Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Tripping part 2 - Teotitlan de Valle

Teotitlán del Valle is a traditional rural town that maintains its Zapotec culture. Teotitlán is known for its woven wool rugs and tapetes, especially those which use natural dyes. Two other worthwhile stops include the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo Church and the community museum. Weaving in this village dates back at least until 500 BC. The earliest weavings used cotton and ixtle (fiber from the agave) and utilized the backstrap loom. More modern weaving was introduced here by Dominican bishop Juan López Dezárate around 1535 when the bishop brought sheep and treadle looms to the area. The new materials and looms allowed for weaving large items such as rugs, serapes and blankets.

Today rugs are handcrafted from wool and the designsinclude Zapotec and Mixtec glyphs and fretwork, and more contemporary designs including reproductions of works by famous artists such as Picasso, Joan Miró, Matisse, Diego Rivera or Rufino Tamayo. The process begins with washing the raw wool then it is carded and spun into yarn. The yarn is dyed with natural dyes such as those obtained from the needle bush, indigo, cochineal, pecan, Mexican marigold and others. Some workshops do use chemical dyes. The traditional looms are hand-operated and for large rugs require some strength to operate. Looms are typically two harness and designs are made by interchanging weft threads. The whole process is quite labor intensive. About 150 families are involved in the craft and family workshops employ extended families with children and elders participating in the work. It is possible to stay in Teotitlan and some shops offer classes and week long workshops.

The pictures take you through rug weaving from raw wool to finished product. There are a number of other websites that cover things in more depth.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Day Tripping - Mitla

If you enjoy day trips Oaxaca has many. One of the classics takes in the archaeological site Mitla, the rug weaving town Teotitlan, a giant Montezuma cypress tree in Santa María el Tule, and the market in Tlacolula. Beyond Mitla there is a mineral spring Hierve el Agua. Depending on how much you want to take in and how many you are, there are numerous options to get to these places. El Tule or Tlacolula can be reached by bus or colectivo. Teotitlan the same but with fewer busses running. The bus to Mitla might leave you short of your goal so you’ll get to try a moto taxi. If you want to take in several sites in one day then rent a car or better yet hire a guide to take you around. There’s no better choice than Pablo Gonzalez Marsch.

Enough logistics, let’s talk Mitla. The archeological site is within the modern municipality of San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Mitla was a religious center. The name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl name Mictlán for the place of the dead or underworld. The name was Hispanicized to Mitla. What makes Mitla unique is the intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover tombs, panels, friezes and entire walls. These mosaics are made with finely cut stone pieces which have been fitted together without the use of mortar. No other site in Mexico has this. The title photo of this blog was taken at Mitla and is a good example of the work.
The Oaxaca valley was settled by the Zapotecs, who developed a hierarchical society governed by nobles. By the time of the Spanish conquest, the Zapotec state has a population of over 500,000, sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems and agriculture that included the growing of maize, beans, squash, chili peppers, and used irrigation to grow food for a mostly urban population.
Mitla was inhabited since the Classic Period (100-650 AD) and perhaps as early as 900 BC. It began as a fortified village on the outer edge of the valley and then became the main religious center for the area. The Mixtecs took control of the area around 1000 AD although the area remained populated by the Zapotec. The city reached its height and largest size between 750 and 1521 AD when the Spanish arrived and was still functioning as a religious center. At that time it had both Zapotec and Mixtec influences in its architecture. Mitla represents Mesoamerican attitudes towards death, as the most consequential part of life after birth. It was built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The high priest resided at Mitla, and the Spanish likened him to the pope. Nobles buried at Mitla were destined to become “cloud people” who would intercede on behalf of the population below. As the site held great political and religious significance, Oaxacan Archbishop Albuquerque ordered the destruction, and dismantling of Mitla in 1553. The remains were used as building materials for the Church of San Pablo, which sits on top of part of the ruins. The site represents the most developed architecture of the Zapotecs and is the product of the syncretism of Mixtec and Zapotec design features which reached it height in 1200. This syncretism can also been seen in the San Pedro Church built in the 16th century on top of a large pre-Hispanic platform which serves as the church atrium. It was believed that in this part lived the lord and lady of the underworld, so the church was built here to keep the “devil” from escaping. Also to collect the booty that natives continued to bring to the site as religious offerings. The group also contains the main temple which faces a large courtyard. The walls are covered by intricate mosaic fretwork and murals depicting mythological scenes and characters. There are tombs under some of the buildings. To the south of the church are other structures whose main building is referred to as the palace. As this part was not considered as the central religious site the Catholic Church allowed it to stand. As said before, the main distinguishing feature of Mitla is the intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that adorn the walls. The geometric patterns called grecas in Spanish are made from thousands of cut, polished stones that are fitted together without mortar. The pieces were set against a stucco background painted red. The stones are held in place by the weight of the stones that surround them. Interestingly earthquakes have caused more problems with some of the massive lentils than with the walls of interlocking stones. There is a system of numerology to the designs. For me it is these designs and their construction that hold the interest. When you get to Teotitlan you will see the designs repeated as rug patterns.

