Tag Archives: history

Choco-Cafe

One of the sublime pleasures of living in Mexico is being able to savor her homemade chocolate. Chocolate, the word, comes from the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In its original tongue, it is spelled Xocolatl, pronounced show-koh-lah-tel. In reality, the t and the l in the final syllable are slammed together, but for our purposes, this transliteration will do. T

To keep Mexico with me while I am in the USA, I like to prepare hot chocolate with brewed coffee — a mix of about 1/4 to 1/3 hot chocolate and the rest coffee that, of course, I bring back from Oaxaca’s Mixteca Alta or from the Chiapas highlands. Chiapas is known for her coffee plantations and her chocolate beans, which are exported all over Mexico and sometimes beyond. The Spanish brought coffee beans to Mexico in the 1700’s and started cultivating it in Veracruz, likely with slaves from Africa who also worked the sugar cane fields.

Every family all over the country has their own recipe for making chocolate. Usual ingredients are vanilla, cinnamon, sugar or panela. Maybe one family might add a bit of chile for throat tickler. Sometimes, they will add almonds, too. But, the primary ingredients are toasted cacao beans, native to Mexico and used as money or barter in pre-Hispanic times. The chocolate maker will buy the raw cacao beans in the market, take them home and toast them on the comal over an open fire, stirring with a brush so they toast evenly. Then, she will take all of these ingredients to the molina in the proportions preferred by each family.

Ibarra and Abuelita and Mayordomo brands just don’t do it, but if you are hard-pressed to find Mexican chocolate and these are the only available, then go for it. Your local Mexican market might have other options.

The chocolate I’m using today was made in Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero. I bought it from the family who prepared a delicious homemade lunch for our group during our visit to Tejadoras Flores de la Llanura weaving cooperative. What I love about this chocolate is that it has very little (or no) sugar. Each piece of chocolate, formed like an oblong ball or bola, is wrapped in a hierba buena leaf. The presentation is beautiful. The chocolate delicious. I add sugar to taste.

Of course, chocolate is super healthy, with anti-inflammatory properties, especially good for those of us as we age, and it is excellent as a cup of hot chocolate on its own. Remember: In Mexico, we drink hot chocolate with water, never adding milk! In Oaxaca, we dunk a concha into hot chocolate for breakfast or for a pre-bedtime snack.

Come with us in January 2025 on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, and buy your own authentically made Mexican chocolate!

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History with a Textile Twist

Arrive Thursday, February 27 and depart Thursday, March 6, 2025, 7 nights, 8 days

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art, and meet contemporary Mexican fashion designers who are making an impact on international style. This is an in-depth art history and textile education at its best! We offer you a narrated, leisurely cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our guides are textile expert Eric Chavez Santiago and bi-lingual Mexican art historian Valeria E. Small group size guarantees a quality experience.

You will learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum. Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and the couple’s personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation seeking to create its own distinctive identity based on Mestizo culture.

To register, send us an email expressing your interest, along with the completed registration form. A $500 deposit per person will secure your space.

Tour cost is $2,935 per person for a shared room, and $3,635 for a single room.

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history and studied for the PhD at UNAM. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these historic spaces to give you the most meaningful experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

About Frida and Diego: She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women today. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930. Her paintings express her physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as her politics. It is said her style is Magical Realism. Some art critics have called her a Surrealist. We will talk about why.

In addition, we are true to our roots as textile experts, introducing you to contemporary Mexican designers and collaborators who are making a statement about creative fashion in this exciting, vibrant and innovative city. We will also dine at some of the city’s most notable restaurants that feature traditional and trailblazing cuisine.

Trip Includes:

  • 7 nights lodging at a respected Centro Historico hotel
  • 6 breakfast and lunches
  • gala welcome lunch at renown downtown restaurant
  • Grand finale dinner
  • entry fees to all museums
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and Southern Methodist University
  • visits to studios + workshops of contemporary fashion designers and collaborators
  • exploration of textile and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

Preliminary Itinerary:

Thursday, February 27: Arrive and check-in to our downtown historic center hotel. Gather for a no-host dinner at 7 p.m. Please be sure your flight arrives before 3:00 p.m. to get to the hotel on time for check-in.

Friday, February 28: After breakfast, we are guided by our art historian for a visit to Templo Mayor, to understand the pre-Hispanic history of this region. Then we visit the Rivera murals at SEP (Secretariat de Educacion Publica), at Colegio San Ildefonso, and murals at the Abelardo Rodriguez Market, where social revolutionary followers of Rivera expressed their individual styles. We have a welcome lunch at an outstanding downtown restaurant. The rest of the late afternoon and evening is on your own. Meals included: breakfast and lunch. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.

