Masks Up Oaxaca

I’ve arrived. And I’m astounded at the safety precautions in Oaxaca city. I spent Friday in the city. First, I met Carol for brunch at El Tendajon at the corner of Calle Constitución and Pino Suarez. You can’t just walk in! There’s a gate. They check your temperature and ask you to use Ha d da itinerary before entering. Every staff member is properly masked.

i walked there from the La Noria neighborhood, a good mile and-a-half. Along the way, I’d say 1 in 50 were unmasked. Better than the US I think. This is outdoors, on the sidewalks, with a breeze!

Translate from Fahrenheit to Celsius

After brunch, Carol and I went to the stamp museum at the corner of Reforma and Constitución. No entry without a temperature reading there, either. Hand sanitizer mandatory. The thermometer was some kind of fancy technology gizmo that takes a reading from your wrist.

How safe did I feel? Completely safe. Quite a relief after the frenzy of air travel.

Bread vendor in the market

Now, I’m in my little house in the campo in Teotitlan del Valle. The sun is shining and I’ve just gotten back from a walk with the dogs. Yes, they remembered me even though I’ve been gone for 19 months. It’s supposed to rain. Everything here is lush and green.

I am sure the farmers are happy.

On my walk in the village

This morning I went to the village market to buy chicken and vegetables for a Caldo de Pollo. Mask up. Hand sanitizer at the ready. Here, about 1 in 20 are wearing masks. I asked my chicken lady why she didn’t have one. I don’t believe it, she said. Another woman I know said God will protect me. I’m not sure it’s much different here than in Oklahoma or Florida. Although Natividad told me that the majority of the people in the village are vaccinated. So that is reassuring.

We hear that indigenous people have deep suspicions of government, especially the older ones who have suffered discrimination. Even so, I used my hand sanitizer frequently and disinfected the veggies and fruit when I got home, just like I always did.

My host Federico said the virus and Delta variant is waning here, so people are not as afraid as they were before. And, so it goes.

With my mask up, and three vaccines under my belt, I’m not feeling as vulnerable and I can monitor my social distancing and step away as needed.

Butch and Tia in the campo. Federico renamed them Chiquita and Viejo!

The elevation here is 5,000 feet, quite a bit less than Taos. With my doggy companions, Tia and Butch, I kept up a good pace going through the agave and corn fields. I’m noticing that more fields are planted with mezcal-producing agave, a cash crop that is bringing high market prices at maturity (seven years for espadín).

My friends Natividad and Arnulfo, with Esmeralda and Rodolfo

For those coming with me and Eric Chávez Santiago for our Day of the Dead Tour, I know you will love being here, just as I am.

Travel Day to Oaxaca: Ready, Set, Go

I’m double masked. First, an N95 then covered with my handmade cloth mask made at the height if the pandemic by friend Sam Robbins. (She makes beautiful masks because she is a quilter.)

Do I feel more secure? With my third Pfizer booster and a flu vaccine, I’m still feeling jittery and a bit anxious. I asked the woman behind me in the security line to step back to maintain distance. No one else seemed to care. Everyone else was jammed up in the line.

It looked like it always did traveling before Covid. Lots of close contact. The only difference was that everyone was wearing face coverings, though a few had masks drooping below nostrils.

At age 75, one can go through security and keep on shoes and light jackets. Easy peasy, I thought. Except that before going through the metal detector, I was asked to remove my belt and Teotitlan woven quechquemitl (short poncho). Upon exit of the detector, because areas lit up on the x-ray, I was asked to remove my shoes and undergo the patdown. Shoes had to go back through the x-ray.

In the security line

Leave plenty of time! I got to the airport 2 hours before flight departure.

Be patient. Ask for what you need — like asking people to step away.

it’s a full flight from ABQ to Houston. We will see how that goes!

Churro Wool: How the Spanish Brought Sheep to the Americas

In a week, I climb on the magic bird to carry me back to Oaxaca. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I left, just before Covid became a pandemic in March 2021 that erased all our plans and created this hunker-down-for-a-while, I’m scared mentality. Yesterday, I got my third jab, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, plus a flu shot. I’m ready, face masks and sanitizer in the packing pile. Back to Teotitlan del Valle where churro sheep wool is carded and dyed to weave into rugs.

Churro sheep came to the Americas with the Spanish conquest. We find this breed in Northern New Mexico and Colorado, where the high altitudes are conducive to growing a thick pelt. When it is shorn, carded and woven, it makes thick, sturdy, resilient blankets (for humans and horses), and later adapted to the making of floor rugs.

