Monthly Archives: December 2022

Covid Travel Safety to Oaxaca … or Anywhere!

On Friday, December 30, I drive away to Albuquerque from Taos and on Saturday, December 31 (my birthday!), I fly away to Oaxaca. Yes, a lot has changed since March 12, 2020, when I flew from Oaxaca to California to visit my son for a week and ended up staying with him for two months. Then, the Covid Pandemic was an unknown, we were scared of everything, only to learn that so many people became infected and died. It’s almost three years later and I have not contracted Covid … yet.

I’m still very cautious, wear a face mask the moment I step into an airport and keep it on until I reach my destination … either Oaxaca or New Mexico! I don’t take it off until I am outside. Such is not the case for most now. On my recent travels returning from Oaxaca to Taos in November, maybe 15% on the plane were masked. I am writing this because our study tour season is about to start. Our first group starts on January 3, and we have three more after that, going to the Oaxaca Coast, to Mexico City and Michoacan, and then wrapping up with Chiapas.

We have alerted all travelers to take precautions and we continue to send out reminders. We want all travelers to be respectful of each others’ health, to protect self and others, and especially to protect the indigenous people of Mexico whom we will visit, who do not have the benefit of quality vaccines, and who are more prone to disease because of underlying chronic health conditions (like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illness).

Why? Because Covid has not gone away and now it is on the rise again as winter digs in.

Here is our Covid Travel Advice:

  • Take a Covid home test the day before you are set to travel to be certain you are negative
  • Mask up before you enter the airport
  • We require N95 or KN95 face masks
  • Keep your mask on throughout your travel day in the airport and on the airplane
  • Yes, we know that mask-wearing is uncomfortable, because it is for me, too! This is no excuse!
  • Test again 2-3 days after arrival
  • Wear masks whenever indoors and in crowded places like markets
  • Understand the importance of traveling respectfully in Mexico where mask-wearing is still a norm among local people
  • Know that all our travelers are required to have vaccines and the latest boosters, no exceptions, to ensure each others’ safety

What motivated me to write this? Christmas!

We just finished a modified Christmas Feast celebration with fourteen people, family and and dearest friends who are akin to family. The organizers traveled from Philadelphia and New Jersey to participate. The men have been doing this since 1982. They choose a different cookbook each year, parse out the recipes, and everyone participating makes something very elaborate from scratch. My daughter-in-law and I made the agnolotti, a version of ravioli stuffed with seasoned butternut squash and topped with shallot butter infused with truffle oil. It took us all day. Since we didn’t have anything but a French rolling pin, which we were told wouldn’t work, we adapted and used an empty Gracias Adios Tepeztate Mezcal bottle. Hummph.

Ok, so we’ll get to the crux of the story … the Chief Feast Leader tested positive for Covid on Christmas morning. That shifted everything, of course. We moved the Feast to my west patio facing the Rio Grande Gorge so we could be outside and protect ourselves. I required that anyone coming into the house had to wear a face mask. The Chief Feast Leader was isolated at a separate table and wore a mask the entire time. We managed, but we were cold despite building a fire pit and having a propane heater. As the sun set, the temps dropped to below thirty degrees. This was a short dinner, despite the elaborate menu and French wines. I could run through the menu, but that’s not the point.

And, why did the Chief Feast Leader get Covid? He traveled from the East Coast without wearing a mask — including nine hours in the Dallas airport because of flight delays as the country was experiencing the start of the Bomb Cyclone blizzard. And, even though we had reminded everyone to please take all necessary health precautions, he chose to ignore this. The couple staying with him and his partner in the shared Air BnB tested positive on December 26.

I tested negative yesterday. I’ll test again tomorrow. Fingers crossed I will escape this once more. Meanwhile, I urge all of you getting ready to travel to Oaxaca or wherever your journey takes you, to take care, be respectful of others, and to know that we are all still vulnerable. Your choices affect the health of those you come in contact with.

Blessings for 2023.

Christmas Eve: Mexico and the Taos Connection

Christmas Eve at the Taos Pueblo is punctuated with bonfires large and small, hand-built pyres of aged ponderosa pine called ekote. In Oaxaca, we call it the same but it’s spelled differently: ocote. This wood is infused with sap that makes it easy to ignite, and it burns hot and fast. I use it to start my wood-fired barbecue in Teotitlan del Valle. The magic of people congregating, the fires burning, the smoke curling, the ashes flying, the posada with the palanquin of the Virgin Mary carried by elders, with Taos Pueblo men holding stanchions of burning wood out front, reminds of me of Teotitlan del Valle. Behind the young men holding the stanchions are others with rifles shooting blanks. Those of us in proximity have our fingers in our ears. The sound is deafening and punctuates the atmosphere. It is shocking and alarming. Next come small children dressed in Native American attire. They are dancing, chanting, and shaking rattles. But this is different.

I am wondering where this tradition comes from, so I ask a Pueblo man who was responsible for lighting the pyre I was standing next to. Oh, it’s an ancient tradition, he says. Then, he goes on to explain that it is a re-enactment of the invasion of the U.S. Cavalry at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1867, when the Taos Pueblo was the last hold-out to succumb to territorial occupation. Roots here go deep into Mexican, American, and Indigenous history.

