Monthly Archives: May 2012

From the Hip: The Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla, Puebla

On the outskirts of the town of San Pablo Cholula, about 40 minutes from the City of Puebla, lies the Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla.  It is not to be missed and photography is verboten inside.


There are two parts to my story today.  First, it is a mecca for several reasons.  The church is rendered in an architectural style called Indigenous Baroque — a native interpretation of the famed Rosary Chapel (Capilla de Rosario) of Puebla’s Templo de Santo Domingo.  Some also say it is an adaptation of Oaxaca’s famed Santo Domingo de Guzman church. In my opinion, Santo Domingo de Guzman is much tamer and Capilla de Rosario is a Spaniard’s dream.  The Tonantzintla interior is so fantastically sculpted, carved and adorned in gold that it is difficult to take your eyes off it.  It calls me back. That is my experience!

Exquisite Talavera and natural tile facade

Every square inch of wall and ceiling is covered in wood carved faces, none exactly like the other, some painted in cherubic white skin, others painted in darker native skin.  Eyes and faces look down and follow you, it seems.  It is difficult to believe that a spiritual deity is not omnipresent in this space.

The church proudly declares that it is not part of the archdiocese of Puebla and attends to its flock who follow the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, independently.  The interior is carefully guarded from negligent tourists who might take a photo with flash, therefore the rule is, No Cameras Allowed, at all.  Zero. Nada.  One can buy postcards of the interior ceiling, walls, and altar at a table by the entrance which does support the restoration. (Yes, I did that!)


When I visited for the first time in early March I was awestruck and took many photos of the exterior, stood at the entrance and tried to get as many clear interior shots as I could without luck.  Then, in a data transfer, I lost all my Puebla photos.  Perfect excuse for a return, YES?

Part Two: When I returned mid-week in late March with my sister, fortune called. We stumbled upon a mass in celebration of El Escapulario de La Virgen del Carmen. The church was packed.  A gaggle of pre-teen girls adorned in white lacy wedding-style dresses and mantillas, each wearing a Maria embroidered hang-tag, assembled in the church yard.  Not a Catholic, I thought it was a confirmation. I suppose it was, of sorts,  the symbolic commitment of young women to Jesus and eternal life.

We entered and stood in the back with our cameras.  There were many official church and family videographers and photographers, so I confess here that I took the chance to take a few interior shots from the hip myself.


For a spectacular cultural immersion photography adventure, join us for Day of the Dead Photography Expedition.  It starts October 28, 2012.

The Day Carlos Fuentes Died: Courage to Speak Up

The Los Angeles Times pays tribute to the life of Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes who died Tuesday, March 15, 2013 at the age of 83.  Fuentes was a prolific writer who crafted over 30 novels and non-fiction works.  He was an outspoken and frequent critic of Mexican politics and government.  As the story goes, he told Mexican President Felipe Calderon that the war on drugs would not end until the U.S. acknowledged its part in illicit drug trafficking.

The generation of rebellious, educated Mexican intellectuals who command respect worldwide for their authority, integrity, and pointed commentary are aging.  Fuentes was part of the Latin American 1960’s and 1970’s “El Boom” of literary giants including Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa who  poked at the failures of social and political idealism and action through their writings.

A 1987 NPR “Fresh Air” Conversation with Carlos Fuentes 

“He wrote of a post-revolutionary Mexico, where the revolutionaries had become business entrepreneurs and bourgeoisie,” said Homero Aridjis, a prominent Mexican poet and writer who knew Fuentes for decades. “Styling himself after Dickens and Balzac, he wrote novels that formed a kind of ‘Mexican Comedy,’ a deep portrait of Mexican society, economy and politics.”

Fuentes last column for  the Mexico City paper, Reforma, appeared on Tuesday, the day he died. In this, he posited why the three candidates for President were taking petty jibes at each other instead of focusing on important issues.

Who is there to step in and carry-on in the great tradition of the Mexican reformists?

Fuentes passing is a reminder about the importance of speaking  out for justice and to pay due respect to the great talent that Mexico contributes to the world of art, culture and literature.

