Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Around the Zocalo, Sunday in Mexico City

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-138Sunday is family day in Mexico. Most people work a long six-day week often until eight or nine at night, so this is the only time they have together for an entire day. On this particular Sunday, the Zocalo is filled with families flying kites across the great expanse that looks as huge as Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

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I love to stay in the historic center of Mexico City to walk the cobbled streets, take in the murals and enjoy the street life. There is a deep sense of ancient history here reflecting Aztec roots. The Templo Mayor is nearby with an impressive archeological dig going on to uncover more of Tenochtitlan.

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For art glass lovers, two buildings boast art nouveau glass domed ceilings. The central atrium of the upscale department store Palacio de Hierro has a fine example. The other adorns the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. The hotel is at the corner of the Zocalo (entrance on Av. 16 de Septiembre) and the store is a block away.

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On this particular Sunday, the last before Easter vacation ends and Mexican school children must return to the classroom, we are approached by youngsters needing to complete their school assignments: interview a foreigner who speaks English and record the interview. It is almost dusk. Time is running out. Parents are at hand with tablets and hand-held devices to help get this done.

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We finish off the Zocalo stroll at the rooftop restaurant of Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico with a mango mezcal margarita rimmed with worm salt and a magnificent Zocalo view as the sun sets.

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Then, it’s off to Calle Isabel la Catolica #30 for a grand finale dinner at Azul Historico.

Be sure to catch the indigenous clothing gallery, Remigio, on the second floor of Isabel la Catolica #30 featuring hand-woven garments with natural dyes.  Right next door, avant clothing designer Carla Fernandez offers hand-carved wood bracelets from molinillo parts. Both shops close at 6 p.m. on Sunday, 8 p.m. other nights.

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In the same building, behind the central stairway, is a mural by artist Manuel Rodriguez Lozano called the Holocaust — not to be missed!

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Lots to do in just a few square blocks.

Some of the highlights of our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour of Mexico City. Contact me if you want to join in winter/spring 2015-2016. MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-136

 

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Garden at Casa Azul

Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City, has a stunning garden. Once the home of Frida’s father and mother, and where she was born in 1907, Rivera bought the property after the family amassed huge debt paying for years of treatment after the bus accident that severely handicapped Frida at age eighteen.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-44 The garden is surrounded by intense blue walls, which F & D painted after they moved in. It was expanded when Leon Trotsky moved into the complex for security reasons. He later moved to another house in the neighborhood where he was assassinated by Stalin‘s henchmen in post-revolutionary Soviet Union.MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-34

The garden is a lush expanse of tropical plants, pre-Columbian sculpture, small pools, a miniature pyramid that is a sometimes altar and walking paths.  As you exit the house, built of volcanic stone, after the self-guided tour, you come down a staircase where some pause overlooking a pool lined in tiles painted with frogs.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-15 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-17 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-19Frida called Diego Frog and you see this both here at Casa Azul and at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco. Dolores was his patron and preserved the contents of Casa Azul for posterity through her foundation. Frida’s ashes are in the pre-Columbian frog urn on her bedroom dresser.

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There are benches for sitting under the shade and the calm of a fountain. Perfect for reflecting on their lives together and the iconic image of feminism that she has become. I often refer to her as our contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe because Frida Kahlo carries that reverence among art lovers and intellectuals that makes her almost god-like.

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I’ve organized the art history tour Looking for Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the past two years and I’ve been to the house no less than six or eight times during this period.

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It is always enthralling, but this time I decided to put myself in the garden, find a backdrop that I liked and wait for photographs, a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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I recall Rivera who went to Europe for fourteen years to study the great masters, copying them, refining classical painting techniques, experimenting with Cubism and Impressionism before developing his own remarkable style after returning to Mexico in 1921.

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So, I have ordered the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye, so I can understand the philosophy behind his picture-taking and practice his style.

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Frida Kahlo lived most of her short life in pain.  She died at age 47 in 1954. Rivera died in 1957.  He was twenty-two years older that her. The exhibition space is devoted to indigenous dresses she wore to hide her deformities, polio which she contracted at age eight and then the accident that necessitated living her life in a spinal brace with regular surgeries and hospitalization for traction.

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She was never able to conceive a child and this was a focus of her later painting which captures this life tragedy.

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If you are interested in organizing a small group to explore the Mexican Muralists and the life of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera accompanied by a knowledgeable art historian, please contact me. We are organizing this art history program for fall/winter 2015-2016.