Saturday, March 1: After breakfast, we meet our art historian to visit the Rivera murals at the Palacio Nacional, then we make our way to see the murals at Palacio Bellas Artes, followed by a visit to the Rivera Museum to see the famous mural he painted encapsulating the history of Mexico, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park. We will have lunch nearby, with an optional visit to the nearby folk-art museum. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.

Sunday, March 2: After breakfast, we take a van ride to Casa Azul, the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Blue House belonged to Frida’s father, a photographer, and when the couple moved in, they expanded it. It is also where Trotsky stayed briefly after his exile from Russia. It is a treasure trove of her paintings, some of his, and their extensive folk-art collection. After lunch, we visit the Museo de Culturas Populares, a small gem in Coyoacan with an exhibition of traditional and contemporary hand made arts of Mexico. Then we meander the galleries and plaza in the quaint neighborhood of Coyoacan. We may even visit the Trotsky house museum! Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.

Monday, March 3: This starts our textile excursion in Mexico City! After breakfast, we meet with a noted Mexican fashion designer, Guillermo Vargas, in his workshop to understand how he is influencing contemporary style based on traditional techniques. Vargas was motivated by his Japanese heritage, and then founded the brand 1/8 Takamura, so named because his paternal great-grandfather was Japanese. Then we have lunch in one of our favorite restaurants, Azul Historico. After lunch, we have a special visit and a presentation of high quality hand woven textiles from Oaxaca and throughout Mexico in one of our favorite galleries. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.

Tuesday, March 4: After breakfast, we visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Chapultepec Park. (This visit is subject to change as the museum is relocating. We expect it to be open here by the time of our visit.) She was the Rivera benefactor and executor, and he left most of his collection of Frida’s paintings to her. It is the largest collection of her work in the world. From there, we will go to a nearby neighborhood to visit designer galleries and shops. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.  Meals included: breakfast and lunch.

Wednesday, March 5: After breakfast, this is a day to meander on your own. You might choose to visit the Museo de Arte Popular (MAP), the Franz Mayer Museum, shop the basement gourmet food court at mega-department store Palacio de Hierro, or see the Belle Epoque Tiffany stained glass in the lobby at Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. We will meet in the early evening for our Grand Finale Dinner. Meals included: Breakfast and dinner.

Thursday, March 6: Departure day. We will help you arrange taxis to the airport. Meals included: None.

The tour does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 non-refundable deposit (first payment) is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before August 1, 2024. The third payment, the remaining 50% of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2024. We accept payment using Zelle transfer (no fees) or you can make your payments with a credit card with a 4% service fee. We will send you an invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2024, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2024, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable reservation deposit. After that, there are no refunds.

How to Register:  First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you a request to make your reservation deposit.

If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date, less the non-refundable deposit.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of international travel insurance that includes $50,000+ of medical evacuation coverage, plus current COVID-19 vaccinations to travel with us. CDC-approved face masks are highly recommended during the tour, especially in crowded areas.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Mexico City is at 7,000 feet altitude. Sidewalks can be narrow and crowded. We will do some walking. Please bring a walking stick and wear comfortable hiking/walking shoes.

NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages, and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Day of the Dead Altars + Studio Visits in Teotitlan del Valle 2024

On October 30, 2024, we immerse ourselves in the rich cultural and social history of Teotitlan del Valle. No where is Day of the Dead celebrated with more authenticity than in the villages. Our one-day tour starts at 9:00 a.m. We pick you up at a central location in the Historic District of Oaxaca city and return you there by 6:00 p.m. We will let you know the location two-weeks before the tour. Your guide is Eric Chavez Santiago with Norma Schafer.

Why you want to travel with us:

  • We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
  • Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, tri-lingual, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle.
  • Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
  • We have deep connections with artists and artisans.
  • 63% of our travelers repeat — high ratings, high satisfaction.
  • Wide ranging expertise.
  • We give you a deep immersion to best know Oaxaca and Mexico.

We welcome you into the Altar Room of each artisan we visit to pay respects to the family and their ancestors. We have arranged for permission for you to take photos and participate in some of the rituals, including tasting Pan de Muertos and Hot Chocolate made locally from toasted cacao beans. All along the way, you will learn more about how this tradition is celebrated, with its deep pre-Hispanic indigenous roots.

The artisans we visit in Teotitlan del Valle not only talk about and demonstrate their craft, they discuss their personal experiences and traditions growing up and honoring their ancestors during Day of the Dead. When you participate with us, you will go deep into a rich Zapotec history and culture that pre-dates the Spanish conquest of Oaxaca in 1522, and the settlement of Oaxaca as a colonial capitol.

