Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Dance of the Feather Tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Teotitlan del Valle‘s Los Danzantes are famous throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. They make a commitment to the church four years before they actually begin their three-year term to perform La Danza de la Pluma — The Dance of the Feather — at all village festivals.

The Moctezuma flanked by Doña Marina and La Malinche, Mexico’s dualities

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, on December 12 and the days leading up to it, is an important part of their agreement.

Symbols of Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dancer’s shield

On December 12, the Virgin’s Feast Day, the Dancers gathered in the church courtyard at around noon and continued with intermittent breaks until 8:00 p.m., when they went to the house of the Mayordomo Fidel Cruz for respite and supper.

Entering the festive church courtyard to watch the Dancers

These celebrations are important on many levels. They continue long-standing traditions, many of which pre-date the Spanish conquest.

Los Danzantes in the late afternoon shadows

They reinforce community, build cohesiveness among the young men and their families, they honor church and tradition, and they attract tourism — an essential part of this Zapotec rug-weaving village.

Dancers taking high leaps as shadows catch them

It is almost impossible to visit here for the first time without going home with a beautiful tapestry.

Inside the church, the altar honors Mexico’s Queen, La Reina de Mexico

The weaving culture is reflected in the dancers’ leggings and on the shields they wear. Many of them use pieces that were made by fathers and grandfathers twenty or more years ago.

Leggings are handwoven tapestry loomed wool in ancient Zapotec design

If you look closely, the weaving is fine, detailed and is a work of art.

Transluscent scarves float through afternoon light and shadow

As I stayed through the afternoon, I caught some of the long shadows as the sun set. After so many years of taking photographs of Los Danzantes leaping, shaking rattles, demonstrating their fortitude and strength, I was searching for a way to capture the scene in a different way.

Volunteer committee members pay respects

As the important village usos y costumbres committee members entered the church courtyard, many visitors, including me, moved to the periphery to give them seats of honor. As I moved around the circumference, I noticed how the shadows of the dancers became an extension of their bodies in the backlight of late afternoon.

Grandmother and grandson watching. The young ones dream of becoming dancers.

A spectacular clear day, warm in sun, chilly in shade

The band is an essential part of every fiesta

Children play atop the courtyard cross.

The Oaxaca Lending Library brought a group to watch. All visitors welcome!

Guadalupe atop canastas (baskets) for the December 10 parade

Side door entry to church from interior courtyard

A new altar adorns a niche under renovation inside church

If you visit, please make a donation for renovations

Folded chairs waiting for occupants, inside courtyard

Canastas waiting for return to storage, until the next time

Playing with shadows, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queen of Mexico: Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle

The three-day celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, leading up to December 12 to honor Mexico’s favorite saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, started on December 10 with a 5 p.m. calenda (procession) that began in the church courtyard.

Parade of the Canastas winds through village streets for three miles

But, I arrived early, at 1 p..m., to find a couple celebrating a wedding in the church, followed by a group of cyclists from Teotitlan who arrived at 2 p.m. at the end of their journey from Juquila. They had pedaled 36-hours in a caravan complete with altar and bicycle repair sag wagon.

Bikes parked in church courtyard while cyclists receive blessings inside

A photo diary of the afternoon:

Celebrants holding fragrant poleo, part of the calenda ritual

You need to understand that in the hierarchy of religious symbols, the Virgin of Guadalupe is at the top. She is the embodiment of the pre-Hispanic corn goddess melded with the Virgin Mary by the conquerers. She is mother earth, goddess of nature and symbolic of life and the empowerment of women. God and Jesus are next in line. It’s what we call syncretism here.

Cousins Maya and Alicia were among the hundreds of young women chosen

Men volunteer to accompany, carry the bamboo baskets for relief

Onlookers at street corners take photos, applaud, acculturate children

And the band plays on, actually two of them!, accompanying Los Danzantes

At intervals, Dance of the Feather participants stop with a dance

Grandma Juana, Baby Luz, and Mama Edith along the way

Little girls are acculturated early to the importance of community ritual and tradition

This serape is old, woven in the 1960’s I was told

The young women started out at the homes of the Mayordomos, Fidel Cruz and Bulmaro Perez, who both live on the main entry road to the village, almost to the main highway, MEXICO 190 (Panamerican Highway). At the end of the night, they were tired. Mayordomo definition: The chief sponsor, organizer and funder of an major village event.

Yes, these baskets are very heavy. They walked at least five miles.

Watching from the second story along the parade route.

Ixcel Guadalupe gets ready to start the calenda from the church courtyard.

This dancer’s protective shield was hand-woven by his father years ago

After all had assembled in the church courtyard, the procession began: first the children holding papier-mache stanchions of turkeys, ducks, chickens, and dogs. Then came the chief of the fireworks, sending spiraling smoke bombs into the air, then Secundino (age 90+) playing the traditional Zapotec flute.

