Tag Archives: photography

Wandering Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle

Casita Roof Sunset-3 Casita Roof Sunset-2 After our Art Huipil Workshop ended, I retreated to the rooftop terrace where I live in Teotitlan del Valle to finish The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The views of the surrounding Tlacolula valley are glorious from there, especially at sunset. Casita Roof Sunset-4It’s winter, the dry season. The night air is clear and cold. The star field is glorious. During the day, sun provides enough heat that we have to hide from it by walking on the shady side of the street. So many northerners are here to seek shelter from the winter cold in the warmth of Oaxaca’s sun.Art Huipil Workshop-9Around and about Teotitlan del Valle, the daily village market, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., gives us bread, fresh vegetables, meats and poultry, handcrafts and the essentials of daily life, like soap and bathroom tissue! The space is a source of constant fascination and appreciation for me. It’s where my food comes from! Art Huipil Workshop-99 For those without vehicles and sturdy legs, the tuk-tuks (or moto-taxis, as some call them) are an essential for getting home from the market with the daily bundle that always includes fresh flowers for the altar.Art Huipil Workshop-111 When the market closes at 10:30 a.m. not much happens there until mid-afternoon when the nieves (ice cream) vendors come to open their stalls. Ices made from tropical fruits like mango, papaya, strawberry and pineapple are muy rico. And, yes, they are made with purified water.Art Huipil Workshop-22After resting for a few days, I went to Oaxaca city to meet up with friends for a series of lunches and dinners. Social life here during the season can be intense. But not as intense as the color of this yellow flowering tree that punctuates the skyline throughout the city.

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Everyone along the cobblestone sidewalks have their heads lifted skyward to take in the brilliant yellow blossoms of the Primavera tree of the genus Tabebuia, also called Ipe or Trumpet tree.  Not me, though. With my new knee replacement only two months behind me, I’m very careful to step lightly. If I want to take something in, I stop and plant myself on terra firma.

ArtHuipilMezcalChoc-2 Late afternoon brings us to Santo Domingo Church where vendors gather and weddings and quinceañieras are scheduled throughout the day. Bring it on!

Pink Hummer-3 Later that same night, with Pink Hummer stretch limo in waiting, a fifteen year old princess emerges from Santo Domingo complete with her men in waiting to escort her into the cavernous vehicle. There’s lots of poverty in Oaxaca and visible wealth, too. I see many more Audi’s, Mercedes and BMW’s on the streets now than ever before.

ArtHuipilMezcalChoc-4As we emerge from a delicious dinner at La Zandunga on Garcia Virgil, we stop in to Casa Crespo for a Oaxaca chocolate tasting. I think my favorite is the one flavored with chipotle chili. Trees on the avenue are illuminated in changing colors of red, green, yellow and purple. It’s a warm and festive evening for strolling.

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So we stroll on over to Mezcaleria El Cortijo for a nightcap of my favorite reposado, an aged mezcal that goes down smooth and easy.  Ellen sniffs the bottle while our host Raul Mendez talks about mezcal culture.

Anri Okada Artist-4 Anri Okada Artist-2Oaxaca is pretty quiet most Sundays, and in my meanderings I notice an artist through an open doorway painting what appears to be a sign.  Meet Anri Okada. She has been in Oaxaca for six months, is an artist from Japan who studied painting. She speaks Spanish and English and is delightful.  Curiosity is what keeps the world exciting and imaginative.  You never know who you will meet next!Art Huipil Workshop-89Back in Teotitlan del Valle, weaving continues, surrounded by the paraphernalia of the craft — bags of wool, unwarped looms, cotton warp thread, a baby’s rocking horse and a dog’s water bowl.

Pochote_CKnox-2 Ultimately, it’s time to eat and what could be better than blue corn tortillas on the comal with your choice of chorizo and cheese, beans, or potatoes and spinach topped with a fresh egg. The health of Mexicans depends upon unadulterated non-genetically modified corn. It’s a constant battle here between the small farmers and the mega-producers like Monsanto. Indigenous corn, grown in the Oaxaca valley for 8,000 years, is laden with nutrition.

As we say in Mexico, buen provecho!

Two spaces open now in the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing & Yoga Retreat. And, you may want to come with me as we go Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in April in Mexico City.

 

Looking for Secundino and His Textiles, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

On Monday around noon, I pick up Ester at her brick bungalow nestled under the shadow of Picacho, Teotitlan’s holy mountain.  We drive down the cobbled hill, across the small bridge over the Rio Grande, now a trickle in the dry season, to get Janet, an expat friend who lives here during the winter months.

