Pop-up Expoventa San Felipe Usila Saturday Only

Textile show and sale from San Felipe Usila
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When: 1:30-4:30 pm, Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where:  Las Granadas B&B, Avenida 2 de Abril #9, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

What:  think Danza de la Pina — Dance of the Pineapple– at The Guelaguetza to picture what these garments look like

San Felipe Usila is a remote mountain village near Tuxtepec, about an eight-hour drive from Oaxaca. The women weave extraordinary textiles on back strap looms. I was there last October and met a talented family.

Jorge Isidro is coming with his mother, an accomplished weaver, and bringing excellent quality pieces to show our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat participants. Because he is making such a long trip, I want to open up the opportunity to you to see and buy the work.

The sales go directly to the weaving families.  Prices are reasonable because you are buying direct.

Please invite your friends and share this post to support fine indigenous Oaxaca textile culture.  Thank you.

Norma H-Shafer

 

Boulenc: Bringing a World of Flavors to Artisan Bread + More in Oaxaca, Mexico

We invited Martha Sorensen to write this post. She has raved about Boulenc since they opened.  Martha makes it a daily breakfast habit to include a slice or two of toasty, crusty rye or whole grain bread from Boulenc topped with their not t00 sweet house made mango jam.  She’s got me hooked.

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Bernardo (left) and Juan Pablo send greetings

Bernardo Davila (left) and Juan Pablo Hernandez, founder, welcome bread lovers

Walk through the doorway of Boulenc and the comforting scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries envelops you. On the high shelves behind the front counter, whole grain sourdough loaves topped with artistic flour swirls or leaf patterns delight the eye.  More than a bakery, good food to eat is here, too.  Boulenc is a cafe, restaurant, bakery and provisions shop. 

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In the glass cabinet below, cardamom rolls sit beside ricotta berry Danish, orange chocolate brioche and buttery concha rolls decorated with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Each beckons with the promise of a taste sensation.

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To the right, a bread oven from Sweden purchased via eBay warms the room. The six bar stools are usually filled. Behind the bar is a bookshelf with a collection of master bread making books, including Tartine Bread from San Francisco’s renowned artisan bakery. In the kitchen, four young bakers look up from their  floury hands with a smile of greeting. Can this be Oaxaca?

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Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Juan Pablo Hernandez, a.k.a. Papa, is the founder of the European-style artisan bakery Boulenc.  He began baking years ago while still in school, ordered books and later experimented in a friend’s Oaxaca restaurant. Passionate about producing the highest quality, he gave away bread in exchange for comments.

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Then, he sold loaves at El Pochote while learning the art of baguette and croissant making from a young French baker who was traveling through Mexico. In January 2014, with Bernardo Davila and two other friends from Saltillo, he opened Boulenc.

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Juan Pablo’s European apprenticeship came from an unlikely source: a Dubai entrepreneur who found him via an international bakers’ Facebook group.  She was looking for someone to open an artisan bakery there. Last autumn she sponsored his travels to Sweden, Denmark and France. In October, he was in Dubai for a month where he made sourdough pan de muertos. Juan Pablo says that over 5,000 Mexican families live in Dubai. 

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His time in Scandinavia was life-changing. In southern Sweden, he took a sourdough course from world-renowned baker Manfred Enoksson, (who taught him to make cardamom rolls) learning more about stone-milled organic whole grains and the sourdough fermentation process. The living microbes in the culture need care. As Juan Pablo says, it is a relationship that must be nurtured.  “It makes you humble,” he says.  Most of products in Boulenc have a sourdough element. All other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, including wheat from Nochixtlan in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and cacao cream from another part of Mexico.

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Using a term from his permaculture training, Juan Pablo says that he and his partners see Boulenc as “a spiral, not a pyramid.” While there is some specialization, everyone at Boulenc has multiple roles, contributes ideas for new products, and values working together for the good of the community. This includes sharing sources and information with new bakeries that have a commitment to quality.

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They have given one bread making class and hope to do more. At the end of the day, any bread that is left over goes to an orphanage and a social service organization. Part of Juan Pablo’s mission is to educate about the importance of eating bread that is nutritious vs. bread made from white flour and chemicals in an industrial process. He sees this as vital, particularly here in Mexico where obesity rates are among the highest in the world.

Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222, between Murguia and Morelos, Centro, Oaxaca, (951) 514-0582

Boulenc’s future plans include opening a pizza cafe at a location nearby. For more information, including photos and short videos go to:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boulenc/534647166618801

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Norma’s Notes:  Belly up to the bar and grab one of the six bar stools that overlooks the kitchen. Come for breakfast and order Shakshuka, a Lebanese poached egg and spicy tomato dish or a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup, nuts and fresh fruit. Don’t be in a rush. This is slow food. Wait with a cup of the organic coffee or aromatic hot chocolate made with milk. Lunch offers up pizza rolls and tasty sandwiches on crusty bread. My favorite is the 100% rye infused with nuts, a meal in itself.

Tonina, Hidden Chiapas Archeology Gem: The Road Less Traveled

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Few people make Tonina, the classic Maya archeological site just beyond Ocosingo, Chiapas, a travel destination. Instead, they choose to go between San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque directly, bypassing the most vertical site of the ancient Maya world. It’s another three hours by road to reach Palenque, which demands at least one overnight stay. (Do you see us at the top?)

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From San Cris, Tonina can be navigated in about a day-long round-trip, giving you several hours at the site.  We left at seven-thirty in the morning and planned to return to San Cris by seven in the evening, including a one-hour stopover in Oxchuc to stretch and see textiles.

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It’s a long and winding road. We traveled from seven thousand foot mountains studded with pines to lowlands bordering the Lancandon rain forest filled with tropical vegetation, banana palms and adobe huts with thatch roofs.  The mountains fall fast to almost sea-level over this almost three-hour journey, so the road curves sharply. Ginger is a great antidote.

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This is EZLN territory, and Zapatista politics for and by the people prevail here. It is not unusual to come across an occasional roadblock demonstration. This is a common method for anti-government protest in both Chiapas and Oaxaca. There are grievances here. Sometimes for a donation, vehicles may pass. Other times, it’s important to know alternate secondary routes and have a full tank of gas when passage on the main highway isn’t possible.

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At Tonina, we had an on-site Maya guide who participated in site excavations ten years ago. He played here as a child.  Our multi-lingual guide who traveled with us from San Cristobal, anthropologist Mayari (meaning Maya princess), fluidly translated between Spanish, English and Tzeltal, the regional Mayan dialect.

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There were at most ten other people at Tonina. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun there is a spectacular view of the Ocosingo valley. Mayari tells us that Frans and Trudy Blom would fly in a single engine Cessna to Palenque and the Lancandon rainforest in the early 1950’s.  She made that trip, too, with her archeology father as a child.

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After most of us climbed to the top (not me this time, because of my new knee), we enjoyed a picnic lunch back at the site entrance, where a small, excellent museum hold pieces excavated from the site.  When I was in Mexico City recently, a huge exhibition (now closed) on the Maya world at the Palacio Nacional prominently featured treasures from Tonina.

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Then we back-tracked to Oxchuk.

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Oxchuk weavers work on a back strap loom and then embroider the textiles by hand.  If you turn off the main highway and venture onto the town’s main streets, you will find family run shops supplying huipils to the women of the local community.  The quality is first-rate and the price is about half of the cost as in San Cristobal.  Definitely worth a deviation. We were a curiosity since I suspect not many tourists make a stop there.

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By now it was dusk and as we approached the intersection beyond Huixtan to turn onto the highway just about fifteen miles from San Cristobal, there was a roadblock demonstration. We turned around, bought two five liter jugs of gas at a roadside stand, asked a local man and his son to go with us (for a fee), and set off on an alternative back road through the mountains that would take us into San Cristobal.  They carried official local papers authorizing travel across mountain communities.

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We arrived back at our hotel only an hour later than we had planned. For reassurance at the outset, I called our hotel to tell them our whereabouts and route while our very competent guide Mayari notified ATC Tours to track us on GPS.  Risk of danger? Little to none.

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One of our participants said this was definitely an adventure story worth retelling! It was the last day of our two week Oaxaca and Chiapas art and archeology study tour. What a grand finale, wouldn’t you say?

San Juan Chamula, Chiapas: No Photographs, Please

It’s impossible to take a photograph inside the once-Catholic church of San Juan Chamula.  It is a Sunday haven of pre-Hispanic mysticism, with folk practices that go way back in indigenous history.  Tourists are warned to tread lightly.

