Thursday, December 31, 2009

One More on Mexico

It’s the last day of the year and I feel compelled to write one last post about Oaxaca. I only showed examples of the radish displays at the Noche de los Rabanos in my last post but have to give tribute to the dried flower and corn husk creations as well. They were even more intricate than the radishes and the detail on the cornhusks was phenomenal, they also dyed them to add more color, though the natural and purple were some of my favorites.


Some of the displays had well over 100 different detailed characters shaped from dried corn husks.

The day of the dead theme is apparent in these finely cut characters.

How about this 300 piece band?

Each player done in minute detail

From dried flowers, here is Christ with his cross and I assume Mary Magdalene.

And a nativity scene with animals, all formed with strawflowers.

My last real day and night out, which was Wednesday the 23rd, was a classic schizophrenic Oaxaca experience. I visited the Rufino Tamayo museum of pre-Columbian art, a fine collection of pottery and other carvings from the Olmecs, Toltecs and Zapotec civilizations. I visited the Church of the Virgin of the Soledad, patron saint of Oaxaca, spent a couple of hours touring through the radish festival, and a couple more sitting on the zocalo drinking beer and watching the scene unfold. Then I went to the Museum of Oaxacan painters, a small but interesting exhibit of modern Oaxacan art, attended a performance of Balinese dance offered in the same museum. After that I headed over to the classical Macedonia Alcala theater, built in the 1850’s, where I checked out a fine orchestra performance. Then back out onto the street to see the lines of folks still waiting to view the radish displays and catch the firework show.

It was no wonder my head was spinning as I walked home that night but it turned out I was being hit with food poisoning, which was retched, but think I did pretty well to make it 24 days in Mexico before it struck. It wasn’t turista or montezuma’s revenge, but plain and clear I had eaten something bad that my body wanted out, via any opening as fast as possible. I spent the next couple of days recovering and then it was time to come home.

Naturally I picked up a cold in the airport so have now been spending my first few days home convalescing, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for so much travel and adventure packed into a months time.

I’ll close by saying that my trip to Oaxaca was all I had hoped for and more. My Spanish improved a great deal, I made some great new friends, saw beautiful natural places in Mexico and also enjoyed the cultural offerings of the city immensely.  I hope to keep my Spanish fresh as I move through 2010.  Happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Home!


I got back stateside late Saturday afternoon.  Very glad to be back home and to see my babe after a month apart, the longest separation between us in more than 20 years!  Even though I'm home, I've got to deliver at least one more post about Oaxaca. The Noche de los Rabanos, or night of the radishes, was one of the main reasons I went to Oaxaca.


The festival takes place on December 23rd and is sacred and profane.  Display tables are set-up around the entire edge of the zocalo, or town square, and groups from all over the Valley of Oaxaca create and display scenes made completely with cut and carved radishes!  The festival originated in the late 1800's when farmers began growing many European vegetables introduced by the Spanish, including radishes.  Mexicans didn't seem to like the flavor of the radishes much and they weren't selling so the vendors starting carving them to decorate their market tables at special markets held before the holidays.  The idea caught on and now the state actually sponsors the growing of giant radishes and encourages participation in the event, grand prize is $3,000 pesos or about $250 USD.  Much pride goes into these works of art.

Some are elaborate displays with dozens of finely carved characters depicting various scenes from Mexican history or culture.

Detail from above


Creative use of the natural form of the radish is part of the artistry.


Religious scenes and themes are a major topic area.


As are less sacred scenes, like surfing.


And all important eating!
I took more than 200 pictures at this event, may try to post a few elsewhere, the computer is being slow today in uploading.  The event also includes figures and displays made from dried flowers and also from dried and dyed corn husks, I'll post a few of those tomorrow perhaps.  This is a super tourism event for Oaxaca as well, the square was packed with people from 3:00 in the afernoon until midnight with a line of people stretching for blocks, waiting to make the circuit to view close to 200 displays.

Oaxaca was an amazing adventure but I'm glad to be home, thanks to all of you who've been following my escapades.
Feliz Navidad- Maria

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Investours- Microfinance Program

On Friday I went on a very special tour sponsored by the school. They have started a microfinance effort called Investours, working in the village of Teotilan del Valle, long famous for weaving, especially of wool rugs, colored with natural dyes. The program provides micro loans of 1200 pesos, about $100 USD to women who are trying to establish a new businesses or expand existing ones. Tour groups are taken to the village to meet with the woman and hear their business plans. Each group of applicants includes three woman who apply as a unit, not in the same business but more as a support system for one another to encourage repayment of the loans, and success in their efforts.


