Monthly Archives: June 2012

Through the Lens: Photographic Textures of Oaxaca

Our 2012 Oaxaca Photography Workshop: Market Towns and Artisan Villages officially begins tomorrow morning.  Many of our participants arrived in Teotitlan del Valle, our “base camp,” a day early to wander the village, get their bearings and settle in.  We are at 6,000 feet altitude, which means some getting used to.   The weather is mild and sunny, a lovely 82 degrees and perfect for photography.

First: a couple of shots in Oaxaca, at the new Museo Textil de Oaxaca shop now operated by Los Baules owner and curator Remigio Mestas.

Indigenous clothing is artfully displayed in and on antique furniture.  See the handwoven fish traps from the coast of Oaxaca?


An amazing, intricately woven silk huipil (wee-peel) with natural dyes created by maestra Francisca Palafox from San Mateo del Mar.

It costs more money than you can imagine!

The colors of Mexico from a rooftop:  Red, Green, White.

And below, textural impressions of Teotitlan del Valle, literal and figurative.



Our next photography workshop is Day of the Dead Expedition, October 28-November 4 in Oaxaca.




Foodie Heaven: Oaxaca, Mexico

Falling in love with Oaxaca centers on food consumption, food ingredients, the visual, sensory excitement of food in its raw or cooked state, the preparation that goes into it, and of course the taste once a fork-full hits your salivary glands and begins its magic. From the street to the finest restaurants, food culture reigns in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Here are a few of my favorite food images from the past week.

     From Casa Oaxaca, we have Squash Blossom Soup with the local herb chipil, quesillo stuffed squash blossoms, and a blue corn tortilla drizzled with garlic oil, topped with queso fresco accompanied with fresh made salsa with red tomatoes and tomatillos.

Street vendors can be mobile carts on bicycles.  They sell everything from fresh fruit cups to aguas (fruit drinks like horchata and agua de sandia — watermelon juice), empañadas and quesadillas.

 An agua de sandia!


The food a La Zandunga continues to be delicious.  They moved from their corner location that used to be cater corner to La Biznaga and are right next door on Calle Garcia Virgil one block from Santo Domingo Church.  The mashed potatoes with either the stewed pork (left) or the roasted chicken is amazing. You can’t go wrong with either.  The space is up-tempo, Mexican-contempo with many more tables to accommodate the crowds since the New York Times travel section featured them in 36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico written by Freda Moon.


The daily special at Terra Nova on the Zocalo was a big plate of mixed fresh fruit (pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, mango), cottage cheese, and pineapple jello (they call this gelatina, which has 90% less sugar than our U.S. version, making it absolutely tasty.)

Below, this street vendor on a bicycle sells steamed tamales.  Occasionally, his wheel will come loose, and he’ll need to stop to fix it, which is how I was able to take this photo.  See Taste Oaxaca: Shop, Cook, Eat coming up in winter 2013.

Oaxaca Antiques, Silver Jewelry, Museum and Shop

There are two parts to this story.  One is the Antiguedades (Mexican jewelry and antiques shop) operated by Juan Jimenez, and Two is the adjoining Museo Belber-Jimenez textile and antique jewelry collection on display that belongs to brother Federico Jimenez and his wife Ellen Belber.   Both are located in the same colonial casa at the corner of  Matamoros #307 at the corner of Tinoco y Palacios, Centro Historico, Oaxaca.


We went there to oggle the extraordinary jewelry collection which includes great representative samples from the most famous Mexican silversmiths, including Fred Davis, William Spratling, Mathilde Poulat and others.   If you love Mexican silver, amethyst, turquoise, coral and other gemstones, this is where you can see the originals all in one place.  Plus there’s lots of early colonial Oaxaca gold filigree, sand cast Yalalag silver crosses, and examples of the finest work that is no longer being made.


Of course, we couldn’t leave without going into the shop to look at the recreations in the style of Frida Kahlo — those big dangling, music-making earrings that jingle and jangle when you move.  Hollie models one of Juan’s designs.

Recently, Dave Emerson wrote about his visit to the museum on his blog Oaxaca Chapulines and gives a bit of history.

Today, store offerings included 1930’s Saltillo tapestries, wonderful old textiles, clay and wood sculpted figurines, masks, reliquaries, tissue paper collages by Rudolfo Morales, a Rufino Tamayo lithograph, colonial furniture, and other objects d’arte.


Proprietor Juan Jimenez is a patient host and offers lots of interesting tidbits about the history of the collection and what he has in the store.  You can feel comfortable looking to your heart’s content and not feel any obligation to make a purchase.

We also spent some time in the textile section of the museum.  Here are some photos of some exquisite older trajes (costumes) from villages throughout the state of Oaxaca.


These are woven on back-strap looms with the design integrated into the weft during the weaving process, or they may be intricately embroidered.  Many of the complex designs are no longer created, which makes this collection even more important.  Preservation of the textile tradition of Oaxaca is essential and it is nice to see this small permanent exhibition on display.


or contact by telephone (951) 514-4996, cellular (044) 951-165-1517.  The museum closes daily between 2:00-4:00 p.m. for lunch.  Call ahead to be certain of hours.

Huipils, Blusas, Rebozos: Shopping for Indigenous Clothing in Oaxaca

An essential stop for visitors to Oaxaca is the Benito Juarez Market.  Enter through the main arch on Calle de las Casas, make a quick stop to see the basket weavers and buy a few lightweight colorful pieces, then make a left at the first aisle.


At the second stall to the left you will find Señor Crispin Morales Osorio (Benito Juarez Market #230, Tel: 951-514-0859).   