 

Photography: Cartier-Bresson Exhibition in Mexico City

The Mexico City exhibition featuring 398 pieces by French photographer-filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson closes May 17, 2015 at Palacio Bellas Artes. Please don’t miss it. Considered the founder of photojournalism, this is the first major retrospective since his death in 2004.

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An hour is not long enough to absorb the emotional intensity of Cartier-Bresson’s work. If you love political history, photojournalism, the decades leading up to World War II and the beginning of photography as an important artistic and cultural vehicle for storytelling, you will love this exhibition. I needed more than two hours to do it justice.

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It represents Cartier-Bresson’s interest in painting, drawing, photography and filmmaking. It is an in-depth view of pre and post-World War Europe, of poverty and racism, of what happens on the street among the people. There are also amazing portraits of notables who he was commissioned to photograph.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, October 2015

Chiapas Festivals and Faces Photography Workshop, January 2016

For example, the exhibit features photographs taken during the coronation of King George II of England. But Cartier-Bresson concentrates on the expressions of people in the crowd and not the regal procession. Some are using raised mirrors to watch the parade, and to do so, they must turn their backs to the King.

 

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Cartier-Bresson uses this as a metaphor for how the people must turn away from monarchy and embrace a republican government.

Program Notes: Impressions of Africa. “He took little interest in local customs or ritual feasts, as he did not want to get drawn into “Exoticism” or what he called “detestable local colour.”  In a style very much influenced by the European New Vision (high angle shots, geometrical compositions, repeating motifs) he tended to photograph subjects like children playing in the street, dockers at work or the effort of rowers in a boat: in other words, the rhythm of African life.

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Aligned with the intellectuals and artists of the time, he was a powerful voice in support of Communism, active in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance.

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As a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico to photograph, and many of the images shown capture the poor and disenfranchised, including children and prostitutes.

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As I moved through the exhibition, I learned more about photography by seeing this work. Cartier-Bresson shunned fiestas and processions, the formalities of organized life. He concentrated on what was messy and spontaneous.

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His technique was to find a backdrop with texture and interest that he liked and then wait for people to pass through the space.

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As we walked from Palacio Bellas Artes to see the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda, I stopped to take photos of young men practicing their skateboard moves a la Henri Cartier-Bresson — perhaps — and a man sitting on a steel post mid-sidewalk, waiting, surrounded by passersby who paid no attention.

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The Decisive Moment, an essay by Cartier-Bresson, describes his philosophical approach to photography and is considered a foundation for all photographers.

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Forgotten Murals of Abelardo Rodriguez Market, Mexico City

The fresco murals painted by Diego Rivera‘s disciples on the walls of the Abelardo Rodriguez Market in Mexico City are a historic art treasure at risk. Most on the first floor are deteriorating, peeling, fading, etched by attempts of graffiti at knife point, hidden by stalls, storage areas and obscured by dust.  Yet, they are a must-see.

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The disciples of Rivera came to Mexico City to learn from the master.  Many were political idealists from the United States like Pablo O’Higgins who later became a Mexican citizen, the Greenwood Sisters — Marion and Grace, and Isamu Noguchi.

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The murals are a backdrop to a bustling city market where vendors sell mostly everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, poultry, dairy products and household goods. There are comedors and juice stalls. Pull up a seat.

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Be greeted by giggling pre-teen girls who are on vacation this week from school and are tasked with babysitting while their parents tend the stalls. Yes, they are on Facebook. And, yes, I shared this photo with them.

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Pull up a seat to order a chicken taco or hot pozole. Most barely notice, if at all, the frescos that were painted in 1936. This was a time of political discontent, growing fascism, and the crisis of a worldwide economic depression.

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Naguchi mural is a bas relief sculpture

Then as now, Mexico City was an international hub for artistic expression and the Big Three — Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco attracted young artists who wanted to take part in the Mexican Muralist Movement, born from a strong tradition in the graphic arts and especially the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada.

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Marion Greenwood paints the second floor stairwell at the back of the market

Today, we are on an art history quest, Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, accompanied by an art historian who knows her stuff!

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Today, we went to the Abelardo Rodriguez Market, but not before first visiting the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) and Colegio de San Ildefonso, where we saw the earliest frescoes of Rivera, Siquieros and Orozco.

