Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oaxaca Wild Marigolds and Day of the Dead

Since pre-Hispanic Aztec times, the scent of wild marigold or cempaxuchitl has guided the dead back to loved ones for the celebration we know as Day of the Dead.  Marigolds are spiritual, healing, calming.


It’s the rainy season in Oaxaca.  Since August, late afternoon rains have turned the dry earth into a fertile field of wild flowers and berries.  It seems like the cactus have grown a foot since I left.  Wild marigolds populate the landscape.  It is a blanket of golden and green.









Yellow covers construction sites, spent corn fields, fence lines, foundations, patios, and hillsides.  Soon, vases will contain them.

Now, I am preparing for our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition which begins on October 28.  Calendas, or processions, will fill the streets and revelers will carry bouquets of wild and cultivated marigolds.  Marigolds will dominate home altars and grave sites.  Petals will line a path leading to the altars to make the journey home easier for the deceased.

WildMarigolds-3 WildMarigolds-2

The fragrance of marigold will fill the air.  Their color will bring joy to the living.



Experience Oaxaca.  2014 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat starts February 28.  Two spaces left!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

P.S. Looking for Diego Rivera in San Francisco, California, USA

Just in from my sister Barbara who lives in the Bay Area.  USA Today publishes How to Visit Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco.  Here is the complete list, open hours, and specific locations.  Enjoy!

In Mexico City: Looking for Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo, iconic painter, called him The Frog and married him twice.  They count her as his third and fourth wife.  We know Diego Rivera as a communist, socialist, painter, bad boy of 1930’s Mexico who snubbed Nelson Rockefeller by refusing to eliminate Lenin’s portrait from the infamous Rockefeller Center mural.  Fired and his mural destroyed, Rivera retreated from New York to Mexico City to reproduce his vision of humanity, Man at the Crossroads, on the walls of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.  Look for Rockefeller in this mural.


All the photos in this blog post are of murals at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) in Mexico City.

As I write this, I am traveling on a six-and-a-half hour ADO GL bus south toward Oaxaca.  There is the promise of torrential hurricane force rains along the way.  A good time to reflect on the four days I spent in Mexico City to look for Diego Rivera.

BestDiegoRivera-31 BestDiegoRivera-6

I love his paintings but not his personal behavior: his violent temper and many infidelities.  I can understand it but don’t admire it.  Is behavior a reflection of character and how can you separate one from the other?  Must one accept the totality of the artist to love his or her work?

BestDiegoRivera-23 BestDiegoRivera-28

In 2012, a distant friend told me that she, too, loved Diego Rivera.  I questioned her because she had just declared her intention to vote for Mitt Romney — the antithesis of Rivera and his political passion. I replied: To love Diego Rivera is to respect, support, and admire his political stand.  You can’t separate the man from his work.  She disagreed.  What do you think?


Rivera’s paintings are iconic and symbolic. They express his political and social empathy for Mexico’s indigenous, her revolutionaries, intellectuals, reformers, and anti-capitalists, and his disdain for the church and oppressors of any ilk.  Rivera’s murals are a riveting, visceral history of human rights violations beginning with the invasion of Cortes, the Inquisition in New Spain, the Porfiriato and exploding power of Fascism.  

BestDiegoRivera-10 BestDiegoRivera-17

In sweeping fashion, Rivera captures all that accompanies political power seekers: corruption, greed, debauchery, dictatorship, and assassination.  His imagery depicts the rise of industrialization and its dehumanizing forces, the tensions of machinery vs. man, the movement from rural life to the crush of cities where personal identity is lost or stolen.  He speaks to us of the soul of humanity and our purest impulses for compassion and forgiveness.

BestDiegoRivera-5 BestDiegoRivera-12

There is a strong message in the beauty he created.  Support of the proletarian revolution is the guiding theme among them all.

The paintings speak to Mexican life and specific people Rivera singled out populate them, like Emiliano Zapata and Otillio Montaño.  He manages to insert himself with self-portraits throughout his works, too. 

BestDiegoRivera-20 BestDiegoRivera-4

In a 1928 fresco at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) a red-ribbon banner painted above In the Arsenal holds these words (interpreted and paraphrased):

Here will be the proletarian revolution.

Voices will open to loudly proclaim throughout the land

The sad, sordid but pure story

That many suffered

Were maligned and oppressed.


Do you see Rivera’s self-portrait here?

Rivera is a storyteller.  The three floors of paintings at SEP are remarkable expressions of his early period, 1923-1928.  This is also where he met Frida Kahlo, the seventeen-year-old student who came to him while he was on a scaffold to ask his opinion of her work.

