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Eight-legged visitors

If you suffer from arachnophobia, you might want to click away from this post.

You were warned, so I will continue…  Two spiders, a Neoscona oaxacensis and an Argiope, have taken up residence on my terrace.  This isn’t the first time I have played hostess to these two kinds of orb weaver spiders.

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Neoscona oaxacensis (back)

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Neoscona oaxacensis (underside)

My latest guests arrived a week ago and have been settling in ever since.  Their webs are strung across neighboring plants, though the Argiope’s also extends across a walkway onto the deck.  Unfortunately, a few days ago, I inadvertently walked through it but, undeterred, she rewove it in the same place.  So I have blocked the route with an extremely spiky cactus, to prevent further human destruction.

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Argiope (top)

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Argiope (underside)

Aren’t my new visitors beautiful?  By the way, they eat insects and are harmless to humans, so nothing to be afraid of!

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Yesterday, after missing the Fiesta de la Natividad because I was in the middle of my 6-week cross-country sojourn in el norte, I managed (courtesy of blogger buddy Chris and his trusty VW Jetta) to make it out to Teotitlán del Valle for the last day of the Fiesta de La Virgen del Rosario and performance of the Danza de la Pluma.

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Sergio Gutiérrez Bautista (Moctezuma)

The dance is day-long and recreates the Spanish Conquest from the Zapotec point of view.

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Quetzali del Rayo Santiago Ruiz (Malinche)

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Elizabeth Hernández Gutiérrez (Doña Marina)

Miracle of miracles, the rain held off, the clouds parted, and the sun made a much welcome appearance.

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Foreground:  Marcos Vicente Gutiérrez (Capitán 1 ro.)

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Foreground:  Edgar Daniel Ruiz Ruiz (Vasallo 8vo.)

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As we approached the atrium of the Templo Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, the father of one of the Danzantes explained a venue change — due to some (hopefully) minimal earthquake damage to one of the bell towers of the church, the Danza de la Pluma was moved next door to the plaza in front of the municipal building.

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Juan Bautista Ruiz (Subalterno)

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Florentino Martínez Ruiz (Subalterno) and Señor Inocencio

A heartfelt muchisimas gracias to the people of Teotitlán del Valle, many of whom I am so lucky and grateful to call friends.  The warm welcome I received was such an incredible tonic to the grey days we have been experiencing in Oaxaca.

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Humanity at work

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  — Anne Frank

Last night, I watched the pleading (and currently homeless!) mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, BEG the U.S. government for more help following Hurricane Maria, which has devastated this U.S. territory.  Power may not be restored to the island for months, hospitals are without medicines, and people are dying.  This morning I awoke to news that the U.S. president, up bright and early in the luxurious comfort of his New Jersey golf club, had taken to Twitter to personally attack San Juan’s mayor.  Why?  For doing her job!!!  I was both livid at the Twit-in-Chief and incredibly sad for Puerto Rico.  Where is the understanding?  Where is the empathy??  Where is the humanity???

And then I read my Mexico City based friend, Cristina Potters’ latest Mexico Cooks! blog post.  Cristina, thank you SO much for reaching out to and translating the words of “Al” — this is what humanity looks like.  With Cristina’s permission, here is her post:

Mexico City Earthquake :: We Interrupt Our Regular Programing…

At 11:00AM on September 19, 2017, the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the nation as a whole took a few moments to sound its earthquake alarms as a test run for city residents to practice precautions, and as a memorial to the many, many thousands of people who lost their lives in Mexico City that day so long ago.  The earthquake alarm is arguably the most shocking sound in this city where I live.  There are 8000 alarm speakers set up, one in every neighborhood; one of them is just on the corner, only one door from my apartment building.  The horrible and unmistakeable sound–alerta sísmica alerta sísmica alerta sísmica, accompanied by unspeakable sirens–comes directly into my home office window.  As 11:00AM approached, I steeled myself and warned the cats; the alarm went off as scheduled, stopped within a minute or so, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.