This is where I took Hollie for her first Oaxaca shopping foray (or forage, you choose).  And the results are stunningly Oaxaca colorful.  She bought this beautiful hand-woven, hand-embroidered huipil from the Amuzgo pueblo for 800 pesos (that’s $58 USD). You can hardly buy a T-shirt in the U.S. for that price.

Hollie, an artist and participant on the Oaxaca Photography Workshop: Market Towns and Artisan Villages, wanted to absorb more of the local color.  I think she did it, don’t you?

Señor Crispin comes highly recommended by friends at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca for good quality at fair prices.  I have bought several things there.  Throughout the market you will find stalls selling equally good quality and more that sell schlock.  Check the seams, the quality of the finish work along the neckline and hems, the intricacy of the weaving and embroidery.  Compare prices before you make your purchase.

Now, it is 82 degrees in Oaxaca, a bit humid because of all the recent rain and a loosely woven 100% cotton garment that is not form-fitting feels really good.  And did I say again, it’s safe here!

Spaces open for Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Expedition, October 28-November 4.


Getting Sick in Mexico: Precautions, Remedies and Reassurances

Getting sick in Mexico is something people don’t write about much.  But, every traveler and even residents can be periodically affected.  Our U.S. sanitation practices are super vigilant, many often think to the extreme.  We have a public health awareness imbedded into our culture.  Mr. Clean in everywhere.  The New York Times recently published Let’s Dirty Up Our Diets (or there’s nothing wrong with a little good, clean dirt in our food).  We don’t have much, if any, and perhaps this is what makes us less resistant and more vulnerable to international travel.

The kind of “being sick” I’m talking about is not the common head cold that we often pick up on airplanes or what’s known in Oaxaca as La Grippa (influenza).   I’m talking about the gut-wrenching, vomiting and diarrhea kind of sick that knocks you over and wipes you out, tethering you to a bathroom for 24-36 hours.  I’ve been this kind of sick in Mexico even after being here a while.  Mexicans get this, too.

I’ve avoided writing about this for the almost six years I’ve had this blog.  It’s not a pleasant topic and I don’t want people to think that Mexico is dirty and unsafe.  It is just different here.  Mexico is not exactly the Third World nor is it the First World.  There is incredible prosperity here and also abject poverty.  Poverty and lack of public health education breeds disease.  In rural public health clinics, even basic hand-washing is not a universal practice.

With lack of infrastructure and poor water quality, everyone who can afford it will drink and cook (and brush teeth) with bottled and purified water.  If they can’t afford it and are smart, they will boil water that comes from the local water sources.  Tap water is a No-No.

Tourists crave fresh fruits and vegetables.  They must be washed very carefully, peeled with clean knives and treated with drops of disinfectant.   That means we must know our food preparer, and even then, it’s iffy.  Sin lechuga, no lettuce, I tell our workshop participants, unless you are in a highly respected establishment (hotel, restaurant) that caters to tourists, and sometimes … even then …  We are particularly vulnerable at street stalls and small cafes where food preparers take the money and also prepare the food without hand washing in between.

Precautions.  Let this be a word of warming:  Be aware of what you are touching.  Those nasty germs travel quickly from hand to mouth (or eyes or nose).

  • Buttons on the ATM
  • Door handles (in and out of taxis, especially) and hand rails
  • Shaking hands (a common respectful practice here)
  • Handling money
  • Arm rests on buses
  • Canned soda tops
  • Counters and any other surfaces
  • Touching objects at flea markets
  • Baggage handlers
  • Et cetera!  You get the picture.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you.  I’m trying to raise your awareness.  It’s not possible to avoid touching everything but it IS important to be conscious and diligently keep your Hand Sanitizer handy and use it liberally.  Any time you are in a public place you are vulnerable.  Until we eat a little more dirt in our food and build up our immune system, I would rely on the hand sanitizer.

Mexico no longer dispenses the anti-bacterial Ciprofloxicino (we know it as Cipro) over the counter.  You need a prescription for it.  Thus, if you have not come prepared with your own medication that you have gotten in your home country as a precaution, then you must see a local doctor who will prescribe.

Many pharmacies (Ahorro in Oaxaca, 20 de Noviembre a block from the Zocalo  or in Puebla, Farmacias Similares, 10 Oriente #4) have a Doc-in-the-Box clinic right next door.   Here, you wait in line (often less than 10 minutes) until you can be seen and interviewed about your ailments.  You might even be asked to undergo a more thorough examination that includes getting on an exam table, having your blood pressure taken, and listening to your vitals.  Only then will the doctor give you a prescription that can be filled immediately.

Now, the trick is, when you are tethered to the toilet, how do you get to the doctor to get an Rx?  You might have to send a surrogate.  But no doctor will write a script for someone who is not there.  So, becoming an actor or actress to be there and translate the symptoms takes on even more import.   If a friend or relative can’t do this, then come prepared and bring your own meds with you!

Remedies  (for vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache):  THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE–only public health information with dosages prescribed by a Mexican physician!

  1. Ciprofloxino (antibacterial)—a seven-day series
  2. Meclizina/piriodoxina—3 pills daily for 2 days for nausea
  3. Clonixinato delisina butilhioscina, 3 pills daily for 2 days for stomach ache
  4. Plenty of fluids, preferably electrolytes to stay hydrated

The doctor’s visit will cost about 30 pesos.  In today’s dollars, that’s $2.16 USD.  Three prescriptions and three bottles of electrolytes cost 240 pesos or $17.29 USD.


This IS something you can deal with if it happens to you.  It will set you back a couple of days, but you will recover with good medicine.  And, Mexico is worth it!