Tag Archives: culture

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:

 

Tour Puebla, Mexico: Cooking & Culture, From the Humble to the Divine

August 13-18, starting at $895 per person double occupancy–

  • Chiles en Nogada Cooking Class
  • Sumptuous Dinner Party in a Private Historic Home
  • Elegant Dining and Neighborhood Eating
  • Flea Market and Antique Shopping
  • Museums, Churches, Archeology, History

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Puebla, Mexico, is a short two hours from Mexico City by bus direct from the international airport. It is one of my favorite Mexican cities and I often stop here going to and from Oaxaca. It is the home of Talavera tile, Cinco de Mayo, Mole Poblano, chiles en nogada, and cemitas. It has a weekend antiques and flea market that draws crowds, gilded churches, Baroque architecture with pastel and tiled facades topped with white plaster meringue, great chefs, outstanding restaurants, and ancient archeological sites.  At 7,000 feet altitude, visitors enjoy moderate temperatures year ’round, even in summer!

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Your five night, 6-day visit includes:

  • 5 nights lodging in a lovely, highly rated historic center hotel
  • guided visits to famed, certified Talavera ceramics studios
  • visits to extraordinary museums like Museo Amparo
  • chiles en nogada cooking class in a private home featured in Mexicocina with market tour, and lunch
  • sumptuous candlelit dinner that evening presented by our cooking teachers/hosts
  • gourmet dining and neighborhood/market fare experiences
  • time on your own to explore the incredible weekend antique/flea market
  • in-depth visits to archeological and religious sites of Cholula and Tonantzintla
  • Plus, lots more.

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Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, cosmopolitan without being overwhelming.  It is relaxed, accessible, and easily experienced in several days. Known as the ‘City of the Angels’” or Angelopolis, Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in 1531 as a purely colonial Spanish city built from the ground up—not on top of an existing indigenous temple — at the trading crossroads between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City.  More than 5,000 Baroque-designed buildings date mostly from the 16th century and are covered in handcrafted Talavera.

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Puebla is also about shopping! The highlight is Talavera pottery. And, there are many other local crafts: Tree of Life clay figures, bark paper paintings, woven and embroidered textiles from the Sierra Norte, red clay cooking vessels and dinnerware, and unique onyx and marble sculptures. You can find these and much more at the traditional markets, the stalls that line Puebla’s beautiful plazas, and at the weekend flea and antique market.

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Puebla is known throughout Mexico for its excellent cuisine, a blend of pre-Hispanic, Arabic, French and Spanish influences.  There are many outstanding Tesoros de Mexico-rated (Mexico’s highest) restaurants, and we’ll be dining at a few!

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We’ll also go to Cholula, an indigenous village just outside Puebla with the world’s widest ancient pyramid, Quetzalcoatl. The Spanish built the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remidios with its amazing 24-carat gold basilica atop the pyramid.  On a clear day you can see snow-capped Popocatepetl, an active volcano, showing off his powerful plume.

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Preliminary Itinerary:

  • Day 1, August 13: Travel to Puebla, check-in to our historic center hotel
  • Day 2, August 14: Chiles en Nogada Cooking class with market tour & lunch, followed by sumptuous private dinner
  • Day 3, August 15: Cholula archeology site, Tonantzintla church, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics
  • Day 4, August 16: Antiques and flea market, museums, market lunch
  • Day 5, August 17: Gallery hopping and shopping, fine dining
  • Day 6, August 18: Departure

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Our stops will include:

  • Antique market & Barrio del Artista
  • Museo Amparo
  • Talavera galleries and shops
  • Tonantzintla Templo de Santa Maria
  • La Purificadora Hotel, an architectural wonder, designed by Ricardo and Victor Legorreta
  • Uriarte and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios

We include private transportation on a day-trip to Cholula, Tonantzintla, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios.

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Transportation to Puebla:  Puebla is easily accessed by Estrella Roja first class bus direct from the Benito Juarez International Airport (Terminal One and Terminal Two) and from Oaxaca on ADO.  If you are coming from the U.S. be sure to reserve your round trip air travel to/from Mexico City. When you register, we will give you complete “how to get there” information.

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What is Not Included:

  • meals, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • entrance fees to local museums/attractions
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • transportation to/from Puebla
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services 

Cost:

  • $895 per person double occupancy, shared room and bath
  • $1,195 per person single occupancy, private room and bath

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due on or before July 1, 2014.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

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Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After July 1, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before July 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We ask that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since accidents happen.

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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 notarized waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

To register, email us at  normahawthorne@mac.com.  If you have questions, send us an email. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to modify the itinerary.

 

 

 

The Funeral of Arnulfo Mendoza

In the Oaxaca village of Teotitlan del Valle, there are hundreds of excellent weavers.  Few have gained the international recognition of Arnulfo Mendozo, owner of La Mano Magica gallery, and renown for his tapestry weaving skills and talent as a painter.  Arnulfo died from a sudden heart attack a few days ago, leaving behind a young wife and child.  He was fifty-nine.

imagenThe church is resplendent, filled with lilies, lit with massive beeswax candles adorned with wax birds and roses. On every dark wood pew, rubbed to a polish from years of use, are four or five people shoulder to shoulder, rising, kneeling, sitting, praying, singing. I steady myself. Hold the smooth wood of the seat back in front of me, feel the wood resonate and penetrate me as if it was Arnulfo speaking.  I am glad I do not have my camera.  Today, the space is sacred.

