Tag Archives: Mitla

Everyday Life in the Campo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Those of us who live here in Mexico probably do much the same things that you do every day. Food shop, clean house, exercise, visit friends, read, write, take naps, volunteer, etc. Most of the immigrants I know are retired and live here either part or full-time. We’re from Canada and the U.S.A. for the most part, but Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans are among us, too.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Oaxaca Red casita color. With Gar Bii Dauu. Local endangered succulent.

Living in Teotitlan del Valle is different from being a city dweller. This village of indigenous Zapotec people holds to a strong, powerful and ancient culture. Many work at weaving wool rugs. Some are musicians. Others are shopkeepers or run comedors. Some are bakers and butchers. A few sew clothing. Many are farmers. In times when there are fewer tourists, many weavers supplement their income by growing and harvesting food.

Plowing my neighbors corn field, a five-hour project

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, five plus hours of labor

I live in the campo. Out beyond the hubbub of town, amid the traditional milpas of corn, beans and squash. I’m surrounded on three sides by maize fields. Some are tasseling now. Here, the tradition is to plow the furrows when the corn is waist-high to break the crust and allow rain to penetrate earth. This is living close to the soil. Organic. Honorable.

It’s rainy season. Green stretches for miles. Today I awakened to whistling. Out my window was a young man driving a team of bulls plowing the field next to the casita I live in.

Rene's Volkswagen van. Can you guess it's vintage?

Rene’s Volkswagen van. Can you guess it’s vintage?

I grew up in Los Angeles. Miles of freeways. Concrete. Tiny lots separated by six-foot block walls. School yards paved with asphalt. I remember scraped knees and elbows. The hum of car engines passing. We were all jammed together, a jam of humanity. Even more now. Gridlock. I think I’ve become a country girl.

The crop was planted in July. There wasn’t much rain in June and farmers worried about another year of drought. In my absence over the last five weeks, seems that weather has played catch up and everything is growing.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

Two teams of bulls on two days, one white, the other black. Take a rest.

The young man plowing the field rents out his services. His two bulls are tethered with a hand-hewn yoke that supports a wood plow. He guides the curved stick deep into the earth with one hand to keep the furrow straight. In the other, he holds a switch that gently prods the animals to keep on the straight and narrow. Farm machinery cannot do this job well enough.

A perfect day for plowing the fields.

A perfect day for plowing the fields. From my living room window.

This is his second day at it. Both days, he started at eight in the morning, ended around two o-clock in the afternoon, just before lunch. People work hard here. Five plus hours plowing the field with no break in the heat of the day. The monotony of walking back and forth. The patience of walking back and forth.

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

My friend, plumber and handy-man extraordinaire René asks me if I know what the greca (Greek key) symbol means that is woven on village rugs.  It’s the step-fret carved into the Mitla temple walls, I answer.

Grecas, Mitla archeological site

Grecas, Mitla archeological site, post-classical Monte Alban

Yes, and more, he says. The ancient Zapotecs believe the two interlocking hands that form the pre-Hispanic greca represent the serpent deity duality and the life-giving connection between earth and sky, water and fire.  

The transformation. Beige to red. Another symbol.

Rene executing the transformation. Beige to red. Symbol of change.

We are eating lunch and the thunder is rolling in. The sky darkens. Earth gives off the aroma of on-coming rain.  The just plowed field next door will soon drink its fill. René packs up his painting supplies. Paint does not do well with humidity.

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design

Handwoven indigo rug with greca design, Teotitlan del Valle

The exterior walls of the casita I live in are getting a makeover. The wasband liked beige. I’m in the mood for Oaxaca Red.

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley

From rooftop terrace, a 360 degree view of Tlacolula valley

Yo hice tu ropa! I made your clothes! Fashion Revolution

Carry Somers founded Fashion Revolution in England some years ago. It has grown into a worldwide organization with country representatives who promote the use of natural materials, fair trade and sustainability in the fashion industry.

Yo hice tu ropa! I made your clothes!

Carry advocates for transparency, says we should all be aware of who makes our clothes. She is committed to giving recognition to each artisan around the world whose labor creates clothing that gives us so much more than protection from the elements.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

Clothing is a fashion statement. Fashion Revolution aims to bring us in touch with artisans dedicated to preserving their culture through the cloth they make.

Carry traveled with me last week on a one-day natural dye and weaving textile study tour to meet artisans in the Tlacolula Valley who dedicate their lives to preserving their traditions.

This blog post features the work of one of my favorite artisans, Arturo Hernandez, who weaves on the counterbalance flying shuttle loom, from his home studio in Mitla. His random design ikat shawls are all made with natural dyes. He is invited to the 2016 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July, a juried show and sale.

I hope you have a chance to read what Carry just published.

Antiques in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

There is a tall, inconspicuous door on a San Pablo Villa de Mitla side street. Open it and discover a home gallery filled with antique treasures. The inventory is small and includes ancient stone metates, glass vases hand-painted with flowers and edged in gold, reliquaries and ex votos. Señor Epifanio knows his stuff.

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Scott Roth holding an old Mitla hand-woven textile

Upstairs via a narrow, concrete passageway painted in brilliant blue is a gallery filled with blown glass mezcal bottles, remnants of the time when this was how the agave liquor was stored. They are hard to find and very expensive.

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Dolls, old photos, books, chachkeh from Mitla, Oaxaca

Occasionally, there is a jewelry find, like the Mexican silver coin earrings from the early part of the 20th century. I returned a month later to buy them and they were gone. Rule for Shopping in Mexico: buy it when you see it. Usually, these things are one-of-a-kind.

