierrez, age 25, course teaching assistant, for sending me this list and to Daniel Brena, director of Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Ixchel Castellon, independent cultural manager, for producing this important program

Subjects ranged from brothers, sisters, a bedroom still life, and burros with the sacred mountain Picacho as backdrop.

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What amazed me in looking at the work through the eyes of young people was what they chose to focus on. Subjects we might consider mundane became, in their eyes, beautiful, dramatic and meaningful. A lesson for adults to learn.

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Family members and friends mostly gathered in the courtyard of the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo to celebrate the accomplishments.

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The center helped with cameras and instruction. The village provided meeting space and local people gave support.

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Above left: instructor Eva Alicia Lepiz.

This is an excellent way to bring young people in closer touch with the visual senses around them and give emphasis to a creative form of personal expression.

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Other communities whose young people participate in this innovative outreach program include San Bartolo Coyotepec, Rancho Tejas and El Rosario Temextitlan.

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Above left is Javier Lazo Gutierrez, age 25, who was the teaching assistant for the course. He is a very accomplished photographer!

Funding is made possible through a generous grant from Homeruns Banamex 2014 and the Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu de Oaxaca.

[Chiapas Faces and Festivals: Photography Workshop produced by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, set for end of January 2016]

Don’t miss this exhibition. It’s a fresh view of the world.

Rosa and Abraham’s Wedding in Teotitlan del Valle: Let’s Party

It’s been a week since Abraham and Rosa got married. With this last and final post about the wedding, I get to relive the day. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter III: The Wedding Party

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Weddings in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca can be grand affairs that include a sumptuous multi-course fiesta dinner complete with music that goes on for hours and this one was no exception. Over 350 people packed into the home courtyard of Abraham’s uncle, a very gracious host.

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I’ve been to village weddings where as many as 700 people have been seated and served by a minion of family members and friends who have been cooking, serving and cleaning up for days before and after.

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A traditional Teotitlan del Valle wedding can last three days and nights, with lots of dancing, drinking, talking, cooking and eating, continuing long after the bride and groom have left for their miel de luna (honeymoon).

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Abraham and Rosa’s wedding was different. The celebration started and ended on the same day. But, I bet the cleaning up part lasted as long!

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As soon as we were all seated, guests honored the married couple by presenting their gifts, table by table. Matched sets of dishes, cooking utensils and vessels appeared as did many blenders, perfect for making salsas, soups and fruit juices. As soon as the presentations were completed, dinner was served.

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For Rosa and Abraham’s wedding feast, the seated dinner featured consommé de borrego, a rich lamb broth, followed by an entrée of barbecue lamb, salad, rice and noodle salad. The 15 lambs came from Rancho Juarez and brought down the mountain in a truck to where they were slaughtered. They were cooked in cauldrons of spicy tomato broth set into hot coal lined, covered earthen pits. They simmered overnight until they were fall-off-the-bone tender.

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The broth was then mixed with cooked corn, peas, garbanzo and green beans, and diced tomatoes served as consommé accompanied by fresh made soft tortillas and a large, crispy pizza-sized tortilla called a tlayuda.

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There was plenty of water, chilled hibiscus tea and horchata to drink. There was not the usual bottles of mezcal and cases of beer presented as tribute gifts and then opened for consumption that dominates the usual Mexican wedding parties.

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The music was classical, orchestral and easy listening. Without liquor and dancing, no one overindulged, got out of hand, passed out or left early to sleep it off.

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Fun happens in other ways. There are games. After dinner, tables are folded and chairs lined up to clear a space in the courtyard center. With the bride on one end and the groom on the other, each standing on a wooden chair, him holding on to the trail of her veil, her grabbing tight onto a pole, it appeared that the goal was to see who would topple off their chair first.

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This is not a wedding game I’m familiar with, but it was a lot of fun and we all enjoyed watching what would happen next.

A new game? Body Toss.

Abraham lost his balance, fell off the chair (or was pulled off) …

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and got tossed into the air. In case you don’t recognize him, Abraham is the figure with the lavender shirt floating skyward. Abraham_RosaBest129-117

Whew, that took a lot of energy from the young men who guaranteed that Abraham would have a night to remember. After the body toss, they needed to rest!

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Who’s Getting Married Next?

Time for the throwing of the bride’s bouquet. All the single young women gathered as Rosa tossed her flowers over her head to the assembled group behind her. Good catch, Gloria! You must be next.

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Yes. Bobbing for Apples.

After the bouquet and tie toss, married couples were asked to participate in a game of bobbing for apples. We all got a kick out of which pair could eat through a dangling apple first. It was hard for me to focus with all the moving around.