Display of churro wool rugs at Taos Wool Festival

My adopted Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle, Galeria Fe y Lola, buy their handspun Churro wool from Chichicapam and the Mixteca, where 7,000 feet altitude guarantees a higher quality pelt. This elevation is similar to the Mountain States where livestock growers, spinners and dyers work in this wool to textile weavers who use the ancient European treadle loom that was also introduced by the Spanish in the New World.

Baby yak, whose wool is amazingly soft and luxurious

This sheep is descended from the Iberian Churra, prized by the Spanish for its hardiness and adaptability. It was the first breed of sheep domesticated in the New World in the 16th Century, when it was used to feed and clothe the armies of the conquistadores, clergy and settlers. We can trace the lineage to 1494 when Spain established colonies in the Caribbean and Mexico. There were no four-legged animals in North America and only llamas in South America before the Spanish arrived.

Carolyn wrote to me to add this:

How the Spanish brought sheep to America? In slings in the holds of their ships! Several years ago a replica of the Santa Maria sailed into the Oakland estuary and docked for several days. We were able to tour the ship and the sailors were more than happy to answer our questions. Four legged animals were kept in slings so their legs would not break in rough weather. The smell must have been atrocious. But the image stuck with me.I’m happy for you that you finally get to go back to Oaxaca.

Taos is host to the annual Wool Festival, now in its 38th year, and always held the first weekend in October. I made it a point to attend. Fiber art and textiles call to me here, too. Why was I surprised to see rugs woven on the peddle loom using churro sheep wool? I shouldn’t have been. I know the Navajo were resourceful in growing their herds of churro sheep, and all those beautiful blankets and rugs trace their origins to the Spanish introduction of this breed.

Today, non-native weavers use this breed, too, to make and sell beautiful rugs. I saw plenty of them at the festival, many reminiscent of Zapotec and Navajo textiles. Over the years, the churro has been cross-bred with the softer, finer merino sheep. Sometimes, churro and merino are also spun together to give a silkier, softer luster.

When I first moved here to Taos, NM, four months ago, one of the first things I did was join the Millicent Rogers Museum. It has an extensive collection of Native American folk art and craft, including early Navajo looms and textiles. This loom is more similar to the back strap loom, used as a vertical frame loom. This got me thinking about how technology is adapted to the user. It´s not a floor loom and it´s not a back strap loom. Weavers sit on the ground to weave.

History of Navajo Weaving. Some scholars speculate that the Navajo picked up this weaving technique in the 1600´s from nearby Pueblo tribes who were adept using the vertical loom. It couldńt be used to weave a textile wider than 18 inches. Larger pieces needed two identical textiles that were then stitched together. We find thesame circumstance in Oaxaca, Mexico.

In Teotitlan del Valle, the floor loom has hardly changed from when it was introduced there by the Spanish in the 1500´s, who taught the local men to weave in the tradition of the European tapestry loom. It was too heavy and cumbersome for women, who were versatile cotton back strap loom weavers, to use.

Last week I wrote about pronunciations and mis-pronunciations. Here we have another one! Settlers had a difficult time saying Churra Sheep so they said Churro instead. And, that’s how we know this breed today!

Contemporary New Mexico woven churro wool rug
Contemporary churro wool rug with natural dyes woven by Eric Chavez Santiago, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca (psst, it’s for sale, ask me about it)

Pee-ebb-low. Bee-ew-na Veesta. Pronunciation Part 2: Our Readers Say …

Okay, folks. How we say names in the USA that have Spanish origins is a complete mystery to me. I wrote about this on Tuesday with the blog post Salida: Sah-lee-dah or Sah-lye-dah–What’s In a Name? I invited comments and many of you wrote with fine examples of how Spanish is Anglicized to accommodate the misinformed and language deficient in our populace.

Biggest culprit, it seems is Buena Vista, Colorado. Many of you wrote me about how this place is called Bee-ew-nah Vista by locals. Another fine example of Mother Tongue Language Interference (yes, there’s a name for it) is Pueblo, Colorado, which’s locals call Pee-ee-blow.

We had a lively discussion. Here is what readers said…

Charlie Dell says …

i always get a tickle out of two streets in Austin, Texas. Manchaca is pronounced Man-shack and Guadalupe, the University of Texas drag, is called Gwad-a-loop.

Nancy Craft says …

Good observations. Also here in Colorado, the city Pueblo is pronounced Pee-ebb-lo or Puey-blo!  Here in Telluride, some pronounce our county San Miguel  “San Ma-gwell. Limon in pronounced Lyman.  

Terri Hamlin says …

Colorado has a town called Bye-ew-nah Vista. (No consistency in mispronunciation)

Sue Korthauer says…

The Americanized version of Buena Vista was specified by Alsina Dearheimer who chose the name for the town, officially selected over other names (easier to say, actually). Some call it Biewnie and others just say BeeVee.