This is a history fraught with battle and confrontation and territorial expansion when the U.S. government sought to control Hispano and Pueblo people. The original adobe church was burned; clerics, military and locals lost their lives.

Please read this for a deeper historical explanation of the conflict.

Here we are in the 21st century participating in a display of pyrotechnics. Many see it as entertainment on Christmas Eve with little understanding or knowledge of the history of indigenous survival in the Americas. We know a similar history in Mexico.

So, here’s the question: Which country treats its indigenous people better … now and in the past … Mexico or the USA?

Happiest Holidays to All of You!

Feliz Navidad and La Ultima Posada

Happiest holidays to you and yours! I hope you celebrate the beauty of life with family and friends — ’tis the season for peace, thanksgiving, and recommitment to relationships. Out here on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa, the sun is bright, the air is chilly, and the skies are clear and clean. All promising a season of joy. Most importantly, may we all have a year ahead filled with good health and renewal of spirit.

Tonight, we will go to the Taos Pueblo for a traditional Christmas Eve celebration Native American-style with bonfires and dancing. My son and daughter-in-law arrive soon from Albuquerque for the festivities. Then, afterward we will join lifelong friends Karen, Steve and their family for Phase 1 of the Holiday Feast. Phase 2 is tomorrow, when the cooking extravaganza lead by Marc, with Carl and Steve at the helm, will culminate with the Mega-Feast. I’ve never participated before, but its a family tradition they have been doing for over twenty-five years.

Meanwhile, tonight in Oaxaca marks the Ultimate Posada, the night that the baby Jesus appears at the last stop on the nine-day search for lodging. (The nine days is symbolic of nine months of pregnancy). As many of you know, the Posada is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to sleep as they make their way to Bethlehem to pay end-of-year taxes. We all know the story: the inns along the way were full and they ended up sleeping in a manger where their child was born. I know the Teotitlan del Valle posada best since it is where I live, too. Usually, in years past, I have left the USA for Oaxaca in time to walk alongside villagers in solemn, candlelit procession as the church leadership carry carved figures of Mary and Joseph throughout the village on palanquin. Cohetes (firecrackers) burst at regular intervals. Altar boys lead the way with huge candle pillars and the priest swings the incense carrier that emits that wonderfully evocative smokey aroma of burning copal. Of course, there is musical accompaniment — the pre-Hispanic flute takes the lead with traditional musicians just behind. They alternate with the village brass band that plays music akin to John Phillips Sousa. The solemnity is punctuated by festivity.

So, tonight in Teotitlan, the biggest Christmas celebration occurs. The last procession usually begins at sunset. When the procession arrives at the home of the host family, there are blessings in the altar room and the Baby Jesus appears on a soft pillow. Feasting and drinking carry on throughout the night with plenty of barbecue, tortillas, and mezcal. In the morning, the host family will provide food to their guests that include hot chocolate and higadito (scrambled eggs with chicken in chicken broth). Tomorrow, everyone will be home with their family for a comida of tamales amarillo!

Did you know that poinsettias are native to Mexico?

Mexico Folk Art Whimsies Sale

I might be able to get these to you by Christmas if you order by tomorrow—though no guarantees! Depending on the USPS. This a mix of pottery, alebrijes, exvotos, holiday attire, and more — most never before offered.

How to Buy: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.comand tell me the item(s) you want to purchase by number, your email, your mailing address, your phone number, and which payment method you prefer: 1) Zelle bank transfer with no service fee; 2) Venmo or 3) PayPal each with a 3% service fee. I will send you a request for funds and then add on a mailing fee depending on the size box needed. Happy to combine shipping if you buy more than one piece. These are one-of-a-kind. Note: Thank you for understanding that all sales are final. Please measure carefully.

#1. Hand-painted pottery candlesticks from Amantenango, Chiapas. Quack Quack, add elegant whimsy to your holiday table setting. (Candles and drip protectors not included.) 9″ high x 7″ long. $185.

#2. Carved wood and painted alebrije from San Martin Tilcajete: Pregnant donkey piano player! 10″ high x 3-1/2″ wide. Signed Miguel Diaz. $125.

#3. Huichol string art wall-hanging. 6″ square. $60.

SOLD. #4. Howling Dog alebrije. Carved and painted copal wood from Candido Perez, San Martin Tilcajete. 12″ high x 12″ long to tip of tail. Tail has been repaired, but not noticeable. $72.

#5. Casildo Rodriguez is grateful he escaped his fate in Oaxaca by making an offering of this retablo or ex-voto. His donkey turned into a monster! Hand-painted ex-voto on metal, reproduction, by contemporary Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. 12″ wide x 9-1/2″ high. $125.

#6. Frida Kahlo Catrina hand-painted pottery sculpture. Perfect for next Day of the Dead or whenever! 8-1/2″ high x 3″ wide at the base. $85.

