Tag Archives: cost

Humble Apron Elevates to Fashion Statement and Identity in Oaxaca, Mexico

Here in the Tlacolula Valley, and most villages surrounding the city of Oaxaca, the apron is more than a utilitarian article of clothing used to protect the wearer’s garment from getting soiled. It is a statement of identity, style, and social class.

Tlacolula market scene with aprons as personal and village identity.

Tlacolula market scene with women’s aprons as personal and village identity.

Walk around the Tlacolula Market on Sunday, or any day for that matter, and you will see women, old and young, covered in aprons. You can identify their villages by apron style.

For example, women from San Miguel del Valle wear a bib apron with an attached gathered skirt that has a heavily embroidered hem. The aprons worn by women from San Marcos Tlapazola are cotton with pleated skirts often trimmed in commercial lace or bric-a-brac.

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Teotitlan del Valle women prefer gingham cotton aprons with scalloped bodices and hems, trimmed in machine embroidered flowers, plants, fruits and sometimes animal figures.

There are fancy aprons, more densely embroidered for Sunday wear and special fiestas, and simple ones for everyday to cook, wash clothing and tend to babies, grandchildren and guajolotes.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

The apron is worn by grandmothers and granddaughters alike. It is a uniform that conveys personal identity, social status and wealth. The heavily embroidered apron cost much more,  as much as 350 pesos compared to the everyday 150 peso variety.

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

You would want to wear your fanciest apron to the market to bring the oohs and aahs from contemporaries who admire your choice of color and design. Market day, a daily occurrence in Teotitlan del Valle and a regional weekly event in Tlacolula, is the social center for towns and villages. It is the time when women greet and mingle with each other, some even sneaking off together for a morning mezcal.

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

When you get home, you change to the daily apron for working.

Aprons are handy because they have deep pockets. Perfect for holding the coins of commerce. They are also convenient because you don’t have to wear a bra.

There are about eight different apron vendors in the concrete building of the permanent Tlacolula market. One of my favorites is along the exterior aisle closer to the bread section. They are from San Pablo Villa de Mitla and the machine embroidered aprons are filled with fanciful images of birds, fruit and flowers.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

  • Tejidos y Bordados Alondra, Rocio Lopez Mendez, Proprietor, Pipila 9, Mitla, Oaxaca, abel_971@hotmail.com, cel 951-203-8333

Every apron is different. You need to try on at least several to compare size and quality. Make certain there are no stains and that the embroidery around the neck and the pocket placement is even.

One for her, one for him!

One for her, one for him!

 

 

Magic and Miracles. SKYnet, New Friend in the Casita

Three plus years ago I moved into the Teotitlan del Valle casita when it was ready for occupancy after living with my host family. The question that nagged at me then and before was how would I get reliable Internet connection to write, publish photos, work and maintain a lifeline to family and friends in the U.S.A.

Honestly, it’s been a struggle. This is how we learn patiencia here in Mexico. It’s a great teacher.

Small but mighty "dish" pointing south from the edge of the rooftop terrace

Small but mighty “dish” pointing south from the edge of the rooftop terrace

The casita and environs are beautiful. Tranquil. I live out in the campo amid corn and agave fields. The village is slowly moving out this way. Across the dirt road, donkeys bray. In the corrals on adjacent plots of land, neighbors keep pigs and goats. They talk, screech, squeal, bump against the patchwork wood structure, jiggle the aluminum roof.

View from the campo with Teotitlan del Valle village in distance

View from the campo with Teotitlan del Valle village in distance

Building projects encroaching on the farmland are announced by the sound of hammers, drills and heavy earth-moving equipment.

In the cool of early morning, campesinos pick alfalfa. Brahmin cattle pull hand-hewn wood plows to prepare the fields for planting. The rainy season has started. Ojala.

There is no land line that comes this far out.  Telmex service is non-existent in these parts.  You need a landline to have traditional Internet service. Fiber optics? Hardly.

I’m lucky to have electricity and many of the comforts we take for granted like electrical outlets, lights, a washing machine (no dryer but the sun), running water that sometimes runs out when the water tank drains to empty, usually functioning flush toilets, a gas stove, refrigerator, ceiling fans.

