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Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

This week the city of Oaxaca celebrates her 485 birthday.  Yes, we know she is older…  However, we are talking the colonial city, here.  And, despite her age, this birthday girl began the festivities by inviting the best cocineras from the eight regions of the state to cook for her citizens and visitors — from 1 PM until 9 PM — under the shade of a giant tent covering the Plaza de la Danza.  (Not free, but quite reasonable.)

The food was riquísima (beyond delicious) and, while we were there, the guys from Santiago Juxtlahuaca in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, performed the Danza de los Rubios.

I returned home satisfied and sleepy, but the day wasn’t over.  There was a calenda (parade) scheduled for 5 PM and a procession of “Gigantes” at 7 PM — route for the latter was unclear.  I was hot, tired, and torn.  To go, or not to go?  That was the question.  Thunder began rumbling and I figured my answer was to stay in for the evening.  However, at 7:30 PM, when a the sounds of a procession came practically to my doorstep and not a drop of rain had fallen, I had to run out to join it.

The “Gigantes” were supposed to represent the giants of all time that Oaxaca has given to the world.  Most were a mystery to me, though I think I saw Benito Juárez and maybe Porfirio Díaz (both Oaxaqueños) and I’m guessing the bunny is a nod to the alebrije wood carving and decorating tradition.  In any case, it was great fun!

Just as the calenda reached the Plaza de la Danza, it began raining on this parade and everyone made a beeline for the cover of the Cocineras tent.  I’m sure they will eat well!  And the rain?  It was probably the best birthday gift Mother Nature could bestow on Oaxaca’s parched earth and dusty sidewalks.

This was just day one of the anniversary festivities.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Oaxaca’s actual birthday and the church bells will begin chiming at 6:45 AM.  So I’d better get to bed!  By the way, the Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca opens again at 1 PM tomorrow and lasts until 8 PM or whenever the food runs out.  For a complete schedule of events, click HERE.

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Well, actually, they came, they saw, and they set the village straight.

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Stay tuned…

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Well, actually not coats.  These are the “casitas” (temporary homes) to house Jesús and María as they make their way through the streets of Teotitlán del Valle on Lunes Santo (Holy Monday).

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The aforementioned streets include several blocks of Av. Juárez — the main street into town.  Thus, I found myself being “let off” the Teoti bus by the panteón (cemetery), instead of the mercado.

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How could I complain, when these guys (above) were so welcoming and offered this weary traveler a cup of agua de guanábana, a refreshing fresh fruit drink.

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As I mentioned in Monday’s post, there are twelve casitas in all — each with “walls” of the colorful tapetes woven in this village known for the story-telling designs and striking colors of their rugs.  Apparently, up until forty years ago, the casita walls were made of petates, the traditional woven palm mats that play a role from birth to death.  But, times change, the tapetes are more colorful, and it’s good PR for this community of weavers.

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As Jesús and María near, the ground is sprinkled with water and bougainvillea blossoms are scattered on the casita floor, copal incense is lit, and platters of food and drink await to feed the faithful and quench their thirst.  More about that to come…

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Today, Lunes Santo (Holy Monday), found me in Teotitlán del Valle, as Jesús and María were carried on palanquins in a slow moving procession through town, from one temporary tapete (rug) adorned casita to another.  They will make twelve stops in all.

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This casita was erected by the family of the Vice President of the village Church Committee, Amado Gutiérrez, father of Porfirio Gutiérrez, of whom I have previously written.

There was food and drink and so much more to this solemn expression of faith, so please stay tuned…

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Tomorrow is Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and the start of Semana Santa (Holy Week).  In preparation, the palm weavers from the pueblitos of the Mixteca have come down to the city to work their magic and sell their wares under the watchful eye of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Ladders have been hauled out onto the sidewalks, so windows and doorways can be decorated in purple and white.  Why those colors? You might well ask.

According to The Color Symbolism of Lent and Easter, purple “is a deep, almost night-like color that focuses our attention on the fasting and repentance associated with the Lenten season…. As an act of derision toward Our Lord, Pilate placed a purple robe on Jesus, whom he called “‘King of the Jews’” and white “symbolizes both the bright light of the moment of Resurrection and the purity of God’s love for His People.”

