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Now that the Cocineras event is over (yes, I went back for day two), I am returning, as promised, to Semana Santa spent in Teotitlán del Valle.  When I left off, I had spent Holy Thursday in the kitchen with Juana and we had just sat down to eat.  However the day did not end there.  Following our comida, we cleared the plates, while Antoño went out into the courtyard to vigorously scrub his feet.  He soon left and Juana disappeared.

After about twenty minutes, she and her 3 1/2 year old granddaughter emerged dressed in what appeared to be their “Sunday best.”  She quickly piled fruit (at least a foot high) onto a platter, covered her creation with cellophane and tied it with a bow — it was to be an offering.  A flower arrangement was also picked up from a table by the door and then our little procession of three set off to navigate the steep dirt street down to the atrium of the church, where an altar and hundreds of chairs had been placed.  I guess I was going to mass!

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Later on in the mass, it became clear why Antoño had scrubbed his feet so diligently — the ritual of washing the Disciples’ feet.  Antoño was portraying Andrés el Apóstol (those are the Apostles with the laurel wreaths, above) and the Apostle to his left washed his feet and he, in turn, washed the feet of the Apostle to his right.  After the mass, a procession around the church courtyard began.

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The Apostles preceded the priest, who was sheltered under a golden canopy.  Yes, that’s Antoño, below.

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This was the procession of the Holy Monstrance — the shiny sunburst-shaped item carried by the priest containing a consecrated Host (below).

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Everyone followed at a slow solemn pace.

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Once a full circumnavigation of the courtyard had been completed, the procession led into the church and up to the altar.

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According to the book, Oaxaca Celebration: Family, Food, and Fiestas in Teotitlán, this is the only time the monstrance is set out and the church doors are left open atl night.  A vigil is kept all night by designated villagers and parishioners are encouraged to visit.

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After spending Holy Monday in Teotitlán del Valle, I returned on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday) to spend the day with Juana Gutiérrez Contreras in the home she shares with her husband, Antoño Lazo Hernandez, and their family.  She and her husband are members of a talented family of Zapotec weavers.  I’ve previously blogged about her brother Porfirio and am helping in a small way with a big project he is working on — and that is how I found myself spending several days during Semana Santa in Teotitlán.

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Juana Gutiérrez Contreras and Antoño Lazo Hernandez – July 2016

However, this day, I wasn’t there for the weaving — as wonderful as it is.  As with much of life in Teoti, there are culinary customs to be followed on Holy Thursday.  After insisting I sit down for desayuno (my second of the day — I’d eaten breakfast before leaving home), we set to work preparing the traditional Jueves Santo comida of white beans.

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Juana separating dried white beans.

I was tasked with grinding garlic and herbs used to season the beans.

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Crushing garlic and herbs using a stone pestle in a clay bowl.

Halved tomatoes (another of my jobs), whole onions and whole jalapeños were added to the beans.

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Yes, this watched pot did boil — or at least, simmer!

Our attention then turned to making chiles rellenos de queso, using Oaxaca’s own chile de agua.  For this, we moved to the outside kitchen set up under the shade of fruit trees.

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Chiles roasting roasting directly on top of wood coal.

Juana used her fingers to turn the the chiles.  However, after one attempt on my part, she pointed to the tongs.  Those coals were really hot!

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Modern wire whisk meets traditional clay cazuela.

While Juana whipped egg whites to a stiff peek, before adding the yolks, I peeled and slit the chiles.

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Epazote leaves and chiles await the quesillo.

I was also entrusted with stuffing the chiles — first a leaf of epazote, followed by a heaping helping of shredded quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese).  Then Juana commenced to frying the chiles rellenos in another cazuela — gently laying each on top of a bed of egg batter and spooning more batter on top.

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Cazuela and chiles rellenos amidst the flames.

She was masterful in her ability to withstand the heat of the fire while carefully turning the chiles.

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Chiles rellenos about to be transferred to a waiting platter.

In timing known only to Juana and Antoño, comida was ready just as Antoño walked in the door from attending a reenactment of La Última Cena at the church — a Last Supper that featured the flavors of Teotitlán.  During this Semana Santa, he portrayed Andrés el Apóstol (Apostle Andrew).  So, only a few hours after we had all last eaten, we were again sitting down at the table.  Alas, the food was SO delicious and I was having so much fun, I forgot to take pictures of our bowls of delicately flavored white beans and plates of chiles rellenos.  Sometimes you just have to be “in the moment.”