Screen shot. Five bar connection, first draft

Screen shot. Five bar connection, first draft

Some years ago, to solve the Internet access problem, I got a ZTE wide band device that connects to my computer USB port to pick up a radio signal through the Telcel cell tower. Most of the time, it took 30 minutes to download one or two small file jpg photos when it worked. Cost: exorbitant. Reliability: Questionable.

Last year, I brought my jailbroken iPhone 4s to Oaxaca and converted it to a local smart phone to get and receive emails. To write blogs, take care of life and upload photos I went to the city or to local restaurants with decent wifi service.

Now, no more. Welcome my new friend to the casita: SKYnet. This is a satellite telecommunications that provides internet service. No TV or cable. Only Internet. The system was installed this last Thursday night.  I’ve had uninterrupted connection even through two giant rain-thunder-lightening-wind storms. I’ve had a Skype call with my son (no pixellated image). And, it’s FAST.

The "dish really looks like a small square plate.

The “dish really looks like a small square plate. Whole deal: 24” high.

Installation cost: 2,800 pesos (about $150USD at the current exchange rate) for the fast service level. Monthly fee is 580 pesos or about $32 USD. For rural villages without access to communication, this is a blessing.

I’m thinking you might hear from me more, from here on.

Years ago, when I worked with the graduate master’s and doctoral engineering programs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Hermann Helgert, a electrical engineer and telecomm expert predicted that it would only be a matter of time before rural parts of the world would have interconnectivity.

If you go to the SKYnet Facebook page, you’ll see all the small, remote mountainous Oaxaca villages that have access now, too. Ojala!

People say that Internet access is a great social and economic leveler and will help improve literacy and education. What do you think?

 

Pedicures and Haircuts in Oaxaca: Essentials

This is not meant to be a frivolous post. When you are here in Oaxaca, Mexico, for more than a few days or weeks, you need to know a few essentials. Like where to take care of your feet when you pound the pavement for hours on end looking for that best quality, bargain priced huipil or quechquemitl. or the perfect ripe avocado, the restaurant with the best mole negro, and the market stalls that sell candied figs and oranges, and pecans for my Moroccan tagine, or the right size anchor and screw to hang a picture in the concrete wall. It’s a hard life!

Then, there is the hair. Men can easily walk into a barber and ask for the Number Two blade on the electric clippers. For women, it’s a little more complicated. Short hair might need a trim every three or four weeks.

Pedicure

Tomato and Candy Apple Red? Toes matter.

We might like a haircutter who uses several different types of scissors to get the best layering and then feathering, making sure that each tendril is exactly the same length on both sides of the face. The details matter.

So, we ask around, seek the advice of friends, try out a new spot that just opened or keep going back to the tried and true hairdresser who does an okay job, but we know how to find him/her. We go back because it’s also risky to try someone new. 

This week, Carol Knox and I splurged on our feet. We got the DeLuxe Spa Pedicure at Avenue Estilismo, a small, impeccably clean, nicely appointed hole-in-the-wall salon just opened by Mayra and Noemi, two delightful young women who met each other at beauty school. We had pounded so much pavement trailing Power Shopper Susan during the week, that we needed urgent care.

Now I’ve heard some people here complain that pedicures take too long. They want in and out in thirty minutes. They can’t imagine how anyone could take so long to soak and trim cuticles. Here in Oaxaca feet are lovingly cared for because toes show. Almost every woman wears open shoes or sandals. (Many of them are four inches high.) The super-deluxe pedicure with rose petals in a bubbling hot water bath, exfoliation, massage, and heat treatment (in addition to clipping, cleaning, trimming), takes at least an hour. (There are no high thrones here that include back massage along with water agitation, as far as I’ve discovered.) However, it’s still a great excuse to relax, take it slow, not think about texting or emailing. Close your eyes and feel that hot water bath relaxing your tired feet, melting away those callouses. Ah.

I’ve tried several places. So far, I think Avenue Estilismo is the best, although their selection of OPI colors could be more extensive. Nevertheless, the 250 pesos (about $19 USD) special deluxe is 100 pesos cheaper than where I had been going. Another option is to get the standard pedicure at 180 pesos that comes without the rose petals, water agitation, exfoliating cream and heat treatment. That’s about $13 USD.

Then, impulsively, I decided to get a haircut. Mayra did the cutting. Excellent. Perhaps one of the best haircuts ever. 100 pesos (about $7.00 USD).  I had been paying 70 pesos (about $4.50 USD) at Fashion, another small, woman owned shop on Fiallo near Arteaga recommended by Jo Ann. I liked it there. But Avenue Estilismo is more centrally located and easier to get to and a bit more plushy. I’m certain the young women owners would love your business!

Avenue Estilismo, Xicotenatl between Independencia and Hidalgo (Pino Suarez changes names and becomes Xicotenatl after Independencia). Tel: 514-2540 or Cell: 951-259-0242

Got your own recommendations? Add them here in the comments section!

Christmas in Oaxaca: Three Wise Men and Rosca de Reyes

It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas.  Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80’s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees.  Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.   The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles.  So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live.  I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.

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Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight.  Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts.  When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.

Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus.  Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas.  Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.

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Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round.   The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.

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Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too.  Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.

ThreeKingsDay-15 ThreeKingsDay-12            I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets.  Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street.  Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs.  Amazingly delicious.

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This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while.  It is a feast for all your senses.  And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to!  Feliz Año Nuevo.

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Morocco Journal 8: Magic Carpet Ride Rug Buying Guide

Rules for rug shopping in Morocco and other advice from a seasoned shopper who admits to being a naive novice when it comes to bargaining in the Land of a Million Carpets.

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Carpet merchants fill the souks in every Moroccan city.  Then, there are the random carpet shops on high traffic tourist pedestrian avenues.  There was one store I visited in Marrakech that was filled floor-to-ceiling with at least three thousand carpets.  How many carpets are there in Morocco would you say? I asked the proprietor. Five million?  Maybe more, he answered. I imagine the weavers in the High and Middle Atlas Mountains are busy night and day!

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The weaving and carpet culture in Morocco is totally different from that of Mexico, where the original purpose of wool woven textiles was for blankets or serape to cover horses and humans.  The nomads of Morocco use carpets to cover the floors and walls of their tents for warmth and comfort.  Some Moroccan carpets have longer wool weft threads so they can be tied as a shawl in winter.  Many also cover the backs of camels, horses and donkeys to cushion their riders.  I saw lots of Boucherouite rag rugs (below left) sticking out from under camel saddles.

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In Oaxaca, the weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle is conveniently located just 40 minutes outside the city.  A trip to the weaving villages of Morocco requires an expedition of several days from either Marrakech or Fes.

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In both Mexico and Morocco, cheaper knock-offs from China inundate the market.  Buyer beware!

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In the High Atlas Mountains the carpets are knotted, a heavy sheep wool pile.  In the Mid-Atlas, the carpet design combines the knotted higher pile with flat weave or kilim style using camel-hair.  Some have added embroidery for embellishment and include the symbols of sun, moon, animals, fertility, womanhood, and water.  At lower elevations near the Sahara, the carpets are all flat and woven from camel-hair.

Why?  Sheep only prosper and develop a thick coat at colder, higher elevations while camels are desert animals who love the heat.

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Most carpet traders have an inventory of old and new rugs.  Carpets are everywhere. The older rugs cost much more because more likely the older wool fibers were prepared with natural dyes.  It’s hard to tell if natural dyes are used for newer rugs, although, as in Oaxaca, most here claim it is so.  I’ve heard that some dealers will put a rug out in the sun to fade and look older to sell it at a premium.

Natural dyes, I’m told, include saffron, henna, cinnamon, wild mint, kohl and indigo. The color is fixed with vinegar and the wool is washed in mountain snow.  Over-dyeing is employed to get a wider color range.

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Carpet shopping in Morocco is tricky.  Anyone is capable of taking the vulnerable tourist on a magic carpet ride.  It is difficult to know who to trust. Referral is the best guarantee that you won’t be ripped off.  Luckily, I got a referral to an Essaouira carpet merchant from a friend who worked for the U.S. State Department in Rabat for over 12 years.  I visited this man a week into my trip and got a great carpet at a fair price.  Who can leave Morocco without a carpet? Only the most disciplined. (See contact information below.)

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Based on advice from friends, I made the huge mistake of hiring a guide to take me through the souq on my first day in Marrakech.  He led me into a carpet store that I could not escape from. Honest. And, of course, I realized later that I overpaid because I was not yet familiar with the local currency conversion.  Yep. Buyer beware!