Two hours and fourteen minutes later, all hell broke loose.  A massive earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale, shallow and with a nearby epicenter, crashed into Mexico City with no warning.  Due to its proximity, there was no time to sound the alarm until the quake had already started.  As is usually the case, the neighborhood where I live and the neighborhood nearest me were hardest hit.  There are geological reasons for that, but no need to elaborate on those now.  Parts of the whole city sustained serious damage; at last count, about 50 buildings collapsed, thousands more are in danger of collapsing, more than 400 people lost their lives, and thousands more are seriously injured.



On September 24, a young Mexico City woman whom I do not know used social media to express her thoughts, feelings, and experiences as she volunteered with an earthquake relief effort day.  I contacted her and asked her permission to translate her writing into English and publish it here.  She calls herself “Al” and she asked that I not publish a photograph of her.  She says she’s not a writer, although in my opinion she most definitely is.
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“Yesterday I spent six hours helping at Ground Zero on Calle Escocia, in the Del Valle neighborhood of Mexico City. I had stayed overnight at my parents’ home, and got up at 6:30AM. My mother made breakfast for me while I was getting ready, and then I lined up to go to the place where volunteers were to gather.



Those in charge explained to us that we women were to pass empty buckets to the Mexican army, who were going to fill them with rubble and then pass them to two lines of men who were behind us, pressed up against the walls. The army was to move any metal, glass, furniture, and other more dangerous objects. They knew how inexperienced most of us volunteers were and they didn’t want us to run any risks.



In order for us to go in, they gave us equipment—helmet, gloves, vest, and face masks. They used permanent markers to write our name, a contact number, and blood type on our arms. They vaccinated us against tetanus.

And then we went into Ground Zero in silence, our cellular phones turned off. Right after a 45 minute delay due to the scare of the second earthquake [Saturday 23 September, a 6.2 aftershock from the earthquake on September 7, 2017], the army immediately put us to work. We had to wait while Civil Defense made sure that it was safe to go into the building.



My eyes could not believe what they were seeing: I had never seen a collapsed building, never thought how a structure so strong and solid could become a mountain of rubble and memories. The “line of life”, as we called it, began its work, and we put thinking aside in order to be able do our job.



While we were actively working, other volunteers continuously offered us donated water, electrolytes, candies, tamales, and hard-boiled eggs. We volunteers preferred not to eat; we just took candies and left the food for the army and the engineers. Doctors came through continuously, asking if we were feeling all right, putting drops in our eyes, and helping people out of the building if they looked over-tired.



Passing buckets, even the big paint-bucket size ones we had, seems simple, but after an hour I felt blisters on my hands and cramps in my shoulders. I knew I was not the only one tired when buckets began to drop from the hands of other volunteers. Some shouted, “Be careful! Those could break!” The men tried to make us feel better, saying we were doing great work.



Meanwhile, we tried to concentrate so as not to delay the work as we watched pieces of other people’s lives go by: shoes, photographs, chairs, clothing, blankets, pictures from their walls. Objects that they surely obtained from their own efforts and dedication, and now they are nothing. A wheelbarrow, thrown aside by the masonry workers who were removing bigger pieces of the wreckage, grabbed my attention. In the wheelbarrow was a set of brand new drinking glasses, still in their wrapped box.



As the women at the head of the ‘line of life’ withdrew, those behind them advanced. I came closer to the head of the line, and suddenly I saw a car among the ruin of the building’s parking garage: a bright-red Nissan Sentra, undamaged. Nevertheless, the garage entrance is blocked, so the car will never get out unharmed.



Nobody is taking selfies, nobody is playing music, no one talks, no one makes jokes or acts lazy. Respect is tangible. The entire area is filled with mourning. Yesterday, workers here rescued a pug dog and a cat, which tells us that there is still the possibility of life among the rubble. If we do our work efficiently, it could make the difference between life and death….”  [Please read the full article HERE — I warn you, there may be tears, but you won’t be sorry!]

What can you do to help?