Mary Randall says …

There’s a town in California’s San Joaquin Valley called Sa—lye-dah, too.

Díane Winters says …

As you might imagine, here in California, as in New Mexico, there are too many to count. There’s also another kind of Spanish/English oddity in place names – Spanish names simply accepted now with little understanding of what they actually mean by those who don’t speak Spanish. Two examples.  Alameda de las Pulgas, and rather long road running down the peninsula from San Francisco, means Road (or also grove) of Fleas.  Then there’s El Sobrante, a town or “census designated place” in Contra Costa County.  When land grants were given to Spanish colonials, the once open land was divided up, some of whose boundaries on maps were complicated. Another parcel was labeled el sobrante – “the remainder” – which lives on now as a place name.

Carol Lynn Estes says …

No-GAL-eez, NM just outside of Ruidoso, said Reeah-Dough-suh.

thanks, everyone for reading and adding to the chuckle. We are indeed language impaired.

and Bonnie Tawse adds:

Pueblo is pronounced Pyeeb Low because so many of the first eave of immigrants (who came to work in the steel mill) are of Eastern European and German descent and when in doubt, the pronounce every letter. U is pronounced literally rather than the blended W sound. If you want to really nail it, you say, “Peeyeblow by the reever.” Since Pueblo is on the Arkansas River.

and Deirdre McKee says …

Charlie Dell said what I was going to say about Austin.  But now you can tell the old timers from the newbies by how they pronounce those two streets.  Old timers pronounce it the incorrect way. I’ve been in Austin now over 50 years and pronounce them the incorrect way.

Salida: Sah-lee-dah or Sah-lye-dah–What’s In a Name?

Spanish names are ubiquitous in the western part of the United States of America, especially in the southwest, which was part of New Spain under the Spanish conquest and rule. The region then became part of Mexico in 1821 after the Mexican Revolution. It’s very pronounced here in New Mexico, where the Spanish language is a dominant feature of language and culture. Almost every street in Taos has a Spanish name. This got me to thinking about pronunciation and how language is spoken based on those who dominate and subvert it, intentionally or not. Hanging out in Albuquerque last weekend with my son Jacob, a one-week New Mexico resident, he suggested the topic as a blog post.

During the Civil War there was a mass exodus from the American south to the west. For example, the Territory of Colorado (1861–76) was the predecessor to the state of Colorado. The territory was created on February 28, 1861, formed in response to the secession crisis as well as a massive influx of white immigrants seeking their fortunes during the Colorado Gold Rush.

This brings me to Salida, Colorado, near where my friend Sue summers along the Arkansas River.

Those of you who know Spanish, know that salida means “exit,” in reference to the exit to the Arkansas River Canyon. In Spanish, it is pronounced Sah-lee-dah, but here it is said, Sah-lye-dah. Origins are definitely Spanish. Pronunciation is probably derived from a Southern twang and early settlers who needed to Anglicize (also a form of conquest).

Here in New Mexico, which became a U.S. territory in 1850 but didn’t gain statehood until 1912, we have Madrid, pronounced MAAAH-drid, with the emphasis on the first syllable. A far cry from Mah-DRID, the capital city of Spain. Today, the old miner’s houses there have been restored into tony shops. Madrid is an arts destination.

In Albuquerque (named after Spanish royalty), we have The Bosque, locally pronounced as Boss-key (not Bohs-kay), which is the cottonwood tree-lined parkland flanking the Rio Grande River. Okay, let’s talk about Rio Grande. Grande is locally pronounced to end with a hard D, rather than the correct Rio Gran-day). Strange to me because New Mexico is 48% Hispanic, and 26.5% are Spanish speakers.

What else comes to mind in the translation of place names from Spanish to the English vernacular? Lima, Ohio (pronounced Lye-mah). Peru, Indiana (pronounced PEH-rue, however early settlers called it PEE-ru, which you still hear today). What about Amarillo, Texas? Is it Amar-ill-oh or Amar-ee-yoh?

For U.S. place names of Spanish origin click HERE.

Can you think of a Spanish place name that has been altered to fit Anglo pronunciation? Please send me an email to share your thoughts (the comment section doesn’t work on this blog).

Charlie Dell Says …

Not places per se, Norma, but I always get a tickle out of 2 streets in Austin, TX. Manchaca is pronounced Man-shack. And Guadalupe, the University of Texas drag, is called Guad-a-loop.

Terri Hamlin says…

Colorado also has a town called Buena Vista pronounced locally as byūna vista. It’s even clarified on their website.