BestDiegoRivera-32 BestDiegoRivera-33 BestDiegoRivera-36

At SEP, I was fortunate enough to be able to trail a group of teachers on a guided tour through areas usually restricted to the public.  Afterward, I lingered and revisited favorites.  In 1928, Rivera painted Death of Capitalism, The Orgy, and Wall Street Banquet, a cynical prediction of the 1929 stock market crash.   His pre-Hispanic images of rural indigenous life are compelling:  Dia de los Muertos, Fiesta of the Dance of the Deer, El Tianguis (the market), The Weavers, The Dyers, and Paradise


I spent three hours at SEP and want to go back.  It could be my favorite place to look for Diego Rivera.  I know the man and his art are one, and for that reason I have gained a new admiration and respect for him from this visit.

Looking for Diego Rivera in Mexico City 

  1. Secretaria de Educacion Publica, Ave. Republica de Argentina #28, weekdays only.  Walk from Zocalo. Three floors of exquisite murals, 1923-1928.
  2. Museo Mural Diego Rivera, corner of Avenidas Balderas & Colon, facing Av. Juarez at the end of the Alameda Central.  Mural restored after 1989 (check date) earthquake and relocated.  An amazing journey through Mexico’s political, social history from 1521 to mid-20th century (check date)
  3. Palacio Nacional on the Zocalo
  4. Palacio de Bellas Artes, on Av. Juarez
  5. Municipal Water Pumping Station, Rivera sculpture of rain god Tlaloc


Now, perhaps on to Detroit and San Francisco to continue the search.

BestDiegoRivera-30 BestDiegoRivera-35

Footnotes:  SEP was created in 1921 and the building where it is housed is a former convent, a magnificent colonial structure, appropriated by the state when the church was banned from holding land.  I met Miriam, educated in art restoration at the Instituto Bottcelli in Cuernavaca, who is one of an eight-person team who work year-round to restore and preserve the murals.

BestDiegoRivera-27 BestDiegoRivera-22 BestDiegoRivera-21

In Mexico City: Lunch at Mercado Abelardo L. Rodriguez

Down the street from Santo Domingo Plaza and the museum of the Inquisition in New Spain is Mercado Abelardo L. Rodriguez, a historic neighborhood market filled with lunch stalls, fruit and vegetable stands, and puestos selling cooking staples..  It is known for housing extraordinary murals by students of Diego Rivera, though most visitors to Mexico City are unaware of this landmark.

Mercado Abelardo-4

This is a people’s market, very different from the Mercado San Juan, the upscale, exotic, European-style food court near Palacio Bellas Artes.

Agnes Bihari-2DSC_2514 

Hungarian photographer Agnes Behari sent me there.  I met her on the steps of the Santo Domingo Church while I was shooting the texture of the door.  She asked about my camera, told me she is an MFA student in documentary photography at the Academy of San Carlos, part of UNAM, and as we were talking the doors to the chapel closed and I never got in.  Time for lunch.

Mercado Abelardo-6

Agnes said there are murals by Diego Rivera inside.  Not exactly!  The murals are by his students who painted them under his supervision.  However, once I got there, I was so overwhelmed by market activity and making a decision about which stall to sit down at, I totally forgot about the murals.  Something for the next visit!


Food and art.  Art and food.  What is more important?  At the moment, food.  And where to eat it.  Choosing where to eat can be tricky.  Rule of thumb:  Look around. Take your time. Determine which place has the most clients with butts in seats.  I did this in small rural villages in China fifteen years ago and never got sick.

Mercado Abelardo-9

Antojitos Mexicanos Yucely was packed and people were waiting to take their place on a plastic stool and elbow up to the bar.  The daily two-course special — soup and entrée with two sides — was 40 pesos.  Add 10 pesos for a bottle of Coca Cola. The 50 pesos total equals about $4. USD in today’s exchange rate.

DSC_2487 DSC_2473


I ordered a filet of huachinango (red snapper) battered in corn meal, crispy fried with a sweet, perfectly cooked center.  I asked for a side of the yummiest potatoes on the planet seasoned with oil, vinegar, onion and jalapeño peppers with just enough bite to make it interesting, plus perfectly steamed vegetable medley of squash, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, and a taste of marinated, sautéed mushrooms.  I joined the multitudes with smiles on their faces.

DSC_2513 Mercado Abelardo-12

My camera makes for a great conversation piece and before long, people were asking me to take their photos, which I promised to send them via email or Facebook.  After lunch became a market portrait session.

Mercado Abelardo-14 Mercado Abelardo-15 Mercado Abelardo-16 Mercado Abelardo-18


Ah, and did I mention that I’m a single woman traveler in Mexico City?  Walking everywhere by myself, even as night falls!