Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Thanksgiving and Frida Kahlo, Hospitals and Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2014. I’m at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina recovering from knee replacement surgery in a hospital bed that reclines to any position at the touch of a finger. In the past twenty-four hours, Frida Kahlo has often entered my mind.

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Mostly because she did such a miraculous job of hiding her pain and her deformity when medicine at the time did not offer sophisticated drugs or surgical techniques. She adorned herself in jewelry and costumes to focus attention to her upper body.

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Mostly because I want to look “normal” just like she did. Friends will come to visit today with good cheer, turkey and mashed potatoes in hand. My bandaged leg is under a blanket, my lipstick is applied.

Mostly because having surgery is a solitary experience, even surrounded by flowers, accompanied by Facebook, family and friends who are with me in this virtual world. Frida did not have Facebook and WhatsApp to connect her. She had her imagination and insights.

She reached out to connect by looking in the mirror that still hangs above her recovery bed in Casa Azul, paintbrush and canvas in hand, sketchbook and pencil in hand, to express her feelings about life, death, politics and Diego.

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I have my knitting at hand, my dreams rumbling around in my mind and my plans for the new year formulating.

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When I left Mexico City last week to return to North Carolina for this surgery, I kept the image of Frida on her bed with me. Her effigy was draped in an indigo shawl reflected in the mirror above.

My knee will heal and the pain will subside. This is more than a hope. It is knowledge that my care team led by Dr. Rhett Hallows, a Duke orthopedic surgeon, is expert. Afterall, I did interview four surgeons in September!

Today, one day after the procedure, I used day-glow pink, duct-taped crutches  to walk my first three hundred and one steps down the hospital corridor. The goal was three hundred, but my friend Mary Ann said, go on, you can do one more. So, I did.

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I am reclined in my hospital bed ready to welcome visitors. I give thanks for the gift of life as it presents itself each day, each moment a different experience and not as I predicted.

It is a perfect day for giving thanks, to my family and friends, to the strangers who care for me, and to Frida’s memory, a woman who endured hardship and pain. Frida is a model for what it means to transcend, create and live large.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful you are a part of my life.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour, April or July 2015.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Art History Tour 2015

Come to Mexico City for an art history tour to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art.

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2015 Schedule

  • April 9 – 13, 2015
  • August 6-10, 2015

We will have a long weekend — 4 nights and 5 days, to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.  Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history.

If you want to register, send me an email.

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Our guide is art historian Valeria Espitia, M.F.A.,  who shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists and narrates the expedition.  She leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School and Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

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Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño has the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. She was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera.

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Plus, we will shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants!

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The trip includes:

  • 4 nights lodging at a top-rated, historic center hotel
  • guided discussions by art historian Valeria Espitia, MFA, educated at UNAM and Southern Methodist University
  • visits to folk art galleries
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included)
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum

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Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday: travel day, arrive and check into our hotel.  Join in for an optional group welcome dinner (arrive by 6 p.m.)
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, San Idlefonso, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students painted, optional group dinner
  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera, optional folk art shopping
  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño
  • Day 5, Monday: depart

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack the treasures you pick up along the way.

Cost:  $795 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy.

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What the trip doesn’t include:

  • breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

Cost:  $795 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy. Maximum: 6 people.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will provide you with a list  of recommendations to explore on your own. $200 per day per person additional. Tell us your dates and we will make your hotel reservations and include this in your invoice.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

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To register, email us at  normahawthorne@mac.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat Gives Voice to Lee Schwartz

YogaFoodWriting-4Minerva Rising Literary Journal just published a piece written by Lee Schwartz on their blog that I want to share with you. Her voice is stunning, real, painful and alliterative. I love listening to her descriptions and following her words on the page. What she writes about has universal truth and especially resonates for me.

Lee attended the 2014 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat in Oaxaca. We encouraged her to submit her pieces for publication and seek a wider audience so that many can enjoy her writing. She is coming back again in 2015.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat — July 2015

 

Lee wrote a piece at the 2014 retreat called Why I Eat which was edited and will appear in the next printed issue of Minerva Rising.

Our March retreat is filled. Ninety percent of our participants in this workshop return year after year. Many of them stretch to find their voice. Some are novice writers and others are more experienced. We learn from Professor Robin Greene and are inspired by each other.

Won’t you join us in July?

Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Gate to Heaven Closed on Sunday

In Teotitlan del Valle, loved ones who come back to visit their families from the great beyond on Day of the Dead, usually arrive on November 1 and depart on November 2.  This year it’s different. They get an extra day on earth and leave on Monday, November 3.

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Why? Because the gate to heaven is always closed on Sunday, explains a local as we sit next to him in the small cemetery chapel with his compadres.  They are waiting to receive thanks and blessings from community leaders who approach them and the altar with offerings of refreshment and a hand raised in salute.

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The local man is one of the volunteer group that guards the cemetery, walking among the tombs to be certain that no souls, either living or dead, are in distress.

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Again, I arrive early, ahead of the crowds, while there is still at least an hour of daylight remaining. The cemetery is brimming with lilies, marigolds, cocks comb, gladiolas.  The scent of copal mingles with wild marigold. Graves are cleaned, topped with fresh earth, quartered oranges, pecans, walnuts, apples.  There is an occasional bottle of unopened beer or mezcal atop each mound.