However, the above mentioned website also states that the color of Palm Sunday, itself, is red, “even though this Mass commemorates Christ entering Jerusalem in triumph, this color foreshadows His death on the cross on Friday.”  I will take note tomorrow when I return to San Antonino Castillo Velasco for their very special way of celebrating Palm Sunday.

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It’s good to be back in Oaxaca — land of mezcal.  Even the walls sing its praises.

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And, they are not alone — so does National Geographic, with their article, A Mezcal Boom Spurs Creativity.

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Besides a mock wedding with men dressed as women, mentioned in my previous post, Carnaval (Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) in San Martín Tilcajete also means young men covered in motor oil (yuck!) and paint running through the village with belts of cowbells ringing.

And, it means muchas máscaras de madera — in this village famous for its fantastical hand-painted alebrije woodcarvings and masks.

Some of my favorite masks and body paint were done by Jesus Sosa Calvo, his talented wife, Juana Vicente Ortega Fuente, and their gifted children.  (See the mask I gave to my son, carved by Apolinar, one of their sons.)  If you are in San Martín Tilcajete, be sure to see their work at Matlacihua Arte (right across from the zócalo on the main street).

The Spanish brought this pre-Lenten tradition to Mexico and, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Masks, motor oil, face and body paint, you name it, disguised and anonymous was the order of the day!

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Among other highlights, Carnaval/Carnival in San Martín Tilcajete features a mock wedding, quinceañera, and beautiful fabulously dressed and accessorized “women.”

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The day before Lent in San Martín Tilcajete 2017.  As they say in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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Slowly the cars began to move.  Slowly they climbed the steep hill.  As they climbed, each little steam engine began to sing:  “I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I-think-I-can!  I think I can – I think I can – I think I can I think I can–”  (The Little Engine That Could)

In this case, the little engines that could are Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as vochos.  These indomitable VW Bugs are ubiquitous on the streets of Oaxaca — in a rainbow of colors and in every stage of repair and disrepair imaginable.

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They can even be spotted traveling along the walls…

“Vocho art” isn’t limited to murals on street corners.  Check out this Huichol beadwork “Vochol” I saw on exhibit at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City last October.  It is the work of Francisco Bautista, Kena Bautista, Roberto Bautista, Diego Díaz González, Emilio González Carrillo, Víctor González Carrillo, Alvaro Ortiz, and Herminio Ramírez.

And, that isn’t all…  Mexican artist, Héctor Garnelo Navarro has covered a 1994 VW Beetle  with “19,800 semi-precious stones (e.g., obsidian, jade) that form images of pyramids, animals, ancient deities (Quetzalcóatl [Feathered Serpent, Creator God] and the Mictlantecuhtli [God of the Underworld]).”  It is known as the Vocho Teotihuacano (Teotihuacán Beetle) and according to this article, he is finishing a Vocho Maya and is considering a Vocho Alebrije — the latter inspired by the wood carvers and painters of Oaxaca.  So, keep your eyes open!

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It’s a travel day for me and I didn’t think I would have time to honor my sisters of the world on this International Women’s Day.  However, thanks to a flight delay that has left me with an even longer than planned layover in Houston, I can think of no better way to celebrate the day than presenting Julia and Luvia; two of the extraordinary women of Teotitlán del Valle.

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Julia Martinez Bautista on her 100th birthday party, February 1, 2017.

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Luvia Lazo Gutierrez, director of the new Centro Cultural Comunitario de Teotitlán del Valle.

They embody the strength, ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity of women everywhere!

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Oaxaca seems to invite and inspire creativity.  Thus, for twenty years distinguished photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, who “considered Oaxaca her second home,” brought students here and conducted workshops at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo.  Now, seven photographers, Björn Árnason, Lori Barra, Ina Bernstein, James Carbone, Chae Kihn, Tim Porter, and Jody Watkins, are honoring their late mentor with an exhibition, Nuestra Oaxaca, at the Centro Fotográfico.

The exhibition opened on January 20, 2017, but it was the coming together by the seven and their very personal remarks during the artist reception and panel discussion on February 25 that revealed the impact Mary Ellen Mark had on their lives and work.  She was a dedicated and demanding teacher” who pushed them to know themselves in order to authentically see and capture the people and places on the other side of the lens.  They also offered glimpses into Mark’s playful side and wit, along with how meaningful her friendship was to each of them and their profound sense of loss at her passing in 2015.  I wasn’t the only one who blinked away tears.

