Tag Archives: new year

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2018: The Sacred Caves of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Beyond the town’s paved roads, back into the hills far from the village center, is the sacred site Teotitecos call Las Cuevitas. It is the third night, January 2, of a weeklong New Year’s observance practiced here in Teotitlan del Valle long before the Spanish Conquest.  For the ancients, the moon set the calendar. A late December -early January super moon would have been an awesome sight thousands of years ago just as it is today.

Sunset at Las Cuevitas, 2018, infused with cooking fire smoke

I arrive by 4:30 p.m. when it’s light enough to find a comfortable seat on a rock outcropping. I am intentionally alone to take in this environment where I live and to do my own meditation about the coming year with no distractions other than the landscape and my neighbors.

The rock mountain has changed dramatically since I was here two years ago. In a beautification plan, I see the steep, stony hillside is planted with young trees struggling to survive this high desert terrain.

Tents are as simple as a large umbrella to protect from wind and sun

The deep holes in which they are planted look like moon craters. Perhaps in ten years this will become a tree-shaded park filled with flowering Flor de Mayo and guaje trees. Ojala!

Dusk brings obscure images of people and distant mounds

But not now. The soil is more hospitable to thorny brush. Careful. A misstep on the rock pebbles will send you tumbling. (It did for me and the protective lens cover of my camera shattered.)

A camp tent and meat on the grill

This third night is less populated, more tranquil with fewer people. Families set up camp and convert the slope to a picnic ground. Some have tarp shelters or elaborate tents, sides tethered to ground with rocks gathered nearby. Ropes anchor tent to boulders.

Extended family gather around the table for a meal together al fresco

Children carry blankets, barbecue grills, wood, charcoal, a bag of meat to cook, a basket of mandarin oranges. I smell charcoal fires and gasoline, the strike of sulphur as a match lights. A wind whips up, carries smoke and cinder. Children hide their faces. So do I. Grandmothers, braids tied with crimson ribbon curl atop their heads like a crown, hover, tend to tender eyes.

Las Cuevitas panorama offer a spectacular valley view

Fragrant greens and wild flowers are traditional here

The language of Zapotec is spoken here. First language for first peoples. People I know and some I don’t, greet me with Feliz Año Nuevo, extend their arms in embrace and a pat on the back.

Packing out the remains of a meal or an overnight stay?

Las Cuevitas is the place to pray for a good year. Mostly, my friend Antonio tells me, people ask for good health. Nothing is more important, he says. In my personal world, God is universal and all human beings are good. It is easy for me to be here, lay a coin on the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe — Earth Goddess –and pray for a year of good health and contentment. We all deserve blessings.

In the grotto, small caves hold religious altars to accept prayers for good health

A small chapel receives visitors who kneel and pray

Along the rock hill, I see remnants of dreams constructed on the last two nights of the celebration with rocks, moss, fragrant greens, sticks. These are facsimiles of new houses, a second floor addition, a roof, a fence, a stockade for cattle or goats. Dreams come true if you come to Las Cuevitas and build a miniature.

Miniature farm animals are an important part of constructing dreams

Families gather together for the annual celebration

Mostly, it’s about family, intergenerational connection, integration, celebration. Gathering on the hillside to build together, eat together, pray together, play together. Cultural continuity and endurance prevails here despite intrusions from other worlds.

I’m waiting for Sunset at Las Cuevitas

It’s 5:30 p.m. and the sun glows through the clouds. I’m waiting for sunset at Las Cuevitas. Dry grasses wave. Firecrackers are lit and go skyward with a bang. All is illuminated.

The grandmothers, their braids are a crown

Beyond the caves, cows graze on the top of the opposite hill. Families continue to stream in. Women fan cooking fires. Men carry cases of beer, coolers of food. Soon after dark, young men will throw fireballs across the horizon, much like their ancestors did in a test of strength.

I stay until the sun dips into the Sierra Madre del Sur beyond the next village, Macuilxochitl. You can see their church in the distance. Under the mound that rises on the horizon is an unearthed Zapotec archeological site.