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My friends Cindy and Chris are with me on this art history adventure. I stayed with Chris and her husband Jeff after my knee replacement surgery in North Carolina last November. This is Chris’ first trip to Mexico.  Cindy came to Oaxaca seven years ago but has never been in Mexico City before. Today we walked almost 12,000 steps according to my FitBit.

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The muralists took risks. Their work was political commentary and a call for change: better health care, equal rights for women, a fair wage for workers with better working conditions, elimination of exploitation and a social system that provides food and shelter for families. They foreshadowed World War II in their work.

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And in honor of Chris’ new favorite food, huitlacoche, I post the following photo:

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Huitlacoche, corn fungus at its finest!

If you are interested in bringing a small group of friends to Mexico City for this art history tour, please contact me.

 

 

2016 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice

This is our 6th annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat and we hope you can join us! Many retreat participants return each year and we limit registration to 10 women. So, if this is something you have always wanted to do, please do not hesitate. Starting at $995 per person.

Arrive by Friday March 4 and depart Saturday, March 12, 2016.  We start Saturday morning, March 5th and end Friday night, March 11, 2016. The workshop fee includes 8 nights lodging, all instruction, daily yoga, personal coaching sessions, daily breakfast and most dinners. Some choose to travel on Thursday to settle in or avoid a late night arrival or a missed connection.

You have options, for an added cost, to take a traditional Oaxaca cooking class, take part in a temescal sweat lodge, schedule a massage, or extend your stay to go to Oaxaca city or the Sunday, March 13, Tlacolula market.

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You are a woman with something to say.

  • You keep journals, notes, drafts of unpublished material.
  • You dream of writing and never have.
  • Ideas percolate, and you want to capture and develop them.
  • Perhaps you have written and/or published a while ago, let the writer’s life lapse and you want renewal and encouragement
  • You may want guidance and support to continue an unfinished piece or publish it.

The Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice is your place to learn, express yourself, and be the woman who writes — and keeps writing.

Our workshop leader and coach is published author/poet and university professor Robin Greene. With her help and feedback from the group, you’ll gain knowledge and perspective about the art and craft of writing.  There will be plenty of time to retreat for writing — what you come here for!

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You are encouraged to write in the genre that best suits you:  memoir, journal, poetry, creative nonfiction or fiction.

  • We accommodate novices and experienced writers.
  • We limit enrollment to 10 women to guarantee personal attention in a small group.

WritingWorkshop (71 of 199)Daily yoga sessions with Beth Miller enhance your writing.  We tailor the sessions to fit each person’s physical level and needs. As you flex your body, you stretch your imagination. Yoga develops core strength to find voice and creative center.

This is a perfect combination of the physical and spiritual, says past participant Lee Ann Weigold.

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What Participants Say

  • I learned I am fully capable of being the writer I dreamed of becoming.
  • The location, teaching and program structure creates a truly transcendent experience of enormous value.
  • I was challenged and that turned out to be exactly what I needed.
  • Far exceeded expectations. Got many suggestions for how to write healing stories.
  • It was wonderful!
  • The combination of writing, yoga, meditation and shared sisterhood is transformational.
  • Oaxaca feels safe, safer than my hometown in the USA.
  • I identified a writing project that engages and excites me.
  • The balance of intensive writing workshops, cultural excursions and yoga lead to a powerful experience on all levels.
  • The feedback was so thoughtful.  I honestly can’t think of anything I would change.
  • Beth’s yoga is the best I have ever experienced.  A perfect combo of the physical and spiritual.

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We are based in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del ValleOaxaca, in a woman owned and operated guesthouse. Accommodations are basic, clean and simple. The food is delicious, home-cooked and organic. Vegetarian options are available.

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Imagine a setting so beautiful that it inspires all the best within you.  Here, amid the flowering Bougainvillea and in the shade of red pomegranates, with the backdrop of 9,000 foot mountain peaks, you will enjoy a rich and rewarding experience. Our workshop is perfect for renewal and self-reflection. 

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From Instructor Robin Greene

“The writing retreat is very relaxed. This year, I am asking each participant to send me a work in progress or writing sample before the workshop. I will distribute these, one to each participant, who I will ask to make editing suggestions. We will all bring these to our first session for discussion on editing. Our goal is to develop craft and we will support each other in this learning process.

I’ll also have plenty of prompts, writing exercises, and suggestions—and, of course, as women write, we energize each other. “As the writing instructor, I like to encourage women to find their voices so that the retreat experience is personally meaningful. In addition to one scheduled conference with each person, I’m available for feedback and coaching throughout our time together.  And, because I teach creative writing, I have a repertoire of techniques and strategies to share with writers at all levels. “While I’m a university professor, this Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat remains my favorite teaching experience.”

