Monthly Archives: August 2012

Archives of American Art historic film footage from 1930’s Mexico: A rare delight

From the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, here is rare and restored footage of 1930’s Mexico, filmed by expatriate artists Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo while they were living in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico and visiting Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.  Thanks to Patricia Thompson, a Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog follower for bringing A rare delight: Mexican home movies from the 1930’s to my attention. The film footage (a bit over 33 minutes) and accompanying article are so wonderful, I want to pass it on to you to enjoy as part of Mexican cultural history. Several of the nine film clips are in color, unusual for home movies at the time. The movies are part of a collection that includes correspondence, writings, art work, photographs, printed material and financial and legal records that document the artistic, teaching, and journalism careers of husband and wife Stephan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo.

To put the footage in context, during the era that Hirsch and Rogo filmed, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were living and working in Mexico City, and the Fred Davis and William Spratling silversmith workshops were active and training the next generation of master Mexican silversmiths in Taxco. At the same time, Lazaro Cardenas was elected president of Mexico. Cardenas instituted sweeping land reforms turning over control of agricultural land to peasants, and established state ownership of the petroleum industry removing American corporate ownership of the national resource.

If you see something in the news that you think would be of interest to our readers, please let me know so I can share it!  And, we have TWO SPACES LEFT in our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition starting October 28.  Come along.

And, just in from fellow blogger Shannon Pixley Sheppard on Oaxaca’s latest archeological discovery, burial remains in Santa Maria Atzompa.  So much to love about Mexico!


View of San Miguel de Allende: Joseph’s Birthday Gift

On one of my last evenings in San Miguel de Allende, I was invited by a friend to come along to a party to celebrate Joseph’s birthday. That’s the way it is in San Miguel.  Connections matter.  And they happen immediately!  We were ruminating all day about what Joseph asked us to bring as a birthday gift:  Sharing a random act of kindness that each of us had given freely to the world without expectating anything in return.  The mantra is to focus out!

Now, to set the stage:  Joseph is of an undisclosed age.  Let’s just say, he’s somewhere between late thirty-something and wiser.  Who knows? He would not tell.  More importantly, Joseph is like what many aspire to become but rarely achieve:  sassy, smart, theatrical, witty, and on top of the world.  Joseph teaches acting and improvisation in San Miguel.  He inspires students to let go and discover. They love him for it.


Joseph and his partner Eli perch on a mountain top in a home layered, almost sculpted, into the hillside.  San Miguel is at their feet below.  Joseph is from the U.S.A.  Eli was born and raised in Mexico City.  They are a perfect example of the San Miguel melange and mystique.


Joseph and Eli are passionate about life, sustainability, giving back and paying forward.  They are active volunteers involved with non-profits that help local Mexicans. That’s why Joseph said, don’t bring a gift. Share a random act of kindness.


So, after we circled the resplendent table laden with the potluck dishes that could have been catered by the finest professional chefs but weren’t, after pouring bottles of wine, after tasting the homemade red velvet cake perfectly executed, after scooping the handcrafted ice creams and gelatos, after consuming the fresh fruit custard tart, we circled up on the terrace overlooking the sparkling town below.

It was there in the twilight  that each guest told how they randomly (and not so randomly) were committed to creating a better world for others.  One person extended a helping hand to an old woman, another gave a contribution to a street person, another made a gift to help a school boy fund his education, one gave roses to strangers as a gesture of loving kindness, another gifted food to a shelter, one started a spay/neuter program for street dogs, one bought sheet music and  supplies for local musicians, another raised concern about costs to buy books and uniforms for local children to go to public schools (a disincentive to further education for poor families).  The sharing became a discussion about how to start an organized support system to raise enough money to underwrite these expenses at $325 USD per child per year.  The small acts of kindness add up.


By bringing us together, Joseph gave us a gift in celebration of his birthday.  Our gift to him was the food and drink we provided for the table to share.  His gift to us was his energy and creativity to raise our awareness for how important it is to continually and consciously make the world a better place for all.  On this night, that resulted in starting a social action program that would make a difference for school children in the region.


During my leadership training five years ago at The Legacy Center in Durham, NC, one challenge was to approach a stranger and perform a selfless, random act of kindness.  This is not something we as a society are comfortable with nor have we incorporated easily into our complex social norms and rituals.  That’s why it is considered an opportunity to go from Me to We.

