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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Another building in mal estado…

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Another example of hope amidst decay.

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If you are in town… As background to the December 12, Fiesta a la Virgen de Guadalupe performance of the Danza de la Pluma in Teotitlán del Valle, blogger buddy Chris (of Oaxaca-The Year After fame) and I are again doing a presentation at the Oaxaca Lending Library.  It will be on Tuesday, December 4 at 5:00 PM.  And, new this year:  There will be very special guests!

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From the library’s description of the talk, “The Danza de la Pluma, with its giant feathered headdresses, is one of the most famous dances performed in Oaxaca and is particularly special in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle.  The dance, dancers, and village all have rich stories.  Come join Chris Stowens and Shannon Sheppard, who have spent several years observing and learning about this amazing culture, for a presentation filled with stories, photos and video.”

Alas, it’s not free.  Besides memberships, presentations like this are what keeps the library afloat.  The cost is 90 pesos for OLL members and 130 pesos for non-members.  Reservations can be made using the library’s Online Store.  Hope to see you on Tuesday!

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Several pan de muerto festivals sprung up in the valley of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos — including a Festival del Pan de Muerto in Villa Díaz Ordaz, a Feria del Pan de Muerto Adornado in Villa de Zaachila, and a Feria del Pan y Chocolate in the city of Oaxaca.  While the intention of these fairs is to attract tourists, both foreign and domestic, the primary market remains ofrendas (offerings) to the difuntos (departed) — who must be fed during their brief return to visit with their loved ones.

And, like apron styles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) varies from village to village, be it sold at a feria, mercado, or neighborhood panadería.

Panadería Yalalag in Oaxaca city.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla.

Mercado, 20 de noviembre, Oaxaca city.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila.

Villa de Zaachila

Villa de Zaachila.

Though my difuntos have departed and my altar has been disassembled, I couldn’t consign my beautiful (but stale) pan de muerto offerings to the garbage can.

Pan de muerto from Yalalag, Mitla, and Zaachila.

So, here they remain in a basket on my counter — until they disintegrate or the hormigas (ants) enjoy a feast.

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Under the dappled sunlight filtering through the 500 year old ahuehuete trees in the panteón of Tlacolula de Matamoros, lovingly placed fruit and nuts nourish the souls.  (Click on images to enlarge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon, when the light and shadows dance on the graves, beautiful still lifes greet the departed, their living family, friends, and visitors.  It is a tranquil setting to contemplate the words of Octavio Paz (The Labyrinth of Solitude, the other Mexico, and essays, Grove Press, 1985, p. 54)

The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.  Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.

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As my grandchildren finished their trick or treating up in el norte, I put the final touches on my Día de los Muertos ofrenda (offering) here in Oaxaca.

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A yellow (the color of death in pre-hispanic southern Mexico) cloth covers two chests; papel picado (cut tissue paper), signifying the union between life and death, has been added, along with the traditional flowers of Day of the Dead — cempasúchil and veruche (domesticated and wild marigolds), their scent to guide the spirits, and cockscomb to symbolize mourning.  Visitors brought the sunflower and, since my grandfather, father, and father-in-law were avid gardeners, it is for them!

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There is salt to make sure the souls stay pure and chocolate, peanuts, pecans, apples, mandarin oranges, and pan de muertos (Day of the Dead bread) to nourish them.

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The sweet smell of copal incense and its smoke help guide my loved ones to the feast I have prepared.  And, there is water to quench their thirst, as they travel between worlds, not to mention mezcal and cervesa (beer).

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But, most important of all, there are the tangible remembrances of my departed — photos and some of their favorite things.

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Revolutionary catrina and catrin for my revolutionary comadre and compadre, Sylvia and Nat.

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Yarn and a crochet hook for my dear grandmother who many of the abuelas (grandmothers) in Oaxaca remind me of — always wearing an apron, never wearing pants, and incredibly adept with crochet and embroidery thread.  And, for my adored grandfather, a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.  My grandparents moved next door at the same time the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco and grandpa and I listened to many games together on his transistor radio, as I helped him in the garden.

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There are other cherished friends and relatives on my altar, but pride of place goes to my parents.  For my father, who was killed when I was only two and a half, there is beer (below the above photo) — alas Victoria not Burgermeister!  And for my mother, a fan to cool herself as she dances and a bottle of port to sip before she sleeps.

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It’s been a two-day labor of love as I wanted everything to be perfect for my difutos (departed) to find their way and feel welcome in my Oaxaca home.

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Not all the Día de los Muertos murals in Villa de Zaachila were finished, some were still works in progress…

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with ladders and paints standing by…

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waiting for their artists to pick up the brush…

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or spray can, as the case may be.

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I first saw many of the murals in the summer of 2017 and was happy to see they are still intact, albeit some are a little faded.  Celebrated by the community, the new murals join the old and become a part of the landscape of the village.

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A regalito (little gift) to my calaca and calavera loving grandson from today’s visit to Villa de Zaachila for their first Feria del Pan de Muerto, Mole, Chocolate y Espuma.

From murals along the outer side of the panteón (cemetery) in Villa de Zaachila.  Click to enlarge images.

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This morning, on the way to my Oaxaca Lending Library cataloging shift (once a librarian, always a librarian), I made a detour through Jalatlaco, where the murals always give one pause.

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I was on my way to Clinica Hospital Florencia to check on my 92 year old neighbor who had a pacemaker installed yesterday afternoon (once a nurse, always a nurse).

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Like Oaxaca, she is strong…

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She is proud…

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And, she is back home after only 24 hours and feeling GREAT!!!