While we spent most of the day in Teotitlan del Valle learning about the Day of the Dead traditions here, we start out in Santa Maria El Tule at the home studio of a flying shuttle loom weaver who uses naturally dyed threads to create clothing — blouses and shawls. He also has a selection of beautifully woven home goods — tablecloths, napkins, and dish towels. We learn that ancient traditions pre-date Catholicism, and those who don’t adhere to a religion still observe Day of the Dead.

Our itinerary includes stops to see:

  • a traditional flying shuttle loom weaver who creates award winning home goods and clothing
  • a famous rug weaving family that works only in the highest quality wool and natural dyes
  • a chocolate maker who uses grandmothers’ recipes to make delicious eating + drinking chocolate
  • an accomplished women’s cooperative that fashions leather trimmed handbags
  • lunch prepared by a traditional chef who prepares exquisite food

In El Tule, Alfredo tells us that Day of the Dead is not a religious holiday but a cultural one, hearkening back to the pre-Hispanic ancestors. Building an altar is his way of honoring his grandmothers and grandfathers who taught him to weave. He works on several looms that he inherited from his grandfather that are more than ninety years old. They have been repaired repeatedly and the wood frames are pocked with insect holes that accumulated over the years. Nothing here is discarded and age in whatever form — human or inanimate — is revered.

We make three more stops during the day. First to a favorite rug weaving studio. Here we will feel the emotional connection with the altar, learning about the importance of celebrating in the home. We will be welcomed with the perfume of copal incense, candlelight, and marigold flowers — all important for guiding the spirits of deceased loved ones back home for this twenty-four hour period when they return from the underworld to visit us.

The difuntos enter this world through the sugar cane arches flanking the altar and this portal is necessary to ensure an easy passage. Almost everyone here will have their altars complete by November 1, just in time for the spirits to return at three o’clock in the afternoon. They will stay with their families until November 2, consuming the ceremonial foods from the altar. At three o’clock on November 2, the church bells will ring and announce the time for the difuntos to return to their resting places in the cemetery. We accompany them, leading the way with copal, to ease them back to the underworld, offering prayers for a smooth passage and a promise that we will see them next year.

The offerings on the altars in Teotitlan del Valle include chocolate, bread, and candles. Other foods can include those favored by the deceased: beer, mezcal, coffee, coca cola, tortillas, tamales stuffed with mole amarillo (a village tradition). There will always be peanuts and pecans, eaten here long before the Spanish arrived.

Our last stop before returning to the city will be to a women’s cooperative whose members who weave beautiful small tapestries colored with natural dyes that they make into totes and handbags, trimmed with leather straps. It takes about two weeks to make a bag and the craftsmanship is superb.

Lunch is a culinary exploration into the traditional foods of the season, including yellow mole tamales, mezcal, and fruit water prepared by a local traditional cook.

Registration and Cancellation. Tour cost is $155 per person. This includes transportation in a luxury van, bilingual guide services with translation, altar and studio visits, and lunch. Payment in full is required to reserve. In the event cancellation is necessary, we request a 10-day notice (by October 20) to receive a 50% refund. We accept payment with Zelle (no fees) or with a credit card (3.5% fee). Tell us when you are ready to register and we will send you a request for funds.

To reserve, please contact Norma Schafer by email.

Check out our Shop for all things hand-made in Oaxaca and Mexico!

Come with us to Chiapas, February 20-28, 2024

Diego Rivera, Mexican Muralism, Art and FDR’s New Deal

I was fascinated to read Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American December 8, 2023, essay on the power of art to restore the economy and economic confidence. She takes us back to Roosevelt’s New Deal as a way to infuse vitality into the economy after the 1929 stock market crash by investing in public art, public works, and building public confidence in the government’s ability to set things right.

What I didn’t know and what she explains is that Roosevelt and his administration informed this policy based on the 1920’s Mexican Muralist Movement, led by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Sequeiros.

She writes, ” … on Friday, December 8, 1933, in the first year of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, the Advisory Committee to the Treasury on Fine Arts met for four hours in Washington, D.C., with museum directors from all over the country and leaders from the art world.”

After launching the Civilian Conservation Corps that put young men to work planting trees, fighting fires, and maintaining wilderness trails, after establishing the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to provide work and cash relief for unemployed workers, after creating the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to boost farm prices by reducing agricultural surpluses, and after putting in place the Civil Works Administration to employ more than 4 million unemployed Americans to build 44,000 miles of new roads, 1,000 miles of new water mains, and building or improving 4,000 schools, the federal government turned its attention to the arts.

Now it was time to help artists, says Cox Richardson, and writes, “Inspired by the 1920s public art movement in Mexico in which young artists were paid to decorate public buildings, FDR’s former classmate George Biddle suggested to the president that artists could be hired to ‘paint murals depicting the social ideals of the new administration and contemporary life on the walls of public buildings.'” Others in the administration said artists needed to eat just like other people. More than $1 million was set aside to alleviate economic hardships experienced by American artists.

