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On November 30, I went to the opening of the Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto/Under the Cobalt Blue Sky exhibition at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO) — an innovative collaboration that paired thirteen visual artists from the USA and France with thirteen local artisan families.  It was a fabulous and jam-packed event infused with the energy of conversation and creativity.  Unfortunately, with so many people in attendance, seeing the art was challenging and I vowed to return.

Running into weaver Antonio Lazo Hernández, brother-in-law of Porfirio Gutiérrez Contreras, when I was in Teotitlán del Valle for the first day of the Virgen de Guadalupe festivities, gave me the nudge I needed to make time to actually see the show before leaving for my el norte trip.  At the opening, I hadn’t even realized that Porfirio and his family (Antonio, Juana Gutiérrez Contreras, and Javier Lazo Gutiérrez) had been paired with Peter Liashkov to create a piece for the exhibition.

“The ability to leap freely about our imagery without any constraints” — Peter Liashkov

Their collaboration explored the story of the Danza de la Pluma — linking images of the Danza de la Pluma Promesa 2016-2018 danzantes to symbols used in the dance.  They even incorporated the well-worn sandals of the dancers.

 

I couldn’t help thinking of the poem, Judge Softly, urging us all to,

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.

“From the dialogue between our two cultures, we were able to make the references to diversification and syncretism visible, where there is always a cultural responsibility joined with a tragic story… something tragic for some and good for others… it produces new dialogues” — Porfirio Gutiérrez Contreras

Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto/Under the Cobalt Blue Sky runs through the end of February.  There are twelve other amazing collaborations that demonstrate “what can happen when we accept our differences and our similarities; it is an example of coexistence under the same blanket of stars.”  If you are in town, it is a show not to be missed.

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Looking back, it seems appropriate that I welcomed 2018 under the watchful eye of Cerro Picacho, Quie Guia Betz in Zapotec, that looms above Teotitlán del Valle — a mountain sacred to her people and where they make a pilgrimage to the top on Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross).

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January 1, 2018

And then said farewell to 2018 in my Mill Valley hometown at the foot of Mount Tamalpais, the “Sleeping Lady” — mountain of my childhood dreams, teen driving lessons, and place of retreat.

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December 31, 2018

Two of my favorite places in the world — mountains that never cease to bring me a sense of peace, joy, and renewal.

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Looking back and appreciating life in Oaxaca, 2018.

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January – View through the terrace pistachio tree of full Wolf Moon.

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February – Guest helping to harvest Waje dinner at Rancho 314 urban farm in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán.

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March – Reyna Mendoza Ruiz demonstrating metate technique at El Sabor Zapoteco cooking class in Teotitlán del Valle.

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April – Pit for cooking agave piñas to make mezcal at the palenque of Faustino Garcia in San Baltazar Chichicapa(m).

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May – Tlacolulokos mural in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

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June – Summer afternoon on the Zócalo in Oaxaca city.

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July – Feria del Barro Rojo in San Marcos Tlapazola.

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August – Fundación En Via microfinance tour to San Miguel del Valle.

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September – Protest by students from the Escuela Normal Bilingüe e Intercultural de Oaxaca.

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October – Celebrating el Señor del Rayo at the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

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November – At the home/workshop of filigree maestro, José Jorge García García.

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December – Pop-up sale in Oaxaca city by the Las Sanjuaneras weavers from San Juan Colorado.

Feliz año nuevo y muchisimas gracias to all my wonderful blog readers from near and far!  Thank you for reading, for commenting, for sharing, for the opportunity to meet some of you, and for inspiring me to continue.  Onward to 2019!!!

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‘Tis Christmas Eve and I’m in el norte.  A light snow is falling and all are excited.

Lighted reindeer in snow

Ornaments from Oaxaca hang alongside those passed down through four generations — and the newly collected continue the one-new-ornament-a-year tradition.

My grandson is keeping a close eye on Santa’s progress around the globe.  While awaiting the arrival of our late night visitor, it is time for Ernie Villarreal’s version of Pancho Claus by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero.

Pancho Claus

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through la casa

Not a creature was stirring, Caramba! ¿Que pasa?

Los ninos were all tucked away in their camas,


Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.


While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.

The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,


In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado


To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,


A Nice batch of dulces and other regalos.


Outside in the yard, there arouse such a grito,


That I jumped to my feet, like a frightened cabrito.

I went to the window and looked out afuera,


And who in the world, do you think que era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero


Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!

And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,


Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came, and this little hombre


Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre.

¡Ay, Pancho! ¡Ay, Pepe! ¡Ay, Cuca! ¡Ay, Beto!