Fellow blogger Shannon Pixley Sheppard includes a list of Carlos Fuentes’ works below and writes:

It was the California connection that allowed for my introduction to the writings of Fuentes.  The acquaintance came through The Old Gringo, a fictionalized story of  the disappearance in Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, of real life writer and US Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce.  Following the Civil War, Bierce wound up in California, where he was a contributor to the literary journal, The Argonaut, founded and edited by one of my relatives, about whom, Bierce wrote a typically acerbic epitaph:  Here lies Frank Pixley — as usual.  So, in my ongoing attempt to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding living and being in Mexico, reading the The Old Gringo was a no-brainer. As The Guardian’s obituary of Carlos Fuentes concludes,

Throughout his life, wherever he lived, Mexico was the centre of Fuentes’s artistic preoccupations. In his late 70s, he provided a typically graphic description of the attraction he felt for his own land: “It’s a very enigmatic country, and that’s a good thing because it keeps us alert, makes us constantly try to decipher the enigma of Mexico, the mystery of Mexico, to understand a country that is very, very baroque, very complicated and full of surprises.”

Carlos Fuentes is not uncontroversial, but you should see for yourself.  If you are not familiar with his writings, you might want to visit your local library and checkout a book or two.  For those in Oaxaca, the Oaxaca Lending Library has the following titles:

Adan en Eden
Baroque Concerto
Burnt Water
Cuerpos y Ofrendas
Cantar de Ciegos/To Sing of the Blind
Change of Skin
Christopher Unborn
Constancia: y Otras Novelas para Vírgenes
Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins
Crystal Frontier
Diana the Goddess Who Hunts: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
The Death of Artemio Crus:  A Novel
Destiny and Desire:  A Novel
Diana o la Cazadora Solitaría
Distant Relations
The Eagle’s Throne
Good Conscience
Gringo Viejo
Hydra Head
Muerte de Artemio Cruz
El Naranjo
Old Gringo
The Orange Tree
La Region Mas Transparente
Terra Nostra
Where the Air Is Clear
Years with Laura Diaz Fuentes
Cabeza de la Hidra
Vida Está en Otra Parte

Non Fiction
The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World
En Esto Creo
Latin America at War with the Past
Mexico:  Una Vision de Altura:  Un Recorrido Aereo de Pasado Al Presente
Myself with Others
This I Believe
Todos los Gatos Son Pardos
The Diary of Frida Kahlo:  An Intimate Self-Portrait
New Time for Mexico


Third Annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing + Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice

Arrive Friday, March 8, leave Saturday, March 16, 2013–8 nights, 9 days.

Our Third Annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice is a workshop based in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Imagine a setting so beautiful that it inspires all the best within you to write and create. Here, amid the bougainvillea blossoms and in the shade of ripening pomegranates, with the backdrop of 9,000 foot mountain peaks, you will enjoy a rich and rewarding experience. Our all-inclusive workshop is perfect for renewal and self-reflection. With Professor Robin Greene, MFA, guiding and coaching you in a supportive small group atmosphere, you’ll be encouraged to find your own creative center and to surprise yourself with the power of your words. You’ll have the opportunity to work with memoir, journaling, poetry, and mixed genre writing in an intimate workshop environment.

Through daily yoga sessions that are tailored to each participant’s physical level and needs, you will flex your body to stretch your imagination.  Our talented and supportive yoga teacher is Beth Miller from Boulder, Colorado, who is back with us for Year Three, too.  Beth employs movement, chanting and “vocal yoga,” using the breath to find voice and creative center.

A Message from Professor Robin Greene

“The writing retreat is very relaxed, and in the past two years–yes, this is our third!–the participants have been wonderfully supportive and open-hearted. You don’t need to bring any writing, but if you wish, you can–anything from a piece in progress, notebook ideas, some journal entries, or finished work. Oaxaca is a lovely place and finding writing topics is easy. Also, I’ll have plenty of prompts, writing exercises, and suggestions—and, of course, as the women write, they energize each other.

“The retreat is intended for both novice and experienced writers of all genres. As the writing instructor, I like to encourage women to find their individual voices so that the retreat experience is personally meaningful to all participants. In fact, although I have one scheduled conference with each participant, I’m available for feedback and coaching throughout our time together. Also, because I teach creative writing, I have a repertoire of techniques and strategies to share with writers at all levels.