Gold glow of the setting sun, Teotitlan del Valle, January 2, 2018

As the sun vanishes, there is chill and I want to get down the rocky slope before the light dims and I can’t find my way.  I want to remember the vast expanse of universe, the valley below, the magnificence of sun, moon, stars and the days that are a gift to make meaningful.

This is sacred space to respect, enjoy and keep clean

 

 

Happy New Year — Feliz Año Nuevo — Let’s Celebrate with Pozole

I decided to have a very small New Year’s Eve birthday celebration, invite a few Zapotec friends and the family I live with to lunch, and prepare pozole. I made this in North Carolina for Dia de los Muertos, but adapted the recipe for ingredients I could find there.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — Feliz Año Nuevo

Here, in the Teotitlan del Valle market, I could find fresh Mexican oregano, organic and native corn hominy made by a local family, and tender pork from the local butcher that cost a mere $7 USD for the best cut.

Grilling onion, garlic and jalapeño pepper on the comal to bring out flavors

2 kilos of tomatillos, peeled, disinfected, simmered 20 minutes

After three trips to the car to unload my shopping basket, I sat down at the corner market stand for fortification — a fresh juice cocktail with beets, pineapple, carrot and orange.

Fresh juice respite, Teotitlan del Valle market, with shopping list

Almost everything here in the village market is criollo — or native species. The small heads of garlic come from the neighboring village of Tlacochuaya. You can only buy the heads with giant cloves at commercial grocery stores.

Pepitas on the comal — griddle, toast before peeling

I did have a glitch in my preparation. My search for shelled pumpkin seeds (called pepitas)  failed. So I bought whole seeds in a bulk bag from a spice and chili vendor. When I got home, I proceeded to try to take the skin off. The pumpkin seeds are essential to the green pozole because when ground, they become a natural sauce thickener.

Blend onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, tomatillo, pepitas to a paste

Then my friend Lupita came over. Much easier, Norma, to toast the seeds on the comal, she told me, then the shell will come right off. She taught me how to toast until the seeds start to pop like popcorn. It took me two hours to yield 1/4 cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, the amount my recipe called for. She sat down to help me and in thirty minutes the amount doubled.

Pozole verde: hominy, pork, chicken bits, spices in casserole

I love green pozole. And, I remembered how easy it was to make this one-pot meal in North Carolina. But, all fruits and vegetables here in Mexico need to be disinfected. I often rinse them several times to get rid of the soil.  Picked fresh organic cilantro and radishes are sold roots and greens. Just to get the ingredients ready was another lesson in paciencia.

Crock pot does the trick for slow cooking pork/chicken with sea salt, garlic, onion

For this Green Pozole (pozole verde) recipe, I adapted ingredients and instructions culled from Rick Bayless, Mama Latina Tips, and Food Network.  I prepared the pork-chicken/onion/garlic mix in a crock pot first, cooking for six hours.

Pozole toppings: radish, onion, cilantro, oregano, cabbage, jalapeño

When lunch ended it was almost dusk. Lunch starts here around three or four o’clock and can end several hours later depending on the quantity of food and mezcal. We had our fair share of both.

A few lunch guests, family and friends

For the next feast we would gather at 10:30 p.m. for a midnight meal with my host family to celebrate the New Year. This is  a long-standing tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, along with the annual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.

Pozole, or fresh hominy, rinsed, disinfected and drained

For the interlude, I went up to the rooftop terrace to wait, climbed into the hammock, and gazed at this December 31 Supermoon.  In the distance I could hear the village band playing at the sacred caves — Las Cuevitas. Cohetes, or firecrackers, exploded like gunshot at irregular intervals. Dogs howled. Probably a few coyotes, too.

Vegetarian version with choyote squash, hominy and green sauce

On this first day of 2018, as my Teotitlan del Valle family and I sat around the table at lunch, we each shared our wishes for 2018. I wish for continued good health, for continuing to walk three to four miles a day with my adopted dogs, for nothing more than what I already have, except to see my son more often and perhaps the possibility of a man in my life. Vamos a ver!