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(L->R) Björn Árnason, Lori Barra, Ina Bernstein, Chae Kihn, James Carbone, Tim Porter, Jody Watkins, and translator, February 25, 2017.

In the words of Tim Porter, spoken at the opening of the exhibition on January 20, 2017:

We seven photographers are all different. Some of us are professionals who work for newspapers or do commercial work. Some of us are amateurs who simply love photography. Some of work in a documentary or journalistic style. Some of us make more interpretative images. We live in New York, in Los Angeles, in Iceland and in San Francisco. Some of us have been coming to Oaxaca for decades. Some of us for only a few years.

What we all share is Mary Ellen. She brought us together. Through her we became friends. Because of her we became better photographers. With her in mind, we come back – to pursue the work we started here, to become the photographers she believed we could be, to honor her passion and, perhaps, to find hope and inspiration in it.

If you are currently in Oaxaca or plan to be before the exhibition closes on April 7, 2017, I highly recommend paying it a visit; the images from each of the seven photographers will reveal Oaxaca in a new and thought-provoking light.  In addition, you can also see the work of their mentor, Mary Ellen Mark, that is part of the Colección Toledo/INBA.

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Yes, we know… ephemeral it may be; effective it is.

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As do the artists of Gabinete Grafico, who bring their woodcut art to the streets.

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And yesterday, Gabinete Grafico’s artists inaugurated a brick and mortar gallery at Calle de M. Bravo 216 in Oaxaca city.

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Yellow is the color of winter in Oaxaca, be it flora, fauna, or nature-inspired human intervention…

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Primavera amarilla (Tabebuia chrysantha) on Calle Porfirio Díaz.

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Corner of Calle Porfirio Díaz and Calle de M. Bravo.

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Great Kiskadee sitting in the tree next door surveying the scene.

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Emiliano Zapata looks out from above the entrance to Espacio Zapata and Atila del Sur restaurant.

A. M. A. R. I. L. L. O.
by Edward Kofi Louis

Aim high in life and, always seek for peace!
Making it possible to share with others;
As the sun always rises from the east! !
Resting down west to respect the muse of nature.
In the light of Life,
Lights in the sight of the truth! !

Living with positive morals,
Onward with the joy of life.

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The walls of Oaxaca are speaking…

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No comment necessary.

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If it’s the end of January into the beginning of February, it must be time for the Feria del Carrizo in San Juan Guelavía.  About twenty minutes east of the city, this village was known for their beautiful and functional baskets hand-woven from carrizo (Arundo donax, Spanish cane, Giant cane, Wild Cane, and Colorado River weed), a tall perennial cane that grows along river banks. p1240717

These baskets have traditionally been used as carriers and storage bins since before the Spanish set foot on the soil that became Mexico.  However, their popularity and demand took a nosedive, along with the economy of San Juan Guelavía, upon the arrival of plastic baskets.  The answer, in 2012, was to promote these artisans, their wares, and their creativity with a fair.  Several days preceding Sunday’s inauguration of the 6th annual fair and sale, there were misas (masses), parades, and fireworks.

As with all festivals and fairs in Oaxaca, there are folkloric dance performances.

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And, artfully positioned decorations adorning walls and gates and hanging from the ceiling.p1240705

There is barbacoa and tortillas hot off the comal.p1240697

And, impossibly adorable children carrying on traditions.p1240738

The fair was in full swing when we arrived in late morning (note to self, get there earlier next year) with carrizo woven baskets, birdcages, bottles, and baby cradles piled high.p1240718So many choices…  Is it too early to begin Christmas shopping?p1240715I kept my eye out for Teresa, who made beautiful lampshades for me two years ago.  However, it wasn’t easy as there were so many people coming and going and crowded around all of the vendor tables.p1240706
It took a while but, on the second pass around, I finally found her and her delightful family.  There was much handshaking, cheek kissing, and catching up.p1240714And, more than a little laughter about her fowl friend, who was keeping watch under the table.p1240712

Another wonderful, warm, and welcoming day in one of the villages in the valley of Oaxaca.  The fair continues this week with a 4-day jaripeo (rodeo) and closes on February 5, so you still have time!  Never fear, if you miss it, these carrizo treasures can often be found at the weekly Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

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