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We are on our way to visit Secundino, Ester’s eighty-seven year old father who still weaves cloth in the old serape style.  His blanket weight wool is soft, very soft, not suitable for rug use. He uses undyed sheep wool that he cards, cleans and spins himself. His is a lost art.

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Ester says he has a couple of textiles finished and for sale, so we are eager to see them.  Secundino only produces about six pieces a year.

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We arrive midday to discover that the rugs are gone, bought up by an exporter. Secundino is not at home. He is out in the countryside in his fields of corn. Though we are disappointed, we make the best of it, stay to visit with Ester’s mother, sisters and nephew with his pet chicken.

This is another opportunity to use my just acquired used wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens. I’m liking the results!

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Secundino was the drum major in the village band for decades leading the way in all the processions.  His drums hang like trophies on the wall above his bed. Ester tells us that he joined the village band this year at Las Cuevitas and the family was so happy he could take part again.  A mended broken hip and advanced age doesn’t hold him back.

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We hope Secundino will keep weaving and we’ve put in our order for another one of his wonderful textiles.

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Two years ago, Secudino was the subject for our portrait photography workshop. We have space this year for you, starting January 30, 2015.

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Oaxaca Road Trip to Hierve el Agua: Perhaps the World’s First Infinity Pool

Final Hierve A-3Hierve el Agua is an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec ceremonial site located about an hour beyond San Pablo Villa de Mitla, one of Oaxaca’s archeological wonders. Hierve el Agua, meaning bubbling water, is a wonder in its own right, nestled on the edge of a mountain ridge in Oaxaca’s Sierra de Juarez.

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A cluster of small pools are carved out of the rock, formed by bubbling underground springs that are no longer hot but lukewarm. The stunning calcified waterfall is one of only two in the world.

Final Hierve A-7Look out at the pool’s edge and there appears to be a shear drop-off into the steep canyon below.  The calcium formations on the surface create interesting patterns and are like stalactites found in caves. Touch them. They feel like a coral reef, sharp and hard. We wore water sandals to protect our feet and to keep from slipping over the edge!

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Rivulets of water bubble up from holes and run in small streams toward the hollowed out pool.

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This is a perfect place for swimming and sun-bathing. Be sure to bring a towel, bathing suit, hat and sunscreen.  I even saw some swimmers wearing goggles.

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Since I didn’t plan too far ahead, I went dipping in my sun dress and undies. A very refreshing interlude to a hot day in November in the Oaxaca mountains not far from the village where I live.

Final Hierve A-10How to get there? You can travel in your own car like we did and follow the Carretera Nacional (Pan American Highway) MEX 190 from Oaxaca to Mitla, then connect on MEX 179 and follow the signs. It’s pretty easy. Click here for a road map.

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Getting there takes the same route as the trip to San Juan del Rio, one of my favorite mezcal making villages. So you might think about combining this as a day trip.

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Another option is to take a tour van from Oaxaca city. This is limiting, since you only get about an hour at the site and the tour may combine this trip with a stop at Mitla and Teotitlan del Valle.  In my opinion, this route deserves an entire day if you have the time. It’s a perfect place to enjoy and relax.

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I also saw that people came out on collectivos connecting from Mitla. So, there are independent travel options if you are so inclined!

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January, 2015. There is space for you!

 

Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Gate to Heaven Closed on Sunday

In Teotitlan del Valle, loved ones who come back to visit their families from the great beyond on Day of the Dead, usually arrive on November 1 and depart on November 2.  This year it’s different. They get an extra day on earth and leave on Monday, November 3.

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Why? Because the gate to heaven is always closed on Sunday, explains a local as we sit next to him in the small cemetery chapel with his compadres.  They are waiting to receive thanks and blessings from community leaders who approach them and the altar with offerings of refreshment and a hand raised in salute.

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The local man is one of the volunteer group that guards the cemetery, walking among the tombs to be certain that no souls, either living or dead, are in distress.

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Again, I arrive early, ahead of the crowds, while there is still at least an hour of daylight remaining. The cemetery is brimming with lilies, marigolds, cocks comb, gladiolas.  The scent of copal mingles with wild marigold. Graves are cleaned, topped with fresh earth, quartered oranges, pecans, walnuts, apples.  There is an occasional bottle of unopened beer or mezcal atop each mound.

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As the day fades, families arrive and light candles. Some unpack a picnic supper. Some sit quietly alone. Some are mother and son. Some are multi-generational. We meet young men on vacation from work in the United States to pay respects to their grandparents.  This is my village, one says in English. I was born here. 

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At least two bands are playing. The atonal sound of the younger group is endearing and seems to complement the duality of both this solemn and joyous occasion.

Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of January 2015!

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Lots of people greet us, welcome us, invite us to join them in a sip of mezcal, offer us fresh oranges and beer. When I ask if I can take their photo, yes, is usually the answer. Where are you from? they ask. Carolina del Norte, I say. Welcome to Teotitlan del Valle, they say. I feel lucky to be among them.

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This year, it seems as if the village cemetery is especially vibrant with color.  I hear that Teotitlan del Valle wants to become a Pueblo Magico.  The paths are paved in the cemetery now, making it easier to move among the graves. The space is well-lit and tidy. It seems there are more flowers than ever before.

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Here, it is not like the Xoxocotlan extravaganza, and if you come expecting that, you will be sorely disappointed. Being here is a soothing, quiet, reflective and traditional experience.

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Why are there multiple crosses at the head of grave sites? Families have specific plots and every ten years a tomb can be reused for someone who has just passed. The bones of the antecedents are removed, cleaned and returned to the tomb alongside the next one to be buried there. It is not unusual to see three or four crosses planted one in front of the other representing the tomb’s occupants.

2014DOTDTeoti-23 And, of course, not only the dead get hungry! Vendors sit at the entrance with tasty snack foods. And, the band plays on.

2014DOTDTeoti-26My son is visiting from California. As we move together through the cemetery, we compare traditions here and in the United States, how we want our remains to be handled after death, periods of mourning, celebrations of life and the practice of laying markers. In Teotitlan a marker is placed on the tomb nine months after burial.

2014DOTDTeoti-25 2014DOTDTeoti-18Day of the Dead is an opportune time to talk about what is considered taboo and sad in our western culture. The celebration in Mexico is a religious syncretism of pre-Hispanic mystical tradition and Spanish Catholicism. It is unique and there is much to learn by participating.

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Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca: Day of the Dead Cemetery Before Dark

Before the crowds descend on the cemetery, before the tour buses and vans arrive, before the photographers with strobe flash and tripods begin their crawl among the gravesites at dusk, I arrive in Xoxocotlan.  Marta and Citlalli are with me today.

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It is the perfect time, the magic hour between day and night, when there is a glow that illuminates the world.

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Xoxocotlan on Halloween, the night before All Saint’s Day, has become a major party venue for Oaxaca visitors. By seven in the evening, the new cemetery will be packed with revelers who come dressed in costume, as well as families who sit reverently by the grave sites of their loved ones.

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I focus my visit on the old cemetery, Panteon San Sebastian, which continues to draw me back year after year. The space is small. An adobe chapel built in 1684 is now remnants, destroyed by earthquake. It’s ancient walls that still stand are cordoned off by plastic tape warning of peligroso, danger, caution. The tape is new this year. Who knows when the next earthquake will strike?

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Don’t step on the graves, Citlalli says. My grandmother told us if you do, the dead will grab your feet and drag you to the underworld at night.  We step carefully out of respect.  Some of the grave sites are ancient, unmarked, crumbling.

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Many tombs are marked with a date of death in the 1970’s. Citlali says there was a cholera epidemic then and many in Oaxaca died.

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I ask Luis Conseco if I can take his photo. His face is interesting, weathered. He stands upright, squares his shoulders. He says he wants to go the the United States to work to make more money. It is a dream of many. He is sixty-eight years old.

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He tells us that the shape and form of the tombstones signify the wealth or poverty of the person buried beneath. There were many simple tombs made of flat brick. This is all people can afford, he says.

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Things are changing in Xoxocotlan. The old cemetery is getting a facelift. There are men working on a new, paved entry way. The paths between the grave sites have been raked, leveled and cleared making passage easier, more visitor friendly. The outside walls are painted bright green.

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Locals, now used to having their photographs taken, look up in greeting. I still ask permission each time, though. And, it is fun to engage in conversation. Do you like visitors pointing cameras in your face? I ask. And, everyone laughs and beckon me closer!

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We even get an invitation to come into the ancient, crumbling walls of the old chapel where a man is decorating the grave of his grandfather. He takes us to the tomb of a Spanish priest resting behind a gated sanctuary.

Xoxocotlan2014  As we leave the cemetery, the groups begin to come in. I hire a moto-taxi tuk tuk to lead us out of town. The roads are starting to get clogged with in-coming visitors. It’s about six o’clock at night. Just in time to get back to Oaxaca for a dinner of enchiladas de jamaica (hibiscus flowers) at Restaurante San Pablo.

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But not before getting some last minute street shots before we leave. I decided to skip Atzompa. So many people, so little time! Welcome to Muertos.

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Portrait Photography Workshop coming up the end of January. There’s a space for YOU!