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My body aches to take a photograph of the family crouched on pine needles in front of a sainted altar surrounded by a pile of eggs, a live chicken, and dozens of burning candles affixed to the tiled floor where the pine needles have been swept aside.

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Taking photos in the church is verboten.  Forbidden.  In years past I have seen village officials who mind the church protocol confiscate the cameras and memory cards of those who sneak a pic.  Impossible to be sneaky here. Sometimes, if a tourist resists, s/he is put in the local jail.

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Our group from Penland School of Crafts is compliant.  We tuck camera’s away into shoulder bags and backpacks. We are not going to tempt the fates or the village fathers.

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A woman kneels in prayer singing in an ancient tongue, a melody pitched so that the gods will hear her.  Another keens.  Another weeps.  A shaman makes a blessing with an offering of coca-cola and mezcal.  Burping the fizzy drink is believed to cleanse the soul. Sunlight streams through the high side window and beneath the glow the people are bathed in shadow and light.  The space is illuminated.  Smells like piney forest, smokey candles, the burst of lilies and roses.

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Feet are bare and worn.  Feet are brown and calloused. Women’s furry black sheep wool skirts are tied at the waist with glittery cummerbunds.  Their blouses, silky polyester, are embroidered with intricate diamonds, birds, flowers, zig-zags and snap at the throat. It’s cold at 7,000 feet elevation.

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This is sacred space, like being in a cave.  Here the human and divine spirit are one and belief is powerful. I guess no photographs are necessary to remember.

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Beyond the church courtyard is a lively market place to buy hand spun and embroidered wool from the town, strange fruit, clothing from surrounding villages, meat, poultry, vegetables tortillas and bread. Amber and jade vendors hawk their wares. Little old ladies whose garments are beyond wearing, peddle purses, bracelets and keychains.

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Today, the plaza is lined with indigenous women and children from outlying hamlets, hundreds of them.  They sit on the edge waiting.  What are you waiting for? I ask one of them. She replies, we wait to receive an every-two-month stipend of 850 pesos. Soon, they form a line and hurry to the back of the government building. Their support is equivalent to $45USD per month.  Of course, she doesn’t want her picture taken.

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Chiapas Textile Museum: Maya Art on Cloth

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The contemporary Maya world spans political boundaries and crosses southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Here in Chiapas there is a rich textile tradition that endures as cultural identity and pride. The Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, The Textile Center of the Maya World, is the place to begin to see the finest examples of woven and embroidered cloth coming from throughout the Maya world.

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No one comes to San Cristobal de Las Casas without buying at least one piece of handwoven cloth! We advise you come here first before you shop. That way, you will be able compare quality and price after seeing the hundreds of fine textiles on display in the museum, and then making a stop at the adjoining Sna Jolobil gallery where deep pockets help.

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We were told that eighty percent of the items for sale in the Santo Domingo Church market are made by machine or imported from China. The market fills the entry area to the textile museum so the temptation is strong to forage first.

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Yesterday, as I wandered this market, I did find a beautiful back strap loomed and embroidered huipil from Cancuc for about $70USD and two incredible Chenalho short blusas, also hand loomed and embroidered, for $18USD each. So, there are still bargains to be found of authentic garments if you know what you are looking for.

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At the textile museum, the group from Penland School of Crafts had a private tour of the collection in English complete with an introductory video in English, too.  We began to identify the designs of the cloth and embroidery with the villages where they are made.  We saw the evolution of garment design with the introduction of Spanish lace and off-the-shoulder style. Many of those on exhibit are Guatemalan pieces since the cultural border is porous.

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The detail work on the cloth is precise. The embroidery is exact. We sat down to a work table to create an embroidery sampler in the style of San Andres Larrainzar to better understand the textile making process.  Needless to say, none of us was good enough to go into business.

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One of us tried his hand at the back strap loom, and he managed to use the sheep bone pick with some ability to push back each weft thread to make a clean straight line.  Then, with some heft and force, he used the shuttle to add to the tight piece of cloth.  It takes three months, working five hours a day, to make a twenty-four inch wide traditional ceremonial sash, which was on the loom today.

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Around the world, machinery and technology is replacing hand work. Mechanization creates precision and lower cost.  What we lose is the beauty and variegation that is transmitted by the soul of the maker. This visit gave us a greater appreciation for indigenous culture, the beauty they create.

We organize small group workshop study tours for up to 10 people. If you and a group of friends or your organization wants a customized learning experience, please contact me.