For more pictures of Mitla click here or explore the web.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oaxacan Cuisine

The state of Oaxaca is large and mountainous with numerous microclimates. It’s terrain and history have preserved many indigenous ethnicities making for a number of regional variations in the cuisine. Despite the differences there are a number of things everyone makes, just differently

Oaxacan cuisine is most famous for it’s moles. In fact Oaxaca is called “the land of the seven moles,” with six being undisputed; mole negro, colorado, coloradito, verde, amarillo, and chichilo. Some consider the seventh mole, manchamanteles (ortablecloth stainer), a chicken and fruit stew although Oaxaca claims its as a mole. We won’t try to go furthur into moles here but Oaxacan cuisine is more than moles. A short list of specialties would have to also include tejate, atole, memelas, tlayudas, chapulines, huitlacoche, quesillo, tamales, sopa de frijol negro, sopa de flor de calabaza, mezcal, agua de jamaica, tuna, zapote negro, chico zapote, tejocotes, chocolate, guanabana, escabeche, gusanos de maguey, pulque, hoja santa, chepil, … opps not such a short list after all.

Taking a cooking class is one way to introduce yourself to all this. Oaxaca has more different options than one would want to list. Although the steps and order to preparing some dishes can be a bit different than other cuisines the basics remain constant. The biggest differences come from the different ingredients. Knowing and understanding them remains fundamental. So first you need to get introduced which means a trip to the market. Any good cooking class needs a market tour with tastes along the way. It will be a bit hectic with little time for note taking. So do some homework, pay attention, ask questions, and taste everything regardless of how unfamiliar it looks. Anyway you won’t learn to cook like abuela (grandmother) in a day class.

The photos come from a compilation of classes from Susana Trilling of Season of My Heart, Nora Valencia of La Casa de Mis Recuerdos, Osca at Casa Crespo, Reyna Mendoza at Casa Sagrada, and Iliana of El Naranjo. There are many others.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Museo Textil de Oaxaca

In the heart of the city of Oaxaca an eighteenth century mansion houses the Museo Textil de Oaxaca [MTO]. Since its inception in 2008, the MTO’s mission has been to provide a broad view of the designs, techniques and creative processes for the manufacture of textiles from Oaxaca, Mexico and the world. It does this through the ongoing exchange of expertise through conferences, workshops and exhibitions. The museum hosts exhibitions, does conservation and preservation, has an extensive private collection, ho;ds classes and workshops, and has a store which sells, yarn, clothing, and publications. It’s worth your time checking out their website for the photography. Sorry but Google translate can’t do much with the website directly but cutting and pasting text into Google translate works quite well you just need two windows open. If you take the time you’ll get some insight into the sophistication of this project. They constantly change exhibits, run classes and workshops, maintain a museum collection and library, do conservation and restoration, and have a wonderful museum store. If you want a closer look at the museum’s activities they keep a diary El Diario Oficial del MTO. The diary runs through Google translate quite well. It is made up of individual articles on topics such as natural dyes, costumes, articles on individual weaving villages, conservation activities, individual weavers, and a short picture story of the restoration of the building itself. The interests here are both broad and deep. While most of the focus goes to local artisans they have both knowledge and a worldview of textiles. Like good jazz they both respect the tradition while blowing open the boundaries of the art. For some examples of exhibitions you can look here.

The Current exhibition at MTO is called Pinthlia, a contraction of painting (pintura) and spin (hilar). Pinthila is the work of Natividad Amador and is a collaboration with other Oaxacan artists. After studying fine art at the University of Oaxaca Bonito Jaurez shedecided that her painting was lacking something. so she returned to her home in Juchitán where she found what she was looking for in the typical Isthmus textiles with chain stitch embroidery also know as "tejido" (weaving). She developed her technique by finding different angles to the stitch to get her contrast of tones and to generate shades and depth in order to paint in textile. She next established a dialogue with other artists that she considered to be masters. The result is on display until February 6th.

I have large format photos on picasa some with fine detail. The large format photos can be blown up using the magnifying glass icon, then made even larger with the + icon on the upper left. This detail shot of the bird figure gives some idea of the complexity of her work. I hope you take time to look them over. Natividad's work is quite fantastic. Enjoy!