Tag Archives: economics

Harvesting Espadin Agave for Mezcal in My Front Yard: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Mezcaleros Hilario and Emmanuel loading agave espadin piñas

Only in Oaxaca do you wake up to find a guy cutting down agave cactus for mezcal in your front yard, Kalisa Wells told me yesterday morning.  Kalisa is house-sitting for me in Teotitlan del Valle while I’m sojourning in Durham, North Carolina.

First, cut off the sharp, spiny leaves

Kalisa is really there to puppy sit until Luz and Sombra come of age, ready to adopt out. It should be soon. Then, she’ll be taking care of Mamacita and Tia until I get back.

Kalisa Wells took all these photos! Thank you!

There has been espadin agave on the land where I live among the maize fields ever since I can remember. When I first arrived, twelve years ago, these were tiny immature plants. Omar, youngest Chavez Santiago family son, tells me these agave were planted seventeen years ago! Now, some are sending up reproductive shoots, topped with baby agaves. Bees swarm and give up agave honey. After a few months, the mother plant dies. Topples over. The dead stalk can be used for fire wood or home construction.

Farmers want to harvest the agave when it is ripe and before it sends up the stalk, when the sugar energy is concentrated in the piña, perfect for making mezcal.

When Teotitlan del Valle mezcalero Hilario and his son Emmanuel showed up to cut and dig out the piña, Kalisa took photos and a video to send to me. She keeps me informed about life around the casita. Don Federico supervised. It’s his land, his agave, and this is his cash crop.

Niss Gubaa Dau mezcal brand, Teotitlan del Valle

Seems Kalisa has been buying local mezcal from them for a while. They make the distilled brew in their patio, behind the molina (mill) across from the church and market.

Almost ready to dig out. See the video for how they do it.

They are working hard on all the agave, writes Kalisa. I hear the sound of primitive and very effective tools. I hear the Zapotec language and the smell of fresh cut agave drifting into the casita. 

Teotitlan del Valle mezcal brand contact information

Demand for artisanal mezcal has skyrocketed around the world. There are now more than 300 brands. There is worry and big buzz about whether there will be enough agave to satisfy the demand. Every food and beverage writer weighs in on this as they come to Oaxaca to sample the offerings.

What’s left — only the remains of leaves and a piña to be loaded.

Small operations, like those of Hilario and Emmanuel, are still producing home grown, home distilled mezcal for local consumption just as they have been doing for hundreds of years. Fiestas in Teotitlan del Valle are fueled by mezcal. It is de rigueur to bring a bottle as a host gift.

(Here in North Carolina, we call this beverage, moonshine, made the same way in a shiny, copper still.)

Some mezcal facts and tips:

I see by the photos that the landscape of my front yard has changed, denuded of espadin. The agave in my front yard and along the fence line is no more. Last year, I planted rows of immature espadin plants in anticipation that someday Don Federico might harvest these treasures.

Before the cutting, my garden decor.

I’ve expanded my cactus garden to include tobala, tepeztate and cuixe.  It will take them many more years to mature and offer me unlimited high desert beauty. They may certainly outlast my lifetime!

The tipsy glass of liquid gold — Pineapple Lime Mezcalita

 

 

India Journal: Fill in the Blanks, Stencil Art

Remember when you were a child and got a set of crayons and coloring book? The book was printed with figures and designs. It was your job fill in the color between the lines.

Stenciled design on cloth gives embroiderer stitch guide

Be careful, a parent or teacher would say. Be neat. Don’t go outside the lines. There were no blank pages on which to scribble or be creative. You got a gold star for staying inside the lines, filling in all the shapes.

Young Ahir woman honing her craft

Soon, you may have been bored and gone on to do something else. Perhaps the color intensity lessened as you hastily went on to the next page. Maybe, you went outside the lines on purpose to make your own mark.

Working on a pre-printed pattern. Is there freedom for color choice?

