Tag Archives: photography

Textile Fashion Show: Journey to Remote San Felipe Usila, Oaxaca

For the past six days I have been on a textile journey through the Cuenca del Papaloapan Region where the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range meets the coastal plain of Veracruz. This has been off-the-beaten-path travel into remote villages where textile traditions, back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery techniques, manage to survive in a dominant culture invaded by polyester, machined fabrics and low-wage, Chinese-made clothing.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-8Travel took us overland starting from Veracruz, the oldest port in Mexico, south along the Gulf of Mexico to Tuxtepec, a jungle wonderland and gateway into Oaxaca state from the east.  Today, I’m featuring the indigenous dress of San Felipe Usila, the most isolated village of our tour.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-12 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-22 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-31

From Tuxtepec, it takes us three hours to get to Usila on a winding mountain road, half of which is unpaved. But, the gift of meeting some extraordinary weavers who are incredibly hospitable make the trip worthwhile.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-10 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-11

We are greeted with the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful pieces followed by a lunch of chicken and mole amarillo, and handmade tortillas fresh from the comal. Dinner is a delicious, home-cooked traditional stone soup that is a pre-Hispanic recipe originating from Usila. Overnight lodging in Usila is basic and clean. A hotel is located on the outskirts of town down a dirt road that turns to mud in the rain. It’s a rainforest here, so the climate is tropical, damp and lush.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-29 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-28

Many of the plants and animals of the region are reflected in the weaving designs including flowers, squirrels, corn, butterflies and the tree of life.  Every woman has her own interpretation of the mythic and actual world that is translated to cloth, so each weaver creates a different and very distinct design.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-30

We learn that the two headed eagle represents the duality of life, the good and the bad. We see quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, and the eye of god that offers protection. We are told about the four cardinal directions, how they are incorporated into the woven story and their pre-Hispanic significance.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-25 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-14

We hear that traditional women want to be buried in their wedding huipil so that their husbands will recognize them in the afterlife. We see that only the grandmothers continue to wear the huipil as a daily garment.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-15  FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-26 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-19

For holidays, festivals and special occasions there is more elaborate dressing with the media-gala and gala huipiles, adorned with flowers, ribbons, lace and intricate detailing that is unparalleled.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-24 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-18 FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-16

Many of the ancient techniques of back strap loom weaving to create traditional clothing has been lost by some villages. There is a dedicated effort to teach young women the techniques to keep the tradition alive. But, it’s a challenge. People everywhere want an education and higher paying jobs.

FashionShowUsila3-2 FashionShowUsila2

Today, the major markets for these garments are textile lovers and collectors who purchase them in many fine Oaxaca galleries. Few dare to venture into the hinterlands to find these treasures on their own.

FashionShowUsilaSoyaltepec-21

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator offers in-depth, educational workshops usually based in one location to establish a sense of place. We are not a tour or guide service. I decided to travel with Tia Stephanie Tours to discover the source of this beautiful, ancient, woman-centered tradition. We moved from village to village across a wide swath of territory at a racer’s pace to get an excellent overview.

FashionShowUsila2-3

If you are more inclined to get there as an independent traveler, take a bus or collectivo from town to town, or rent a car and drive from Oaxaca city on Mexico 175. Get a Guia Roji Mapa 20 for the Estado de Oaxaca.

You may want to stop and spend the night in Pueblo Magico Capulalpam de Mendez or continue on until you reach Valle NacionalThere are several lovely hotels in Capulalpam and a few small hostals in Valle Nacional. From there, you can get to the pueblos in the Papaloapan Region that we visited: Valle Nacional, Rancho Grande, San Miguel Soyaltepec and San Lucas Ojitlan, bypassing the entry through Veracruz. This route will take six to eight hours of driving from Oaxaca to Valle Nacional over winding mountain roads! You might also consider establishing a base in one of the villages if you don’t mind sleeping in a hammock or a basic, no frills room with only cold running water.

Peace and Quiet in Teotitlan del Valle, Except for an Earthquake

The Guelaguetza crowds were staggering. Oaxaca city was clogged with foot and street traffic. There was excitement, band music, the sizzle of street food, parades of elegantly dress women from the villages, and more shopping overload than any accomplished shopaholic could need or want.