In Oaxaca city, while nerves remain on edge, life is going on as usual with only a few signs of the recent earthquakes:  Buildings years ago labeled “inmueble en mal estado” (property in a bad state) now sport yellow caution tape, as does Templo De La Virgen De Las Nieves, which has a huge crack along one of the bell towers.  And, on my block, a plywood retaining wall has been erected to contain a wall that collapsed back in 2012.

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Those atrapada (trapped) by the September 7th and September 19th earthquakes have mostly been rescued, though réplicas (aftershocks) continue daily, especially in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region — still in the 4 to 4.5 on the Richter Scale (though not felt in Oaxaca city).   Damnificados (victims) and escombros (debris) are all that remain in the hardest hit areas but tens of thousands of people are being forced to live in the streets.  To add insult to injury, they must cope with torrential downpours and flooding from this very long and destructive rainy season.

Fundraising events are being held and centros de acopio (collection centers) have been set up to gather donations, with countless volunteers traversing damaged and dangerous mountain roads to deliver supplies.  The need is massive!

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Como Ayudar – A large international list of information and links regarding assistance and distribution of goods to help those affected by the most recent earthquakes in Mexico.

How To Help The Earthquake Victims In Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla & Oaxaca – List of organizations collecting monetary donations, compiled by Mexico City based food writer, Nicholas Gilman

In addition, a couple of friends have asked me to publicize small organizations they are working with:

Help to San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, Earthquake Victims – Norma Schaefer, of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, is getting the word out on the earthquake relief efforts of cultural anthropologist Denise Lechner and medical doctor Anja Widman.

SER Mixe – An indigenous organization serving the Mixe people in the Mixe region of Oaxaca; recommended by Margaret Macsems, general manager of Khadi Oaxaca.

*** Words in red type have become hardwired in my brain — new Spanish vocabulary I wish I didn’t have to learn under these circumstances.

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Ayotzinapa, 3 years, no answers

I can’t believe it has been three years since 43 student teachers went missing one night in Iguala, Guerrero.  And, I can’t believe the key questions remain.

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Who is responsible?  What happened that night?  Where are they?  Why are there still no answers?  How can 43 human beings be disappeared so completely?  When will the truth be revealed?

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In the midst of our current tragedies, let us not forget the 43 normalistas from Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

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Three years without answers must seem like an eternity to their families….

Surfin’ safari

Here in Oaxaca we continue surfing the temblors and tormentas…

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Calle de Ignacio Allende at the corner of Tinoco y Palacios

Torrential downpours and flooding have returned.  Aftershocks from the September 7 earthquake continue.  But, aside from difficulty navigating the flooding and potholes, suffering from frayed nerves, and being worried sick about friends and family in the critically affected areas of central and southern Mexico, we are okay in the city and surrounding villages.

Re geography:  Oaxaca is the name of both a state and its capital city.  The epicenter of the September 7th earthquake in Oaxaca was in the southeast part of the state — as the crow flies, it is almost 150 miles and through the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range from Oaxaca city.   To see where Oaxaca’s earthquakes are happening, check out Earthquake Track.

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Living in earthquake country

I’m a California girl.  I grew up in earthquake country —  the San Francisco Bay Area to be exact.  I was raised on my grandparents’ stories of the day the Earth Shook, The Sky Burned in San Francisco on April 18, 1906.  A favorite was of my 8-year old grandmother bringing jugs of water to refugees, whose homes had either collapsed from the violent shaking or burned in the fires that broke out.  They were camped out under tents and tarps in the Masonic Cemetery, where her stepfather was the manager — and the thought of the living, living with the dead was captivating to my 8-year old self.  Perhaps another reason why Oaxaca feels like home.

The first earthquake I remember was in first grade.  I gripped my desk, as it rocked back and forth and watched, wide-eyed, as the massive row of windows that lined one wall of my classroom moved in and out, distorting the trees and pink house across the street.  I’m not sure if we were directed to get under our desks, but I do remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Chase (one of the best teachers ever!), in her comforting, calm, and very competent way, conveying a sense of safety.  Our 1938 wood-frame house, on the side of Mt. Tamalpais was fine, save for several cracks in the lath and plaster walls.  Years later, I learned that it was built on bedrock — a good thing!