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We cannot promise that you will win a poetry prize, as did one of our participants after writing her winning poem at the retreat, or be published in The Sun Magazine and Minerva Rising literary journals as several past participants have. We CAN promise that you will explore, develop and deepen as a writer if you are open to the experience.

What the Retreat Includes:

  • 21-hours of group workshop and feedback
  • One-hour individual coaching session
  • Focused sessions to hone your skills: grammar, reading in public, publishing, grammar, editing
  • 7 yoga sessions tailored to your skill level
  • Yoga at Yagul archeological site, includes transportation
  • Self-guided map of village
  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 6 dinners
  • Final Group Reading with Celebratory Fiesta Dinner

Optional Added Fee-based Activities:

  • Shiatsu or Zapotec Massage scheduled during the workshop, $30 per person
  • Zapotec cooking class in Teotitlan, arrive early, spend one additional night, includes lunch, dinner, breakfast, $125 per person  (2 person minimum)
  • Temescal women’s sweat lodge, scheduled during the workshop, $30 per person

*What is Temescal?  The pre-Hispanic temescal of Mexico was used by the Aztecs, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, and the Maya for therapeutic and purification purposes—coming-of-age rites, childbirth, the burial of a relative, and other tribal ceremonies. Temescal comes from the indigenous Nahuatl word temazcalli, meaning “bathhouse.” The temescal is a rectangular or round adobe structure with a vaulted roof. In it volcanic rocks are heated, and steam is produced by throwing herbal teas, such as rosemary and eucalyptus, on the rocks. The bather is gently whipped with ritual or medicinal plants. Curanderas, locally trained folk healers perform the ritual. They say it is important not to bathe for twenty-four hours after!

The Spanish friars fought against this custom during the viceroyalty because they considered mixed-gender bathing inappropriate. Nevertheless, the temescal survived and is still used in certain parts of Mexico, mainly for bathing, for alleviating illness, or for recovery after childbirth. However, there is an increasing interest in reviving the traditional religious aspects of the temescal as part of the country’s heritage.

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2015 Exquisite Corpse Poem

The Exquisite Corpse Poem is a collaboration.  Each writer in the group contributes a random sentence or phrase that then becomes part of a complete poem. The result is surprising and creative!  We do this each year as part of our closing ceremonies for the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. For 2015, our mission was different however.

We adapt the Exquisite Corpse Poem based on the game developed by the Parisian Surrealist Movement.  Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, takes liberties with the concept and edits what we have contributed into something more coherent than abstract, but always beautiful!

This year, we dedicated our Exquisite Corpse Poem to honor returning participant Becky, in celebration of her upcoming marriage in North Carolina over Memorial Day Weekend.  Congratulations, Becky.

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To Becky, Upon Her Upcoming Marriage

Becky, it’s spring at last under the beloved fields

in Teotitlan, where the earth is full and steady,

constant and quick as our rushing breath,

constant and slow as the rotating moon;

love, we wish to tell you, is light and dark,

bitter and sweet, rough and smooth. So let

the planet remain round, Becky, let your leaves

open and rustle; let your moments be amazed

and electrified, changed and unchanged—as

marriage is both perfect and imperfect, full

and empty, and light radiates in the star-

filled darkened sky. Becky, we are your sisters

now, braiding your hair with soft ribbons, asking

you to hug the space between all spaces, allow

the romance of cockroach and swallow to matter,

give yourself to the heart-merging of all white

daisies in wind. And in return, we give you

our blessings: for you are so lucky, Al is so lucky,

and so lucky are we.


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 What Women Say . . . “I better learned how to put together a writerly life.  The coaching session will help me stay on track.  I enjoyed listening to and evaluating each others’ work.  What a great group of women.” –Leslie Larson, California

“I came with the hope of being rejuvenated.  I am leaving with a lightness and grounding that is beyond comprehension.”  –Rebecca S. King, North Carolina

“The instruction was excellent and supportive. The personal coaching session offered me a chance to talk about my writing in a way I never had before.  The workshops are especially valuable because the feedback is so thoughtful.” –Susan Lesser, New York

“I discovered that my writing entertains people!  Beth’s yoga is the best I have ever experienced.  A perfect combo of the physical and spiritual.  –LeeAnn Weigold, British Columbia, Canada