“Again, this is our third year. And although I’m a university professor, the Women’s Writing Retreat remains my favorite teaching experience.”


We cannot promise that you will win a poetry prize, as one of our participants did last year after writing her award-winning poem at the retreat, or be published in a literary journal as another participant accomplished in 2012.   We CAN promise that you will explore, develop and broaden as a writer.

Congratulations to Nancy Coleman, 2011 participant and                         emerging writer, whose short story Fall was published in the                                                    April 2012 Issue 436 of  THE SUN literary magazine.

Offering 5 CEUs for 15 contact hours of instruction awarded by Methodist University. This applies to teacher’s license recertification.

If you are working on a project — bring it. If you have something in mind but haven’t yet put it to paper (or computer), this is the place to do it.


The retreat is designed to accommodate both novice and experienced writers, and it is limited to offer an especially satisfying small group experience. Through writing exercises, discussion, caring feedback, and the simple gift of time, you’ll gain knowledge and perspective about the art and craft of writing. Our goal is to empower you to tell your story well, and to lift and share your voice—widening your lyrical range and adding to the tools in your narrative toolbox.

Congratulations to Katie Kingston, past participant and                                          a 2011 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize Finalist — for the poem she wrote              during her workshop experience with us.

In addition to daily writing exercises in organized sessions, Robin will meet one-on-one with participants so that each writer feels nurtured and personally served.  During these individual coaching session, Robin will review your writing and offer gentle suggestions if improvement is needed.


You’ll have an opportunity to retreat and write on your own during open time in the schedule if you choose, but there’s also plenty to do here. We’ve scheduled daily yoga, stretching and meditation sessions, and there’s ample time for other activities such as walking, hiking, bird-watching, and visiting village weaving and artists’ studios.

What the Retreat Includes:

  • 18 hours of group writing instruction
  • One-hour individual coaching session
  • Daily workshop sessions to give/receive feedback
  • Focused coaching to hone your skills: grammar, reading in public, publishing
  • 7 daily yoga sessions, tailored to varying skill levels
  • Women’s traditional temescal sweat lodge
  • Guided visit to Tlacolula regional market
  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches and snacks
  • 7 dinners

Optional Added Fee-based Activities:

  • Massage with a Shiatsu massage therapist
  • Traditional cooking class on Saturday, March 16 (depart March 17) — stay one more day to participate! (2 person minimum)
  • Continuing Education Units for Teachers


Exquisite Corpse* Poem 2012Ragged and Unfolding

Across half a continent I’ve traveled to Oaxaca—

mountains, pomegranates, sacred hearts,

searching for something, but I’m not sure

what.  Is it love, sorrow, or pain that fills my heart?

Morning breeze, cool—midday sun, hard.

Don’t try to prepare for the desert mountain;

the mountain will prepare for you or for something

unexpected. And what expectations

but the ragged unfolding of our hours,

souls singing, rising upward?

So let us gaze into that blue sky, let mountain

tears be indigo, pericon—jammed against

that mountain’s face, we face the sun,

balance between here, there, and sigh.

*The Exquisite Corpse is a surrealist tradition, as Robin Greene explains, in which a piece of art is made collaboratively.  The Corpse Pose in yoga is the Shivasana ending pose.  During our workshop, each person contributed a line or two each day.  Robin pulled all our voices together to hear the collaborative voice as one.  The result was the poem above, Ragged and Unfolding.



There are lovely walking paths around the village, along the river and into the countryside near a local reservoir. You are welcome to venture out and explore the village and its environs on your own. Personal safety is not a concern here.

Come join us in an inspiring setting of great natural beauty for an opportunity to explore and lift your voice, enrich, and empower your world.


