Tag Archives: Mexico

Dancing on the Zocalo, Veracruz, Mexico

The Zocalo, or town square, is the center of community life in Mexico. Here in Veracruz, on Friday and Saturday nights, the band starts playing at seven in the evening and dancers take to the pavement to strut their stuff. We hear tell that they go long into the night.

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Our hotel is right across the street from the Zocalo, so it’s convenient to stroll over to watch couples twirl, spin and do a fancy two-step.

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You can tell some of them have been dancing together all their adult lives. They are in rhythm with each other and the music.

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I asked a sweet elderly man who looked like he could have been the grand master of the Huapango if I could take his photo. He was wearing a huge gold medal chain around his neck, perhaps a sign of winning some contest or another. Of course, he said, Yes. And, then he asked me to dance! Something I wasn’t quite expecting.

Norma SoneandoDon’t tell my surgeon! I’m scheduled for a knee replacement operation in November, and I have to confess that after a few spins on the dance floor I needed to find some ibuprofeno at the Oxxo convenience store on the other side of the square. But, how could I resist that music?

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Sheri, Mary Anne and I took a break to have dinner at El Gran Cafe el Portal, written up as a good place for seafood. It was just next to our hotel by the Zocalo. Thank goodness I didn’t need to walk very far! The grilled sea bass Veracruz style, flavored with red sauce, fresh veggies, onions, capers and green olives, was the best!

VeracruzDancing-16 VeracruzDancing-23  Then, it was off to Guero Guera for Mexican style frozen ice cream-like dessert called nieves. I love the fruity flavor of nanche topped with a not-too-sweet scoop of chocolate. Get the very smallest cup size. It’s plenty!

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The Zocalo is a magical place at night. Filled with lights, color, food vendors and families out for an evening to find a breeze in the tropical warmth of a Veracruz October evening.

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And,  be careful where you step. You might come across this mosaic sea turtle as you stroll the neighborhood where Hernan Cortes once set foot, too!

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Street Life, Veracruz, Mexico

We are walking down a Veracruz street with guide Martin and I had this sudden feeling that I could be in Havana, Cuba. I’ve never been to Havana. But it’s a port town like this one, facing an unrelenting ocean and assaulted with the same kind of weather that beats up beautiful buildings so that overtime they become like dowagers who have lost their glamour and their inheritances, become shabby and unkempt if attention passes them by.

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When I asked him, Martin said Yes, this area near the Zocalo is very much like Havana, and I had a sense of being in an exotic place filled with the wonder of a five hundred year old history, a blend of Afro-Caribbean music and steamy heat.

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Restoration is underway. Buildings are undergoing renovation in preparation for the city’s five-hundred year anniversary in 2019. As we looked closer, we could see that many of the ancient walls were constructed with coral.

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The morning started with mega-doses of lecheros at El Gran Cafe de La Perroquia on the Malecon. Now, there are two of these restaurants with the same name located next door to each other because years ago there was a split in the family. The real authentic, original with the silver coffee service imported from Italy is the first one you will come to.

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We didn’t know that until we found ourselves at the other one, which was truly enjoyable nevertheless. While we ate huevos Mexicanos and huevos Moltuleños, and slurped rich, hot and milky coffee, we were entertained by dancers and musicians. This was easily an almost two-hour breakfast, filled with reverence for coffee preparation.

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Then, we took one of those city tours in a double-decker vehicle, followed by a walk out to the pier to see the transport ship that carries two thousand Volkswagens made in Puebla, Mexico, to other parts of the world.

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By three in the afternoon, Sheri and I are ready for a rest. Mary Anne is the energizer bunny and keeps on going. Looking forward to eating more seafood before we leave here on Sunday.

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But, before we got back to the hotel, we made a stop at Galerias PopulArte Tlacihualli, Calle Mario Moline No. 23, Planta Alta, Centro, Tel (229) 931 9640.  They are not always open, so we considered ourselves fortunate that we found it, and there was extraoardinary Veracruziana folk art to be found there. artepopular@secturveracruz.gob.mx

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In addition to ceramics and jewelry, there is a good selection of finely embroidered textiles, including table cloths, runners and clothing.

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Along the wharf there is a bas relief cement sculpture representing scenes of agricultural life in Veracruz and the importance of Africans as part of the region’s development. There, too, are classical Baroque-style Spanish buildings that served as the customs house, post office and telegraph office.

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Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015

Mystery of Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

You may have noticed that I changed the blog banner to a night-time Oaxaca, Mexico, Day of the Dead cemetery scene. Rituals are ancient, family-centered and mystical. Dia de los Muertos will start at the end of October and continue through November 3 this year.  In Teotitlan del Valle, the traditional November 2 cemetery ritual moves to Monday, November 3, because November 2 falls on Sunday.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

September brings rain. It has always been this way. (The ancients did not worry about global warming.) The circle of life is complete and comes around once again. The rains bring the October profusion of wild marigold blooming throughout the countryside, coming just in time as Mother Earth’s gift to decorate altars and grave sites to honor deceased loved ones.

Copal incense burners

Copal incense burners

Muertos is coming. The season is changing. This week, the night air turned chilly and I wrap myself in a handwoven wool rebozo.  Hot chamomile tea is on the stove. The corn has tassled and is ready to harvest.  There is a full moon and the evening sky sparkles. Days are still warm, but the afternoon winds bring with them a whisper of winter.

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

In the next few weeks, our Oaxaca snowbirds will return. Visitors will arrive to experience the wonder and mystery of Muertos, and bring with them much needed tourism dollars that artisans depend upon.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

In the central valley of Oaxaca, we will light copal incense, gather marigold flowers, decorate homes and reflect on the meaning of life and death, memory and relationships. The scent of the copal and marigolds help guide the dead from and back to their graves.

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Portrait Photography Workshop Starts at the end of January. Taking Registrations!