Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

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.

Chromatica at MACO Oaxaca: New Sounds, Ancient Textures

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Inside the courtyard at MACO, once a conqueror’s palace

Chromatica, a multi-media art exhibition created by Guggenheim award-winning Mexican artist Tania Candiani, opened last weekend in Oaxaca at the Museo Arte de Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO).  The exhibition takes a new approach to sight and sound.

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Chromatics is about how we communicate through music and color. It can be considered the interdisciplinary intersection between technology and art. Candiani explores the differences and similarities between language systems, sound and the logics of technology through her work.

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This is interpretive, intuitive and not always “in your face” evident through the various experiences of this exhibition that stimulates and questions the visual and auditory senses. The result is to create an emotional experience that could be somewhat uncomfortable.

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Old loom as modern sound machine

First is the sound of the traditional two-harness pedal loom used to weave serapes and rugs in Teotitlan del Valle.  At the opening, three Mendoza family weavers stood at looms in the courtyard with microphones recording the sounds of their creativity. They wove fast, slow, in harmony and not.

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Javier and friend from Teotitlan del Valle, with natural colors

We could hear the beating of the treadles, loud, soft, harsh, subtle, the whoosh of the shuttle going through the heddles, the rhythms of wood against wool. The recordings can be heard in one of the exhibition rooms along with an abstract video of the work in progress. For how much longer will we hear this sound?

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Upstairs on the second floor of the museum, we see the historical elements used to prepare the wool.  The dyestuffs: cochineal, indigo and pericone (wild marigold). We see ancient stone grinders where people kneeled to prepare the powder. We see embroidery hoops embellished in red, blue and yellow, telling the story of the colors as recorded in the pre-Hispanic codices.

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Metates, manos de metates and cochineal powder

But there is more than meets the eye:  tone poems of color embroidered onto cloth that tell of the modern experience of traditional color in a changing, mechanized world. What does blue evoke? How does red make us feel? What is the human labor needed to give us these colors that we take for granted and enjoy?

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As the crowd gathered around an ancient loom converted into a sound box, people took turns cranking the take-up roll, traditionally used to wind the cloth as it is woven. In this structure, it turned the wheel to produce sounds. The “thread” was string — as in violin or piano.

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A cochineal painted room of breeding cactus gives us a sense of how many of these bugs are needed to color just one rug or garment. The color intensity penetrates.

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Old hand carders against a backdrop of blue

Questions? Did the exhibition go far enough? Were the exhibits as interesting as they could have been? All the explanations were in Spanish with no English “subtitles,” so the meanings could be harder for some non-bilingual visitors to “get.” Was there a clear path to meaning from one gallery to the next?

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Moving from the preparation of cochineal to indigo, we see the concrete vats replicated to show us how the color of the plant is extracted. There is an excellent video created by Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca about the process of preparing indigo. It would have been a great educational video to include in this exhibition — better than the one selected to show.

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Ceramic artists from Santa Maria Atzompa created bellowing birds in the “yellow” room. Push and pull the bellows to hear how sound emanates and enters our bodies for interpretation. Aren’t we all cogs in the wheel?

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Meaning comes from many sources. The exhibition raises questions about how technology impacts and changes people, traditional life, practices and uses. How many are using the metate now to grind the cochineal and indigo, when most have gone over to coffee grinders for ease of labor.

Does this change the outcome of the fiber and color? What about the practice of hand-weaving itself? Will automated looms result in lower prices, yes, and the disappearance of a handmade process, perhaps? Will people only do this for a hobby and not for a business or way of life? What does it mean for the continuation of culture to experience this change? What about the raw materials: The hand-spun wool and natural dyes, what will become of them and the people who make them?

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I presume these are the questions that the artist is asking us to explore in this exhibition. As supporters, appreciators and consumers of art and artisanry, how do we each contribute to the continuation or demise of hand craft?

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The contemporary art museum is located on the Andador — Macedonio Alcala between Murguia and Morelos.

Festivals and Faces: Chiapas Photography Workshop

Antiques in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

There is a tall, inconspicuous door on a San Pablo Villa de Mitla side street. Open it and discover a home gallery filled with antique treasures. The inventory is small and includes ancient stone metates, glass vases hand-painted with flowers and edged in gold, reliquaries and ex votos. Señor Epifanio knows his stuff.

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Scott Roth holding an old Mitla hand-woven textile

Upstairs via a narrow, concrete passageway painted in brilliant blue is a gallery filled with blown glass mezcal bottles, remnants of the time when this was how the agave liquor was stored. They are hard to find and very expensive.

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Dolls, old photos, books, chachkeh from Mitla, Oaxaca

Occasionally, there is a jewelry find, like the Mexican silver coin earrings from the early part of the 20th century. I returned a month later to buy them and they were gone. Rule for Shopping in Mexico: buy it when you see it. Usually, these things are one-of-a-kind.

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Hand-blown mezcal and water bottles, most from Oaxaca, 1950’s-1960’s

I’m reluctant to share the address and contact information. Only because I haven’t asked permission to cite the location, plus these things are getting scarce, and with scarcity comes higher prices. As demand rises, prices do, too. So, why am I publishing this?

So you can see the photos, of course.

Faces and Festivals Chiapas Photography Workshop

Scott Roth

Portrait of Scott Roth with old Zapotec textile from Teotitlan del Valle

 

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