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Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Bella Jacque

Formerly a high-tech manager who is now an artist, Bella came from Silicon Valley, California to attend the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition learn more about her camera and improve her aesthetics. “The biggest lesson for me photographically was “less is more” – having a talented photographer/teacher focus my efforts on the few features needed for my eye and my artistic goals was a gift.  It gave me the space and confidence to experiment rather than getting caught in the multitude of technical choices,” she says.


Photo 1 (left) is more about texture than message, since this poster has been up long enough to have obscured the words.  In Photo 2 (right), we see the familiar.  The young woman who is holding the yellow marigolds has been the focal point of others’ photos we have seen.  Yet, this photo is definitely unique and interesting.


Often, we pass something by and consider it mundane or don’t even notice it at all.  Bella saw this doorway with the yellow painted numeral, in Photo 3 (left).  Good eye.  In Photo 4 (right), there was a clothesline with underwear drying. Bella went right to the iconic image of Jesus with a bucket in front, as if it were a church font.

“I was struck by how many of the participants said this was their first group experience.  None of us had done tours – we were all individual travelers who saw something special and unique in this workshop and the focus on a beautiful culture,” says Bella.

Archeology is a big part of being in Oaxaca. Connie Jo, a workshop participant and trained as an archeologist, explained that the small stones in the mortar at Monte Alban signify that this part has been rebuilt. Bella was fascinated and got the detail in Photo 5.

“Without a doubt, I would recommend this and any of your programs.  The small group size, the special-ness of the participants, the creativity, and the focus on culture and personal connections combine to make a unique adventure,” Bella says.

And, then in Photo 6, she got this sweeping vista of Monte Alban, almost as if it were a painting.

Photo 7 (left), Gravesite at Xoxocotlan. “Without a doubt, getting stuck in the pouring rain in Xoxocotlan, as crazy as that sounds, was the highlight of the workshop.  Initially, I thought… oh no, our chance to photograph in the cemetery is ruined… as we huddled with village residents under the tents and watched streams of water run down the street.  With just a little bit of Spanish and an impulse to help someone who was cold, I gave my shawl to an older woman and asked (as best as I could) about her family and the cemetery.  Her warm eyes told me that she understood.  After the rain stopped, we said our goodbyes.  Awhile later, I felt this tap on my arm and turned to see the woman offering me a bag – in it were pan de muerto (the beautiful sweet bread with the small carved confectionary faces) and chocolate.  She was thanking me for the shawl and lovely connection in a hug.”

“We were halfway through the week and I could have stopped taking photographs that minute and would have had been happy.  Personal connections and experience, however fleeting, are why I travel.  I never worry about changes in itinerary because I’ve learned that wonderful adventures happen when we least expect them,” Bella says.


Photo 8 (left) is Bella’s portrait of the Calavera Catrina mime with her son on the Zocalo on October 30 renders the monochromatic palette with the pop of magenta.  To the right in Photo 9, a wood-carved portrait of Jesus hangs on a stucco wall.

The abuelas (grandmothers) in Teotitlan del Valle shy away from the camera. In Photo 10, Bella gets the detail from behind of their long braids hanging or wrapped around their heads, interwoven with ribbon.  Traditional women never cut their hair!

Photo 11 (left).  These are Luvia Lazo’s hand-painted shoes that she created herself.  Luvia and her family hosted Bella and Erin Loughran during Teotitlan del Valle’s Day of the Dead ceremonies on All Souls’ Day.

Bella concludes by saying,  “Bill [Bamberger] is a wonderful teacher and artist – it’s rare to have someone who is gifted in both departments.  He is generous with his time and attention; present with it as well, meaning he dials into individual student needs, worries, strengths, and aspirations and finds the right words at the right time.”

Tidbits: Calvin Trillin Loves Oaxaca, Too!