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Let them eat cake! And, they did.

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There were four or five tiers of wedding cake, make with pecans and topped with a yummy cream. The grand finale of the day. Abraham and Rosa did what was expected — feed each other cake. Another happy moment to bring a close to an incredible day.

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As the bridesmaids unpacked green glazed Atzompa pottery for the bride and groom to give to each guest as a remembrance of the occasion, I thought about what a beautiful and satisfying day this was.

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I was especially gratified to be able to capture most of it with photographs that Rosa and Abraham will have for their personal album. Perhaps someday they will show them to their grandchildren and I will be there with them in spirit.

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Festivals and Faces: Chiapas Photography Workshop–January 2016

 

Rosa and Abraham Get Married: Wedding Ceremony in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Chapter II: The Wedding Ceremony, Saturday Afternoon, August 1, 2015

Almost every seat was filled and people were standing in the back of the small, simple Iglesia de Dios in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, waiting for the wedding of Rosa and Abraham to begin.

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They were waiting for Rosa to appear on the arm of her escort in her white gown, the vision of beauty that all brides convey on their wedding day.

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We all love this moment, which reminds us of the promise of new life together, where dreams can be realized with that special someone we have chosen to be with now and forever. Abraham stood on the dais ready to greet her, serious and probably nervous, like most grooms around the world. His parents escorted him there, hugged him, gave him a private message of well-being and returned to their seats.

Abraham’s uncle welcomed the guests to the church.

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Rosa’s parents couldn’t be with us because her dad is suffering from acute diabetes, so a good friend stepped in to escort her down the aisle.

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A band of young instrumentalists played guitar, drums and electric keyboard to the soprano voice of a young woman who captured our attention, gave us pause to reflect about the union we would witness.

The wedding ceremony included and prayer, a hominy given by a pastor who came from Cuernavaca, and rituals familiar to most marriage ceremonies around the world, with the sharing of rings, joining of hands, kisses, tears, laughter, relief and celebration.

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During the ceremony, the pastor acknowledged the absence of Rosa’s parents and Rosa thanked them publicly for their love and support. There were many emotional moments when they were mentioned and missed.

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You may notice that the church décor is simple, without the gilded religious symbolism that is so widespread in Mexico, sometimes equal to Spanish cathedrals. With the Spanish conquest came the priests and the will to construct glorious edifices.

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Conquest and conversion go hand-in-hand with human history as people act out “my god is better than your god.”

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This look, on the right, says it all. Wow, we did it!

I’m not exactly certain, but this may be one of two or three Christian churches in the village that seem to co-exist side-by-side with the Catholic majority, with respect and brotherhood. Many have the same family roots that go deep.

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After the ceremony, we lingered in the church courtyard to congratulate the bride and groom, and offer salutations of congratulations. Everyone waited in the hot sun to greet these two wonderful young people with strong values who love each other and are committed to building a life together.

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It was an exceptionally beautiful Teotitlan del Valle summer day, with big puffy white clouds against an iridescent blue sky. It was shimmering and hot. Adults and children ran to the ice cream cart out front for a cooling refreshment as others waited in the receiving line.

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The afternoon sun cast strong shadows and even with Lightroom correction, the photos have some glare – please forgive me! But this will give you the idea of this wonderfully happy occasion.

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Abraham and Rosa, with brother, dad, mom and sister-in-law

Congratulations, Rosa and Abraham! Let the party begin. Next Chapter, the fiesta.

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Some Footnotes

  1. As is tradition here, the groom and his family fund the entire cost of the wedding, including the bride’s dress. The bride comes to live with her husband and his family in their home, often joining an extended family of siblings, spouses and children.
  2. There are Protestant missionaries from the United States working in Mexico who represent many denominations. They are especially active in rural Oaxaca and Chiapas, where poverty, lack of access to education and health care are high.
  3. Some say the missionary movement in Mexico contributes to the erosion of indigenous culture and religious values. Others say it keeps families intact by prohibiting alcohol use while offering a more emotional connection. A positive by-product is a reduction in family violence, usually stress related.
  4. It takes me about 6 hours to prepare the photos and write the narrative for a blog post like this, plus dealing with really poor internet connections, which I why I’m now down to publishing once or twice a week!

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As you read this, please keep in mind that I am an observer, not an academic scholar. There are many academics who have researched and written widely about the topics mentioned here. And, because I was not born into this culture, I am not privy to all the nuances that permeate and underlie relationships. I do know that by suspending judgment and being open to all possibilities, while supporting people to reach their greatest dreams, my life is enriched.