¡Ay, Chato!
¡¡Ay, Chopo! ¡Maruca and ¡Nieto!

Then standing erect with his hand on his pecho


He flew to the top of our very own techo.


With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,


He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.

Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,



With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.

He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,


For none of the children had been very malos.


Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,


He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.


And I heard him exclaim and this is VERDAD,


Merry Christmas to all, And to All ¡Feliz Navidad!

Piñata against sky in Oaxaca

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It’s December 22 and in Oaxaca that means it’s Noche de Rábanos eve.  Despite the name, it’s not just about radishes.  Tomorrow morning, on tables lining the Zócalo, radishes will be carved and arranged, totomoxtle (corn husk) figures will be staged, and flor inmortal (dried flowers) scenes will be set.  Beginning in the early afternoon and lasting late into the night, residents and visitors will parade along elevated walkways to view the detailed and fantastical creations on display in this only-in-Oaxaca holiday event.

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These aren’t your grandparents radishes; they are a variety that is specially cultivated for their starring role — sometimes growing to 20 inches long and weighing in at 7 pounds. Alas, I’m in el norte spending the holidays with my family.  So, I will just have to look back through previous Noche de Rábanos blog posts to get into the radishy spirit.

FYI:  Blogger buddy Chris will be there to record this year’s action, so be sure to check out Oaxaca- The Year After in the next couple of days.

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Yesterday, we said farewell to the Teotitlán del Valle, Danza de la Pluma Promesa 2016-2018 guys — and two little gals.

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El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe marked the end of this group’s three-year commitment to dance for their faith and community.

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With well over one thousand family, friends, community members, and visitors watching, they danced their hearts out.

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And, after the skips, squats, twists, and leaps ended, there was nary a dry eye in the house.  It was a fabulous night!

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Tomorrow is Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe.  Celebrating the Queen of Mexico, Empress of America, and patron saint of Mexico isn’t just a one day event.  In Oaxaca city, Llano Park with Templo de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe at the north end of the park, is the epicenter of activities — including clowns.

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The south half of Llano Park is taken up with a carnival and vendors selling toys, Christmas lights, and a variety of holiday decorations.  Above that, there are aisles upon aisles of food stalls, and along the side the church, Guadalupe scenes, designed and constructed by scores of professional photographers vying for pesos for portraits, have been constructed.

As I write, Guadalupe’s children, the little Juan Diegos and their peasant sisters are lined up around the block.  They have been brought by parents and grandparents to wait to enter the church to be blessed and then pose for portraits in one of the Guadalupe scenes.  Hopefully, the payasos (clowns) provide some entertainment and much-needed distraction!

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The booms and bells began yesterday morning announcing the faithful en route by bus, bicycle, motorcycle, and on foot to visit the image of la Virgen de Juquila high in the mountains between Oaxaca city and the Pacific coast.

Copy of the image of la Virgen de Juquila

According to legend, in 1633, when a fire burned the small Chatino village of Amialtepec to the ground, a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was rescued amidst the ashes.  She was undamaged, save for her light skin color, which was permanently darkened by the smoke, causing her to more closely resemble the Chatino people, who live in this remote mountainous region.  Local priests declared her survival a miracle and she has been venerated ever since.

“Buscando la paz hastati. Virgencita de Juquila” by José Michael Méndez Miranda — Noche de Rabanos, 2017

Alas, that wasn’t the end of the story; the priest in the village of Juquila convinced the “powers that be” that she should be moved to the bigger and better church in Juquila.  She, however, had other ideas and returned to Amialtepec.  This back and forth continued another three times.  Finally, in 1719, La Morenita (the dear dark one), as she had come to be known, gave up her traveling ways and agreed to call Santa Catarina Juquila her permanent home.

Home altar, 2016 — Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca

The faithful make pilgrimages to both her old and new mountain homes (about four hours southwest of Oaxaca city).  They come year round to make offerings and pray for miracles, but especially during the days leading up to December 8.

Bus parked in Oaxaca city, December 7, 2018

She “is a symbol of love, of protection, of justice, of peace, of respect for human dignity.”  And, because of her indigenous roots, “the homage to the Virgin of Juquila is similar to that rendered to the Virgin of Guadalupe, not only in Oaxaca, but also in Puebla, Tlaxcala, State of Mexico, Veracruz and Chiapas, as well as in the United States, for the religiosity of migrants.”

Altar with image of la Virgen de Juquila — Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca 2018

On October 8, 2014, Juquila received a papal coronation, joining her previously crowned (1909) Oaxaca sister, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  And, as I write on the night of December 8, 2018, Soledad celebrates her hermana’s day with fireworks.

