Tag Archives: shopping

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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:

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In Mexico City: Popular Art–Folk Art Shopping Hideaway

Tucked behind the tall 17th century heavy wood doors of an imposing colonial residence at Isabel la Catolica 97 is Victor Arts Populares Mexicanas.  There is no sign, only a small poster affixed to the only window facing the street.

Don’t knock on wood, the guard admonished me, after I did several times.  He instructed me to use the original brass knocker now burnished with age.  I smiled, assured him I would behave myself next time, and made my way up to the second floor where there are three rooms stuffed with an amazing collection of new and vintage collectibles from all the important craft villages of Mexico.

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Here I met Pilar Fosado Vazquez (above left) and her assistant.  Pilar continues to run the shop her father founded many years ago.

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Take note:  Hours are limited.  The shop is open 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Tel. (55) 55-12-12-63.  Email: victormex@hotmail.com.  There is a Facebook page, too.  But the shop recently relocated and most of the information available online is not updated.

Diego_Frida_July2014-13The family works with a silversmith in the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) to recreate outstanding jewelry pieces in the style of Frida Kahlo. Some are embellished with coral, turquoise, garnet, onyx and obsidian.  The workmanship is excellent and the prices are moderate for the quality.

Diego_Frida_July2014-12     There is lots of handmade tin, papier mache, textiles, and the Huichol art is of particular fine quality.  Some of the pieces for sale are over forty years old.

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I searched out this spot to take people who attended the last Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo art history tour, where we studied the famed Mexican muralists (Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros) and visited Casa Azul and the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum.  There are THREE spaces open for our August repeat program!

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In Mexico City: FONART for Folk Art Shopping

FONART is the national fund for promoting arts and crafts in Mexico.  Folk art and crafts of every type from every Mexican state are represented.  Textiles, red and black ceramics, Talavera, carved wood figures, beeswax candles, tinware, etc. The pieces are more collector quality than what you would find in crafts markets like Mercado Cuidadela.  Prices are higher, too, and there is no bargaining.  Some FONART shops have more variety and a wider selection than others.

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The largest and main repository where the pieces come in, are catalogued and priced, is the flagship FONART Galeria Patriotismo, Ave. Patriotismo. No. 691, Colonial Mixcoac, Mexico D.F. Tel. 50-93-60-60 or 50-93-60-61.  I discovered it on my search for a hand-hammered copper vase from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan.

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The trip by taxi from the zocalo/centro historico takes about 30 minutes in moderate traffic.  I went on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.  Weekdays are probably longer.  The hotel arranged the driver for me and I paid an astonishing 300 pesos for the round trip that included a 45-minute wait, but I was on a mission.  You could take the Metro or a taxi on the street for far less.

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The next largest FONART store is Galeria Reforma, Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, is closer to the historic center than Galeria Patriotismo, but is not within walking distance.

Galeria Juarez is within walking distance of the Zocalo, but has limited choice and staff helpfulness is variable.  When I returned to buy a copper piece I had seen on my last visit in August, I arrived to find the store dismantled and the copper display decimated.  The clerk told me all the copper was moved to Galeria Patriotismo, which is why I ended up paying 300 pesos to go there.   When I arrived, the staff told me, no, they didn’t have any pieces from Galeria Juarez.  I asked them to call to find out the discrepancy in stories. Seems all the copper had been moved to the Juarez storeroom.  The clerk either didn’t know, didn’t ask, or couldn’t be bothered. So, when I returned, someone else took me to the storeroom where I climbed a 20-foot ladder to find my pot piled up on one of the upper shelves.

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Why a copper pot from Santa Maria del Cobre?  It represents an important pre-Hispanic indigenous craft. Usually, I like to go directly to the source and find the artisan who creates the most outstanding work.  But, Michoacan is one of those places where the drug cartels have established a foothold.  Because of that, it is not someplace I plan to visit soon.  And, these pieces are incredibly beautiful.

Allan Gurganus wrote a piece in last week’s New York Times about why he collects, the passion and the psychology.  I understand.  I struggle with my desire to live a simpler life and have it surrounded by artfully made beauty in support of artists and crafts people whom I admire.  How to reconcile this?  I don’t know.

No photos allowed.  No exceptions.  Bags are checked at the door.  A guard watches over the treasures.  Still, with the obstacles, the best place for folk art shopping.

FONARTAt Remigio’s, an indigenous textile clothing shop at Isabel la Catolica #30, Centro Historico, Mexico City, I found this antique hand-woven Triqui maize basket.  I asked my friend Lupe to model so I could show it to you.

Morocco Journal 9: Shopping, Eating, Sleeping, Body Work

Back home in North Carolina after 14 days in Morocco, the quintessential shopping bazaar, with a 2-day stopover in beautiful Madrid, Spain.   Now, I prepare to return to Oaxaca, but not before a final set of Morocco recommendations to share with you.

Tisnet tagines copyright Norma Hawthorne

Tisnet tagines photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Marrakech

  • Riad Bahia Salam, Marrakech, a restored mid-range guesthouse situated within easy walking distance between the Mellah, Jemaa el Fna, and the souqs.  Great food. Serene spa with best massage. Excellent service.  English, French, Arabic spoken. Tell Omar at the front desk I said hello.
  • English-speaking Marrakech taxi driver Abdellatif will drive you anywhere for a reasonable price.  He has a university education in linguistics and can’t find professional work!  Very nice, honest man. Tel  (00212) (0) 6 60 47 98 42
  • For incredible Marrakech hand-woven cotton and agave silk scarves see artisan Ahmed El Baroudi, Souk Serrajine,  No. 69, Tel 06 58 37 19 80
Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Chez Laarabi is in the Mellah, down the street from the spice market and the old Jewish synagogue no longer in use.  It is a mini-bazaar with a fine selection of rugs, leather bags, clothing, old and new Berber and Tuareg jewelry, tea sets, babouche (pointy-toed slippers), and all things Moroccan. Arset El Maach, Rue de la Radeema No. 41 (upstairs). Tel 06 66 09 11 59 email: simolarrabi@hotmail.com  Say Hi to Mohamed for me.
  • Stay outside the city in the Palmerie at Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa for deluxe, grand luxury experience.  The two swimming pools and spa offer a retreat from the hubbub of being in the souq.
  • Chez Chegrouni for the BEST tagine and people watching on Jemaa el Fna.  I had both the vegetarian and the chicken tagine on two different nights.  Cheap and delicious! Recommended by locals in the know.
  • Don’t get kidnapped by the henna artists on Jemaa el Fna.  They are con artists who grabbed my wrist, started painting my hand in motion, and dragged me to their chair before I could protest!  Cost 100 dh to get out of jail. Evidently they are famous.  First price she asked me to pay to be bailed out = 800 dirham.  Don’t fall for it :)
They saw a live one coming!

They saw a live one coming!

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Essaouira, Morocco photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Essaouira

  • Taros Restaurant, Essaouira, consistently the best food, views, Atlantic Ocean breezes, great wine.
  • Buy your tagine in the fish market square.  Don’t pay more than 30 dirham!  I bought one made in Tisnet which is just south of Agadir on the Atlantic coast.  It has a beautiful green/brown glaze.
  • Eat dinner at L’Heure Bleue, the luxury Chateaux et Relais hotel at the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) if you want to spend $100 per person for superb food and house label wine.
L'Heure Bleue courtyard, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

L’Heure Bleue patio, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • See Abraham Touarez for great authentic, old Berber and Twareg jewelry at very reasonable prices.  Avenue Sidi Mohamed Be Abdellah on the left side closer to the end of the shopping as you walk toward the old Mellah.  There’s a pool hall directly across the avenue.  Tel 06 70 95 404  He says the best way to clean Berber silver (a metal/silver mix) is to use salt and lemon juice! Map.
Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Best lunches are at teeny tiny Vague Bleu on a side street to the left off Avenue Mohamed El Quon as you walk toward the Bab Marrakech after crossing the BIG main shopping avenue.  Seats 8-10 people.  Get there early.  Daily specials. Terrific.  Went there 4 days in a row.  Not boring.  French ex-pat hang-out.
  • For rugs from a trusted merchant go to Maroc Art, 8 Bis Rue Laalouj, next to the museum.  Ask for Abdel Mounaim Bendahhane or his colleague Abdoul Gnaoui. Tel. 05 24 47 50 50  or email maroc_art@live.fr
  • Bring home Moroccan spices, dates, argan cooking oil and argan nut spread (be sure you buy the authentic kind made with almonds not peanuts) from a young man in a stall on the left side of Ave. Mohamed Zerktouni close to the Bab Doukala.  Very fresh.  Keep your empty water bottles and pour the oil into them.  Then wrap in bubble for safe travels.

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  • Azur Spa & Hammam for great deep tissue massage.  1-1/2 hours for 500 dirham  — an incredible bargain!
  • Visit the Essaouira Synagogue and discover Jewish Moroccan history — deeply embedded in the town’s identity as a trading center.
Mohamed Touarez copyright Norma Hawthorne

Abraham Touarez, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira?  It’s a two to four hour bus ride depending upon which company you choose.  SupraTours and CTM offer first class direct service and have their own stations.  Any bus that you take from the Gare Routiere will stop in every hamlet and crossroads along the way. Avoid El Mahabba Voyages, second class, shabby. Prices are about the same.  You choose.  And, don’t get swindled by somebody who wants a tip to reserve a seat for you!  Bags are extra 5-10 dh each depending on which service you choose.

Below, dinner at L’Heure Bleue.  C’est magnifique.

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Morocco Journal 6: Essaouira Faces and Places

The melting pot of Essaouira attracts Anglos and Moslems from throughout the western and African world. This week I met a Parisian couple, both professionals, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia and Algeria.  Their gorgeous children captured my eye.  The mom of these children, Saoud, speaks four languages fluently — French, Arabic, English and Spanish.

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We are meeting people who have left France and the U.S. to find comfort and an easier lifestyle in Essaouira.  Many have been here since the 60s and 70s when pop-rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens visited.  Stardom is not far.

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I also found delicious Italian food prepared by a Moroccan who has a 10 seat restaurant called Vague Bleu.  It’s on a little side street off the road to the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) and recommended by ex-pats who have been living here for years — he from the U.K. and she from Long Island, NY.  The gnocchi topped with a pesto spinach sauce was heaven.  So was the aubergine (eggplant) rolls, tender melt-in-your mouth morsels of puree.

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And, the fresh fish topped with curry spice couldn’t have been more tasty.

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Our lunch companions included Parisian antiques collector Richard, local resident Rachid whose father was a silversmith, and a young woman with a great smile.  Je ne parle pas francais, I say, and launch into Spanish only some understand.

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Henna painting is a big thing here.  Street corner artists set up shop to paint fantastical designs on any part of your body.  Or, pick up a tagine clay cooker to bring home to prepare one of Morocco’s most famous pyramidical foodie dishes — veggies, seafood, chicken, lamb or goat — seasoned with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and peppers.

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Along the early morning avenues before the shops open, the egg man pushes his cart to vend brown, fresh from the hen goodness as shopkeepers sweep the 17th century cobbled streets to prepare for the tourists who are the town’s economic lifeblood.

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Our favorite morning past-time is to take a seat at a cafe, sip a rich cup of fresh ground and brewed Cafe Americano and people watch.  Maybe accompanied by a croissant filled with chocolate, too!

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About 70,000 people live in Essaouira and they need to eat.  (Once, 40 percent of the population was Jewish.) There are thriving fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets intermingled with tourist shops selling Berber jewelry, handwoven rugs, antiques, pottery, and organic argan oil. Everywhere is a hammam or spa.

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On every corner there seems to be a patisserie or bakery offering delectable French and Middle Eastern treats made with figs, dates, honey and pistachios.  The French influence is strong.  You can’t go more than 20 feet without coming upon a creperie stand turning out handmade delicacies drizzled with chocolate.

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The people are warm, friendly and helpful.  We met Nora at the local coffee shop owned by her family.  In addition to serving an incredible cup of cafe Americano, she led us to her favorite hammam where we made an appointment for the real deal — the traditional communal (same sex) experience with body scrub, sweat bath, masque, massage and hair wash for under $25 USD.  My skin is now soooooo soft.

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What’s a babouche?  Pointy-toed shoes of course!  The traditional style for Moroccan women and men.  The original ones intended for outdoor wear are treaded with car or truck tires, I’m told, and last forever.  The ones for inside the house are more like slippers.  Then, of course, there’s the jewelry shopping and this happy salesman (above right) made the sale of a lovely Tuareg silver and carnelian pendant and was eager to show it off.

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I’ve not succumbed to the many sweets yet, but the temptation is very strong.   Now, I’m off for my morning cup of coffee.  Only one or two required.