Tag Archives: culture

You Are Invited: Italian Cultural Festival in Oaxaca

2017 Day of the Dead Study Tour, Small Village Rituals and Traditions

The small villages in the Tlacolula Valley outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, are rich in culture and tradition. Perhaps nothing is more sacred here than the Day of the Dead celebrations. This ancient pre-Hispanic ritual to honor ancestors is thousands of years old, as are the indigenous Mexican people who observe it.

Offerings on the altar. Favorite foods, beverages.

Out here in the countryside, observances are elemental. They rarely feature glitzy parades, masquerades, endless firecrackers and Ranchera music that now defines the experience of city celebrations. That’s not to say, don’t celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City. It is to say, give yourself the added experience of participating in a more contemplative introduction to Oaxaca village practices beyond the city.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead Study Tour: 5 days, November 1-5, 2017

I’m inviting you to come along with me to personally explore the small towns off the Panamerican Highway, where we will meet local families, join them in meals, pay tribute at their altars, welcome the spirits of the dead (difuntos) back to earth, accompany them to the cemeteries where difuntos return to their resting places. We sit with them at the graveside to ease their return.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

Here, off the beaten path, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.

For several years now, I’ve thought about bringing a group together to discuss the cultural rituals of life and death, differences and similarities. How do we integrate and observe death, dying, grief, mourning and the celebration of life in our own traditions?

La Catrina, making a mockery of death

How do we understand the practices here in Mexico? What can we learn from this mystical and spiritual culture? What are our shared and divergent experiences? On reflection, how will this Day of the Dead study tour alter our own feelings about death and loss?

So, this will be a small group experience of no more than 10 people. We want to have a very low impact in homes and cemeteries where we visit. You are invited to bring your journals, notebooks, cameras, iPhones, sketchpads, or anything else you need to document this personal experience.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

I will invite resource experts to accompany us on our journey to help guide the conversation, and give you historical and cultural perspectives.

There will be some pre-workshop readings that I will send to you to prepare for the trip and the conversations we will have along the way.

Itinerary, Day of the Dead Study Tour: Rituals and Traditions

  • Wednesday, November 1: Visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla and San Juan Guelavia (Arrive to Teotitlan del Valle on your own by 9:00 a.m. We will designate a meeting place.)
  • Thursday, November 2: Visit a local market, then Tlacochuaya de Morelos and Teotitlan del Valle
  • Friday, November 3: Meet the artisans who bake bread, make beeswax candles, prepare tamales
  • Saturday, November 4: Participate in a cooking class that features ritual foods with a mezcal tasting
  • November 5: Depart on your own to Oaxaca any time after breakfast

What the Study Tour Includes:

  • 4 nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle at a local guesthouse, starting November 1
  • 4 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 4 dinners
  • Cooking class and mezcal tasting
  • All daily transportation from Teotitlan del Valle to the villages
  • Bread and chocolate to present at family altars
  • Honoraria to village hosts, artisans, invited speakers and resource experts
  • Packet of materials to prepare you for the study tour (via email)

Cost: $1,195. per person for double occupancy, shared room and bath. $1,495. per person single occupancy, private room and bath.

At the Mitla cemetery, Arturo Hernandez decorates his mother’s grave

The study tour does not include airfare to Mexico, round-trip taxi from Oaxaca city to Teotitlan del Valle, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, snacks, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

How to Register? Send me an email. 

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After the 45-day cut-off date, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Marigold flowers, the difuntos follow the scent

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, 2015. Selenium filter ala Ansel Adams

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, American Federation of Teachers strike for fair wages, 1960’s, Los Angeles. Selenium filter a la Ansel Adams.

We just finished a week of publishing a Day of the Dead Photography Challenge over at the Facebook site I manage, Mexico Travel Photography. You might want to jump over there to take a look at some amazing shots of this spiritual celebration of life and death. Consider joining and participating if you are not already a member.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

What everyone loves about Mexico is her vibrant color. Everywhere. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life and death. There is nothing more vibrant than the flowers that adorn altars and grave sites, market life and costumes.

But, this post takes a turn to Black and White Photography.

Four crosses mark this family plot where generations of people are buried 10 years apart.

4 crosses on family plot where generations can be buried 10 years apart. Copper filter.

A friend asked me today, what is Muertos? Is it like Halloween?  My answer is definitely NO … and SORT OF.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Here is my short-version explanation: When the Spanish came to Mexico in 1521, they co-opted an indigenous ancestor worship tradition (Day of the Dead) and overlaid it with All Saints and All Souls Day observations. All Saints’ Day begins with All Hallows Eve, or Halloween with deep Catholic religious and spiritual tradition.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos, Oaxaca city.

All Souls’ Day commemorates the faithfully departed and is most closely linked to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Skulls in the market. All altars have some form of them.

Skulls in the market. Most altars have some form of them.