Who knows what would happen if you modeled the same approach at your next birthday celebration?  Want to try it?  There’s an old Talmudic saying: to do something positive will make a difference for seven generations.

And, yes, connections matter.


Today, I’m in Los Angeles with my son after spending a week in Santa Cruz, California, with my 96-1/2 year-old mother who is in declining health, and after a day-and-a-half romp around San Francisco with my sister.  I am midway through my return trip from Oaxaca to North Carolina.  From here, I meet my husband Stephen for three weeks on a quiet lake in Maine.  Then, back to NC, then back to Oaxaca for our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition.  Today, I am far from Oaxaca, though she is always in my heart and in my mind’s eye.


Artisan Sisters Week 9: Whimsical Huipil and Coral Earrings

This week the Artisan Sisters offer a stunning indigenous huipil (dress) hand woven and embroidered from the mountains of Oaxaca, and sterling silver and coral antique earrings from Puebla.  Email me if you want to order to make sure the item is still available.  Shipping cost extra. Insurance optional.

Animals and birds and sea creatures are a whimsical addition to this made-on-a-backstrap-loom garment that measures 39″ wide (across the front) in three wefts.   All cotton, it is approximately 39″ long from the shoulders, and will fit a size Large-Xtra Large. Yours for $125.00, Item Number 08132012.1. Plus shipping.

There are small multi-colored diamond shapes woven into the body of the cloth, and the finish work is excellent.  The black hand-bound cotton trim around the neck is perfectly done and ensures there will be no unraveling!  The seams are sewn together with a zigzag red crochet stitch, and the armholes are finished with the same workmanship.    This collector’s piece is definitely a bargain!

Antique sterling silver and coral earrings from Puebla, Mexico date to the mid-1950’s.  Silver is no longer being made in Puebla and these came from an estate.  Note the Frida-style birds.  Great movement. 2-1/8″ long.  $95.  Plus shipping, depending on where you live in the U.S.A. Item #08132012.2

San Miguel de Allende: A Way of Life and House-Sitting

It is easy to describe San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, as an adult playground and haven for exploration, self-discovery, and creativity.  Much is written about San Miguel, which took off as an arts community in the 1940’s when U.S. veterans of World War II came to Belles Artes for arts education paid for by the GI Bill.


I stopped there for three days to visit friends after my work in the Guanajuato pueblos and before heading back to the U.S.A.  During this first visit to San Miguel, what impressed me were the art galleries, indigenous crafts, restaurants, cultural life, blue light treated and filtered drinkable tap water, groomed avenues, elegant colonial homes perfectly restored, aging hippy ambience, the Jardin and La Parroquia light spectacle, the Saturday organic market, the spirit of the place.  Three days is a nanosecond in the life of a Mexican village, and mine is a first impression.  And, everyone has their own experience!  Thankfully.


San Miguel long ago graduated beyond Mexican village status. With a population of about 130,000 people total, the expatriate community numbers about 14,000 or almost 11 percent of the population, of which 70 percent are Americans. (Oops, Estadounidenses, ie. from the U.S.A.  Mexicans are Americans, too, as in North Americans, as in part of the North American continent and The United Mexican States.)  Fourteen thousand is a hefty number and it is easy to see why people from the U.S.A. and Canada want to live in San Miguel.  It’s easier.  All the services are there to support a first-world lifestyle and you don’t even need to speak Spanish if you don’t want to!


Do you want to play music?  Do it.  Do you want to grow and sell organic food? Start a market. Do you want to become a painter?  Lessons are plentiful.  Do you want to teach yoga and meditation?  There are people to join you in the practice.  Whatever you might have yearned to learn or do, it’s here in San Miguel.  Plus, San Miguel has a very socially and politically active group of volunteers who are mentoring and supporting local women, youth, families, organic farmers, schools, health clinics, animal shelters and starting self-help entrepreneurial projects.  Can’t find what you are interested in?  Start your own group.


House Sitting in San Miguel

So, how can someone from the U.S.A. live in San Miguel for not much money?  I discovered that one  alternative is to become a house sitter.  If you join the Civil (a SMA listserv), you can get notices and also put out the word that you want to house sit.  These arrangements can be made for several weeks, months, or years usually for the cost of paying for utilities and services (water, gas, electricity, maid, gardener), which can range from $400-1,000 a month.