Several more earthquakes ensued as I grew up and raised my family in the Bay Area — and I learned to be prepared.  We kept earthquake supplies in the basement — enough water and food to last three days, flashlights, battery-powered radio, etc.  My car was always stocked with bottles of water and protein bars, a sleeping bag and flashlight, sweatshirt and old gym shoes, and a first aid kit.  Luckily, we didn’t have to use any of them following the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.   However, our eyes were glued to the television.  Before the earthquake hit, we had been about to gather in the living room to watch the “Bay Bridge” World Series — the San Francisco Giants versus their across the San Francisco Bay rivals, the Oakland Athletics.  Instead, we watched part of the Bay Bridge collapse and houses built on landfill in the Marina of San Francisco collapse and then burn due to ruptured gas lines.  We were fine, but nerves were shattered and for days after, every aftershock had me ready to bolt.

During my first visit to Oaxaca in 2007, I awoke to an earthquake — that dreaded, but familiar, feeling flooded my body but it was small and all was okay.  Thankfully, I was in the USA for the 8.2 earthquake that devastated parts of the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas almost two weeks ago.  However, I have experienced several smaller ones since moving here, including the March 20, 2012, 7.4 earthquake.  Walking up Macedonio Alcalá, I didn’t feel that one, but heard windows rattle and people cry, “terremoto” as they streamed out into the street.  There have been many aftershocks from the Sept. 7th earthquake since I’ve been back, a couple at 5.6 on the Richter scale, but I haven’t felt them either.  Giving thanks to Roberta French and her degree in structural engineering from MIT for building such a sturdy, well designed apartment complex on bedrock!

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It was the same yesterday.  Blogger buddy Chris and I were walking up the Alcalá on our way to Las Quince Letras for the traditional Mes de la Patria (celebrating independence from Spain) dish, chiles en nogada.  We were talking — catching up after my six-week trip.  As we turned onto Abasolo, we noticed cars stopped at all intersections and people milling around on the streets.  A blockade was our first thought.  After all, this is Oaxaca!  We soon discovered, it was a 7.1 earthquake (epicenter near the Puebla/Morelos border) that brought traffic to a halt and people out of buildings.  This latest earthquake has taken lives (currently more than 200 people, in 6 states) and destroyed buildings, especially in Mexico City — but we didn’t feel a thing!  Apparently, the shaking was felt all over Oaxaca city, just not by us walking along the cantera (stone) roadbed of the Alcalá.  I spent the rest of yesterday afternoon and evening glued to the news out of Mexico City — and I continue watching and reading in horror as the destruction unfolds.

I’m fine, my friends in Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Chiapas are fine, my apartment is fine.  So, why am I writing this?  A catharsis, perhaps….  But also to say to those who are new to or have no experience with the earth violently shaking:  You never get used to it — you never take it in stride, as you never know when that stride will be broken as the ground begins shifting beneath your feet.  And, you always anticipate — it’s one of the reasons, I keep my cell phone and keys with an emergency buzzer in my pocket and a bottle of water and a protein bar in my purse.  In addition, like hurricanes, people and their governments must pay close attention to, and strictly regulate, where and how buildings are constructed — greed and corruption should not trump lives — and a priority should be placed on early warning systems in earthquake countries around the world.

To satisfy my inner-librarian, I recommend to you a few articles to begin to understand the whys and hows:

 

 

Oaxaca pride

A skein of yarn waiting to be woven…

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Agave blossoms reaching for the sky…

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Ceramic sculpture of a Tehuana by Fran Garcia Vásquez.

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Ooops, a broken arm!  It seems appropriate that my only casualty from the 8.2 earthquake depicts a woman from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec — the region where some of the most severe damage in the state of Oaxaca occurred.  However, like the people she represents, she is strong, proud, and healing will happen.

If you want to help the victims of the September 7 earthquake, please see my previous post.  If you do, reward yourself by watching last night’s benefit at the Guelaguetza Auditorium, Oaxaca Corazón.  And, if you don’t, perhaps this spectacular concert will encourage you to donate to earthquake relief.

