Tag Archives: Tlacochahuaya

Corn and Comida at the Casa del Campo, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca

Angelica Guzman is a farmer entrepreneur.  Not only is she a great cook.  She works the fields to raise crops — garlic, squash, corn, beans — that feed minions. Plus, she houses Mexican students who come to a Tlacochahuaya bilingual university for teacher preparation.

TalcochaLunchMoises-3 TalcochaLunchMoises-7

Tia Sofia with Angelica (r)

Tia Sofia with Angelica (r)

After our morning with her son Moises Garcia Guzman at the Tlacochahuaya church, we walk to the house in the fields where Angelica prepares comida (lunch) for us.  Moises reminds me that water is scarce.  It is summer, the rainy season. The milpas is planted, but there has been little rain.  In some fields, yellowing corn stalks, like flags, wave in the breeze.  Federal permits to dig a well are expensive. The government believes crops are thirstier than people.

TalcochaLunchMoises-4 TalcochaLunchMoises-10

At Angelica’s Casa del Campo there is a well and the corn stalks are young summer green.  The cobs will mature for November harvest to feed people and animals.

Moises explains that the organic corn planted in this valley adapts to weather conditions. The grain may not be as big if there is not much rain, but there will still be a crop.  Not like genetically modified grain which depends on commercial fertilizer and large-scale sophisticated irrigation systems a la Monsanto which the valley farmers resist.

Comida is the biggest meal of the day, usually taken between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the afternoon.  Today, our menu is a traditional Oaxaca repast.

First, the horchata, adorned with walnuts, cubes of cantalope melon, and tuna (the red fruit of the nopal cactus).


Then, a botano (snack) of fresh off-the-comal corn tortillas that we fill with chapulines.  Click on chapulines to see what we are eating!

TalcochaLunchMoises-11 TalcochaLunchMoises-12

Next comes the quesadillas al comal stuffed with squash blossoms and quesillo.

Quesdilla hands

If that wasn’t enough, Angelica brings us platters of grilled tasajo — thin-sliced, seasoned and grilled beef, and beef chorizo.

Beef Chorizo

And, then, the dish from the campo that all Oaxacans love — Sopa de Guias (gee-ahs).   Sopa de Guias, sometimes called squash vine soup, is a vegetable stew of squash, squash blossoms, the tender new green shoots of squash before it fruits, and the squash plant greens, with an ear of corn cooked in the broth.  It is delicious.


It was all I could do to waddle after giving thanks and saying goodbye late in the afternoon.  Eating and visiting in Oaxaca is an all-day affair. 

Modest Organ with Big Sound: San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca

San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca is an agricultural town.  Farmers grow organic crops throughout the seasons: corn, squash, runner beans, garlic, garbanzos, flowers, and alfalfa.  Mostly, Tlacochahuaya is renowned for its 1678 Baroque organ housed on the balcony above the 16th century gilded Dominican church sanctuary.  It is a historic treasure.

TalcochaChurchMoises-9 TalcochaChurchMoises-13

It is eleven o’clock Sunday morning and mass does not begin here until eight o’clock tonight. The circuit priest, who is based here and lives in the cloister, makes his rounds to serve nine villages in the Tlacolula Valley, serving mass at various times during the day.

TalcochaChurchMoises-19 TalcochaChurchMoises-12

Moises Garcia Guzman and organist Soledad Hernandez Mendez invited us to see and hear this beautiful instrument.   To get there, we climb a narrow, steep-stepped, stone stairway that winds from first floor to second.  I remember similar in Rome and Paris, dark, damp and eerie.  The steps spiral from the interior wall like an accordion.

TalcochaChurchMoises-20  GirlStairway

He describes the instrument as a modest organ with a big sound.  Moises, born and raised in Tlacochahuaya (say..T-Lah-Koh-Chah-Why-Ya), lives in Los Angeles and works in the high-tech industry.  A speaker of Zapotec, Spanish and English, he has dreams to return home to teach.  He loves this place, and I see why.

TalcochaChurchMoises-15 TalcochaChurchMoises-14

Moises explains the church and organ history as we stand under the dome in the center of the space.  The organ sounds echo, reverberate from walls and ceiling, penetrate through me as if I am a porous receptacle, wrap me in comfort.   The space is filled with so much sound that I cannot hear the words others are speaking just a few feet away from me.  It is ethereal and meditative.  I am reminded of Bach and Pachelbel.  Soledad makes the ivory keys dance.


Known as an Organo Iberico, the organ was built in Oaxaca with Puebla influences.  It has carderitas — big hips that flare, says Moises.  It was constructed this way to contain the bellows.  First built as a portable organ, the bellow controls were later moved from the side to the front when it was given its permanent place here.  The organ was fully restored in 1995.  The painting is exquisite.

TalcochaChurchMoises-28 TalcochaChurchMoises-30

The church is undergoing continuous restoration.  We are surrounded by frescoes, most of which have been renewed.  Yet back in the cloister and in some corners of the church, I see originals, shadows of their once prominent beauty faded, yet still glorious in design and remnants of color.

TalcochaChurchMoises-29 TalcochaChurchMoises-25

We sit on the adobe half-wall of the cloister.   One priest still lives here.  Once, this was the center of Dominican Catholicism for the entire valley.  Though the town is smaller than many that surround it today, Tlacochahuaya retains its prominence as the the regional parish.  After the conquest, it was the center of Spanish priestly and aristocratic life.  Crumbling haciendas and a coat of arms given to Tlacochahuaya by the Spanish attest to the glory days.

TalcochaChurchMoises-7 TalcochaChurchMoises-36

Moises and linguist Brook Lillehaugen talk about the influence of Fray Juan de Cordoba, who lived here in the cloister, translated Zapotec to Spanish, and created a dictionary.  There were many priests who translated and made dictionaries, she says, but none compare to the one by Fray Juan de Cordova.

TalcochaChurchMoises-32 TalcochaChurchMoises-33

As we complete the church visit and before we walk to lunch, we stop to look at the edifice of stone construction.  See the metate embedded into the wall.  See the Danzante carved stone there, too.  The church was built from stones taken from the Zapotec temple at Dainzu.

TalcochaChurchMoises-23  TalcochaChurchMoises-27 TalcochaLunchMoises

Yet, the original Zapotec religion survived, was adapted, hidden in the iconography of the crucifixion and the new religion.  Moises points to the figure of Jesus on the Cross (above left).  Do you see the face of corn goddess there on his chest? he asks. How his ribs look like ears of corn?  The figure was sculpted by locals and worshipped by the faithful.  They say the priests never knew.

TalcochaLunchMoises-2 TalcochaChurchMoises-34

In 1926, Southern Baptist missionaries came to Tlacochahuaya to establish a foothold in the region and built a now decaying adobe sanctuary.  Today, religious beliefs are diverse and many Christians of various denominations live side-by-side with the predominantly Catholic population in towns throughout the valley.