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Currently, View from Casita Colibrí is being brought to you from el norte.  Alas, tax season has come around again and mine need to be prepared.  Then there is never-ending house maintenance and repair.  I admit, it’s not all work and no play; being here means I get to spend time with family and friends, eat sushi, and give my regards to the Pacific Ocean. 

However, despite the ease of grocery shopping when one has use of a car, pricey supermarket herbs packaged in puny plastic boxes don’t feed my soul and delight my senses the way the stalls overflowing with fresh and dried herbs at Mercado Benito Juárez in Oaxaca do.

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Speaking of  the former governor of Oaxaca, Mexico’s much beloved five-term and only indigenous (Zapotec) president, Benito Juárez, his birthday is coming up on March 21.  He is the only individual in Mexico to have his birthday designated as a national holiday (celebrated this year on Monday, March 20). 

We would all do well to remember AND practice his famous words:  Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.  (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.)

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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.

Fuschia vocho parked on street

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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The headline in the New York Times reads, She Showed Up Yearly to Meet Immigration Agents. Now They’ve Deported Her.

For eight years, Guadalupe García de Rayos had checked in at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office here, a requirement since she was caught using a fake Social Security number during a raid in 2008 at a water park where she worked.

Every year since then, she has walked in and out of the meetings after a brief review of her case and some questions.

But not this year.

Despite a night of protests and a legal appeal, this 35-year old mother of two, who has lived, worked, and played by the arbitrary U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rules — and who hasn’t lived in Mexico since she was 14 — was separated from her husband and children and dropped off in Nogales, Mexico early this morning.

I’m so sad and angry at the mean-spirited and grand-standing senselessness of it all.  Right now, all I can do is cry and post this heartbreaking music video, Ice El Hielo by La Santa Cecilia.

Y’all feeling safer up there in el norte?

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It’s been a musical twenty-four hours.  Last night, under the stars in the courtyard of the Casa de la Ciudad, friends and I attended a lovely recital by four classical guitarists.  And, late this afternoon, I walked down to Casa Colonial for a performance by Paul Cohen and his jazz combo.  It was a fundraiser for the Libros Para Pueblos library in San Martín Tilcajete sponsored by the Casa’s owner, Jane Robison, in the name of her late husband, Thorny.

There was blue sky, sun, and standing room only as good vibes and jazz filled the garden venue.  A couple of tunes into the first set, Paul brought up his wife, multiple Grammy award winner and Oaxaca’s favorite daughter, Lila Downs to sing a few songs, including the closing song, “Keeper of the Flame” (first recorded by Nina Simone).  Lila, speaking to an audience overwhelmingly from the USA, noted it was a timely titled selection, given the current political climate.  And everyone knew exactly who and what she was referring to.

Paul Cohen and Lila Downs

Keeper Of the Flame
(Nina Simone version)

I’m the keeper of the flame
My torch of love lights his name
Ask no pity, beg my shame
I’m the keeper of the flame

Played with fire and I was burn
Gave a heart but I was spurn
All these time I have yearned
Just to have my love return

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning off
And the angels call my name
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning out
And the angels call my love
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

It’s a song not just about lost love.  As Lila alluded, we are all keepers of the flame.

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Of the rábanos from Noche de Rábanos, this radish sculpture of Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor of Tenochtitlan, was my favorite.

Cuauhtémoc portrayed in radishes

“Cuauhtémoc: El Último Gran Emperador Azteca” by José Yehú Santos Aguilar took second place in the Free Radish category.

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As I previously explained, Noche de Rabanos isn’t just about radishes.  One of the other categories of entries is Totomoxtle Decorado.  And the winner was Moisés Ruíz Sosa, with his dyed cornhusk depiction of Día de Muertos on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca.

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Descendants of slaves, the Afromexicano population of Oaxaca is located in 16 municipalities, with 11 of these municipalities located in the Costa Chica, Oaxaca’s far western coastal region, bordering the state of Guerrero.

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During Day of the Dead, the Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) is performed in these communities.