What Past Participants Say

“It was all perfect. You gave us a beautiful writing workshop in a beautiful village setting and you also gave us a strong community-of-women bond that will far outlast this conference. Mil gracias!” — Katie Kingston, MFA, Trinidad, Colorado

“The quality of the teachers was stellar and the combination was a perfect fit for me. Robin has a clarity that is lovely, supportive, truth-telling, knowledgeable, superbly skilled. Beth is a beautiful, beautiful teacher. Combining the yoga and sound with writing was profound.” — Nancy Coleman, Portland, Maine

“This retreat is held in a really wonderful place, with a guide who knows a great deal about the town, has true relationships with people who live here. Robin and Beth were great teachers; they worked really well together.” — Morgen Van Vorst, Los Angeles, California

“The week helped with my intention to write my book. There were too many valuable parts to list! We experienced an amazing time together, sweating leaves, meditation, chanting, writing, and honoring our lives. This was an awesome experience.” — Susan Florence, MFA, Ojai, California

“Deep and delicious work in a very supportive environment. I now have a focused, with understanding and direction to move forward with my writing.” –Beth Miller, Boulder, Colorado

“We learned from the other women in the group, from the culture, the language and people in the village. It was magical.” –Bridget Price, Sydney, Australia and Mexico City

“I loved that Robin, Beth and Norma were just a part of the group. I loved going to the markets and the cooking class. I’ve always wanted to come to Oaxaca and this was the perfect opportunity.” — Sue Spirit, Boone, North Carolina

Your Workshop Leaders

Robin Greene is the McLean Endowed Professor of English and Writing, and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is also co-founder and editor of Longleaf Press, a literary press that publishes contemporary poetry. Greene is the recipient of a NC Arts Council/NEA Fellowship, a university teaching award, and a visiting professorship in Romania. Her work is widely published in literary journals. Greene has led community and conference workshops, has served as a writing consultant, and has taught creative writing for over two decades. Her books include Real Birth: Women Share their Stories(nonfiction), Memories ofLight and Lateral Drift(collections of poetry), and Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman (published in 2011). Greene holds an M.A. in English from SUNY-Binghamton and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. See Robin’s website:

Beth Miller is our yoga instructor who combines yogic practice and philosophy with meditation, creativity and improvisation. She specializes in Vinyasa-Hatha yogic traditions and employs sonorous yoga practices as an approach to help women of all ages to give voice to their lives. She has a background in Holistic-Health Counseling, working primarily with teen girls and young women to inspire healthy lifestyle habits. In addition, Beth is a vocal artist, performer and teacher of Western classical and sacred music. She holds a B.A. in music from Westminster Choir College, is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and completed the chef training program from the Institute for Culinary Education.

Norma Hawthorne has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006. She has offered tapestry weaving, natural dyeing, painting, documentary filmmaking, and photography workshops that are attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia. During her 25-year career in higher education, Norma has organized national award-winning continuing education programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, and George Washington University, and raised more than $23 million for The University of North Carolina School of Nursing. She holds the B.A. from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.


Preliminary Workshop Outline

  • Friday, March 8, travel day, arrive and check-in
  • Saturday, March 9, orientation, village walk, writing, yoga
  • Sunday, March 10, regional market visit, yoga, writing
  • Monday, March 11, yoga, writing, temescal
  • Tuesday, March 12-Thursday, March 14, yoga, writing, open time, individual consultations
  • Friday, March 15, yoga, writing, reception and reading
  • Saturday, March 16, departure

Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at family operated bed and breakfast inns.  Local meals are prepared by excellent cooks from organic ingredients made from scratch. Vegetarian options are available.

Base Cost: $1,195 per person double occupancy with shared bath facilities. Single rooms are available with a single supplement. A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.

[ ] Option 1: I will share a room, double occupancy with shared bath, $1,195 per person.

[ ] Option 2: I prefer a single room with shared bath for a total of $1,295 per person.

[ ] Optional 3: I will share a room, double occupancy, with private bath for a total of $1,295.

[ ] Option 4: I prefer a single room with private bath for a total of $1,495.

[ ] Option A: 5-hour Zapotec cooking class on Saturday, March 16 (you will depart on Sunday March 17), includes local market shopping tour and lunch.  Add $120 (includes class, one night lodging, three meals).

[ ] Option B: One-hour massage scheduled during open times in the weekly schedule. Add: $50.

[ ] Option C: 5 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) for 18 contact hours of instruction, with certificate of completion, $75.

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We will arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your spot. The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be paid by January 10, 2013. Payment is requested or PayPal. We will  send you an itemized invoice when you say you are ready to register.

We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact:  Since we are in Oaxaca most of the year, we are happy to arrange a Skype conversation with you if you wish.