I think of Calvin Trillin as a contemporary Walt Whitman, humorous, politically savvy, and egalitarian. It just so happens that Trillin’s daughter Abigail moved to Oaxaca with her family.  This became a perfect excuse for him to re-visit,  eat grasshoppers, learn to cook with maguey worms and write about it.  His take on Oaxaca food (and other musings) is in The New Yorker ‘s upcoming December 3, 2012 issue.

Titled Land of the Seven Moles: Adapting to Life’s Changes, at the Table, Trillin takes us on a brief culinary tour of Oaxaca and tells us about the cooking class he took with his son-in-law Brian.  (I’m certain it was at the home of cooking teacher Pilar Cabrera, although no names are mentioned.  The experience he describes reminds me of the class I took with Pilar where we made a salsa out of hormigas AKA ants!)

Rather than go on and on, paraphrasing the article, click on the link above and read for yourself.  You’ll have a good chuckle, just as I did!

Order Dolores Porras Video on New Website: Ceramics Education

Dolores Porras: Artista Artesana de Barro is a 31-minute documentary video made by Michael Peed, a university ceramics professor.  This link takes you to a new website where you can buy the DVD.  When the DVD was released in 2010, I reviewed it here on my blog because it offers an outstanding discussion of the traditional clay making process in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca, by one of the grand masters of Oaxaca folk art, Dolores Porras, who died in November 2010.

Michael is the perfect person to have made this video.  He is a potter and taught ceramics at the University of Montana.  He knew Dolores intimately and followed her career, interviewing her and capturing her during various stages of the clay making process for twelve years.  The video is a treat to watch, is ideal for educational purposes at the middle, high school and university level, and documents one of the most important folk artists in Oaxaca.  I was fortunate enough to visit Dolores just a few months before she died and took this photo below.

I encourage you to buy a copy and watch it.  It is a treasure to have and to gift to anyone interested in ceramics, pottery and folk art.

The new website where you can order the DVD was created by Shannon Sheppard who lives in Oaxaca.

Recipe: Venison Meatballs and Deer Hunting

What does this have to do with Oaxaca? Read on.  You’ll find out!  Those of us who live at Blue Heron Farm in Pittsboro, NC, have been plagued by an overpopulation of deer.  This fall, our community association invited our local Backyard Bow Pros to come in and thin the herd using the old-fashioned way of deer hunting.  One-third of the cull goes to feed the hungry in our community. I think the ancient Zapotecs would have been proud of us.

According to Wikipedia, “by 2000 BCE, agriculture had been established in the Central Valleys region of the state [of Oaxaca], with sedentary villages.[14] The diet developed around this time would remain until the Spanish Conquest, consisting primarily of harvested corn, beans, chocolate, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash and gourds. Meat was generally hunted and included tepescuintle, turkey, deer, peccaryarmadillo and iguana.[15]

Backyard Bow Pros deliver the deer to a local processor who grinds the meat.  We now have pounds of it in our freezer and I needed to dream up a recipe that tasted good. (This was my first experience eating venison.) I tried it, I liked it and it was so good that Stephen repeated the recipe and prepared 246 meatballs to take as hors d’oeuvres for Thanksgiving dinner.  It makes great meatloaf and burgers, too.

Norma’s Ground Venison Meatloaf

  • 1 lb. ground venison
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs, fine
  • 4-6 prunes, chopped fine
  • 1/4 c. raisins
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped almonds or walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 c. dried peppers (mix of bell, ancho, poblano), crumbled
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced into 1/4″ cuts
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • Optional:  1 T. hot red pepper flakes

Put the ground meat in a large mixing bowl.  Add one whole egg and bread crumbs.  Mix well with your hands.  (Do not use a food processor.  This will break down the meat fibers.)

Sprinkle a little flour over the prunes, and chop them with a Chinese cleaver or 8″ chef’s knife until they are about 1/4″ pieces.   Add prunes, raisins, parsley and onion to the meat along with the dried pepper that you have coarsely crumbled. (You can substitute fresh peppers, just double the amount.)