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Dancers wear devil masks, and are led by a colonial ranch foreman with a whip, who “struts around, while his buxom ‘white’ wife – played by a black man – flirts outrageously with the ‘devils’ and even the audience.”  [The black people ‘erased from history’]

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To see the Noche de Rabanos 2013 entry by Moisés Ruíz Sosa, click HERE.

By the way, the “Elaborando Artesanía, Plasmando Sueños: ‘Teotitlán del Valle, Tierra de Dioses’” by Raymundo Sánchez Monserrat Maricela, which I wrote about in Noche de Rabanos, pt. 1, took first prize in the Flor Inmortal Adulto category!

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It’s December 23 in Oaxaca and Noche de Rabanos is upon us.  The setting-up has begun and the spectators are gathering.  Despite its name, it isn’t just about artisans working their creative magic carving radishes.  There are three other categories, including the use of Flor Inmortal (a type of dried flower).  I will return this evening, but in the meantime, this entry titled, “Elaborando Artesanía, Plasmando Sueños: ‘Teotitlán del Valle, Tierra de Dioses'” by Raymundo Sánchez Monserrat Maricela, is for all my friends in Teotitlán del Valle.

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Spinning the wool.

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Weaving tapetes from the spun wool.

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Grinding corn or maybe chocolate OR maybe even cochinilla!

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Dancing the Danza de la Pluma…

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The danzantes of the Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa keeping their promise.

I think Raymundo did a wonderful job capturing the people of Teotitlán del Valle, the Land of the Gods, who make crafts and shape dreams.

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And we thought last year’s Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Teotitlán del Valle was exceptional!  It was, but, for blogger buddy Chris and me, this year brought even more warmth, appreciation, and the intangible of being present in the richness of more layers of being in this special village.

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Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz

We are patrons of two of the danzantes of the 2016-18 Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa in Teotitlán del Valle — and Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz is one of them.  As such, we were invited to the home he shares with his parents, Mario Ruiz Bautista and Victoria Ruiz, to partake in the traditions and observe the responsibilities that accompany taking on the three year commitment to being a member of the Grupo.

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Mario Ruiz Bautista (on left) overseeing the offerings

From my albeit limited understanding, as part of the commitment the dancers make during their three years of service, each of their families is tasked with taking a turn hosting one of the four yearly festivals.

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Victoria Ruiz watching Edgar’s dance

The day began with a breakfast of traditional breads and hot chocolate and was followed by Mole de Castilla, a mole unique to Teotitlán and served during weddings and the most important festivals.  There must have been over 100 people, including Edgar’s extended family, padrinos, danzantes and their families, and band members.  They gathered and were served in the courtyard of the Ruiz home, with men seated at one long table, women on the other side of the courtyard at another, and the two gringos seated with the danzantes in the altar room opening onto the courtyard.

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Breakfast breads with hot chocolate

Following the meal, chairs and tables were folded and removed, the danzantes took the floor, the band began to play, and, as the sun streamed down on the courtyard, Edgar began his dance.  It was a touching moment to see this young man, whom I’ve known for almost six years, since he was a gangling teenager, and Chris has known since he was a small boy, dance with such confidence and pride.

Following dances by the whole group, with band leading the way, dancers, families, and guests processed down the steep and winding streets from the house to the church.

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Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz en route to the church, accompanied by Victoria (his mother) and his nephew.

They filed into the church, where a special mass was celebrated, and then regrouped in the church courtyard to begin the seven hour (más o menos) Danza de la Pluma.  Early in the afternoon, while the dance continued, the families and invited guests returned to the Ruiz home, where the families of the other dancers each made formal presentations of baskets of fruit and mezcal or cervesa to Mario and Victoria.  This was followed by a comida (lunch) of caldo de pollo.  After all were fed, the offerings  were loaded into pickup trucks to be taken to the church plaza, to later be shared with the community.  At night, after the dance ended, we all again returned to Casa Ruiz for barbecoa de res (beef) in a rich and flavorful sauce, cervesas, mezcal, and soda pop.  I can’t even begin to imagine all the work that went into preparing all the food, orchestrating its serving, and then washing all the dishes — by hand in basins set up in the yard across the street.

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Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz

It’s been over twenty four hours since Chris and I returned from Teotitlán del Valle and, though we talked continuously on the drive back to the city and have spoken several times since, we are still unable to put into words how meaningful and how honored we were to share this special day with Edgar, his family, and his community.  It was a precious gift. ¡Muchisimas gracias a todos!