Day & Night Shopping: Expoventa on the Andador

Day & Night Shopping: Expoventa on the Andador

With enough stimulation to last me weeks, I decided to leave the city early on Sunday and return to the casita I call home in Teotitlan del Valle. On Monday, doing laundry was my meditation.

Tamarind, Lime, Hibiscus Mezcalinis at La Olla-Yummy

Tamarind, Lime, Hibiscus Mezcalinis at La Olla Restaurant – Yummy

OaxStreetLifeJul28-5

Maya celebrates her 18th birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sipping Nuevo Mundo  coffee from my rooftop terrace, I heard birds sing and the hammer of a carpenter building. In the distance, I saw farmers tending to their fields just as they do each day here.  It is a refuge here. Some never need to go elsewhere.

OaxStreetLifeJul28-10

Strumming on an ass jawbone, traditional music

OaxStreetLifeJul28-12 OaxStreetLifeJul28-6

Oaxaca is earthquake country.  In the early morning hours today, when REM sleep is deep, I feel the shake and roll of my bed, and the rattle of the kitchen pans suspended from the ceiling rack. It went on for what seemed an eternity or perhaps thirty seconds.  I decided not to panic, rolled over and tried to fall back asleep.

OaxStreetLifeJul28-7 OaxStreetLifeJul28 OaxStreetLifeJul28-8

Now, it is overcast and we are waiting for rain. The farmers need the rain for their milpa — the fields planted with corn, squash and beans, local sustenance for millenia.

OaxStreetLifeJul28-3  OaxStreetLifeJul28-11

Thank you, Teotitlan del Valle, for sheltering me in peace, quiet and tranquility. It is enough. Even with an earthquake once in a while.

Oaxaca Street Life: Guelaguetza Crush, Art and Expoventas

Thousands of people converge on the streets of Oaxaca for Guelaguetza. Only 11,000 were in the Guelaguetza auditorium to hear Lila Downs last night. OaxStreetLife-9

The rest were visitors strolling Macedonio Alcala, the walking avenue between the Zocalo and Santo Domingo Church, and roaming vendors selling everything from fragrant azucenas that only bloom at night to ice cream and hair decor.

Carnival rides bring smiles to children and parents.  OaxStreetLife-4

The perpendicular and parallel side streets are filled with pop-up outdoor food stands where you can get tortillas cooked on a comal any way you like them.

OaxStreetLife-18

OaxStreetLife-7 OaxStreetLife-8 OaxStreetLife-15

A must-see art exhibit at Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca across from Santo Domingo Church opened last night. A crowd of visitors and locals packed the galleries to see some stunning lithography and the beer flowed.

OaxStreetLife-14 OaxStreetLife-12

Mexico’s art is usually wrapped in social and political commentary and this exhibition is no exception. Here artist-illustrator Artemio Rodriguez paints the Virgin of Guadalupe on a shovel and the eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, symbol of nationhood, on a wheelbarrow. Is this irreverent?

OaxStreetLife-13 OaxStreetLife-11

Images of farm workers and the iconic Porfirio Diaz, president/dictator, offer us visual contrast between poverty and poverty, honor and corruption.  Art here is something to chew on, not for matching with furniture and color palette.

OaxStreetLife-17 OaxStreetLife-19

Of course, shopping is King and Queen, and you can find some of the best Oaxaca artisans from many villages here in Oaxaca this time of year.

WHERE? At pop-up art and folk art Expoventa shows throughout the city:

OaxStreetLife-20 OaxStreetLife-2-2 OaxStreetLife-3-2

 

Guelaguetza 2014 Photo Out-takes — Oaxaca Folkloric Fesitval Dazzles Crowd

Guelaguetza2014-35

It’s more like a party than a traditional performance. Oaxaca’s annual Guelaguetza folkloric festival draws crowds from throughout Mexico and all over the world.

Guelaguetza2014-5 Guelaguetza2014-32

If you hang around the stage at the end while most of the crowds leave, you might be handed a small cane cup filled with mezcal and get a close-up photo, too.

Guela2014_Outtakes-21

I hosted a group of Australians and we had third row seats. That’s the luck of the draw, plus mostly getting to the tourism office early.  We bought these tickets in early June.

Guelaguetza2014-28

Even photo out-takes are worth looking at!