I was impressed by seeing how simply house sitters — many of whom are retirees on small fixed incomes — can live, with all their belongings in a few suitcases.  Everything can fit in the trunk of a car.  For me, it was an instructive lesson in FREEDOM and MOBILITY.  During “the season” (winter months) when the snowbirds return, house sitters may take to the road (or air) to discover other parts of the world or negotiate occupying the small casita in the back of a property.


Would I visit again?  Absolutely.  Would I live there permanently?  Silly question.  I live in Oaxaca!  At least most of the year.


This year, it will be seven or eight months of being in Oaxaca, going back and forth from there and between North Carolina and California.  My 96-1/2 year old mother lives in Santa Cruz near my sister (I want to see her as much as I can), my son, daughter-in-law, brother and his family are in Los Angeles, and my husband is in North Carolina until the casita we will live in is completed.  Sometimes, I don’t know where I live and living out of a suitcase for two months makes me appreciate what the house sitters of San Miguel are able to do!



Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato — Mexico’s Newest Pueblo Magico

For nearly 100 years Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato, Mexico, has been an abandoned mining town on the verge of extinction.  Today, recognized by the federal government as a Pueblo Magico, the once prosperous town is making a comeback as a place to relax, kick-back, and enjoy.   Just 45-minutes away from the bustling expatriate mecca of San Miguel de Allende, Pozos offers what San Miguel is not — a small-scale, tranquil, serene, intimate and lower-key approach to life.  There are excellent restaurants and stunning accommodations where you can rest, refresh, and use as a base to explore the environs.


I loved walking the original cobblestone streets.  I felt as if I was transported back to the early 20th century, and the architecture reminded me of old west towns you might see in 1950’s cowboy movies.


The hill town is easy to traverse, and within a few blocks of the lovely Su Casa B&B where I stayed, I discovered the central plaza, lined with several excellent art galleries, shops, El Secreto de Pozos B&B and Galleria No. 6.  There is a  local art scene with painting, sculpture, photography, music and pre-hispanic instruments, plus a self-guided gallery tour with each place well-marked.


Mineral de Pozos is on the priority list for tourism development by the federal and state offices of tourism.  Pozos is also one of Adriana Cortes-Jimenez’ priorities.  Her organization, Fundacion Communitaria del Bajio, is investing in the lives of local people who have the talent and wherewithal to build a tourism infrastructure that is owned and operated by Mexicans.


So often I heard, “We don’t want Pozos to become another San Miguel,” during the three days I was there.  What does this mean? I asked people.  I learned about how important it is to develop and invest in local ownership of businesses so that Mexicans can have a share of the economic prosperity that tourism brings.  This means more than being trained as the restaurant cook, server, gardener or housekeeper.  It means participating in the decisions of how the town develops, owning land, getting micro-finance loans to start restaurants, guide services, bed and breakfasts, and shops, and the training to run these successfully.


Please don’t get me wrong.  San Miguel de Allende is a magnificent historic hill town with an incredible jardin (central garden), a splendid church, great walking streets, with an extraordinary art scene.  It is a shopper’s paradise and many expats love the opportunity to live there to discover their passions.  With its million dollar mansions and amazing views, it’s no wonder that the village has exploded and attracted the artistic and those searching for another way of life.  I loved my visit to San Miguel and appreciated knowing it better!  Oaxaca is where I belong.

Mexico was colonized by the Spanish in 1521 when Cortes landed in Veracruz.  Mexicans have fought against colonialism for much of the nation’s existence. However, most major industry and manufacturing is still owned by foreigners.  Walmart is one of Mexico’s largest employers.  Canadians operate the mines in Guanajuato and pay minimum wage, I’m told.  Mexico is oil-rich but has no refineries, shipping its natural resource to the U.S. for processing, and then back again to be used.

Tourism in Pozos represents a new opportunity for local ownership and control of one’s own destiny.  For visitors, the opportunity is to discover great food, stunning views, excellent hiking and mountain bike trails, an opportunity to do community service with a local composting effort, and nature photography at its finest with abandoned mines as archeological focal points.

I hope you will give yourself time to go beyond San Miguel de Allende to take it a bit slower in Pozos.  You won’t be sorry.

If you are interested in supporting the work of Fundacion Communitaria del Bajio, please contact Adriana Cortes Jimenez.


You might be interested in knowing that the blurry photos above are intentional.  I am using an experimental lens called the Lensbaby Muse for my Nikon.  It’s fun and creates some very interesting, and sometimes amusing, images!  My friend Sam Robbins calls it the Woogity.