Yesterday we went to visit India textile expert Judy Frater at the NGO she runs in Adipur, about an hour east of Bhuj near the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea. Before starting Somaiya Kala Vidya in 2014, Judy was the founding director of Kala Raksha, another NGO dedicated to textile promotion and development.

New Ahir embroidery that will become pillow or handbag

Today she works with indigenous artisans to provide education and training programs designed for cultural sustainability, market development, and indigenous identity.

Ahir women in embroidery circle, all working on stenciled patterns

With Judy during my visit and with Salim Wazir the following day, I talked about the questions we discuss in Mexico that India shares. I suspect that these are pressing questions among artisans throughout the world.

Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail

  1. How do you create a sustainable craft enterprise without compromising an artisan’s innate creativity and urge for innovation?
  2. When a designer comes in to work with local artisans, employing his or her own drawings and hires the local artisan to execute them, how does this have an impact on craft preservation and design ownership?
  3. If NGO’s create cooperatives that then produce cookie cutter patterns printed on cloth that the embroiderers then fills in with silk threads in pre-selected colors, is this craft development or exploitation?
  4. If something is produced for the tourist market and not for personal or community use, what impact will this have for design sustainability?
  5. What compromises can be made to make sure that people work for fair wages, without being piece workers doing routine jobs for work they don’t own?
  6. Is paid work the only important consideration or does originality and integrity of communal design hold more value?
  7. How will textile craft survive and who will decide its future?

Workshop participant making panel for tourist market

What other questions would you ask?

How would you answer these questions? I’m interested in hearing from you!

Old mirrored embroidery on silk bandhani, imperfectly beautiful

Mexico and India are both sources for great textile artistry.  Weavers in Mexico have made cloth on back strap, flying shuttle and pedal looms for centuries and longer. In India, artisans have been weaving cloth, dyeing it with natural colors and embellishing it with embroidery since Mughal conquerors and spice trade adventurers moved from central Asia and the Levant.

She is beginning to fill in the blanks.

As tourist preferences drive the crafts market, most non-governmental agencies direct people to make things that will sell. Production uniformity is important to outside markets as collectors demand high-quality, perfect workmanship, and sophisticated design (in their point-of-view).

Whimsical embroidered blouse belonging to Wandh herding community

The whimsy of asymmetry and uneven stitches seems to be losing ground in the commercial marketplace. Only foreigners are interested in tribal textiles.

Rabari women in another workshop also follow a designer provided pattern.

If a boutique owner or retail client orders 100 handbags, he or she may expect that while color may vary, design will be consistent.  If there is deviation or variation, something may not sell and then the risk is that the worker and the organization will no longer receive orders and then go out of business.

Contemporary Rabari needlework

What price will be paid for quality consistency and uniformity? Will the naive, free-form folk art design produced for self-use disappear in favor of making something more polished that will then be sold at a higher price to foreigners?

Vintage Rabari embroidery trim on bandhani tie-dyed shawl

What about making goods for the local market vs. the foreign market? I was told repeatedly that woven goods are now being made with acrylic because it is cheaper to produce and that is what local people will buy.

Whimsical Toran in Ahir village community center

What is the cost and the loss for using cheaper raw materials and industrial mechanization?

I’d love what she’s wearing!

It is difficult to find artisans in India, as well as in Mexico, who are still working in natural dyes because the process is longer and the investment in raw materials is much higher.

Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old

The tourist season in Gujarat, India is about four months long, from November through February, about the same as in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s the dry season, easier to travel. Yet, this is the hottest December that people in Bhuj can remember. There is no global warming, right?

Sheep wool, hand-woven skirt trimmed in embroidery, pure Rabari

And, this year, because of India’s demonitization crisis and no access to cash currency, about 60-70% of international tours cancelled.  This region that depends on tourism is being hard hit. Sound familiar to those of you who visit or live in Mexico?

Rabari woman working on dress trim to be sold in a boutique somewhere

I’ve heard stories about embroidery designs from one tribal group that are co-opted and used by another because it is more popular. I have heard about a village that weaves a piece of cloth which is sent to another village for embroidery embellishment. Neither is credited with for the work.