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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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Oaxaca recently won the Food and Travel Reader Award 2018 in the category of Best Gourmet Destination in Mexico.  At last, the rest of Mexico, not to mention the world, is acknowledging what Oaxaqueños have long known — the eight regions of Oaxaca offer some of the best, most complex traditional food in the world.  From street food stands to food fairs to restaurants, I am almost never disappointed!  Here are a few of the traditional dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating in the past few weeks.

Higaditos in Villa Díaz Ordaz – Oct. 28, 2018

The first is Higaditos from Señora Cristina Cruz — an additional reason blogger buddy Chris and I returned to Díaz Ordaz for the Festival del Pan de Muerto.  We have tasted many versions of this egg/chicken dish, but we agree that hers is the best — never mind that she has a smile that could light up the world.

Mole de Caderas at Las Quince Letras – Nov. 7, 2018

When chef Celia Florian announced that her restaurant, Las Quince Letras, would be featuring Mole de Caderas for a month, mi amiga (and cocinera) Kalisa and I made a beeline.  Mole de Caderas is a traditional Mixtec dish from Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca and nearby Tehuacán, Puebla.  It is made from the hip (cadera) and the spine of a goat that has been fed a salt-based diet to give the broth a unique flavor.  It is only served during the fall, when the goats are made to make the ultimate sacrifice — and was absolutely delicious!

Tlayuda with tasajo at Tlayudas “El Negro”

And, finally, Oaxaca’s celebrated tlayuda — it and pozole are my favorite Oaxaca comfort foods.  Neighbors and I decided to try out the newest location of Tlayudas El Negro on Independencia near Crespo.  As you can see above, I ordered one with tasajo (thinly sliced beef) and garnished with the aromatic and flavorful herb, chepiche.  Yummm… I will return.

What can I say?  I feel so lucky to have landed in this culturally rich and seriously delicious corner of the world!

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Restaurant still life in Oaxaca…

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“Nonsense and beauty have close connections — closer connections than Art will allow.”  —E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey, Part I, Chapter 12 (1907).

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Ya got your herbs, ya got your spices, ya got your smoker — smoked turkey, Oaxaca style!

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San Antonino Castillo Velasco delegation, Guelaguetza desfile, July 21, 2018

In addition to my fabulous family, friends, blog readers, and indigenous peoples who survived genocide, colonization, and other inconvenient turkey day truths, I’m also feeling grateful for guajolotes.  ¡Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias!

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Today, the 20th of November, Mexico commemorates the 108th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. It raged on for ten years, as various factions battled for power, and the peasantry fought for, in the words of Emiliano Zapata, ¡Tierra y libertad!  (Land and liberty!)

From the smallest of pueblos to the mega metropolis of Mexico City, most every town and city has a street named 20 de noviembre, including Oaxaca.  In addition, Oaxaca has a 20 de noviembre market, where you will find Conchita, my favorite chocolate store, Pasillo de Humo (hall of smoke/grilled meats), aisles of stalls filled with bread, and lines of counters offering menudo and other traditional street food — a very popular destination for locals and adventurous tourists.

Alas, the Mexican Revolution has a complex and bloody history — 1.9 to 3.5 million lives were lost, revolutionary leaders assassinated each other in turn, and promises were repeatedly broken.  The goals of land, water, liberty, justice and law for the peasantry and workers went unrealized.   However, once the armed conflict ended, a cultural revolution began that celebrated and honored working people, peasants, and Mexico’s indigenous roots and helped to forge a new Mexican identity.  As the documentary The Storm That Swept Mexico concludes:

“If we celebrate the revolution, it appears as though we are celebrating the status quo: the miserable conditions of the farmers, workers and the average Mexicans.  And if we are the inheritors of that revolution, then there is nothing to celebrate. Now if we think of the Revolution as an explosion of creative energy then I think we do have reason to celebrate because it was a movement to create a nation more just, more equal, more honest, and an identity we could be proud of.”

To highlight a Oaxaca connection, today’s NVI Noticias published the article, Enciende Madero mecha revolucionaria; Visita Oaxaca en 1909, about Francisco I. Madero’s visit to Oaxaca to light the fuse of revolution in this remote state.

By the way, in 2005, Article 74 of Mexican labor law established the third Monday of November as the “official” holiday — thus following the USA’s “time-honored tradition” of creating 3-day holiday weekends and setting the stage for the bargain hunting shopping extravaganza promoted as Buen Fin.

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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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