“There is amazing resonance between Robin’s and Beth’s teaching — vigorous, solid, and accepting.”  –Deborah Morris, M.D., North Carolina

“It was all perfect. You gave us a beautiful writing workshop in a beautiful village setting and you also gave us a strong community-of-women bond that will far outlast this conference. Mil gracias!” — Katie Kingston, MFA, Trinidad, Colorado

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“The quality of the teachers was stellar and the combination was a perfect fit for me. Robin has a clarity that is lovely, supportive, truth-telling, knowledgeable, superbly skilled. Beth is a beautiful, beautiful teacher. Combining the yoga and sound with writing was profound.” — Nancy Coleman, Portland, Maine

“Robin’s knowledge impressed and guided me throughout the week.  She is one of the most generous people, instructors and writers I have ever met. The week gave me the insight to reinvestigate life and write about it.”  Kathryn Salisbury, North Carolina

“The week helped with my intention to write my book. There were too many valuable parts to list! We experienced an amazing time together, sweating leaves, meditation, chanting, writing, and honoring our lives. This was an awesome experience.” — Susan Florence, MFA, Ojai, California

“We learned from the other women in the group, from the culture, the language and people in the village. It was magical.” –Bridget Price, Mexico City

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Your Workshop Leaders: Robin Greene and Beth Miller

Robin Greene is the McLean Endowed Professor of English and Writing, and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is also co-founder and senior editor of Longleaf Press, a literary press that publishes contemporary poetry. Greene is the recipient of a NC Arts Council/NEA Fellowship, a university teaching award, and a visiting professorship in Romania. Her work is widely published in literary journals. Greene has served as a writing consultant and has taught creative writing for over two decades. Her books include Real Birth: Women Share their Stories(nonfiction), Memories of Light and Lateral Drift (collections of poetry), and Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman . Greene holds an M.A. in English from SUNY-Binghamton and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. See Robin’s website: www.robingreene-writer.com

Beth Miller combines yogic practice and philosophy with meditation, creativity and improvisation. She specializes in Vinyasa-Hatha yogic traditions and employs sonorous yoga practices as an approach to help women of all ages to give voice to their lives. Beth has a background in Holistic-Health Counseling, working primarily with teen girls and young women to inspire healthy lifestyle habits. In addition, Beth is a vocal artist, performer and teacher of Western classical and sacred music. She holds a B.A. in music from Westminster Choir College, is Certified Holistic Health Counselor.

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Preliminary Workshop Outline

  • Friday, March 4, travel day, arrive and check-in (dinner on your own)
  • Saturday, March 5, introductions, orientation, editing session, writing exercises, yoga (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Sunday, March 6, editing, yoga, writing (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Monday, March 7, yoga, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Tuesday, March 8, yoga, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Wednesday, March 9, yoga at Yagul archeological site, writing, coaching, optional temescal and/or massage (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Thursday, March 10, yoga, writing, option to go to Oaxaca city or Mitla archeology site (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Friday, March 11, yoga, writing, group reading and closing dinner (breakfat and dinner included)
  • Saturday, March 12, departure

Note: You may enjoy extra days in Oaxaca at the end of the trip or extend your stay in Teotitlan del Valle to go to the always exciting and wonderful Tlacolula Market.  Added nights in Teotitlan del Valle are $55 per night, which we can add on to your invoice. Added nights in Oaxaca city are $110 per night, which we can add to your invoice.

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Lodging/Accommodations and Cost.  To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at family operated guesthouse/posada. Local cooks prepare delicious meals from scratch, including organic, locally grown corn tortillas. Vegetarian options are available.

Cost: 

  • $995 per person double occupancy with shared community bathroom across the courtyard
  • $1,095 per person single occupancy with shared community bathroom across the courtyard
  • $1,295 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps one)
  • Added nights before or after in Teotitlan, $55 per night (includes breakfast and dinner)
  • Added nights in Oaxaca City before or after retreat, $110 per night (includes breakfast)

There will be a sign-up for massage and temescal appointments after you arrive. You will pay for these services directly to the providers. Estimated cost is $30 per 50-minute session.

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We can arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Reservations and Cancellations A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last payment for the balance due (including any add-ons) shall be paid by January 10, 2014. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.  After January 10, refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before January 10, 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 witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Shafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you a map, instructions to get to the workshop site from the airport, and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This retreat is produced by Norma Hawthorne Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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