Each participant on the tour contributes $50 and at the end of the day, the tour group must decide which group of three women will receive the loans. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how people are living out in the pueblo, which is still extremely simple and traditional, limited water, scruffy dirt yards, filled with chickens and the acrid smells of animals close by. Piles of corn and squash were drying in the sun, fences made of rusty wire bed springs, everything being utilized to its fullest.

Our first group included two women who had market stalls selling fruits and vegetables and who wanted the loans to buy more produce to fill their stands, offering greater variety and improving the look of their tables.

The third woman in this group was working with her son who was extremely enthusiastic about sustainable agriculture and permaculture. He was in the process of transforming their rocky courtyard into an inter-connected system of plants, animals and aquaculture. Their proposal was to sell organic honey, coffee, and amaranth.

Our second group included a mother who was making tortillas in this tiny tin shack.

She wanted to buy a second comal and more fire wood in order to double her production. I fell in love with her instantly for her beaming smile.

Her daughter is a weaver and selling to the US, she needs money to buy more wool to fill her existing orders.


The third woman in the group is also a weaver and also needs to buy more yarn. She was very thrifty, using the scraps she cut from the arm holes of vests to sew small purses, wasting nothing.

Our tour group decided to award the loans to the second group of three as they seemed a bit more ready and in need of supplies to expand already growing businesses. It was really enlightening and felt great to see where our money was going, without much overhead. We were able to ask questions and see how much hard work goes into the textiles which are sold quite cheaply (about 400 pesos for a 2x3 foot rug) considering the amount they must pay for materials (about 200 pesos) and the time it takes to weave each one (6 hours).  These ladies are industrious and working hard to improve their lives, their marketing and their merchandise.  If you visit Oaxaca you should take advantage of this unique experience.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Museums and Textiles

Oaxaca is famous for its textiles, especially rugs and other items like bags and scarves woven from wool, died with natural colors in the small pueblos surrounding the city in the Valley of Oaxaca. I have been busy looking and buying those that catch my eye in the many shops and street stalls around the city.


Yesterday I visited the Textile Museum and there was an amazing exhibit of Guatemalan weavings and huipiles, or traditional shirts, that are worn by the indigenous people of Guatemala. Each pueblo or region has there own specific style that let’s anyone they meet know where they are from. I fell in love with these clothes when I visited Guatemala 15 years ago with my father and really enjoyed seeing so many excellent examples of the work here.

Many of the figures represent the religion of the Maya, with animals like the eagle and jaguar seen frequently embroidered or woven into the cloth.

At the Palacio there are murals covering one entire wall that show the history of Oaxaca, this one has Benito Juarez, their native son, front and center. He rose from poverty to become the President in 1858, representing the indigenous peoples for the first time in Mexican history, many things here are named after him.

In the Museum of Santo Domingo I encountered a large exhibit of puppets that were all extremely playful, colorful, fun.

Also a number of embroidered textiles representing stained glass windows, intricate stitches in infinite colors make the pieces appear as if they were truly glass.

I’m off today to visit the main market which I’ve yet to see and probably buy some more stuff, I’ve got to stop soon as my bags are only so big!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mi Escuela en Oaxaca

I’ve not written yet about my school and now that I’m finished I guess its time. Its been two solid weeks of very good Spanish education at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. The campus is a former hacienda on the edge of the historic district, surrounded by a high wall and with tranquil courtyards and fountains that lend a peaceful air to the busy city that is just outside.



My days were filled with lessons, 7 hours of study, reading, conversing and listening in Spanish. I feel my vocabulary has expanded alog with my comprehension and speaking. I am practicing now my new knowledge of verb forms and tenses that up to now I had only read about but wasn’t really able to put into action. So its been good. But I’m glad now to have a week of free time to see and do more things I the city before I return home on Saturday. The time has flown by for sure.

This is my teacher Paty, offering me a chocolate donut. She was very patient and also offered correction continuously in a gentle manner. I am grateful to her.


This is Luis, my intercambio. A bright, 20 year old medical student, who met with me for an hour almost everyday of school and we spent half the time practicing my Spanish and half the time practicing his English. I really enjoyed him. To his left is the pinata I made with Paty in my customs of the Navidad class. Later that night I watched it get smashed by a bunch of excited children. It was worth all the work (6 hours over 3 days) to see them having so much fun!

Happy Winter Solstice!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nascimientos de Oaxaca

Today’s post is about nascimientos, an interesting word that refers both to the nativity scenes set up all over Mexico for the Christmas holiday but also is the word for a spring. Today I visited a phenomenal place called Hierve al Agua which is a natural spring that has generated a tremendous petrified waterfall. Despite the name hierve which means boil, it is not hot but rather chilly at 75 degrees. The name comes from the fact that the water boils up out of a small hole in the stone and seeps slowly down the mountain creating these incredible formations.