Barbara, David and Jo Ann came from California and New Mexico

He was followed by the Danzantes (Dance of the Feather participants), then the young maidens in traditional dress holding elaborate, heavy baskets on their heads.

All ages enjoy the pageantry

Since there were two mayordomos, there were two bands and two groups of young women, sponsored by each. It was quite a spectacle.

The calenda: firecrackers, music, giant balloons, children with duck, turkey flags

I decided to follow and the pace was easy enough that I found myself often midway or at the front of the group — until I recognized village friends, stopped to chat, and got left behind, only to dash to catch up again. The three miles went quickly.

The Virgin of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico

Dance of the Feather group with Moctezuma, La Malinche and Doña Marina

At the end, I joined Barbara, David, J0 Ann and Beverly for a quiet dinner of homemade memelas, yogurt jello, atole, and fruit provided by  host Bulmaro Perez and family. I brought the cuishe mezcal!

Assembly in the church courtyard at the end of the calenda, at dusk.

Tonight, Monday, the fireworks start at 9 p.m. The last fireworks I attended announced for 9 p.m. got going around 11 p.m.

I’m not sure I can stay up that late!

I took the dogs on a long, three-mile walk out to the border of our neighboring village, and I’m not very energetic.

Today’s walk in the campo, with a new discovery: swimming hole

Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12, the Dance of the Feather begins in the church courtyard, they say at noon and will go until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. followed by another calenda of the church committee.

Leaping Danzantes. They get off their feet.

The Juquila bicyclists’ sag wagon

Long live the Queen of Mexico, Virgin of Guadalupe

 

Celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Schedule

From the looks of this poster, most of the festivities celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe — La Virgen de Guadalupe — in Teotitlan del Valle, will happen on Sunday, December 10, 2017 and Monday, December 11, 2017.

For those of you planning to be here on December 12, to celebrate Mexico’s most important saint, you may be disappointed! Not much is happening by then unless you want to attend the church mass.

Complete schedule for Teotitlan’s Virgin of Guadalupe Celebration

I know this poster is hard to read. So, here is the cut-and-paste I did for Sunday, December 10, schedule. 

Sunday, December 10, schedule

At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the celebration continues with young women of the village dressed in traditional clothing and canastas (baskets) filled with flowers, who gather in the church courtyard with the Dance of the Feather dancers.

At 4 p.m. begins the Calenda (parade) along the main streets of the village, accompanied by the band.

At 7 p.m. they arrive at the house of the First Mayordomo C. Fidel Cruz Lazo.

The schedule for Monday, December 11, 2017 is …

Monday, December 11, schedule, Teotitlan del Valle

Looks like Monday, is the big day. At 2 p.m. there is a celebration of mass with vespers. Then, at 7 p.m. will be the calendas followed by a castle of fireworks at 8 p.m.

Hope to see you at the Calenda!

The Mayordomos and Committees who make the celebration possible!

The Mayordomos and Committees

Happy Halloween and Chicken Pozole for Dia de los Muertos

A friend told me this week that she heard from her Mexican relatives that this time of year offers the most transparent veil in the atmosphere, which is why the spirits can more easily return. Welcome to Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead.

The difunta paddling home through the veil of transparency, by Josefina Aguilar

We do Halloween up big here in the USA. One day. Trick-or-treat. Spend billions on the holiday (costumes, candy, decor) and most of us have no idea of the origins. In Latin countries — the Americas and southern Europe — where Catholicism took hold, the season gives us three days to honor and remember loved ones and ancestors, many who we did not know but appreciate for our heritage.

Searing poblano chiles on the comal iron griddle I brought from Mexico

I’m preparing for Dia de los Muertos on November 2, when the spirits return to their graves. I’ve ordered a mix of fresh tamales and pan de muerto from La Superior. I’ve shopped at the best Latino supermarket, Compare, fully stocked with all needs Mexico. I’ll make slaw and apple pie, using my mom’s pie recipe.

Removing the skin from the poblano pepper: use a paring knife lightly scraping

My menu includes pozole verde with chicken (see Serious Eats recipe) that I will start today. I’m a make-it-up-as-you-go-along cook. I usually consult several recipes, look at the ingredients I prefer (they always vary according to who is cooking), and then go at it. Innovation is important to me.

Here is a good one from Epicurious.

De-vein and remove seeds, stem

The stock for the pozole verde (click for Bon Appetit recipe) is a tomatillo, onion, garlic, carrot, chili poblano, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf base. I simmered all these ingredients together first for about an hour. Warning: the poblano needs to be charred on a griddle or over a gas flame to peel off the tough skin.