Supermoon from my hammock on the casita rooftop terrace, Teotitlan del Valle

As this year begins anew, as we each move through the passage of time, I wish for all of us a year of peace, satisfaction, contentment, love and abundance. There is nothing more important than the support of family and good friends.

Thank you all for following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, for reading, for joining me to discover and explore textiles and natural dyes, and for caring about Mexico.

Happy New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2017 From Mexico City

The clock strikes 2017. Yet the Zocalo in Mexico City today is almost empty. All museums and most shops are closed, too. Most Mexican families celebrate the new year at home.  On New Years’ Eve last night there were only a few strollers in the Historic Center as everything closed up by 4 p.m. and people dispersed.

Restaurant Azul Historico patio, Mexico City, festive blue

I had an early birthday dinner with my son Jacob at Entremar in Polanco. After a great fish dinner and superb bottle of Valle de Guadalupe Nebbiolo, we returned to Hotel Catedral and I climbed into bed. It was not yet 8:30 p.m. I did not dream about sugar plums and fairies, but thought about the year past and the one to come.

Organ grinders on Mexico City streets, a dying breed

Tips for Visiting Mexico City Over the New Year Holidays

  • January 1 is a National Holiday. Most museums, shops and restaurants are closed. They begin to shut down at 2 p.m. on December 31.
  • Check hours and make reservations in advance. Do your museum visits on December 29, 30 and 31
  • We were turned away at Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo, even though we got there well before it opened at 10 a.m. on December 31. Most in line had bought advance tickets via the Internet, something I didn’t think of. And, the museum closes at 2 p.m. on December 31,  is not open January 1.
  • Use UBER. It’s totally safe and reasonably priced. We did not have to wait more than 5 minutes for a car to take us anywhere.  No cash. Just a payment through your PayPal account.

Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, under the Cathedral

No specific resolutions for me other than to walk and live with intention, focus on travel only between Mexico and the USA, spend time with family and friends, walk, reflect and do good in the world. The world needs our help.

Alameda Park, Mexico City. Warm enough for fountain play in December.

My son Jacob has been with me this weekend, the best gift I could ever receive. It was his first time in Mexico City. On our first full day, we explored the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica and the Orozco murals at the Colegio San Ildefonso, had lunch at Restaurant El Mayor, then pushed on to the Tenochtitlan Templo Mayor archeological site and adjoining museum.

Day of the Dead Altar to Frida and Diego, Museo Dolores Olmedo

On the second day, December 31, we started out for a visit to Casa Azul but when we got there discovered they were closing at 2 p.m. and had sold out all tickets in advance through online sales.

Special exhibition at Museo Dolores Olmedo

While we missed getting into the Casa Azul, we took an UBER from there to the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño near Xochimilco to see early Rivera works, the hairless xoloitscuincle dogs, and a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins, Rivera’s protege. NOTE: All paintings by Frida Kahlo in this museum are on traveling exhibition in Europe until April 2017.

Man, Controller of the Universe by Diego Rivera

Then, we saw more Rivera, Orozco, Siquieras and Tamayo murals at Museo Bellas Artes.  When you get here, pay attention to the second floor mural painted by Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe. He recreates what was destroyed at Rockefeller Center.

The New Democracy, by David Alfaro Siquieros, Museo Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Art historians interpret the Siquieros mural (close-up above) as liberation from oppression. This was especially meaningful for me as we are experiencing damaging political changes in the USA that could likely effect social justice and environmental causes well into the future.

Close-up, The Torment of Cuauhtemoc, Siquerios depicts the oppressors

Here, art is a universal language and reminds us that we must be vigilant.

Another section of Siquieros’ The Torment of Cuauhtemoc mural, riveting, painful.

On the same day, we visited Rivera’s mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park, 500 years of Mexican history

Gathering for an outdoor Scrabble game on the plaza, Mexico City

Out in front on the plaza in front of this last museum, the chess and Scrabble players gather. I accepted an invitation to join a Scrabble game until I realized they were playing in Spanish and returned my tiles to the bag.