Photography Workshop in Chiapas, Mexico–January 2016

 

 

 

Rosa and Abraham Get Married in Teotitlan del Valle: Getting Ready

Chapter One: Back-Story and Getting Ready

I’ve known Abraham since he was nineteen years old and first starting driving a taxi for Sitio Zapoteco, one of two companies licensed to serve the village of Teotitlan del Valle, which is about thirty minutes from Oaxaca on a good day.

Women in the family cook breakfast and clean up

Women in the family cook breakfast and clean up

Abraham is now twenty-seven. Last year he whispered to me on one of our rides back and forth to the city that he was going to get married. The next time he came to pick me up, there she was, Rosa, with her big wide smile and easy way of being, sitting comfortably in the back seat.

Everyone pitches in to serve guests breakfast

Everyone pitches in to serve guests breakfast

They are a good match. She is educated and smart, works as a bible translator. He is smart and has a lot of emotional intelligence. I imagine they are equals. I know she has a mind of her own. Rosa is from the La Mixteca part of Juchitan in southern part of Oaxaca State. She speaks Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language. Abraham was born and raised in Teotitlan, speaking Zapotec and Spanish. As is usual throughout Mexico, Spanish is the language that binds.

Breakfast hot chocolate, atole, chicken, mole amarillo and sweet bread.

Breakfast hot chocolate, atole, chicken, mole amarillo and sweet bread.

Abraham would have been an excellent candidate for university, but driving a taxi is what he does to earn a living and help his dad, Don Felipe Flores, who recently turned major taxi-driving responsibilities over to his two adult sons.

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Abraham and his older brother Felipe, Jr., who returned Teotitlan after living in the U.S.A. for a while, have the fortitude and nerves to drive the Pan American Highway (the Carretera) back and forth each day, making sometimes five round trips each. Fast drivers are sometimes three abreast on a two-lane road.

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Six months ago, Rosa, Abraham and his mom, came over for a visit to formally ask me if I would be the Madrina of Photography at the wedding. Of course, I said yes. What an honor to give this gift to a young man, who has become my friend, and his wife-to-be. So, August 1 was on my calendar for a while.

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Hanging out on Pino Suarez street

It’s takes a big family and lots of friends to make a wedding for 350 guests. These are mostly do-it-yourself affairs. Preparations begin months in advance. A group of men went to Rancho Juarez earlier in the week to get 15 lambs that would become late afternoon dinner of consomme de borrego and barbeque for everyone to enjoy — also a traditional wedding menu.

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Cousins from Fountain Valley, California, born and raised there, and tri-lingual, helped make the flower arrangements and pump air into balloons as children play between the yet-to-be-set-up tables.

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This was my first “official” job as wedding photographer. I can’t say that I excelled at the task! Fortunately, out of the over 1,100 photographs I took that day, I got an edited set of 125 to give as the gift, and then culled down to the best 50 that I consider worthy of publishing on the blog.

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Lighting was my biggest challenge: the harsh indoor lighting of the church, the natural light streaming through the windows, the strobe light of the videographer, and all the varying skin tones that I do not know how to compensate for. I am still an amateur!

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I’m going to start with the Morning of the Wedding Day, August 1, 2015. Breakfast began at nine o’clock. I’m certain the women in the extended family had been up all night preparing the traditional hot chocolate, atole and chicken in Mole Amarillo. This is the celebratory mole for Teotitlan del Valle and is served at every major fiesta and feast day.

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The morning was filled with work, setting up tables, making decorations, arranging flowers, carrying baskets and platters back and forth between the houses of relatives who live next to each other on Pino Suarez street. Cousins blocked off the road to keep people from parking in front of the house. Waiters arrived to dress the tables and serve the post-ceremony meal.

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Rosa was off getting her hair and nails done. I hung around and took photos of the preparations. Family members came and lingered and pitched in to do what was needed last minute.

Family came from Mexico City, too.

Family came from Mexico City, too.

It was after noon. Abraham appointed someone to whisk me off to the house where Rosa and her bridesmaids were getting dressed so I could get their photos. Then he disappeared to take a shower. The wedding was scheduled for one o’clock. By the time I got there, all were ready and waiting for the magic call to leave for the church.

Rosa and her bridesmaids ready to leave for the church.

Rosa and her bridesmaids ready to leave for the church.

I was reminded of the song, Get Me to the Church On Time. Up at the house, the call came in. It was from Abraham’s uncle who said, wait, people were still arriving, don’t come yet.

Next post will be The Ceremony. And, after that, The Party!