For more, see Chris’s blog post, A very special Dia de Virgen de Guadalupe.

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I read the news today, oh boy…

Fidel Castro, Leader of the Cuban Revolution Dies at 90.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana -- April 2016.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana — April 2016.

The revolutionary’s achievements in the face of US meddling made him a powerful symbol of resistance against hegemony.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana -- April 2016.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana — April 2016.

Cuba Declares 9 Days of Public Mourning to Honor Fidel Castro.

"As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied."  On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana -- April 2016.

“As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied.” On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana — April 2016.

And, from the personal poster collection of my friend, archivist and librarian, Lincoln Cushing, Castro’s Revolution, Illustrated.

Farewell Fidel and thank you for standing up to US imperialism.  May the Cuban people continue to stand strong.

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Before I become completely immersed in the myriad of activities related to and surrounding Day of the Dead, I want to write a post about Porfirio Gutiérrez, another of the talented and creative weavers from Teotitlán del Valle I have come to know.

I first met Porfirio via my blog and we soon became Facebook friends.  However, we didn’t actually meet in person until last November’s, Feria Exposición Maestros del Arte in Chapala, Jalisco.  I made a beeline for his booth and introduced myself to him and his sister, Juana Gutiérrez Contreras.  Porfirio’s recognition and warmth made me feel truly welcome — like we were long-lost friends.

While, as you can see from the video, The Weaver From The Place of Gods, Porfirio is soft-spoken, he is exceedingly passionate about his Zapotec heritage and the preservation of the textile traditions of his village.  His knowledge, talent, and dedication led him to be one of four native artists to be chosen to participate in last year’s, Artist Leadership Program sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

A key component of the Smithsonian program was, following their residency, each artist was charged with returning to their community to share their knowledge, with the goal of preserving the wisdom and techniques refined and handed down from their ancestors.  I had the privilege of attending the awarding of certificates and exposition that concluded the 9-day workshop, given in Teotitlán by Porfirio and Juana.  The exposition was entitled El Ritual de los Sueños and took as its inspiration the traditional fiber mat, known as the petate.  It is on the petate where babies are delivered, dreams occur, and in which bodies are wrapped before being placed their grave.

The family’s studio is located at Calle Simon Bolivar #6, Teotitlán del Valle and I can assure you, visitors will be warmly welcomed.  And, who knows, you may come away with beautiful new, naturally dyed, hand-loomed treasure.

I already have a place on the wall reserved for one of Porfirio’s distinctly designed tapetes and am now saving my pesos.

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Returning to Casita Colibrí last Sunday afternoon, I unlocked the door, set down my way-too-heavy backback, and, having been away for a month, I savored the scene my Oaxaca home presented.  There was my new Tree of Life tapete hanging on the wall of my dining area looking like it had always been there; on the floor, separating living spaces, the beautiful mohair rug woven for me by Antonio Ruiz Gonzalez presided.

AND (drum roll, please), in front of the sofa, my most recent purchase — a stunning rug from Casa Cruz in Teotitlán del Valle.

Maria Luisa Mendoza, wife of weaver Fidel Cruz Lazo, displaying their wares in their taller in Teotitlán del Valle.

Maria Luisa Mendoza, wife and partner of weaver Fidel Cruz Lazo, displaying their wares in their taller in Teotitlán del Valle.

Metates at Casa Cruz used to hand grind cochineal and indigo dyes.

Metates leaning against the wall, waiting to to be used to hand grind the natural dyes.

Array of some of their brilliantly colored naturally dyed yarns.

An array of some of their brilliantly colored naturally dyed yarns.

After much indecision (they were all so beautiful!), Fidel Cruz Lazo displays my final choice.

After much indecision on my part (they were all SO beautiful), Fidel displays my final choice.

My rug in its new home here at Casita Colibrí.

My rug in its new home in the living room area of Casita Colibrí.

The book,

It wasn’t until I took this photo, that I realized the design on the cover of  the book, The Colors of Casa Cruz, is the same as my new rug.

The yarns of my new rug were dyed using indigo, cochinilla, nuez (walnuts), musgo (moss), achiote (annatto), and cempazuchil (marigolds) and the primary design element is the diamond, representing the four cardinal points, and symbolizing the continuity of life.

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