The Spanish were very smart conquerors. Rather than obliterating the religious practices of indigenous people, they integrated observances to make conversion much more palatable. It is possible that Muertos was celebrated during another time of year. As with most other rituals, it moved to coincide with a Catholic feast day.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Before the Spanish conquest, Dia de Los Muertos had no link to Halloween. In recent years the US images of pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, black cats and gauzy synthetic cobwebs have migrated across the border as Mexicans born in the USA visit their family in cities and villages throughout the country. We see this blending of commercialism and ancient tradition throughout Oaxaca.

Calavera sculpture, cutting stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

Calavera (skeleton) sculpture, chiseling stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

I’m editing my photos first using Lightroom, a Photoshop editing tool. Then, I convert these photos to SilverEfex, a free black and white software editing tool now owned by Google. It’s easy to download. You can choose filters, film type and manipulate the histogram if you wish. I’m having fun with it and wanted to share what I’ve done with you.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a fresh gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle. Intentional?

In case you are interested it takes me from 2 to 4 hours to make a blog post. This includes selecting and editing the photos and then writing the text (or vice versa!) Thank you for reading and following.

Que Supresa! Oaxaca in San Diego, California

As I drive south from my son’s home in Huntington Beach, California, on my way to visit Barbara and David, and dear friend Merry Foss in San Diego, I marvel at how the landscape looks like Mexico, how the climate feels like Mexico. Except there is development everywhere, new houses, shopping centers, freeway congestion. Infrastructure.

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

When I stop at the Pacific Ocean overlook, everyone around me speaks Spanish and I take up a conversation with a young mother traveling with two daughters from El Paso, Tejas (the J is a soft H. Tay-Hass). Oh, you might think that could be Texas. Sometimes I think we are borrowing the Southwest from Mexico and the day of reckoning will come when most of us will speak Spanish and justice will prevail.

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

At Barbara and David’s house, I expect a small gathering. I know my Teotitlan del Valle friend Merry Foss will be there with exquisite beaded blouses from the State of Puebla Sierra Norte made by a cooperative of indigenous women that Merry started six years ago.

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram, San Martin Tilcajete

I know that friends Violante and Consuelo Ulrich who continue the William Spratling silver jewelry making tradition in Taxco will be here. (I take study tour goers to meet them in Taxco during the February Textile and Folk Art Study Tour to Tenancingo de Degollado. Spaces open.)

Then, I turn the corner. Que Supresa! Que Milagro! I  see part of my extended family from Teotitlan del Valle and Oaxaca.

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

I had no idea that Pedro Mendoza and his wife Carina Santiago and their son Diego would also be there with their terrific handmade rugs. Carina runs Tierra Antigua Restaurant and Pedro is a weaver/exporter.

Or, that friend Jacobo Angeles drove a truck up from Oaxaca filled with alebrijes made by him and family members in San Martin Tilcajete, in Oaxaca’s Ocotlan valley.

Ortega's Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

Ortega’s Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

And, then there are ceramics from Mata Ortiz, and hand-carved whimsical wood figures by Gerardo Ortega Lopez from Tonala, Jalisco.

If you can get to San Diego this weekend, there’s a great Expoventa (show and sale) at Bazaar del Mundo, where you can meet all these artisans and buy directly from them.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Both Pedro and Jacobo tell me that tourism has dropped substantially in Oaxaca in the last month our of fear about the clashes between the federal government and the striking teachers. While Oaxaca’s economy depends on tourism, the teachers have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. It’s complicated!

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Some artisans who have visas and have come to the U.S. to do business for years, are able to cross the border and try to make up for what is lost in the local economy. Instead of talking about building walls, United States leaders need to talk about building bridges.

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

In the meantime, it takes people like David and Barbara, Robin and Linda, and members of Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico who keep the folk art traditions of Mexico in the forefront, who host artisans for private sales, who promote that Mexico has a rich artistic and cultural heritage that remains vibrant only through support and understanding.

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

If you personally or an organization you are involved with would like to host an artisan visit to the United States, please contact me. I can facilitate. This means a lot to people to keep their family traditions alive and income flowing.

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

I’m returning to Oaxaca next week. I’ve been traveling for over a month. This is a great interlude to visit with family and friends. I seem to be happy wherever I am these days! I hope you are contented, too.

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

 

The Dyeing Life: Values and Commitment to Family, Art

This is a short three-minute video from the New York Times that I have to share with you. In 1994, I was in a Maio village in China, a 9-hour bus ride from the Sichuan capital of Chengdu. Not only does this video remind me of that visit, it retells how important it is to carry forward ancient traditions of dying cloth with natural materials. It is about more than the beauty of the textile, it is about honoring values, traditions and cultural art forms wherever we find them: Mexico, China, India or elsewhere. It is about how to recalibrate by understanding how important the natural world is to our total well-being.