Guelaguetza2014-19

For a discussion about the cultural and political controversy surrounding Guelaguetza, see my July 24, 2014 post.

Guela2014_Outtakes-10

People ask me all the time if Oaxaca is safe.  There were 11,000 people in the audience, plus all the performers. Instead of the crush, we did the WAVE!

Guelaguetza2014-44

The exit is through a narrow underground tunnel and then down the Cerro del Fortin steps.  Most of us left that way!  Everyone was calm, helpful, friendly, gracious and orderly.

Guelaguetza2014-43 Guelaguetza2014-27

We took a few minutes to stop and look at the stunning views of the city and the Santo Domingo Church below.

Guela2014_Outtakes-2

Is Oaxaca safe?  YES!

Guelaguetza2014-25

One big crowd pleaser is the Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma. It is a story of the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. Many villages do this ritual dance. It is an important part of indigenous Mexican identity.

Guela2014_Outtakes-13 Guelaguetza2014-26

The chief dancer is the Moctezuma, and featured are two girls, each representing the duality of Mexico — The Malinche and Doña Marina – who are one and the same.  How high the dancers leap is a feat of pure prowess and determination.

Guela2014_Outtakes

Everyone in the crowd was hoping to catch a pineapple — one of the Guelaguetza gifts thrown — actually hurled — from the stage into the audience by each village represented.

Guela2014_Outtakes-12

If we had our hands and a hat up, we got bread, radishes, lettuce, palm hats and fans, rolls, tortillas, sticky tamarind fruit, ritual bunches of fragrant greens.

Guela2014_Outtakes-18 Guela2014_Outtakes-3

I managed to catch a bunch of bananas that I shared with my neighbors in keeping with the meaning of Guelaguetza. Only the front row received the pineapples. I think the organizers were afraid of injury!

Guelaguetza2014-4 Guelaguetza2014-15

By the time we left the auditorium it was almost 10 p.m. We were hungry and thirsty. Somehow, sweet rolls didn’t seem enough. My mantra: time for a mezcal margarita and a good meal. This is the hour most Mexicans have their dinner! It was way past my bed-time.

Guelaguetza2014-29Our group of five women walked about six blocks to La Biznaga where we were lucky to find an open table. Beware: the margaritas are especially potent! The spinach lasagna (yes, Italian) was wonderful. Safe? Yes!

Tlacolula Meanderings: Play, Parking Tickets and No Where In Particular

One of my favorite past-times is the Sunday Tlacolula market.  I never tire of it. There is always something new, different, another point-of-view. This week there were strange flowers that looked like lollipops, plus fuzzy rambutans for eating.

Tlacolula6_2014-3

Last Sunday, I parked on the street not attending to the “no parking” sign, which I didn’t think included the spot where I had stationed La Tuga.  Afterall, it was exactly where I parked the week before! Then, Carol and I set out to cover the market from one end to the other.  It was early and for the first block, we trailed a duo carrying guacalotes intended for sale.

Tlacolula6_2014-17 Tlacolula6_2014-9

Then, there were the petate basket weavers from San Juan Guelavia who make traditional mats that gringos use for floor coverings who vend in the church courtyard along with the sellers of sal de gusano.

Tlacolula6_2014-16 Tlacolula6_2014-14

The Tlacolula market is a food, flower and people fest. There’s no telling what you will find. Including a flower vendor with a floral skirt.

Tlacolula6_2014-2 Tlacolula6_2014-5

After returning to find a parking ticket the size of a legal sheet of paper, I hailed a huge pick-up truck with flashing lights, two official policemen in the front seat, to ask where to go to pay it and how much it would cost, only to be greeted by the driver with, Do you speak English?” in perfect English.  I would follow this civil servant anywhere.

Tlacolula6_2014-6 Tlacolula6_2014-12

And I did, winding around the streets of Tlacolula to get to the first hidden-away office, where several officials inspected me, ushered me into the inner sanctum, where the chief, a woman, stamped the ticket and told me to go to the regional finance office to pay. They are closed on Sunday, so I had to return during the week.

I did. The line was short. The ticket cost 255 pesos, about $21 USD, and I learned my lesson. Park in an official parking garage!

Tlacolula6_2014-8

On the day I paid the ticket, these guys were still cruising the street. Guess what? They waived. Me, too.