Tag Archives: culture

Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead: Schedule and Photography Retrospective

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Only four more days until the official start of Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico. Everyone is lining up their calendars to watch comparsas, visit cemeteries and participate as locals honor the return to earth of their loved ones and then escort them back to their graves with the scent of copal and flowers.

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 2014 Cemetery Visiting Schedule

October 31:

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November 1:

  • Oaxaca City Cemetery (Panteon)
  • Barrio Xochimilco
  • San Augustin Etla
  • San Pablo Villa de Mitla, begins mid-day

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November 3:

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Usually, the Teotitlan del Valle Day of the Dead All Souls’ Day observances are held on November 2. But, this year the date falls on Sunday, so the village has moved observances to Monday.

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I’ve written extensively about the history and customs for Day of the Dead. You can use the search engine on the blog to find more about how to decorate an altar, the meaning and symbolism of the observance and relationship to pre-Hispanic rituals.

NH_Best9_1027-5 copy Slide17 copy   I’ve also seen tour groups come into small town cemeteries where people sit quietly in reflection at gravesites.. They step into plots and between people, point cameras in their faces and set their strobe flashes to get a good shot. Then, they climb back on the van or bus and leave to go on to the next stop on the tour.

Please be mindful that we are all visitors here and it is our responsibility to walk quietly and with respect.

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There is lots to do in the city. Don’t forget to hang out on Macedonio Alcala to catch the comparsas. The sand sculptures will be in the Plaza de la Danza. Peek into courtyards and hotel lobbies to see all the fanciful decorations. Enjoy yourself. We are happy you are here!

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For activities, check Margie Barclay’s Oaxaca Calendar, too!

 

 

Pre-Hispanic Women’s Clothing Design: The Huipil Endures

Years ago, after I first arrived in Oaxaca, I discovered an incredible small book by Mexico City fashion designer Carla Fernandez. Taller Flora: Indigenous Dress Making Geometry of Mexico, Pre-Hispanic Origin (2006) is now difficult to come by. But, it has become my bible for easy-to-make, easy-to-wear, comfortable, flowing clothing  that is versatile and beautiful.

The book is also my inspiration because it tickled an idea to develop the             Felt Fashion Workshop several years ago.

During the week-long workshop, January 17-24, 2015, we use naturally dyed merino wool to make wet-felted cloth.  Then, we sew it using the simple  geometric patterns to construct the garments. Our instructor, Maddalena Forcella, is internationally-known for her work.

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The results could be a jacket, a blouse, a shawl or scarf, a dress or a poncho. The quechquemitl is one of my favorites.

I was recently in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I saw jackets, blouses and dresses made with felt, sewn and blocked, selling for $500 to $800 USD and more.  And, United States clothing designer Eileen Fisher uses variations for many of her patterns including the asymmetrical merino poncho priced at $248 USD.

There is more to the huipil than an article of clothing. It is a symbol of womanhood, female creativity and personal experience.

In ancient Mexican culture, each community created identity by weaving a distinctive pattern into the cloth.  And, there were different pattern variations for important life cycle events like weddings , births and baptisms. The woven cloth told a story about the village and the woman who created that particular garment.

Art of the Huipil: Mixed Media Workshop

Scheduled the week before the Felt Fashion Workshop, set to start on January 8, the Art of the Huipil is a hands-on experience taught by artist Lena Bartula. During the five-day session, participants create a huipil based on their own personal stories, using found objects and those we collect during visits to local weavers and markets. The result is a piece of art suitable for hanging, if you wish.

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In January, Oaxaca days are warm and mild.  Evenings are cool and comfortable. We offer a perfect getaway from winter that is safe and affordable.

You do not have to be an experienced artist or seamstress to attend. All levels are welcome.  This is about having fun and opening yourself up to the possibilities of creative self-expression in an encouraging, friendly place.

Questions? Contact Norma Hawthorne.

Sunrise From New Mexico and California Berries

On a pre-dawn Wednesday this week, I was on a plane from Albuquerque to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. It was dark at take-off. The lights of the city sparkled against the black desert that met obscure sky. On the vast horizon I could see shapes of mountains and the lights of Santa Fe.

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Then, the eastern sky began to explode in color after the first sliver of orange cast a magic glow on the clouds. I realized I was grateful for the three-thirty morning wake-up so I could get to see this.

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Mexico is ever-present in New Mexico. The tales of conquest, weaving culture, adobe homesteads, Native American art and crafts, and blue corn are integrated into the physical and historical landscape. It is easy to transition from one place to the other. Both are conducive to a more relaxed lifestyle and many of my Santa Fe friends spent lots of time in Oaxaca, especially in winter.

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I’m here in Santa Cruz, California, now for one of my regular visits with my 98-year-old mother, sister and brother-in-law. California is another place where Spanish and then Mexican life prevailed before becoming a U.S. territory then state.

As Barbara and I approached and drove beyond San Juan Bautista and the historic mission yesterday, we passed fields of farm workers tending the fruit and vegetables we eat. Are they undocumented?  Likely. They harvest Driscoll strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and other brands we know from our supermarket shelves.

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Acres of red and green lettuces, and chard are laid out like a Mondrian painting. The workers kneel toward earth as if in prayer, just like in Mexico.  Their heads are covered, their bodies shielded from sun by long sleeve shirts. Some rise, stretch arms skyward, taking a break from back-breaking picking. Here the land is more fertile and the pay is better.  Eight thousand dollars a year is a lot in Mexico. Signs along the California 156 shout out Trabajo Disponible — work available. This is not a job for sissies.