This all-star event, organized in less than a week by Lila Downs and Susana Harp, will have tears falling — I guarantee it!

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Earthquake help needed

Late on the night of September 7, 2017, in the mountains of Telluride, Colorado, my phone dinged — a message from a friend in Oaxaca concerned about my 91 year old neighbor.  That was my first news of the largest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century last week.  Needless to say, I spent half the night monitoring news sites, emailing, messaging, and checking status updates by friends and neighbors on Facebook.  Thankfully, all friends and neighbors came away relatively unscathed — save for severely frayed nerves.

The epicenter of the 8.1 (8.2 according to Mexican authorities) earthquake was off the coast of Chiapas.  Given its geography, the state of Oaxaca has been hard hit.  The red bullets on the map below show some of areas in the state most severely affected.

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As of yesterday, the death toll was up to 91.  According to reports from Oaxaca’s governor, more than 800,000 people in the state potentially lost everything and in Juchitán de Zaragoza, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, 5,000 homes were destroyed.  The earthquake also devastated the mountain communities of the Mixe.

Oaxaca and Chiapas are two of the poorest states in Mexico and help is urgently needed.  Maestro Francisco Toledo, who is from Juchitán, is collecting funds through his non-profit, Amigos del Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca y del Centro Fotográfico.  For details see below:

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Oaxaca earthquake relief is also being solicited by the following organizations and individuals:

CADENA (Comite de Ayuda a Desastres y Emergencias Nacionales A.C.)
BANAMEX
Sucursal: 7009
CUENTA: 189458
CLABE: 002180700901894588
https://cadena.ngo/dona

The Harp Helu Foundation will match 1 X 1 for any contributions directly to:
Citibanamex
Cuenta 23, Sucursal 100
CLABE: 002 180 010 000 000 235
Formento Social Banamex, A.C.

The government agency, DIF Oaxaca is taking donations:
• Voluntariado DIF Oaxaca, Avenida Juarez 914, Col. Centro
• Hangar del Gobierno de Oaxaca, Aeropuerto Internacional, Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan
• Gimnasio Ricardo Flores Magon, Derechos Humanos s/n Col. America Sur
• Oficianas Centrales DIF Oaxaca, Vicente Guerrero 114, Col. Miguel Aleman

Casa de Esperanza House of Hope Anabaptist Community Church is receiving donations in any form (groceries, baby food, money, etc.) to be sent to the coast where many have lost their homes or family members. Please bring your donations to: Casa de Esperanza— Camino Nacional 929-3 Ixcotel Oaxaca Oax Te l 9 5 1 1 7 6 3 1 5 3

Omar Alonso of Oaxacking has set up a YouCaring crowd funding site to aid in relief efforts in Juchitan.

Flor Cervantes, who founded, Mujeres de 8 de Marzo in Juchitan, is collecting funds for the refuge.  For more information call her in Oaxaca at:  951 125 02 48

And, the Oaxaca Lending Library is working on collecting and sending supplies and money to the areas in Oaxaca most affected.

If you aren’t dealing with hurricanes Harvey and Irma destruction, PLEASE HELP Oaxaca!!!

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Swimming upstream

Oaxaca continues to be inundated with rain.  I’m in Colorado now (inhaling smoke from fires throughout the west), but friends in Oaxaca are describing flooding, leaking roofs, water coming through windows and doors, and rain without end. Today’s news is reporting more than 13 communities are incommunicado and that urban development is a major cause of flooding by the Atoyac River that runs through the valley of Oaxaca.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the builders of Monte Albán, where the Pre-Hispanic drainage works better than current systems.

Still life in yarn

Wool was brought to Teotitlán del Valle in the 16th century…

Spun into yarn…

Dyed with natural dyes…

In the 20th century, less labor intensive aniline dyes were introduced…

However, now many weavers are returning to their roots — harvesting and using natural dyes.

The history, culture, and art that is yarn is alive and well and living in Teotitlán del Valle.