Coit Tower in San Francisco was chosen for the pilot project and twenty-six local artists plus their assistants transformed the space into frescoes and murals depicting California life. The project was supervised by Diego Rivera-trained muralist Victor Arnautoff, and funded by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).

New Deal artists were different from the Mexican muralists who focused on the Mexican Revolution. They wanted to emphasize FDR’s new approach to government. They painted about restoring a belief in the American political system of democratic ideals and a thriving economy.

These artists turned away from cubism and focused on creating an American scene that represented rural or urban America. The result was an expression of intelligence, power, and beauty found in ordinary people living ordinary lives.

“Coit Tower showed San Francisco’s people: striking workers, farmers, cowboys, travelers reading newspapers, news stenographers, chauffeurs, a rich man being held up at gunpoint, car accidents. People of color and women were underrepresented but not entirely ignored in this celebration of the possibilities of American life under the administration’s new policies (one mural had an oil can in a corner to illustrate the government oiling the machinery of the economy for the mechanics in the next panel),” says Richardson.  

These murals in Coit Tower were such a success that the federal government would launch four more projects to fund artists (including writers), most famously under the Works Progress Administration that operated from 1935 to 1942. The result were murals and essays representing the lives and histories of ordinary Americans that decorated libraries, schools, courthouses, bathhouses, and post offices, honoring community and hard work—and, in the edgier paintings, jabbing at stockbrokers, bankers, and industrialists—celebrated a hopeful, new, progressive America. 

We will be bringing back Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City, February 28-March 6, 2025, to explore the Mexican Muralist Movement, with a focus on these two masters intertwined in love and creativity. The tour will include visits to four sites where murals are on display, a boat ride in Xochimilco, visits to Casa Azul, and the Dolores Olmedo Museum that holds the world’s largest collection of Kahlo’s work. In addition, we will discover textile galleries and textile design studios in the Polanco neighborhood. Our tour will be led by an art historian, with Eric Chavez Santiago and Norma Schafer.

If you are interested in this experience, please send us an email to get on the notification list.

Yes, Let’s Celebrate. Cinco de Mayo Rooted in Civil War Anti-Racism!

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated and where is it celebrated most? Yes, it’s a great time for a Margarita or  swig of Corona, but let’s know the reason we raise our cup on Cinco de Mayo. (Bonus: Shelley’s Margarita recipe below!)

Facts:  Cinco de Mayo, first celebrated on May 5, 1862, was the response by Mexican-Americans — mostly Californians — to the French invasion of Mexico, The Battle of Puebla, and fear that the North would lose the Civil War, enslaving those with Mexican heritage along with Blacks throughout the southwest. French Emperor Napoleon III was an ally of the Confederacy and likely to become the first to endorse Southern secession and nationhood.

Backstory: On the cusp of the Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy, California became part of United States in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Before that, the Mexican Constitution, as part of its separation from Spain in 1821, guaranteed freedom from slavery and codified that all citizens were equal and free. Becoming part of the United States put that all in question and there was considerable concern among Hispanos that California might become a slave state as the Confederacy asserted its superiority and elitism in Congress, and won early Civil War battles.  Other Southwest states that were originally part of New Spain and then Mexico, joined the movement.

Since most of Californian’s were of Mexican descent at that time, there was huge concern. Californios and those throughout the Southwest raised large amounts of financial support to preserve the Union and defeat the Confederacy, in addition to volunteering and sending funds to Mexico to defeat the French. They volunteered to fight for the Union and participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. They had a lot at stake.

So, raise one today for the courage of Mexican-Americans who helped defeat France in the Battle of Puebla, and joined the Union to fight the Confederacy.

Racism, elitism, and anti-democratic movements continue to raise it’s destructive head in the United States of America. History is a way to help us understand how we got here and what we need to do to be vigilant. This is also a study in how Latinos have always been part of the social fabric of our nation and allies in fighting for freedom, deserving of honor and respect.

Now, for the A Su Salud!

Shelley Singleton’s Fresh Margarita Recipe

  • 3/4 C. fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 C. orange juice
  • 1 C. tequila (or espadin mezcal joven)
  • 1/2 C. Cointreau
  • Agave syrup to taste

Shake with ice. Serve neat or on the rocks. For a salted rim, rub with lime juice and dip on plate of Kosher salt.

Alternate recipe:

  • 4 parts juice
  • 3 parts tequila or mezcal
  • 1 part Cointreau

And, Shelley’s Quickie Marg

  • 1.5 oz. tequila or mezcal
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1.5 oz. Trader Joe’s Jalapeño limeade (not spicy)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Prepare as above.