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Posts Tagged ‘popular travel destinations’

On Sunday in San Juan Guelavía for the Feria del Carrizo in the municipal plaza, the sounds of a procession drew me next door to the church.

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A procession!  I’m not sure if the occasion had anything to to with patron saint, San Juan Bautista.  However, what I do know is that I love being surprised and delighted by Oaxaca — a place I am proud to now call home.

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Yesterday took us to San Juan Guelavía for the eighth annual Feria del Carrizo.  I missed it last year (I was up in el norte) and it was good to be back.  The feria just keeps getting bigger and better and its continued success is good news for the community.  And, I got to reconnect with Teresa Hipolito who wove two lampshades for me in 2015!

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Because plastic baskets have gained popularity as the shopping basket of choice, the village saw a severe decline in the demand for their handcrafted baskets made from carrizo (Arundo donax, Spanish cane, Giant cane, Wild Cane, and Colorado River weed) — a tall perennial cane that grows along river banks in Oaxaca.

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Baskets woven from carrizo have been used as carriers and storage bins since before the Spanish set foot on the soil that became Mexico.  Thus, San Juan Guelavía decided to hold a fair to help rescue the craft of weaving their beautiful and traditionally utilitarian creations from carrizo and give a much-needed boost to the economy.

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Besides baskets and bird cages, the artisans have branched out to weaving lampshades, decorative bottle covers (they make great gifts, especially when filled with mezcal), fashioning toys, earrings, and much more.

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As with most ferias and special events in Oaxaca, there was music, folkloric dance groups from schools in the area, craft vendors from nearby villages, mouthwatering food…

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… and absolutely adorable children.

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In a village of about three thousand, there are currently about thirty families who work with carrizo — that’s a large percentage of the population!  And, the very good news is that the skills and pride are being passed down to the younger generation.

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The fair is held the last Sunday of January and the first Sunday of February.  If you missed it yesterday, it is definitely worth a visit next Sunday — perhaps on your way to or from Tlacolula’s weekly market.  San Juan Guelavía is about 40 minutes east of the city.  By the way, there are a couple of workshops along the road that leads into town that are also worth a stop.

(ps)  For more cute kids photos from the feria, see Oaxaca-The Year After.

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If it’s Saturday, it must be wedding day in Oaxaca.

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They are scheduled one right after another at several of the churches, especially those on Macedonio Alcalá (the walking street).

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As a result, there is a lot of waiting by the wedding parties, bands, and monos.

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All dressed up with someplace to go!

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How lucky can a gal get?

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On day five back in Oaxaca, a last-minute invitation found me venturing behind an unassuming red iron door at Libertad 24, San Antonino Castillo Velasco and being greeted by welcoming figures of all shapes and sizes gathered throughout a large earthen courtyard.

This is the home and workshop of Grand Maestro, José García Antonio, also known as the blind potter.

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Losing his sight to cataracts, he continues to sculpt sensual and evocative figures from the local barro (clay).

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He was married to his beloved wife, Santa Teresita Mendoza Reyna Sanchez, in 1987.

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Her face and body are etched in his memory and continue to provide a model for many of his female figures.

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The twinkle in those all-seeing sightless eyes and the artistry in those gifted hands give form and life to his creations in clay.

“It would seem that the hearts of the potters of Oaxaca are made of clay. Their emotions, intuitions, joys, fears and fantasies flow through their bloodstream until arriving at the hands which knead the clay and, as if by magic, transform it into exquisite ceramic sculptures.” (quoted from “The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art.”)

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Day one back in Oaxaca…

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Warm sun, blue sky, and rocking horses parked on Calle de Mariano Abasolo.

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Vendor from Puebla with a truck full of dramatic wooden dancing horses from Zacatecas.

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It’s good to be home!

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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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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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Sometimes, the sunset over the Basílica de la Soledad takes my breath away. 

What can I say?  I love the view from Casita Colibrí!

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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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Today, at 3:00 PM in Teotitlán del Valle, as leaves in the mountains and fields rustled, the arrival of the difuntos (departed) was announced with the sound of cohetes (rockets) and church bells.  Incense burners were lit and placed in front of ofrendas in each home’s altar room — the smoke and scent of copal helping to guide the spirits home for their yearly twenty-four hour visit.

Tonight they will feast on tamales amarillos — special tamales that are traditionally served three times a year in Teotitlán — in July for the Fiesta de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, in October for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario, and today, November first, in honor of the returning difuntos.

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As we have done for many years, blogger buddy Chris and I came to the home of Zacarías Ruiz and Emilia Gonzalez with our offering of pan de muertos and a bottle of mezcal to place on their altar — paying our respects to their difuntos.  In turn, we were offered mezcal and cervesas (beer), followed by the aforementioned tamales amarillos.

The tamales were days in the making.  Several of the family’s organic free range chickens were sacrificed; corn from their milpa was nixtamalized to make a silky smooth masa; and the ingredients for mole amarillo were toasted, chopped, blended, and boiled.  The final preparation began at 3:30 this morning — 250 tamales were assembled, filled, and wrapped in fresh green leaves from their milpa and placed in the steaming pots.  The results were to die for!

For me, more than painted faces and parades, this is what makes experiencing Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca so special.

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

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with ladders and paints standing by…

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waiting for their artists to pick up the brush…

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or spray can, as the case may be.

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

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