Jacob Singleton takes a photo of an Orozco mural

Museo Palacio Bellas Artes, Mexico City

In 2016, I legally changed my name to Schafer, bought a condo-apartment in Durham, NC, organized over a dozen workshops and study tours, contributed chapters and photographs to Textile Fiestas of Mexico book, volunteered at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, commemorated the anniversary of our mother’s death, traveled to India, and went back and forth between Mexico and the USA to vote, attend to health care, visit family and reconnect with friends.

Cathedral candles, Mexico City

In 2017, I want to stay put more and be present in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico. I have friends who dream of becoming vagabonds, taking to the open road, living with more freedom and unpredictability.

Aztec sculpture, Tenochtitlan, Mexico City

I want to think globally and act locally, make a difference in North Carolina, USA to effect change and make a difference, continue to bring people to Mexico to understand her art, history, culture, textiles.

Happy New Year to all. May we each participate in creating a world we are proud to live in, with respect for family, diversity and uniqueness.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2015 — Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

For the past five weeks I’ve been recovering from knee replacement surgery, first in North Carolina with dear friends who took great care of me, and then in Santa Cruz, California with my family.  I returned to Casita Alegria on December 30, just in time to celebrate another New Year’s Eve birthday with intimate friends in Teotitlan del Valle, where I live.

Las Cuevitas 2015-7

On the eve of the new year, we each wrote our 2014 regrets and our 2015 hopes and wishes, folded the piece of paper and in a private moment of reflection tossed the paper into the fire blazing in the chiminea on the patio.  For me, this was a time of letting go of past, concentrating on now and focusing on  future.

Las Cuevitas 2015-8

An honored tradition here in Teotitlan del Valle is the January 1 pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.  This is a feast day, a day of gathering in the hills behind the village at an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec site and looking ahead to what the new year will bring.  The caves, or rocky grottos, hold altars for prayer and making offerings.  Poinsettias, lilies, fresh eggs, candles and money are symbols for the season and starting anew.

Las Cuevitas 2015-19

Families gather on the hillsides, start bonfires, bring picnic suppers, light sparklers to mesmerize both adults and children. The day is warm, the early evening balmy.  The sun sets at Las Cuevitas and the entire village, or so it seems, has assembled, puts on an extra layer of clothing to protect themselves from the coming chill. The band plays. Vendors sell soft drinks, pastries.  At a comal, a woman prepares quesadillas for sale.  It is festive, intimate.

Las Cuevitas 2015-11

There is an almost full moon. The hillside glows in wonderment of prayer and promise as strewn rocks become constructions of possibility:  a new home, a corral for livestock, a second story.  Zapotec dreams are always tied to the land.

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As for me, my knee is healing.  I am ambulatory with the aid of a walking stick made from a piece of beautiful twisted North Carolina dogwood. I am able to drive my manual transmission car and continue to do my exercises.  The pain and discomfort has subsided but it is still with me.  I’m hoping to be able to walk more than 5,000 steps a day very soon.

Las Cuevitas 2015 Las Cuevitas 2015-16

Sending you wishes for a new year filled with good health, contentment, satisfaction and connection. One in which we live in peace, make peace with the past and look forward with hopefulness.  Blessings to all.

Las Cuevitas 2015-22

 

People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. There is room for you!

 

Feliz Año Nuevo — Happy New Year 2014 — Oaxaca Cheesecake Recipe

For the past week I’ve gone market shopping, both at the Sunday Tlacolula market and at the smaller, though equally satisfying Teotitlan del Valle market where I live.  It’s easier now that I have LaTuga — a market trip can be spontaneous.

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As the invitation list for my New Year’s Eve house warming birthday party dessert open house grew to over thirty, I realized I might not have enough pastries and wine.  So, I made multiple trips to Amado’s tienda to stock up on red wine and mezcal.