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Not all cotton bolls are white…

Roberta French, who built my apartment complex in Oaxaca many decades ago, established a textile weaving business and planted coyuche (koyuchi), a natural brown cotton.  She is no longer with us, but her plant survives and grows up onto my balcony.  This time of year, the yellow, pink, and rose flowers bloom, die, form pods, and brown cotton fluff results.

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And the results?  Here, at my apartment complex, the plant is solely decorative.  However, the traditional way of growing, spinning, and weaving brown cotton is still practiced in some communities in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico.  And, I have been lucky enough to have been gifted an old huipil woven of coyuche and acquired a new one at an expo-venta here in Oaxaca city.  If you would like more information on coyuche and its cultivation and weaving, I recommend checking out the Katyi Ya’a collective.

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It’s been fifty years since two African American US Olympic medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, cast their eyes downward and raised clenched fists on the medals’ stand during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” (national anthem of the USA) at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.  Boos and racial epithets were hurled from the stands, both were kicked off the US team, ordered to leave the Olympic Village, and, upon returning to the USA, they received hate mail, death threats and experienced harassment.  However, their gesture became iconic and their stance against racial injustice is celebrated the world over, including Oaxaca.

Taller de Gráfica Experimental de Oaxaca, Calle La Noria at Melchor Ocampo, Oaxaca de Juárez

“I don’t have any misgivings about it being frozen in time. It’s a beacon for a lot of people around the world. So many people find inspiration in that portrait. That’s what I was born for.” –John Carlos (The man who raised a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games)

What most of the world didn’t see or hear about — because it was conspicuously absent from the covers of the country’s major newspapers — was that two weeks before, in what came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre, somewhere between 300 and 2,000 peacefully protesting students in Mexico City were murdered by Mexican military and police forces.

The echos from 1968 continue today…  Colin Kaepernick continues to be castigated and denied employment as an NFL football player for taking a knee during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and 43 student teachers from Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, whose bus was ambushed in Iguala, Guerrero four years ago, continue to be missing.

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While the caption says, “Welcome to Oaxaca,” those clenched fists raised in protest illustrate how the overwhelming majority of women in the United States feel today.

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New mural at the corner of Allende and Tinoco y Palacios by Gran OM, Chauiztle Stencil, and Kloer Kloerk.

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Four years and two days ago, 43 student teachers from Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero were disappeared in a violent attack on their bus in Iguala.  They still haven’t been found, their families still grieve, and anger surrounding the lack of truth, transparency, and justice continues.

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“For mothers who mourn empty graves for children who never returned”

In June of this year, a federal court ordered the creation of a truth and justice commission to undertake a new investigation but the current government has appealed the order.  However, two days ago, on the anniversary of their disappearance, Mexico’s new president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), met with relatives and representatives of the missing students and vowed to discover the truth and implement the court order.  Expectations are high, but skepticism remains.

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I have returned to my hometown for my 50th high school reunion.  (How could I possibly be that old?!)  Whenever I come up to the USA, I make a point of bringing a little Oaxaca love with me.  So, this trip I brought my three newest textile treasures to wear.

First, a modern asymmetric take on a traditional huipil — designed, dyed, and woven on a backstrap loom by Moisés Martínez Velasco from San Pedro Cajonos in the Villa Alta region of the Sierra Norte.  Villagers cultivate and harvest the silk worms and spin the silk used in making this beautiful piece.

I also packed a recently purchased traditional blusa from the Mixtec village of San Pablo Tijaltepec.  The blouses from this village are made from cotton manta and hand-embroidered with images of birds, animals, plants, and elements of nature in geometric patterns.  The blouses take up to one and a half months to make.  I wore it to the reunion picnic on Sunday and it received several compliments.

And, last but not least, I brought this elegant silk huipil with cotton chain-stitch hand embroidery designed by celebrated poet, Natalia Toledo.  Honoring the traditional huipiles of her birthplace in Juchitán de Zaragoza in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, yet bringing her own design esthetic to her label Teka, this woman of many talents works with seamstresses and embroiderers from the Isthmus and Central Valleys of Oaxaca to create one-of-a-kind pieces.  I wore this to Saturday night’s reunion at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge beside the San Francisco Bay — and it was perfect!

Besides the designs, colors (lately, I seem to be binging on burgundy), and handmade aspect of the work, I especially appreciate that I was able to meet and purchase each piece directly from its creator.

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The gods…

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and superheroes like El Chapulín Colorado have had their day.

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Today, the walls of Oaxaca remind us that it is journalists who are on the front lines — uncovering truth, advocating for justice, and often paying with their lives.

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“Cuando un pais tiene ganas de gritar hay personas que no pueden callar.”  (When a country wants to scream there are people who cannot remain silent.)  — the late Mexican journalist, Javier Valdez.

Journalists in the USA, are you listening?

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A local’s guide to Mexico City: 10 tips describes a mural project by Aida Mulato and Jóvenes Artesanos to help rehabilitate her Roma neighborhood following the September 2017 earthquakes.  According to the article, “The colourful murals celebrate indigenous communities and women, who continue to suffer most from the earthquakes.  The project supports the larger goals of Jóvenes Artesanos and gives various support to about 150 artisans with whom Mulato works.  With 15 murals painted already, the goal is to create a circuit of 68, representing the country’s indigenous populations.”

What an enlightened and wonderful contrast to the game of cat and mouse, street mural artists have been facing here in Oaxaca for the past few years, where many (including me) have been asking, are Color and culture, unwelcome?  However, while they may be more ephemeral than we would wish, artists are still at work on the sides of our own crumbling buildings, and murals still can be found on the walls of Oaxaca.

Enjoy them while you can, they may be gone tomorrow.

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