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Hand-blown mezcal and water bottles, most from Oaxaca, 1950’s-1960’s

I’m reluctant to share the address and contact information. Only because I haven’t asked permission to cite the location, plus these things are getting scarce, and with scarcity comes higher prices. As demand rises, prices do, too. So, why am I publishing this?

So you can see the photos, of course.

Faces and Festivals Chiapas Photography Workshop

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Portrait of Scott Roth with old Zapotec textile from Teotitlan del Valle

 

San Pablo Villa de Mitla in Black and White: Oaxaca Archeology and Photography

Grecas at Mitla archeological site

It was one of those perfect Oaxaca days where the skies were cerulean blue and filled with puffy white cumulus clouds scattered like pillows across the horizon. Our photography workshop participants set out by van for the ancient village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla at the far end of the Tlacolula Valley about 35-40 minutes from our base in Teotitlan del Valle.

Several of the participants as well as instructors, wife and husband team of Sam and Tom Robbins, were versatile in both digital and black and white film photography.  However, most of us had never used the black and white settings on our digital cameras before and this was our assignment for the day.  It was challenging and a stretch!

We spent the morning looking at the work of extraordinary black and white photographers — Ansel Adams, Josef Sudek, Andre Kertesz, Bill Brandt, Lewis Hine, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Ron Mayhew, Richard Avedon, Jill Enfield, and Sam and Tom Robbins.  Then, we practiced using the settings on our own cameras.  Tom showed us his work just published in B&W Magazine.

Tom and Sam asked us to pay attention to window light, reflection off metal, shadow and shape, horizon lines, repetition of shape, texture, composition and gradations of grey.  In the pre-shoot learning session we discussed ways to capture shapes, tension, balance, to hold the camera to the eye and scan.

Woman with White Head Scarf by Omar Chavez Santiago

“Remember to move your feet.  Knowing where to stand,” says Sam, “is the most important thing we can teach you.”

This was my first attempt at B&W.  My friend Omar was a beginner and this was his first experience with digital photography.  It was a challenge and an opportunity to look at the world through a different lens!  We learned to shoot through doorways, look for repetition of angles, note that diagonal lines add tension and horizontal lines add stability.  We paid attention to simple shapes and to get close up.

    

“Tip the camera to get the best angle,” Tom Robbins encouraged us.  “Look for the mood of a place.”  Mitla is an extraordinary place. It is a pre-Hispanic Zapotec-Mixtec archeological site where the Spanish conquerors built atop a regional temple (as they did throughout Mexico) to attract locals to worship.

Handwoven Mitla waste basket

Chris, another participant, said, “I’m getting a ton of ideas.  This is encouraging me to look for opportunities in places I frequent at home to transform something ordinary into something extraordinary.”

“Watch for the light,” Sam said.  Catch movement.  A faster shutter speed with flash will sometimes stop your subject.

          

Stele at Mitla (above) is by Omar Chavez Santiago.  All other photos by Norma Hawthorne unless indicated.  I am using a Nikon D40X (out of production) and Nikkor lenses 18-105mm and 70-300mm.

Photographer Edward Weston captured Mitla in black and white between the 1920’s and 1940’s.  His photos are intense juxtapositions of light and dark.  Tom advised us to “get low against the wall if it’s noon to capture the shadows.”

We loved the experiment in black and white!

Come along on our next photography workshop:  Day of the Dead Photography Expedition with Bill Bamberger, October 29-November 4, 2011.

Oaxaca and Family Travel

A reader just wrote to me with the following questions: Is Oaxaca safe for families? and What do we do once we get there?

I think you will find Oaxaca a very welcoming place for families.  A friend, her husband and two pre-teens lived in Oaxaca for a year “on sabbatical” to have a different cultural experience and learn the language.  A colleague of mine at UNC Chapel Hill who is a cancer researcher returned from Oaxaca over the winter holidays where she went for two weeks with her husband and high school-aged daughter.  Another reader just spent several weeks in Mexico with his family, starting in Mexico City, visiting Puebla and Oaxaca, and staying in Teotitlan del Valle.  We see families in Oaxaca all the time.  Of course, the caveat is that it is important to be mindful of your surroundings where ever one travels; the same precautions you take for Europe apply to Oaxaca.

Off the top of my head, there are many things for children to do and enjoy in Oaxaca:

  1. The Ethnobotanical Gardens
  2. The archeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla — climbing the pyramids
  3. The Museo Textil de Oaxaca (the textile museum)
  4. A stay in the family-friendly village of Teotitlan del Valle to hike, learn about weaving and take a cooking class with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz
  5. The hubbub of market days; nothing beats popping a crispy chapuline in your mouth!  Fried, spicy grasshoppers never tasted so good.
  6. Cooking classes for kids with Pilar Cabrera at Casa de los Sabores Cooking School and Bed & Breakfast
  7. Francisco Toledo kites at IAGO and a visit to the paper-making studio in San Augustin Etla
  8. The sights and sounds of street vendors and musicians
  9. A steaming, frothy cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate at a sidewalk cafe on the Zocalo

Plus lots more.  A feature was written in the last year or two about the most family-friend places to visit and Oaxaca came to the top of the list.  I don’t have the link but you could research that.  I wrote about it on my website.

The textile museum offers regular workshops for children and for parents and children together.  You could take a weaving workshop together in Teotitlan del Valle and learn about natural dyes.  There is also an English speaking Spanish tutor in Teotitlan that I can refer you to, if you wanted to spent a few days out there at Las Granadas in the tranquility of the Oaxaca countryside.  Las Granadas is a family owned and operated bed and breakfast, with two pre-teen boys!

All in all, I think you and your family would love it.

Saludos,
Norma

Readers:  Do you have any other suggestions for family travel and fun in Oaxaca?

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