Rabari women’s hands make quick work; tattoos and cloth, key symbols of identity.

Since cloth is about identity, does this practice contribute to loss of cultural identity? Who is responsible for this loss? How do we put value on what is made by hand? Are we willing to compensate or are we looking for a bargain, at whatever the cost to the maker?

Tools of the trade: cotton or rayon floss, needles, mirrors

I’m writing this blog post from the airport in Seoul, South Korea. It’s 10:50 a.m., December 14 here. I will be back in California, USA by 8:30 a.m. December 14. Go figure! The international news is daunting, and the prospects of a new presidency are depressing as cabinet appointees are named. I’m still apologizing, especially to the terrific Muslim people I have met along this Path to and from India.

Old block print, made with madder root, backs vintage textile.

 

 

Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

My North Carolina visit is coming to a close and I return to Oaxaca on Saturday, April 30. While I’ve been here, I’ve eaten a lot of grits, tomato gravy and fried green tomatoes.  I love grits.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

A particular pleasure is catch up time with important friends with whom I have a deep, long and connected relationship. It makes me think about living here more during the year and buying instead of renting.

So, I went on the Durham, North Carolina bungalow tour with my friend Hettie, organized by the historic preservation society. The temptation to own one of these beauties is powerful. Hettie and I spent time cruising neighborhoods for home ownership possibilities for me.

Durham is gritty, one of those places that people are calling The Brooklyn of the South. Property values are skyrocketing and renovated bungalows in coming-back neighborhoods are snapped up within a day or two after being listed for sale.

Thanks to the New York Times and the plethora of imaginative restaurants here, Durham is a surge community. Soon-to-be opened condos in the city center are going for over $1 million. A few years ago, no one wanted to live here. It is becoming the epitome of upscale elitism and monied funk. Disparities are showing up here big time, pushing poor people out, raising the tax base.

I’m mesmerized by mixed Durham neighborhoods with ethnic, racial and economic diversity where 1200 square foot 1930s bungalows are selling for$300K+   That’s not my price range!

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

As I begin to explore planting my feet here for part of the year, going back and forth to/from Oaxaca, I imagine what it would be like to be a home owner, support a mortgage, pay insurance, do maintenance and be with women with whom I have shared a connected intimacy over many years.

I’m open to a dialog about this. Now, for today, off to look at small houses in affordable neighborhoods that would be an entirely new living experience for me.

Why am I considering this?

  • Close to long-time, intimate friends
  • Having a base of my own in the USA
  • Access to university medical center health care
  • Living for today with a plan for tomorrow
  • Claiming a stake in real estate investment

What would be the downside?

  • Less discretionary income
  • Limited and less frequent international travel
  • Fewer opportunities to meet up with friends who live elsewhere
  • Fewer visits to west coast family
  • Higher fixed costs
  • Lifestyle changes

 

 

Cultural Continuity in Oaxaca: Survival Despite Globalization

http://wp.me/pRHvb-Ir

This post from CasitaColibri just landed in my inbox as I wait in the RDU airport to begin my “one-way” journey to Oaxaca today. It was refreshing to get my mind (and heart) centered on Oaxaca culture after having to repack (2x) my bags at the check-in counter because of extreme overweight (not me, my luggage)!  I forgot that the limit was 50 lbs.  Even for international.  Overweight fees are $200 and 3rd bag fees are $150.  Moving to Mexico for several months is not something I have done before.

Back to the important stuff:  So, the discussion focuses on the impact of external forces that influence a culture and it’s ability to change, adapt and survive. The Aztec and then Spanish conquests were only two of many in a long line of factors that create pressure that can cause a community to either disintegrate or evolve and strengthen in the process. Today, with a new Walmart under construction, with high unemployment, with the full court press of Monsanto to take over small family farms and replace indigenous corn with a genetically modified version, with the potential of fracking as a source of government revenue, there is still a strong local commitment to cultural continuity and voices speaking out against big business.

Thanks to Shannon Sheppard for bringing this to our attention.