The hundred or so pews are filled with family and friends, distant relations, collectors from Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca, the U.S.A., and Canada, onlookers, paparazzi. Some straggle in just before the mass ends. Before me are red pony tails, black braids woven with dark blue ribbon, lowered heads covered in shawls with their intricately woven fringes swaying in rhythm to the a capella ring of bells.  The priest performs mass, sends Arnulfo’s spirit soaring.  For a moment, I go with him and then come back to here, now.  This prayer is for Suzie, too, as tears come. The man I sit with, another fine weaver I know, embraces me. The mass ends. We reach out and hold each person around us, moving from one to another in benediction.

Four men each carry a stanchion topped with a circle of encrusted white roses four feet in diameter.  As they leave the church altar, twelve pallbearers, six on each side, follow shouldering the ornate mahogany-colored wood casket decorated with etched copper where Arnulfo rests. Behind them are four more men bearing another four stanchions of rose circles.  Family members spill into the aisle with lit candles, armloads of fresh flowers, heads downcast.  I see that the village grandmothers carry flowers, too.

We assemble in the church courtyard.  I hug Arnulfo’s cousins and nieces, offer murmurs of condolence, and join the procession through the village streets to the cemetery.  The band is out front.  The tubas, clarinets, trombones, saxophones, drums alternate between dirge and dance.  I walk slowly, lagging, matching steps with Magdalena, half my height now, who buried a husband and son years before during the same year. Every several blocks, we stop, pray, give the pallbearers rest.  The sky darkens heavy with clouds on this late Sunday afternoon in southern Mexico.

Across from the cemetery entrance is the woman who usually sells snacks at the health clinic.  The ice cream vendor scoops, fills cones with burnt vanilla, angel kisses, hot pink nopal fruit. A woman silently offers bottled water for sale.  Inside, fresh flowers fill almost every urn. The grandmothers peel away from the procession as it enters sacred space and scatter to family graves. They begin to sweep away the leaves and debris, remove dried flowers and replace them with the fresh bundles they carry. The pallbearers stop under an ancient tree where the earth is soft and ready.  Copal incense wafts smoky and pungent.  If you get too close you will begin to cry.

The band forms a circle under the permanent awning.  There is a press of people around the gravesite. I hang back to leave space for the family. An ex-pat moves away from the edge of the grave, approaches me, asks me why they dig up the bones of Arnulfo’s father to place Arnulfo there. I explain about the ten-year cycle of using the same family plot, then ask how she knows Arnulfo.  “Oh, I read about it.  I took a group to the Tlacolula Market today and we decided to stop here, too.” she says.  “It’s time I find them and go.”

Someone is in the tree beside Arnulfo’s grave, taking photos, high above the rest of us, another ex-pat I recognize but don’t know.  He is hovering at the perfect vantage point, wears white. The band plays a waltz.  The ex-pat lowers himself from the tree, passes inches from me with no eye-contact, takes a few more steps, then pivots as the father-in-law of the deceased moves past me going in the other direction toward the grave.  They criss-cross in front of me. The father-in-law is from another country across the Pacific Ocean. They are both now steps away.  The ex-pat stops the older man, asks, “What will happen to all the things in the gallery?”  I say, “That’s not a question for today.” The father-in-law’s face scrunches up, his brows almost touch, he stares, then shrugs, doesn’t answer, turns, continues on. The man in white, says, You interrupted me, that was rude. He didn’t understand you, I say. I did, he says. That’s perfect, I say. He moves to another side of the cemetery, takes photos of people huddled on tombstones.

There is clapping.  Testimonials.  A thunderclap answers.  Human hands clap again. He was so young, I hear someone say. He was so talented, says another. That’s life, says a man I know who stops to greet me as I walk slowly away.

I think of Arnulfo. He looked so young, even at fifty-nine.  Smooth, chestnut skin, a few laugh lines, a shock of slightly receding pitch hair drawn into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, the contentment of fatherhood.  I remember him standing at the gallery doorway on Macedonio Alcala, he waves and smiles, I do the same, stop in, buy artist-imprinted T-shirts for my husband and son. His new wife packages them in tissue with gentleness.

I remember years ago when I first came here, in search of his fine tapestries, the shoulder bag with strands of gold and silver, woven into wool the color of nightfall, wet earth, blood, garnet, magic, climbing the hill to Casa Sagrada to find the kitchen where the family taught the secrets of Zapotec mole negro.

I think of Suzie, thirty-five, still in a coma.  Why did she get into this particular taxi that crashes into a concrete barrier at sixty miles per hour?  Yesterday, Kathryn and I talk about Suzie.  We remember her giddy filled-with-life laugh, how people light up when she enters a room.  Is it all about when our time comes, Kathryn asks?  You mean, is it predetermined, how and when?, I ask.  Yes, she says. No, I say. I think it is random, like when my son was held up at gun-point, averted his eyes, lived. Life happens in a moment. This is life, and to know and accept is all that matters.

After the funeral, I pick up Robin, whose daughter-in-law is scheduled for an emergency cesarean to deliver an early, underweight baby.  The risks are high. The baby is in stress. We drink white wine, wait for news.  The phone rings.  She begins to sob, then says to her husband on the other end, thank you, Grandpa.