Carpet salesmen are determined.  They have it in their blood. They have the genetic instincts of thousands of years of being at the trading center of North Africa — Morocco.  They hang out on sidewalks, street corners.  Some will even say, Have you seen the painted ceiling of this historic building? The rabbi once lived here.  Once you enter to see the intricate work, the rugs start to unfold. Tourist beware.  What is your best price? they ask.  Customer responds. Salesman says, Oh, I need a little more.  Can you get a little closer?  And you come closer, and the next round continues.  After buying my first rug on the first day in Marrakech, the salesman said he would offer me a really special price on a second rug because I was the first customer of the day and that will bring him good luck.

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You can’t believe how many times I heard that in the weeks to come.  Then, I heard, You are my last customer of the day and the last customer brings good luck for tomorrow.  By that time I said, you’ve got to be kidding me!  It took me about a week to learn to be a skeptic.

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As I said in an earlier blog post, nothing, I mean NOTHING, has a price tag. Food, taxis, herbal medicine, carpets, clothing, jewelry, nada.  This is the land of bargaining and you have to be good at it to play the game.  It is wearying and that’s the idea.  Who has more stamina?

So, I ended up overpaying on some things until I got the hang of it, and then I did a little better.  Rule of thumb — be willing to walk away.  It is not offensive.

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Rules for Souq and Rug Shopping in Morocco

  1. Never hire a guide.
  2. Go into the souq on your own.  You won’t get lost.  There are plenty of signs that direct you back to Jemaa el Fna — the central square.
  3. People are friendly.  Even shop keepers will give directions, although they will try to get you into their shop after that.
  4. Never buy anything on your first day. Get the lay of the land. Practice negotiating.  You need practice.  You need to feel confident.  You need to start at a price less than half of what they first name.
  5. Take your currency converter and USE IT.
  6. Stand your ground. By the second week, I could respond to What is your best offer? with the first price I named and not budge.  Not even 20 dirhams higher.  When the merchant got too pushy, I said thank you, and walked out.
  7. It’s hard to know the REAL PRICE.  You can test the real price by always naming a low price, lower than mid-point and then see the response.
  8. A friend coached me.  The real cost could be 6 dirham but they ask 50 dirham, you respond with 25 dirham, they go to 30 dirham and you say yes, thinking you got a great deal.  Maybe!
  9. Do your research in advance.  Shop around.
  10. Be patient.  The negotiating and buying process can take at least an hour or two and at least 2 glasses of mint tea.  Maybe more!  If you are in a hurry it will cost you more.
  11. Don’t be impulsive.  Shop around.  Be sure to see many styles and colors before you buy.  Have the mint tea if you are somewhat serious.  If not, politely say no thank you.
  12. Always be courteous.  You are in a Moslem country and people are respectful and gracious.  Say no thank you– merci beaucoup — with a smile.
  13. People welcomed me when I said I was from the USA.  We’re glad you’re here, they said.  I believe they meant it.

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By the time I returned to Marrakech after ten days in Essaouira, I was ready for the souq on my own.  I ventured in with some trepidation, I confess.  The passageways are narrow, most are obscure, shadowy, there is the unfamiliar, and the crush of stuff and people.

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It is daunting, the labyrinth of winding, narrow alleys lined with leather goods, painted furniture, Berber jewelry, textiles, dried fruit stands, brass and copperware, cooking utensils and turbaned men who speak Arabic and French.  I got lost.  I wandered.  I meandered.  I discovered hidden courtyards.  I was alone.  I found my way around and out.

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My huge camera was slung around my neck.  I never felt fearful though I did encounter a few unexpected turns and dead ends where I met some amazing craftsmen and a snake charmer with cobra in hand.

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And I discovered treasures that I could digitally capture and bring home to share with you.  But, not before finding a good glass of Moroccan red wine, available to visitors at selected hotel bars. Saha: to your health.

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Rug Shopping in Marrakech

  • Chez Laarabi, Arset El Maach, Rue de La Radeema, No. 41, 1st floor, ask for Mohamed Twarig, Tel 06 66 09 11 59 or email simolaarabi@hotmail.com

Rug Shopping in Essaouira

  • Maroc Art, 3 Rue el Hajali, ask for Abdullah Imounaim or Abdoul Gnaoui, Tel 04 44  47 50 50

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