Soak peppers in water for 10 minutes to remove heat, drain

Tomorrow, I’ll add the hominy that I will have soaked overnight and then cooked. I’ll also add cooked organic chicken leg meat, using the stock for the base, and shredding the meat off the bone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dried hominy. Soak it, then cook it, or buy canned

Slice poblanos and add to pot. Simmer until carrots are fork tender.

Garnish with sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, and thin sliced jalapeño peppers. Ready to eat. When prepared a few days in advance, the flavors have a chance to mingle!

Mexican spices from La Superior

You can actually add the seasonings and hominy to the base above, simmer for flavor development, and keep the chicken aside to satisfy the vegetarians.

Watch the heat. Use peppers for garnish to accommodate taste.

Food is comfort and memory. This is why we love the celebration of holidays, to remember the meals around the table, who was with us. We remember Halloween for costumes (homemade, then), whether we could fill the bag completely with candy, where we went for the best neighborhood hand-outs.

Panteon Xoxocotlan I, Dia de los Muertos 2010

I add a eucalyptus (bay) leaf to the stock. I remember the rustling of the eucalyptus trees in the wind that bounded the vast orange tree orchard across the street from where I lived in the San Fernando Valley. That was when the orchards of oranges, lemons and walnuts were plentiful, before the great migration of settlement that turned it all to concrete. I was scared. The aroma was heady, the kids held each others’ hands. The time when parents had little to worry about when the treat was an apple.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos, 2015

What do you remember?

 

 

Explaining Day of the Dead to Friends

Day of the Dead — Dia de los Muertos — is one of the many Mexican holidays that blend Spanish Catholicism with pre-Hispanic, indigenous mystical rites. Despite political rhetoric, with a culturally permeable border, Halloween has crept into Mexico and sugar skulls have crept into the U.S.

My friend Sue said, I thought Day of the Dead was on November 1.

That is when it starts, I replied. It continues through midnight, November 2, when we accompany the spirits of our loved ones back to the cemetery, and sit at the gravesite with them to ensure a tranquil return to their eternal resting place. 

November 1 is All Saints Day.

November 2 is All Souls Day.

My Durham, NC, altar — under construction. What’s missing?

On October 31, All Hallows Eve or Halloween, with Celtic origin, there are children’s masquerades in Oaxaca to remember the young ones who have left earth at an early age.

Sunflower bouquet, NC Farmer’s Market, Raleigh

In the village where I live, Teotitlan del Valle, Day of the Dead conjures up a celebration of life and its continuum. Death is merely a continuation of life. We see this greca symbol woven in the rugs and interpreted as the steps through life, from infancy to adulthood to old age to death and then the pattern repeats. Circular. Continuous.

There is something reassuring and elemental about this, which is why I love this spiritual approach to living and dying, why it is easy for me to build an altar and celebrate the lives of my ancestors.

Rows of pumpkins, squash and gourds at NC Farmer’s Market, Raleigh

This time of year also conjures up abundance. Altars are filled with bread, chocolate, fruits, beverages and edibles that the deceased persons we honor enjoyed. It is harvest time, when the sun sets early and we want to cozy up with our memories.

There are photos now of our loved ones on the altar. But not long ago, before access to cameras in small villages, people sat on the floor with altars on the floor, slept on the floor atop handwoven palm leaf petates.

Hot Tamale! or Habanero Heaven at NC Farmer’s Market, Raleigh

They conjured up their memories, visions of the deceased. They lit candles and kept the flame burning for 24-hours. They lit copal incense to entice dead spirits back to earth for a visit with the heady aroma. They cut wild marigolds, also called Mexican mint marigold or winter marigold, a variety of tarragon, and put them in gourd vases, another scent to bring the ancestors home.

My own altar is now under construction. It will be finished by November 1.  On November 2, from Durham, North Carolina, I will sit with the memories of my parents, Dorothy and Ben, light candles and copal, honor them.

Rooster crown, or cockscomb, is as popular as marigolds in Oaxaca

On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, my friends and neighbors will share a comida midday meal with the spirit world. At 3:00 p.m. the church bells that have been tolling continuously for 24 hours will stop.

Families will then go to the cemetery, sit quietly, drink beer and mezcal, bring an evening meal, consider the meaning of life and death. Their ancestors graves will one day become theirs. The plots are familial; graves are recycled every ten years to accept the body of another, old bones moved aside to make way. A reassurance.

These Calacas came to the Raleigh Art Space from Mexico in time for Muertos

Many spiritual traditions have an annual day of memory. In mine, we light a 24-hour candle on the anniversary of a parent’s death. I will do that, too. It is good to always remember.

Altar at NC Art Space honor organic food and the farmers who grow it

Wherever you live, I bet you can assemble your own altar. Look for farmer’s markets, Mexican groceries, art centers that want to merge multicultural practice to promote appreciation.  The papel picado came from a local gift shop. The sugar skulls from the local Mexican sweet shop. What’s missing? Pan de muertos. I’ll buy that next week.