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Nature’s balance

In June, I finally had a chance to meet fiber artist, Carolyn Smythe Kallenborn.  In 2012, I’d been captivated by and wrote a small blog post about her “Tormentos y Sueños” exhibition at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  So, I was thrilled to meet her at the Weave a Real Peace (WARP) annual meeting held this year in Oaxaca.  We chatted a couple of times during the conference, but it was the final evening, as many of us were standing in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the business meeting to begin, that Carolyn provided us with a real treat — renown weaver Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, from Teotitlán del Valle, delivered a tapete that was to be used in a collaborative work with Carolyn.

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We were all in awe as he unrolled his creation for us to behold.  ¡Espectacular! was the response from all.  Then Carolyn began describing how she would use mixed media to embellish this woven illustration of the balance of Mother Earth.  However, aside from a hazy picture in my mind, I really had no idea what the finished work would look like.  Then synchronicity came to pass… an announcement that the fruit of their collaboration, Equilibrio/Balance, had won the Surface Design Association, Award of Excellence at the International Fiber Arts VIII exhibition at the San Francisco Bay Area’s Sebastopol Center for the Arts.  And, best of all for me, the show coincided with my Bay Area visit.  Without much difficulty, I managed to persuade B (of Week in Oaxaca fame), who had fallen in love with the tapetes of Teotitlán AND lives in Sebastopol, to accompany me to the exhibition a few days ago.

 

Equilibrio/Balance traces cycles of nature: water through earth and sky; elements of previous life, feeding new growth; and the conversation between the mountains and the universe above.  — object label

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This is one of seventy pieces in this International Fiber Arts show.  Like Equilibrio/Balance, most of the works are not only visually stunning, but also have much to say about our world and contemporary life.  If you are in the Bay Area and love textiles, I highly recommend making your way to the Sebastopol Arts Center by September 3, when the show closes.

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Gift of chocolate…

As I’ve previously mentioned, my grandson loves skeletons and skulls AND he also loves Oaxacan chocolate.  Recipe for the perfect gift to take to him:  Go to my favorite chocolateria, Conchita (local # 210) inside Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

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Take 1 kilogram of chocolate beans, add 1 kilogram of sugar and 25 grams of cinnamon sticks, and mill in the Mexicano embalado.

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Bring home a plastic bag full of warm chocolate, spread out on a cookie sheet, let cool, then cut and stamp.

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A recipe for the perfect gift to bring to my Day of the Dead loving, chocoholic grandson.

Week in Oaxaca – Day 6

Sunday was the last day of B’s Week in Oaxaca and he had some last-minute shopping to do.  Family back home had requested a stack of tlayudas (also spelled, clayudas), the 12″ diameter handmade and dried tortillas, and quesillo, Oaxacan string cheese.  The closest mercado to B’s hotel was Mercado de la Merced.  It’s one of the best in Oaxaca city — selling fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and dried chiles, healing herbs and incense, meats and poultry, breads and cheeses, baskets and oil cloth, housing juice bars and small restaurants (like the well-known Fonda Florecita), and more — almost everything one could ever need.  These mercados make shopping social and fun — way more enjoyable than impersonal supermarkets and shopping malls.

After purchasing the requested items and wandering up and down the maze of aisles, we returned to B’s hotel to off-load the cheese (hotel’s refrigerator) and tlayudas (spread out on the bed to dry).  Our appetites having been stimulated, we walked across the city to the off-the-beaten-path location of Criollo, the year-old creation of Chef Enrique Olvera (Pujol in Mexico City, Cosme in New York), Chef Luis Arellano (originally from the Cañana region of Oaxaca), and architect Javier Sánchez.

It was a good thing we were famished, as the 7-course tasting menu was more than enough.  However, each plate brought such deliciousness, we happily continued on.  And, the setting?  While on an extremely busy street, once one steps inside this modern take on the traditional colonial courtyard, a sense of peace takes over.  Sated, we wandered to their orchard at the back of the restaurant, where we were warmly greeted and offered a cup of poleo tea brewed in the outdoor kitchen set in the orchard.  Our hostess explained this kitchen allows for the traditional preparation of some of the menu items.  In addition, she pointed to another building that she explained was going to be a culinary bed and breakfast.