SOLD. #7. Tzintzuntzan, Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan, intricate embroidery shirt telling the story of daily life of farmers and fishermen around the lake. By famed textile artisan Teofila Servin Barriga. Measures 22″ wide x 26″ long. Sleeves are 24-1/2″ long from the shoulder seam. Price reduced from $275 to $185.

#8. Hand-painted enamel gourd from Oaxaca, perfect for holiday serving — fruit, bread, chocolate, candy, crackers — you name it. Add pizzaz to your table! $56

#9. Embroidered in Zinacantan, Chiapas, a bodice filled with flowers. Tuck it in to a skirt, jeans, slacks for bling dressing this season. 23″ wide x 29″ long. $65.

#10. Hand-woven palm basket from Oaxaca’s Mixtec region. So many possible uses: hold towel, bath tissue, winter scarves, hats and gloves, magazines, laundry, etc. 14″ high x 12″ wide. $62.

#11. Rare Vintage Ex-voto from the 1930’s. Hand-painted on tin. A true folk art find that I’m willing to part with from my collection. 11″ wide x 6-1/2″ high. $295.

SOLD. #12. Hand-carved and painted mask from Tocuaro, Michoacan. The best of Mexico’s mask-makers live here! Signed Felipe Horta. Masks were used in pre-Hispanic times for religious ceremonies and the traditions continue today. Measures 12″ high x 12″ wide. $145.

#13. Rare Vintage Ex-voto from Cholula, Puebla, “Thanksgiving” or Accion de Gracias. Circa 1930’s. 11″ wide x 8″ high. $295.

A word about Ex-Votos: Mexico’s ex-votos (also called retablos) are naive folk art that tell a story of thanksgiving and prayers for being saved from near-death or disaster. Usually the person who escaped tragedy would hire a local primitive artist to pain a tin square depicting the scene. The message of thanks may have included many misspellings, as the painters were not educated. They often include depictions of the saint to whom they are giving thanks. Original ex-votos were taken to a nearby shrine where the person, with hammer and nail, would affix the small painting to a tree, post, or altar. Hence, vintage ex-votos usually have a crude hole in the top center of the plaque.

#14. Francisca Blouse, Purple Haze. 100% cotton and made by hand in Aguacatenango, Chiapas, by our friend Francisca. The bodice is covered in intricate French knots. All by hand–no machine work here! Size Large. Measures 17″ wide from shoulder seam to shoulder seam, and 28″ long. Sleeves are 3/4 length. $125.

Who is the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico

Monday, December 12, 2022 is the Feast Day to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, canonized in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII, revered. Most of us who live in Mexico know the story and many of us have been to the Basilica named in her honor in Mexico City, the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. She is the amalgamation of the Virgin Mary and Mother Earth, Goddess of Corn, Fertility and Abundance known in pre-Hispanic Aztec Mexico as Tonantzin, the Divine Mother, and protector of women.

Syncretism is what made the adoption of Spanish Catholicism possible in the Americas, and especially in Mexico. Combining the figure of the Divine Mother with the Virgin Mary was a way to ensure acceptance of the new religion without completely discarding the feminine-centric belief system, although the conquerors had hope to do just that! Today, the Virgin of Guadalupe is more revered than the central Christian figure of Jesus.

Because the Virgin of Guadalupe represents empowerment, compassion, motherhood, goodness, social justice and independence, it is easy for non-believers to join the millions of Mexican and Mexican-American faithful to adopt and honor her for these attributes on December 12. She is symbolic of Mexican identity and culture.

Here in New Mexico, once a part of New Spain and then a Mexican territory, the Virgin of Guadalupe is also ubiquitious. As I drive from Taos to Santa Fe, I pass road signs pointing to small villages where a Virgin of Guadalupe church or chapel administers to the local people. Taos artist Lynn Garlick creates retablos that feature the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Virgin figures predominantly in the Colonial arts section of the Millicent Rogers Museum, along with primitive Santos and Bultos, paintings and carvings of saints created by locals who had no access to sophisticated Spanish religious art.

She is reproduced on everything: refrigerator magnets, t-shirts, jewelry, handbags and tote bags. She adorns the backs of jean jackets sold in Oaxaca clothing and folk art galleries. Even Walmart sells t-shirts with her image emblazoned on the front. As an iconic figure, the Virgin of Guadalupe is definitely part of the popular culture.

We see her on aprons, dish towels, and tablecloths. And, as things go in this direction, it’s important to reflect on the history of her development in the Americas and what she represents today for women who live in rural, male-dominated societies that are repressive, oppressive, and often manifest in femicide.

I see the Virgin of Guadalupe as a universal image to embrace as the embodiment of unconditional love, acceptance, perseverance and fortitude. For me, she is more than and goes beyond her religious roots to encompass all that is beautiful and hopeful. It is easy to embrace and honor her! They say that to be a true Mexican, one must believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Count me in!

In recent years, I have written much about the Virgin of Guadalupe. You may want to read these posts, too.

My bet is if you go to a Mexican grocery store (or even a Walmart that caters to Latinos), you will find a tall votive candle with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Lighting it would be a great way to honor her and all women everywhere, especially those who struggle in repressive systems that abuse their personhood.

And, we are not immune in Oaxaca!