Tag Archives: Mesoamerica

The Season for Blue Corn in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This morning I awaken to the smell of the wood fire.  The smoke drifts through the air like a voice into my sleeping room, calling me. Magdalena is at the outdoor comal preparing tortillas.  This is the season for blue corn.

This is ancient corn — maize — organic, grown from kernels cultivated here in the Tlacolula Valley for 8,000 years.  In 2010, UNESCO named the archeological site and caves at Yagul as a World Heritage Site.  Here, they found evidence of corn cobs in the caves as the indigenous population shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers, laying the foundation for cultivated agriculture in all of Mesoamerica.

This particular blue corn that Magda uses is grown on a rancho in the foothills outside of Teotitlan del Valle on the road to Benito Juarez in the Sierra Madre del Sur, an hour up the mountain.  She buys it already ground and then mixes the masa to the consistency of her liking, adding water to the dry corn powder.


Then, she will take a fist-full from the larger balls of dough, put it on the metate, knead it by hand, then knead it with the mano de metate (the granite stone that looks like a rolling-pin).  She will then form a small ball and put it between two pieces of yellow plastic and form it into the tortilla shape on the tortilla press.  Lots of upper body work!

Corn is sacred.  It is the sustenance of life. Indigenous corn is pure, not hybridized by Monsanto, and is full of nutritional value.  When eaten with beans and squash, it forms a complex protein.  Chef Susana Trilling and photographer Judith Cooper Haden are vocal advocates in Oaxaca for the anti-Monsanto movement. working in the Mixteca to preserve indigenous corn and the milpa crop-growing traditions.

Coming Up, April 2-9: Portrait Photography Workshop

Last night for dinner I ate this blue corn with organic lettuce and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and lime juice, a hunk of Oaxaqueño cheese, and black beans.  I could taste the earthy deliciousness.  The coarse bits of corn told me this was real food.

Of course, it takes Magda’s wise and skilled hands to create this wonder.  She is now close to 70 years old.  Women live here until well into their 80’s and 90’s.  She is carrying on a tradition that not many of the younger generation will adopt.  It is hard work.  The outdoor fire is stoked with wood gathered from the campo (countryside).  The labor of tradition is in the souls of the grandmothers.

Soon it will be time for breakfast and we will eat this wonderful flat corn bread.  I can hardly wait!

Coming Up, April 2-9:  Portrait Photography Workshop.  There’s a space for you!







What Time Is It? Oaxaca or Teotitlan Time

There is a curious practice of going by a different clock in Teotitlan del Valle.  For years, now, I have never understood why the village is one hour ahead or behind Oaxaca city, 30 minutes away.  Village time is regulated by the Zapotec committee that administers village life.  I just asked Stephen, Do you remember whether Teo is an hour ahead or an hour behind Oaxaca?  It’s too confusing, he said, all I know is Oaxaca is an hour behind us on the east coast.  If this sounds confusing to you, you now know our experience of sorting out whether the time we are to meet someone is Teo or Oaxaca “time” and why people are always late … or early.  The confusion, I am learning, may be intentional.  After all, every Zapotec in Teotitlan knows what time it is.

Earl Shorris, author of The Life and Times of Mexico (as well as Latinos and In the Language of Kings),  discusses the importance of time in Mexica or Aztec and Mayan civilization as part of indigenous identity and culture.   Time is more than the clock.  It represents who interprets the meaning of the world and life according to ancient traditions.  It represents power and independence.  The Maya notion (and that of the Zapotecs and later Aztecs) of existence itself relates to the calendars. Time is also the symbolic tension and conflict between the conqueror and the oppressed, the ancient pre-Hispanic rites interpreted by shaman or the new religion imported by the Spanish Catholic Church.  The masters of Zero long before it occurred to the Europeans, complex astronomy, and mathematics, had been conquered.   Shorris tells us that the glorious accomplishments of Mesoamerica are embedded in the ancient practices that continue in subtle ways as sub-text to modern life, and drives the undercurrent of indigenous beliefs and practices.

I came to understand by reading this book that Teotitlan del Valle in the Valley of Oaxaca maintains its own time, I believe, as a way to defeat the European world and the Gregorian calendar, to pass the word that the war for time and power is not over.  Who owns time, who interprets the sun, the moon and the stars, owns the world.  It had been that way in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.