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As the day fades, families arrive and light candles. Some unpack a picnic supper. Some sit quietly alone. Some are mother and son. Some are multi-generational. We meet young men on vacation from work in the United States to pay respects to their grandparents.  This is my village, one says in English. I was born here. 

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At least two bands are playing. The atonal sound of the younger group is endearing and seems to complement the duality of both this solemn and joyous occasion.

Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of January 2015!

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Lots of people greet us, welcome us, invite us to join them in a sip of mezcal, offer us fresh oranges and beer. When I ask if I can take their photo, yes, is usually the answer. Where are you from? they ask. Carolina del Norte, I say. Welcome to Teotitlan del Valle, they say. I feel lucky to be among them.

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This year, it seems as if the village cemetery is especially vibrant with color.  I hear that Teotitlan del Valle wants to become a Pueblo Magico.  The paths are paved in the cemetery now, making it easier to move among the graves. The space is well-lit and tidy. It seems there are more flowers than ever before.

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Here, it is not like the Xoxocotlan extravaganza, and if you come expecting that, you will be sorely disappointed. Being here is a soothing, quiet, reflective and traditional experience.

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Why are there multiple crosses at the head of grave sites? Families have specific plots and every ten years a tomb can be reused for someone who has just passed. The bones of the antecedents are removed, cleaned and returned to the tomb alongside the next one to be buried there. It is not unusual to see three or four crosses planted one in front of the other representing the tomb’s occupants.

2014DOTDTeoti-23 And, of course, not only the dead get hungry! Vendors sit at the entrance with tasty snack foods. And, the band plays on.

2014DOTDTeoti-26My son is visiting from California. As we move together through the cemetery, we compare traditions here and in the United States, how we want our remains to be handled after death, periods of mourning, celebrations of life and the practice of laying markers. In Teotitlan a marker is placed on the tomb nine months after burial.

2014DOTDTeoti-25 2014DOTDTeoti-18Day of the Dead is an opportune time to talk about what is considered taboo and sad in our western culture. The celebration in Mexico is a religious syncretism of pre-Hispanic mystical tradition and Spanish Catholicism. It is unique and there is much to learn by participating.

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Textile Fashion Show: Journey to Remote San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca

For the past six days I have been on a textile journey through the Cuenca del Papaloapan Region where the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range meets the coastal plain of Veracruz. This has been off-the-beaten-path travel into remote villages where textile traditions, back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery techniques, manage to survive in a dominant culture invaded by polyester, machined fabrics and low-wage, Chinese-made clothing.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-8Travel took us overland starting from Veracruz, the oldest port in Mexico, south along the Gulf of Mexico to Tuxtepec, a jungle wonderland and gateway into Oaxaca state from the east.  Today, I’m featuring the indigenous dress of San Felipe Usila, the most isolated village of our tour.

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From Tuxtepec, it takes us three hours to get to Usila on a winding mountain road, half of which is unpaved. But, the gift of meeting some extraordinary weavers who are incredibly hospitable make the trip worthwhile.

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We are greeted with the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful pieces followed by a lunch of chicken and mole amarillo, and handmade tortillas fresh from the comal. Dinner is a delicious, home-cooked traditional stone soup that is a pre-Hispanic recipe originating from Usila. Overnight lodging in Usila is basic and clean. A hotel is located on the outskirts of town down a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. It’s a rainforest here, so the climate is tropical, damp and lush.

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Many of the plants and animals of the region are reflected in the weaving designs including flowers, squirrels, corn, butterflies and the tree of life.  Every woman has her own interpretation of the mythic and actual world that is translated to cloth, so each weaver creates a different and very distinct design.

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We learn that the two headed eagle represents the duality of life, the good and the bad. We see quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and the eye of god that offers protection. We are told about the four cardinal directions, how they are incorporated into the woven story and their pre-Hispanic significance.

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We hear that traditional women want to be buried in their wedding huipil so that their husbands will recognize them in the afterlife. We see that only the grandmothers continue to wear the huipil as a daily garment.

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For holidays, festivals and special occasions there is more elaborate dressing with the media-gala and gala huipiles, adorned with flowers, ribbons, lace and intricate detailing that is unparalleled.

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Many of the ancient techniques of back strap loom weaving to create traditional clothing has been lost by some villages. There is a dedicated effort to teach young women the techniques to keep the tradition alive. But, it’s a challenge. People everywhere want an education and higher paying jobs.

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Today, the major markets for these garments are textile lovers and collectors who purchase them in many fine Oaxaca galleries. Few dare to venture into the hinterlands to find these treasures on their own.

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Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers in-depth, educational workshops usually based in one location to establish a sense of place. We are not a tour or guide service. I decided to travel with Tia Stephanie Tours to discover the source of this beautiful, ancient, woman-centered tradition. We moved from village to village across a wide swath of territory at a racer’s pace to get an excellent overview.

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If you are more inclined to get there as an independent traveler, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.

You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle NacionalThere are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Miguel Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz. This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.