By the time we left Criollo, it was late afternoon.  Before B returned to his hotel and I to my apartment, we marveled at what a full, delicious, and delightful six days it had been.

Just a note:  A week isn’t nearly enough time to experience all that Oaxaca city and surrounding villages have to offer.  We never made it to the Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Hierve el Agua, Centro de las Artes de San Agustín (CASA), the alebrije pueblos of San Martín Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola, San Bartolo Coyotepec for their black pottery and Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca (State Museum of Folk Art (MEAPO), Santa María Atzompa for green pottery and the archaeological site, the Pueblos Mancomunados of the Sierra Norte, and then there are the mezcal palenques in the valley of Oaxaca.  I guess B will just have to come back!

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Week in Oaxaca – Day 5

Our first stop on day five of B’s Week in Oaxaca was the Palacio de Gobierno to see the magnificent Mural of Oaxaca history.  Ooops!  I had forgotten that the Government Palace was now closed to the public.  However, a polite appeal to see the mural, addressed to one of the guards by a couple of tourists (okay, one tourist and one resident), resulted in the guard receiving permission from a superior to let us in.  We were instructed, mural only!  We obeyed, walking only half-way up the grand staircase to take in the entire work of art.  I love this mural by Arturo García Bustos and hope the palacio will again be opened to the public.

Once we had finished marveling at the Bustos history of Oaxaca, we walked up the Macedonio Alcalá to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO) to check out the Espejos de Cal mural being painted in the courtyard by Jesús González.  Engrossed in watching the mural unfold and fascinated in the technique explained by the artist’s Russian assistant, we never made it inside this treasure of a museum.  Next time!

We strolled further up the Alcalá to the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), founded in 1988 by renown artist, philanthropist, and social activist, Francisco Toledo.  First we wandered through the exhibition rooms and then into the impressive library.  The 60,000+ books on art, architecture, design, photography, and much more is one of the most extensive arts-related collections in Latin America.  A photography professor friend raved to me about finding a book at IAGO that he had been searching for and B (the architect) was ooh-ing and ahh-ing at titles he eyed — and pulled a few off the shelves to leaf through.  IAGO also hosts lectures, conferences, musical performances, workshops, poetry readings, and film showings.

Needless to say, by the time we finally left, we were hungry.  Lucky for us, the acclaimed restaurant Pitiona was only a block away.  Born in Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca, Chef José Manuel Baños spent time in Spain under the tutelage of innovative chefs Feran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak.  However, as the name Pitiona (a native herb frequently used in Oaxacan cooking) suggests, the starting point for Baños is local ingredients.  The simple elegance of the old colonial building and attention to detail in table settings, service, and especially food, made for a sublime interlude in the day’s activities.

We descended the stairs of Pitiona to the sound of music coming from the atrium of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán.  It was Saturday and that means wedding day at Santo Domingo – each featuring a band, folkloric dancers, marmotas (giant cloth balloons), bride and groom monos (giant puppets), a wedding procession down the Alcalá, and scores of tourists and locals stopping to watch — which we did, too!

Our final stop was at the photography museum Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo, another brainchild of Francisco Toledo.  The museum has over 18,000 photographs in its permanent collection, including by its namesake Manuel Álvarez Bravo, his first wife Lola Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tina Modotti, Guillermo Kahlo (yes, Frida Kahlo’s father), and Mary Ellen Mark.  Works from the collection and by photographers from all over the world are exhibited in galleries surrounding a beautiful courtyard featuring a reflecting pool.

However, that wasn’t the end.  After a siesta, we gathered with eight other diners for a Waje pop-up dinner.  The June menu was an homage to mole and the setting was at the restaurant Mezquite Gastronomia Y Destilado where Waje chef, José Daniel Delgado is the new chef.  As always, José Daniel and his Waje team provided a creative, delicious, and delightful evening.  An added bonus was being seated across from Jason Cox, co-owner and mezcal steward of El Destilado — a restaurant I definitely need to try.

Only one day left in B’s Week in Oaxaca.  Where to go?  What to do?  Stay tuned!

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