Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

New Dates, 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World

We have had overwhelming response to the Chiapas Textile Study Tour, Deep into the Maya World. The first study tour, February 13-22, 2018, is SOLD OUT.

We will hold a SECOND tour, February 27-March 8, 2018. To do this, we need a minimum number of people (6) to commit and make a $500 deposit to schedule this program. If  we do not have a minimum number of people committed by December 31, 2017, we will completely refund your deposit $500. (See registration details below.)

Are you in?  Send me an email. Here is the program description:

Chiapas Textiles + Folk Art Study Tour: Deep Into the Maya World — 2018 — Arrive February 27, depart March 8, 2018.

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume, hand-woven straw hat

I am committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending nine nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles and weaving traditions.

Our day trips will take us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Humanitarian healer Sergio Castro with vintage textile collection

Take this study tour to learn about:

• the culture, history and identity of cloth • spinning wool and weaving with natural dyes

• clothing design and construction

• symbols and meaning of textile designs

• choice of colors and fibers that reflect each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume

• mystical folk medicine practices that blend Maya ritual and Spanish Catholicism

• Chiapas folk art and handcrafts

• Chiapas amber — rare and affordable gemstone

• market days and village mercantile economy

• local cuisine, coffee and chocolate

• how to determine the best textile quality and value

• cultural history, nuances and the sociopolitical history of Maya people

I have invited textile collector Sheri Brautigam to join me to give you a special, in-depth experience. Sheri writes the blog Living Textiles of Mexico and is recognized for her particular knowledge of Chiapas Maya textiles. She is author of the Thrums Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping. (I’ve contributed two chapters with photos, one for Tenancingo de Degollado and the other for Teotitlan del Valle!) Recommended reading for the trip!

San Cristobal is international crossroads for great food

I have also engaged one of San Cristobal’s most well-informed guides, born and raised in San Cristobal, a fluent English-speaker who will travel with us to give bi-lingual services. His interest is in cultural anthropology and local history.

We will travel in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as we go deep into the Maya world.

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, February 27: Travel day. Arrive and meet me at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. I will send you complete directions for how to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet or Volaris or Aeromexico. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Cost of transportation (about $55USD) from airport to San Cristobal is on your own. Those who have arrived by dinner time can go out for an optional meal, on your own.

Textiles from the weaving villages of Cancuc and Oxchuc

Wednesday, February 28: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the Textiles in the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, and meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church. We will then guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. (B, L, D)

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Thursday, March 1: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and often textiles. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags here. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Pedro Meza and his mother Doña Maria Meza Giron.

Romerillo cemetery is rocky, steep, protective and festive

We’ll also stop in Romerillo to see the larger than life pine-bough covered Maya blue and green crosses. Return to San Cristobal del Las Casas for lunch and dinner on your own.  Lunch along the way. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

An amazing ceremonial cloth, handwoven, modeled by Sheri

Friday, March 2: We go to a wonderful weaving cooperative outside of town that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. In the early evening, we visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B, L)

Clay and wood carved artifacts

Textile museum figure, traditional clothing

Saturday, March 3: Amantenango del Valle and Aguacatenango to see the whimsical and functional wood and dung fired pottery – the way its been done for centuries. Wonderful roosters, spotted jaguar sculptures and ornamental dishes. This is a textile village, too, where women embroider garments with designs that look like graphic art. In neighboring Aguacatenango, we will pull up to the small zocalo in front of the church. Within moments, ladies with their beautiful embroidered blouses will appear. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Whimsical Amantenango chicken pots

Sunday, March 4: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Then, we’ll meet weavers and embroiderers in their home workshops. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. We will then continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamulan woman in her rural home surrounded by sheep and goats. She will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider.(B, L) Dinner on your own.

San Juan Chamula Sunday market

Monday, March 5:  We will set out by foot after breakfast for a full morning at Na Balom, Jaguar House, the home/of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic and jewelry collections. We walk the gardens and learn about Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate at Na Balom, we make a stop at the hand-made workshop that is also a graphics arts hand-print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

Tuesday, March 6: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse your-self with a family of weavers in a rural home. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host an expoventa for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L))

Rosa with Barbara, and a Pantelho blue emboidered top

Wednesday, March 7: Men from Magdalena Aldama who weave bags made from ixtle, agave cactus leaf fiber, join us at our hotel after breakfast. Accompanying them are the women who make flashy beaded necklace strings and beautiful hand-woven huipils. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Our 2016 group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Thursday, March 8: Depart. We will coordinate departures with included van service from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. Please schedule your flight departure time for mid- to late afternoon. You will connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country. If you are going from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, you can fly direct on AeroMar. We will coordinate departure times and your trip will cover the cost of transportation from the hotel to the airport.

What Is Included

• 9 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within easy walking distance to the historic center

• 9 breakfasts • 6 lunches • 2 dinners

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

• transfers to Tuxtla Gutierrez airport from San Cristobal on March 8

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,495 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $2,895 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) 

How to Register: Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you a PayPal invoice to make your $500 reservation deposit. As soon as we have a minimum number of travelers, we will send you an invoice for 50% of the total balance due.  Complete payment is due on or before December 15, 2017.

Who Should Attend • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Market scene, Chiapas

Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. As soon as we have 6 registered participants, we will invoice you for 50% of the balance immediately. The remaining balance is due on or before December 15, 2017. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2017, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This  may not be the study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Detail, cross stitch needlework bodice

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 30 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 30 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 30 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time from San Cristobal.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips. Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Indigenous, organic, non-GMO corn — staple of life

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, Coming Soon

It’s time to turn my attention to the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — when memories return to the people we love who have dropped their bodies and whose souls rest in peace.