Here I am with me amiga Susan, from Australia, enjoying the medicinal waters that are salty and I think loaded with soda . Check out the view from this pool!


All these cool formations are created below the wall that was built to form the pool and flowing down to the giant cascade seen in the first photo.

Nascimientos are an interesting phenomena as well and can be seen in restaurants, parks and homes. The baby Jesus is often the same size or larger than Mary and Joseph and other figures in the arrangements include the 3 wise men, shepherds, animals and various other folk come to worship the baby J. I’ve got a thing for these! There is currently an exhibit in one of the museums of about 40 nascimientos created as part of a competition for which prizes were awarded, this was one of my favorites, made up entirely of little clay animals.

This is the one we created at my school as part of my holiday customs class.


This one is at the entrance to a bookstore and appears to have famous figures of Oaxaca.


And this is part of a really huge one that you can walk through the middle of down at the Zocalo.

Tomorrow I'm planning a day of rest having been ripping and running nonstop!  Hasta Leugo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mi Casa en Oaxaca



I have yet to write about my casa here in Oaxaca. I am staying with this fabulous couple named Hermann and Layla. They have been marvelous hosts and I immediately felt welcome and at home with them even though we had never met. They are muy simpatico and have helped me find my way around and we spend evenings on the terrace talking and drinking beer. In fact I am now in a cafĂ© with Hermann sharing a beer and he is patiently waiting for me while I write this post. They’ve taken me to dinner twice and out to Tule to see the big tree. I will be spending Christmas with them and their daughter, son-in-law and grand daughter, it promises to be a big time.

My room is very comfortable with a desk to study at, a sofa to relax on, and a big bathroom all to myself.

My private quarters are separated from the main house by a lovely terrace with tropical flowers, visited regularly by hummingbirds.


There is another terrace above my room from which I bird watch in the morning and I got up early today to catch this sunrise.

Many thanks to my friend Nancy for setting me up in this perfect place!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ancient Plants



With this post I give a shout out to mis amigos at Camellia Forest. The first amazing plant is the Tule tree, estimated to be 2000 years old and claimed to be the largest tree in the world. Taxodium mucronatum, common name, Ahuehuete or Sabino, I call it down right incredible.


Tough to get a picture of the whole thing its so huge, it towers over a precious little church in the center of the town of Tule, surrounded by meticulously manicured gardens and lawns complete with topiary squirrels, chickens and rabbits.


Many different animals are spotted in the gnarls and whorls of the massive trunk, in this one I see two different lions heads.

Next stop the Ethno-botanical Garden in the city, only 10 years old, it was created on the grounds of a former convent and contains only plants endemic to Oaxaca. Everything was moved here just 10 years ago and that in itself is kind of unbelievable. This cactus is called bisnaga and is 1000 years old, many of the plants including this one, were dug from an area where a highway was being built and were saved and brought to the garden. It‘s hard to image not being traumatized by being moved from your original home of 1990 years but it seems to be surviving.

I’m going to have to return to this fascinating garden as I went on the Spanish tour and it was getting dark, so I couldn’t take as many pictures as I wanted and missed too much of the explanation, you can only enter on a guided tour so I’ll be laying down another 100 pesos to absorb more of these native Oaxacan plants.

Until next time, I'll be getting back to my tequila.  Buenas Noches de Oaxaca

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Night in Oaxaca

On Saturday night I walked downtown to the Zocalo to see what was shaking.  En todos los lados-on every side-there was something going on.  First I encountered a group of young people playing/practicing capoiera, the Brazilian martial art/dance.


As I sat in a cafe blogging, a procession in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe passed with a marching band that then stopped in the sidewalk and played for about 30 minutes.


I walked on over to the Church of Santo Domingo where another procession was forming called a Calinda, this one was special as part of a wedding that was going on in the church but I didn't realize that, so I joined in with the wedding party processing down the street behind the dancers, asking "Why is everyone wearing such fancy clothes"  the women in evening gowns and high heels tripping along the cobblestones, the men in fine suits.  The Calinda included giant puppets called "monos", dancers with baskets of flowers on their heads, giant white fabric globes and paper stars with candles inside.




I stopped at the Zocalo again and checked out this band of musicians who were playing to a crowded audience sitting in folding chairs. 

Onward I stopped in at the Feria de la Virgen, just like any fair stateside, there were trinkets for sale, various games with stuffed animals as prizes, lots of comida stalls and rides like this dragon roller coaster, with children screaming and laughing all around.

And heading home, cahuetes- fireworks- always cahuetes aqui en Oaxaca!  What a night.