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We were on our way to see Dr. Paul, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine my bad right knee, hurting since early July when I did too many dancing twists at a Best of the Beatles party in Teotitlan del Valle. Difficult for sustained walking. No broken bones, but after a cortisone injection and not much relief,  I’m considering a postponement of a year-in-the-planning trip to Barcelona with a September 16 departure.

Should I go it alone now or wait until spring and travel with my sister?  What do you think? And, why?

Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza 2014 Thrills Crowds, Still Controversial

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Tickets to sit close to Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza Auditorium stage are costly, about $100 USD per person.  Up high in the upper galleries, the seats are free and people start lining up hours in advance of the opening to be able to capture one.

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The controversy lies in the accessibility to this annual folkloric performance in an auditorium that can hold 11,000 people.  So, the government provides live video streaming on the Internet and broadcasts the performances on a big screen in the Zocalo.

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However, this year the Zocalo is an encampment, occupied by another demonstration of teachers who continue to protest poor pay and lack of support for adequate school supplies.  Since 2006, it has become much more than that.

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In the political tradition of Mexico, this legal demonstration highlights the ongoing conflict between the workers and the bourgeoisie, those in power and those who have no voice, those who have access and those who don’t.

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Lila Downs sings about this. Diego Rivera painted it.  Jose Guadalupe Posada sketched the iconic images of this Day of the Dead Calavera Catrina mocking the middle class who turned its back on the impoverished.

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This is my third year to attend the Guelaguetza. Fortunately, my ticket was a gift this year. Each time, I think about what a privilege it is to be here.

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The other controversy is about what Guelaguetza really means. Guelaguetza is not a folkloric performance as most visitors believe, but a way of life for indigenous people.  Full baskets of gifts for visitors is a symbol for the hope of there being enough — more than enough, of plenty — for all.

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Guelaguetza is a complex word meaning mutual support, giving and receiving, a way to keep communities intact, a way to honor ritual and tradition. You can learn more about this in the Teotitlan del Valle community museum.  It is why Zapotecs here have survived and thrived for 8,000 years.

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It is beautiful to see this honored on the stage of the auditorium, replete with Oaxaca’s most beautiful women, handwoven textiles, music, and ritual dance.Guelaguetza2014-34

We watch mating and marriage rituals recreated complete with live guajolotes, and the teasing between young men and women from Pinotepa Don Luis. The women’s purple and red skirts are back strap loom woven with cochineal and purpua dyed cotton.

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We see how communities like Juxtlahuaca in the Mixteca-Baja depend on raising, killing and selling cattle as they dance with spurs clicking and rattling.

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That is why this performance never tires.  It is important to know, however, that this is a re-enactment of daily life.  To get to know the real Oaxaca, visit her villages and meet her people. Don’t sit in an auditorium with a camera and binoculars, and believe this is a complete experience!

Guelaguetza2014-35The evening performances end in a dazzling fireworks display!  It can be seen for miles around and went on for what seemed a good ten or fifteen minutes. This is only one of many images I caught. Yes, it’s a great time to be in Oaxaca!Guelaguetza2014-39

 

The performances happen on the last two Mondays of July each year.  There are two performances remaining, one at 10 a.m. and the other at 5 p.m. on Monday, July 28.  Go, if you can. It’s a magnificent experience.

 

Rain Torrents and New Priest in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The heavens opened yesterday afternoon to welcome a new priest to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Perhaps, the ancient Zapotecs, in their infinite wisdom, said a special prayer for the rain god, too.  It is corn-planting season.

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The torrents came just as the celebration was to begin in the church courtyard, starting with a procession of young girls, soon-to-be women, with symbolic religious baskets to carry atop their heads. Needless to say, everyone ran for cover and the procession start was delayed. It rained about eight inches in less than an hour and a flood ensued

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This is a very special occasion.  Very.  It has been decades, perhaps longer than most can remember here, even the grandmothers, that a Catholic priest has been assigned to perform permanent, regular service for the village.  The regional religious center for the area is in the neighboring village of Tlacochahuaya, and one circuit priest has served many villages in the valley, scheduling religious rites according to who needs what, when.

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Everyone in Teotitlan del Valle is ecstatic.  In honor of this event, there is a mass this morning (Saturday) followed by tamales for everyone. I’m told the village expects more than 3,000 people in the church courtyard this afternoon.

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As is customary, the occasion will be marked by Los Danzantes, the famed group of young men who make a three-year church commitment to serve God through performing the Dance of the Feather whenever the volunteer church committee calls on them.

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For the girls, this, too, is a special occasion. For some of them, it will be the first time they will have participated in a desfile and it means a lot. They wear colorful hand-embroidered blouses, traditional woven wool wrap skirts usually dyed with cochineal and tied with a wool sash adorned with pom poms.  This is what the grandmothers wear every day. But times are changing and the dress is worn only for ceremonial purposes by the younger generations.

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In the photograph directly above, you can see the girls gathered, with the heavy canastas or baskets resting on the ground.  They are waiting for the procession to begin.  To the right, on the pillar of the inner courtyard of the church, is a Zapotec stone carving taken from the temple on the site and embedded into the church wall by the Spanish to attract the locals to the new religion.

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The rites of passage in Mexico has been an important part of indigenous culture for centuries.  The roots of these celebrations pre-date the conquest and one can imagine what it may have been like during the time of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs at the height of their civilizations by being here now.

That’s why it’s so meaningful to participate as a visitor. Please consider: