I must confess, I wonder what the cultural value is of spending an entire day in quest of Oaxaca goodies: mole, alebrijes, hand wrought silver jewelry, textiles, plus a couple of great meals thrown in for good measure. I am traveling with my sister Barbara who is the essence of great shopping. She is the only one I know who can both keep up with me and out-do me. We must share more than 50 percent of the gene pool. Our day started at our bed and breakfast, Las Bugambilias. Brigitte arrived early laden with her wax carved then cast silver. Brigitte is a French woman who has been living in Oaxaca for over 15 years. Her husband Ivan relaxed in the rattan chair on the patio with a cigarette poised in his left hand, smoke twirling skyward, while she came into the breakfast room, took a seat on the red divan, and opened her jewelry roll on the coffee table in front of her for the guests around the breakfast table to see. Barbara prearranged the meeting, bringing orders from her friends in the Bay Area, and by the time the four remaining women at the breakfast table had turned their seats and attention toward Brigitte, tried on the rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces carved with symbols of Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec life, over an hour had passed. If you want Brigitte to come to your hotel to give you a showing, you can find her at Kanda Jewelry Oaxaca. My textile designer friend Sheri Brautigam arrived next. We discussed this new marketing technique of going to where the customers are! Sheri, who grew up in San Francisco, is working with local women in Tlacolula to fashion lovely shoulder wraps called “quetchquemals” pronounced Ketch-Keh-Mahls with hand woven jaspe (Has-pay) fabric from Tenancingo. Another fashion show ensued! By the time we left the B&B it was 1:30 p.m. and we both needed to get to an ATM to withdraw pesos – destination Zocalo. But I couldn’t withdraw after repeated attempts and realized I had forgotten to call my bank to tell them I was traveling. By the time I had cleared this up going through voicemail jail, another hour had passed. Our original plan to leave for Arrazola to see Berta Cruz by late morning had not materialized. By 2:30 p.m. we hailed a taxi, negotiated a fixed 120 peso per hour rate, and took off for Arrazola. Many people have asked me, where is Berta Cruz? The best I can tell you is, drive into town, turn right at the village cooperative, turn left at the first street, turn left at the next street, and go down the hill until you come to a bamboo door just a little bit past the corner and there you will find Berta. She is becoming very famous as a fantastic painter of alebrijes that her husband carves. They are a young couple with a lovely baby girl called Luna, and their work is showcased in the Jacobo Angeles gallery in San Martin Tilcajete. I purchased a few small gifts: a beautiful armadillo, two iguanas, a dragon whose mouth Berta decided to paint bright yellow on the spot. Barbara went for an extraordinary Muerta topped with checkered hat, arms on an ample bustle, holding an umbrella. We decided to pass on going to Atzompa and returned to La Ciudad, a trip that took almost forty five minutes. I won’t bore you with the details of stopping to buy mole on 20 de Noviembre at Mayordomo (tip: buy it by the kilo in triple wrapped plastic bags, you won’t be paying for glass packaging and you’ll take home more), making our way to Casa Oaxaca for comida, an exercise of almost two hours by the time we stopped to watch a street parade of children from Benito Juarez dressed for Muertos, foraging for textiles in and out of shops. At Raizes, a shop on Matamoros, we found a beautiful Teofila Palafox handwoven silk and cotton huipil dyed with indigo details of crab, fish, and rabbit, from San Mateo del Mar at a great price. Finally, by 6 p.m., we went to the original Casa Oaxaca on Garcia Virgil where there is a smaller kitchen with a limited menu and quiet patio dining. It was just perfect. Barbara had the cream of squash blossom soup followed by a beautiful shrimp and avocado salad that tasted like ceviche. I chose the nopal cactus and shrimp soup in a spicy broth that was to die for, followed by tempura battered shrimp each the size of my fist. Extraordinary. We then arrived at Amate Bookstore 30 minutes late for a presentation by a northeast travel writer about how he mapped the alebrijes artisans of La Union and San Martin Tilcajete. His next project is Teotitlan, he says. All we can say is, good luck! How to determine which 100 weavers to put on a map remains a mystery to me, since my personal criteria would be to only select those who work in natural dyes, of which there are only eight to ten. Our evening wrapped up with a visit to El Nahual on Cinco de Mayo to say hello to Ale and Tito Mendoza. Their shop is doing very well and we are happy for them.
Next door, in the arcade at 408 Cinco de Mayo, where you will see a beautiful fountain in the courtyard, our dearest friends the Chavez Santiago family have opened a gallery to show their tapetes (rugs) from Teotitlan. These are guaranteed to be authentic naturally dyed rugs, and they are incredible. Don’t miss the experience.