In this PBS Series, Borders, this story of Latinos celebrating Day of the Dead in Los Angeles warms my heart and helps bridge cultural understanding.

Thanks to my friend Carol Lynne Estes for sharing this with me so I can share it with you.

On October 28, I’ll participate with friends in a Raleigh, NC, Day of the Dead 5K Race to raise funds for the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. I plan to wear my Day of the Dead T-Shirt acquired years ago from deceased artist Arnulfo Mendoza at La Mano Magica in Oaxaca. His family always gathers graveside in Teotitlan del Valle to celebrate his life.

Then, later that night, a celebration with my friend Barbara S. and her husband.

I’m thinking about where to build my altar  at home in Durham, a tradition to celebrate the life and memory of my parents, Dorothy Schafitz and Ben Beerstein. I’m thinking of a candlelit and flower-strewn path of marigold petals leading to a fall harvest table laden with oranges, flowers and mezcal.

Will you be in Oaxaca for Christmas?

Come with me on a one-day cultural immersion.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

I find Day of the Dead to be a soothing, multi-cultural approach to honoring memory with traditional Mexican fiesta style. It fits well into my world view of attending to the spiritual part of being human, a hankering for mysticism in a concrete jungle, and remembering ancestors, giving thanks to them for the life they created in us.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Soon, I’ll investigate my local Mexican markets and convenience stores where I might be able to find some of the necessities for altar making and not succumb to the Halloween frenzy.

May the preparations begin.

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!

 

Oaxaca Women’s Writing Retreat: Registration Open

Please Share With Friends! Thank you, Norma

Please Help Us Share With Friends

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at the Skirball Center, Los Angeles

Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart,

you will have no rest in any other land.

On September 13, I joined Patrice Wynne and Gloria Orenstein at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles for a curator-led preview tour of this landmark exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.

The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018.

The term promised land is rooted in a vision of freedom and liberation.  Emotionally, it has meaning for peoples seeking release from oppression who want a secure life where one can become fully realized without restraint. Jewish identity is intertwined with Israel as the promised land. African-American slaves looked to the north as a promised land. Oppressed peoples throughout the world continue to seek asylum in America, their hope of the promised land where opportunity and justice prevail. (We must be vigilant.)

Tina Modotti captures Anita Brenner in black and white

Anita Brenner (1905-1974), a Mexican-born Jewish writer who lived and worked during the Mexican Renaissance, saw the country adopted by her Latvian parents as a promised land for intellectual and artistic expression. Her own experience with prejudice and discrimination helped give her voice to bridge understanding.

Mexico was a haven for immigrants escaping Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, Mexico has a welcoming immigration policy. Her people are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Filipino, Chinese, German, and French — representing waves of conquest and immigration. Jews sought haven in Mexico when the gates were closed to the United States of America. (Thank you, Mexico!)

Diego Rivera, Dance in Tehuantepec, watercolor

Brenner was an integral part of the circle of Mexican modernists in the 1920s and played an important role in promoting and translating Mexican art, culture, and history for audiences in the U.S.

Jean Charlot, The Massacre in the Main Temple, fresco, Collegio San Ildefonso

Born during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Brenner was close to the leading intellectuals and artists active in Mexico at the time. These are names we know well: painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jean Charlot, and photographer Tina Modotti. There were others whose name we do not widely know in the USA, including Rivera’s second wife, Guadalupe Marin, Frances Toor, Nahui Olin, Luz Jimenez and Concha Michel.   

Abraham Angel, La India

Art historian Karen Cordero says they would meet at Sanborn’s Casa de los Azulejos to talk about politics, social injustices, women’s rights, feminism, and other issues.

The exhibition introduces us to Brenner as an important figure who has been heretofore obscured by the more illustrious in her circle.  An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her book Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). 

Cover of Mexico this month, February 1956

Her work is rooted in the shaping of post-Revolution Mexico, when a new identity for a new nation needed to be reassessed to reflect the persistent indigenous culture behind the Spanish conquest. The Revolution brought with it the need to create political, social and cultural change and artists turned to folk art as inspiration to re-imagine past with future.

Mathias Goeritz, Satellite Tower. He was close to Luis Barragan, architect.

She was also instrumental in creating cultural tourism for Mexico — promoting cultural exploration as a vacation activity by publishing the cultural travel magazine, Mexico this month. We can consider her a pioneer in learning about the people who live where you visit.

The Skirball’s exhibition includes a narrative of Brenner’s life. It features pre-Columbian art, paintings, prints, photographs and drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jean Charlot, Edward Weston, Leonora Cunningham, Maximo Pacheco, Lola Cueto, Abraham Angel, plus those we are more familiar with: Kahlo, Rivera, Orozco.

Lithograph by Orozco

Charlot was a disciple of Rivera who contributed to the murals at the Secretariat de Publica Education (SEP). He was in love with Brenner; they could never reconcile religious differences and did not marry, though they remained lifelong friends.

Cultural map of Oaxaca, Mexico/this month

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Gloria Orenstein, Norma Schafer and Patrice Wynne at the exhibition

Footnote: Los Angeles County has the second largest Jewish population and the largest Latino population in the United States.

Thank you to the Skirball Cultural Center for background information and photographs.