This retreat is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.


Are You Safer in Mexico or America?

Should I travel to Mexico?  Is it safe?  What about Oaxaca?  Robert Reid, Lonely Planet’s US travel editor wrote a blog post on May 10, 2012 about safety in Mexico, offering six reasons why Mexico is safe.  The headline is Are You Safer in Mexico or America?  The Huffington Post picked it up and published it and our follower, Bruce Anderson sent the story my way.  Thanks, Bruce!

I’m going to start with Reid’s last two points, which are specific to Oaxaca.  I am constantly writing about safety here because one of the biggest myths circulating is that travel to Mexico is not safe and safety is one of the most popular search terms on my blog.  I am on a mission.  It is my number one pet peeve.  The traveling public needs to know that most tourist destinations in Mexico — and especially Oaxaca — are safe.

Help me spread the word by forwarding this to one friend who is skeptical! Here’s what Reid says . . .

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.

Of all people, President Obama and first lady said “OK” to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).

Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, “millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.” Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala).

Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters

Welcome to our new online store — Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters. We are sisters in real life, Norma Hawthorne and Barbara Beerstein.  We are passionate collectors and supporters of artists and artisans who express the creativity and vitality of Oaxaca and Mexico.  Textiles and folk art are our passion.  Because of this, we fall in love with people and what they create along our journey.  For us, it is as much about the people we connect with than what we are buying. Invariably, we usually come home with much more than what we need.

Today we feature huipils + blusas from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla!

This is to your advantage!  Our prices our reasonable.  We ship fast.  We have already made the purchase and paid the artist. We believe in compensating people fairly and immediately for the beauty they create.  We offer the best quality because that is what we expect for ourselves.

Each week, starting today, we will list a few select pieces for sale on this blog!  Look for the Artisan Sisters in your inbox.  

Week 1 — Shop Mexico: The Artisan Sisters.

#1_51412, Collector Quality Huipil, Las Margaritas, Chiapas, handwoven, $195

Detail, Las Margaritas textile

#1_51412:  This extraordinarily detailed huipil from the Mayan indigenous village of Las Margaritas, in the Los Altos (highlands) of Chiapas, is a finely woven piece of highest quality cotton cloth created on the backstrap loom.  The design is integrated and woven into weft of the cloth; it is not embroidered.  Size is ample and would fit U.S. size 14-18 comfortably.  It has three webs across the front and three webs across the back, each securely hand-embroidered together.  The huipil is 29″ wide across the front armpit to armpit and 30″ long from the shoulder seam.

Contact us first to make sure the item you want is still available.  We accept PayPal and will send you an invoice after we calculate packing and shipping costs.

#2_51412: Blusa, Cuetzalan, Puebla, hand-embroidered bodice, $175

Detail of Cuetzalan blusa, #2_51412

#2_51412: Cuetzalan is in the Sierra Norte of the State of Puebla, four hours from the city of Puebla high in the mountains. The Artisan Sisters traveled there by public long-distance bus.  The women there embroider intricate patterns of wildlife and flowers onto panels of cotton which become part of washable cotton blouses that are gently gathered across the chest.  This blusa is a stunning, intricate design, with finely finished inside seams.  The bodice stitches are really tiny.  Every inch of the bodice and sleeve fabric is covered in handwork.  Neckline and sleeves have lovely crocheted trim. Width armpit to armpit across the front is 25″.  Length from shoulder seam to hem is 30.”  Neckline opening is 13″ wide.

#3_51412: Blusa, San Vicente Coatlan, $85



Detail, blusa, San Vicente Coatlan

#3_51412:  This Blusa (blouse) from San Vicente Coatlan, is one of the most beautiful I have seen in Oaxaca.  It has lots of punto de cruz cross stitch patterning in multi-colors covering the entire bodice, extending out the shoulders, and trimming the sleeve edge.  The back collar is also embellished with fine detail. I don’t know how they do it.  The gathers are all done by hand, too.  This is a KNOCK-OUT.  Width from armpit to armpit across the front is 27″ wide.  Length from shoulder seam to hem is 34″ long.  Sleeves are 20″ long from the shoulder seam.  Embroidered panels sewn onto manta cotton (washable).