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At the market I bought flowers, queso fresco, sweet bread, goat cheese, and the ingredients to make tomato ginger chutney.  I usually do this in the North Carolina summer when there is a two week window for ripe tomatoes.  Here in Oaxaca, they are ripe year round.  The chutney is great warmed and poured on top of the goat cheese, then spread on bread slices.

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I made the fruit salad recipe I shared with you last week, but added mandarin oranges and poached, spiced crab apples.  Eloisa baked me three giant Chocoflan cakes, and on impulse I bought a big homemade, layered jello extravaganza at the village market.  It was a dessert buffet.

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Yesterday morning, I decided on the spur of the moment to make a New York style cheesecake when I saw Amado had two pounds of Philadelphia cream cheese in his case along with Alpura brand sour cream and a tube of Maria’s cookies.  My friend Ani gave me a gift of butter earlier, and I picked up a few extra eggs.  Instead of liquid vanilla, I used fresh squeezed lemon juice (called lima here) and zest.  I augmented the cream cheese with mashed and pureed queso fresco.  When it didn’t look like I would have enough cookie crumbs for the crust, I added some of the sweet bread to the Maria crumbs.  Adaptation is an important element for living in Mexico.

Lupe came to help me get the house ready and we prepared the cheesecake together.  Her son Daniel hung the papel picado flags and the piñata filled with candies for the children to dismantle with a stick at the end of the party.   Our village is party central.  On December 30, I was at Janet and Jan’s home for her birthday celebration. The flowers were abundant and the food delicious.

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I was too busy greeting, serving and schmoozing to take photos of my birthday accoutrements and friends.  The cheesecake disappeared before I could stage a photo shoot. Maybe those who did take photos will share them!  After everyone left, the rockets, firecrackers and band played on into the night to welcome the procession of the baby Jesus to Las Cuevitas.  Even my ear plugs didn’t help. We will join that celebration later today.

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Meanwhile, I am wishing you a very satisfying, joyous, content, and healthful new year.  May peace and fulfillment be yours for 2014.

Norma’s Pie de Queso — Mexican Style Cheesecake Recipe —

Disfruta!  Enjoy!

The Crust:

  • 1 package Maria cookies
  • 1 slice of sweet bread or any sweet roll
  • 4 T. sugar
  • 4 T.  melted butter

In a food processor, add the cookies and sweet roll, process until fine crumbs.  Add sugar.  Pulse until completely mixed.  Add melted butter.  Combine until butter is mixed throughout.  Pour out into a parchment paper lined 8-10″ springform pan.  Press crumbs firmly on bottom and up sides of pan about 1/4-1/2 inch.  Set aside.

The Filling:

  • 2 lbs. Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 lb. queso fresco (Oaxaca crumble cheese)
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 T. lemon zest
  • 1 C. sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl with electric beaters on high speed, blend the cheeses until smooth and creamy.  Add the sugar and mix until white and smooth.  Add eggs one at a time until completely mixed.  Add lemon.  Beat for about 30 seconds.  Add sour cream and blend in on low speed until just stirred in.  Stir in lemon zest.

Pour into a buttered springform pan (line with parchment to make clean-up easier).  Put into preheated 350 degree oven.  Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Turn oven off. Leave cake in oven to cool for 30 minutes or more before removing.

The Topping:

  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Stir all ingredients together.  Pour over top of cooled cheesecake and spread evenly over top with spoon or spatula.  Put into hot oven. Bake for 5-7 minutes.  Watch that topping does not brown or burn.   Remove and cool.

Strawberry Fruit Topping (optional)

  • 1/2 c. mashed berries
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1/4 c. Cointreau (or Controy here in Mexico)

In a stainless steel pan, mix together the berries, sugar and liqueur.  Cook over high heat for 2 minutes until berries are mascerated, juice begins to form and the sugar is melted.  Remove and cool for about 2 minutes.  Pour over the sour cream topping of the cheesecake.

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If you cut a circle in the center and then make the slices from this circle, the cake will yield 16-20 servings.  The remaining center circle can then be cut in 4-6 wedges.

 

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And another sunset from the terraza to celebrate life’s infinite beauty.

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