Put the nuts into a plastic baggie.  With the flat end of a mallet crush the whole nut meats until coarse (you can also do this in the food processor).   Or, buy them chopped if you prefer!  Add to the meat.

Mix all together with your hands until everything is completely incorporated into the meat and evenly distributed.  Add salt and mix with hands again.

Meatloaf:  Put into a greased loaf pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until browned on top and sides pull away from the pan.  Test for doneness with a meat thermometer.  Internal temperature should reach 160 degrees.

Meatballs:  Roll meat into 1″ balls.  Place on moderately greased cookie sheet.  Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Quarter-pounders with cheese, anyone?

For 246 meatballs, we used three pounds of meat and tripled the recipe!  We baked two cookie sheets at a time in our convection oven.

P.S. Once, a long time ago, I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, where I organized and taught classes.  Today, I just can’t help myself!  Years and years ago, I watched my mother in the kitchen prepare hamburgers, mixing in an egg, bread crumbs and ketchup to stretch the meat to feed our family of five.  An inspiration for this recipe, remembering that the egg and bread crumbs help bind the meat.

Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Kathy Heath AKA Louie

“This trip was the perfect way to re-invest in my interest in photography and explore a fascinating country and culture [of Oaxaca, Mexico] at the same time. I can’t imagine an instructor or guide who could have better managed the balance and flexibility to so successfully meet all the goals of the program,” says Kathy Heath, who is a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant dean.

Almost like an early motion picture scene, almost like an old hand-colored sepia photograph, this stunning shot of the Macedonio Alcala at night says, yes, Oaxaca is safe, warm and welcoming. “I never had any concerns about my safety in Oaxaca. People were friendly, helpful and open,” says Kathy who goes by her nickname Louie.


Louie, has traveled around the world with her camera (and her husband) and showed us some stunning shots from a recent hiking trip she took in New Zealand. The photos she took in Oaxaca are a tribute to her photographic experience and sense of aesthetic to capture the moment.  These two photos (above) give us a close look at the comparsa and the seriousness of acting the part!

 (Photo 4, Left) The comparsas are also a time for young people to plan their costumes and participate in the parade.  This group is competing for best costumes, along with many others who walk Macedonio Alcala and then assemble on the Zocalo to see who won.  We love the combination of seriousness and frivolity in this photo.


We got to Plaza de la Danza, adjoining the Basilica de la Soledad, early in the week as the preparations for building the sand sculptures was just starting.  This Photo 5  is like a dance or a prayer, perfect image for the location!

This street vendor could be from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec based on her style of dress.   The scene blends many undecipherable messages, from wall graffiti to her blouse pulled up over her nose and mouth. Your guess is as good as mine!  Photo 6 by Louie!


In Photo 7 (left) Louie captures the gloss of the slick, wet street and a hand-truck filled with flowers destined to decorate a gravesite at Xoxocotlan’s old cemetery.  The rain came down and everyone ran for cover!  Photo 8 tells us about the dark, deep richness of a cemetery with little or no ambient light.

The beauty is in the serenity of Photo 9.  “It’s hard to decide what I learned or discovered that was MOST valuable. From technical aspects of photography and my camera, to different artistic perspectives about photography, to the culture and history of the area – it was all really valuable to me in very different ways,” says Louie.

Louie, along with her friend and colleague, Connie Jo, spent Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle with Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza and their family.  Louie managed a photo that included the ornately decorated altar and the warmth of the family.

During our time in Teotitlan del Valle we took time to explore the village’s weaving traditions.  We asked each participant what was most memorable about the entire learning experience.  Louie says, “Meeting the Chavez Santiago Family and learning about how they are maintaining the traditional craft of weaving, and incorporating those skills and traditions into their educational and career choices.  I was impressed and inspired by what they do.”

“Thanks for a great trip and learning experience Bill & Norma!!,” Louie says.  We say, thanks to you, Louie, for your compassionate sensitivity and insight to show us Oaxaca through your eyes.