Category Archives: Oaxaca 2009

Oaxaca 2009 (No Clever Title Yet)

First day con­fu­sion. Imag­ine our sur­prise to arrive in the Zoco­lo this morn­ing and dis­cov­er that the Car­rera Panamer­i­cana was fin­ish­ing it’s first stage in our front yard. So to speak.

Lots of clas­sic cars (with clas­sic dri­vers) ral­ly­ing across Mex­i­co. You can find the whole sto­ry of a race that was revived on the offi­cial site (en espanol) and an eng­lish ver­sion.

The race fin­ished some­where out of town but the final tran­sit stage took the cars into the cen­ter of the city. Here’s the fin­ish line.

finish line

fin­ish line

There are a lot of Stude­bak­ers entered. This one is done up in Mex­i­can green, white, and red. (#116)

studebaker in Mexican colors

stude­bak­er in Mex­i­can col­ors

Some clas­sic Volvos as well. A PV 544 (#121)

volvo races

vol­vo races

By now you’ve noticed that there isn’t much in the way of crowd con­trol. Tak­ing pic­tures was just a mat­ter of stand­ing in the mid­dle of the street and wait­ing for the cars to arrive.

intrepid photographer #1

intre­pid pho­tog­ra­ph­er #1

We’d hear the police sirens and then see a car turn­ing the cor­ner. (#231 maybe list­ed on the web­site as #407)

turning the corner to Alcala

turn­ing the cor­ner to Alcala

This love­ly pur­ple Stude­bak­er is local. To us, at least. (#120)

purple studebaker

pur­ple stude­bak­er

Some­things are a lit­tle hard to iden­ti­fy when they’re race prepped. This one is a sun­beam??? (#222)

looked very red, sounded very red

looked very red, sound­ed very red

must have run very red as well

must have run very red as well

Some­times the shots just don’t work out. Gri­mac­ing is com­mon.

intrepid photographer #2

intre­pid pho­tog­ra­ph­er #2

A love­ly Mer­cedes SL that came all the way from Ger­many. (#302)

came from a long ways away

came from a long ways away

Every­body want­ed pic­tures and auto­graphs. There were a cou­ple of rec­og­niz­able stars but all the dri­vers got spe­cial atten­tion from the crowd.

some of these guys are famous or something

some of these guys are famous or some­thing

In case you didn’t fig­ure out who the fel­lows above were.

and the answer is...

and the answer is…

This is a rather arty shot. The first SL I’ve seen with a tow hook. (#311)

you don't see too many of these turned in to race cars

you don’t see too many of these turned in to race cars

The dri­vers head­ed back to the hotels. We came back and sort­ed pic­tures.

that's all for tonight

that’s all for tonight

Day 2, in which we visit 3 churchs and 1 bar.

Today we took a lit­tle walk­ing tour with our host Jane and a cou­ple of oth­er guests.

A block away from the Casa there is a lit­tle alley on the back side of the local mar­ket. It’s a good place to stop for a soda in the shade.

a pedestrian alleyway near the casa

a pedes­tri­an alley­way near the casa

The Vir­gin of Soledad is the patron of the City of Oax­a­ca. Her church is near enough to hear the bells in the morn­ing. The top of the front facade is coat­ed in paint­ed plas­ter.

the facade of the basilica of San Jose

the facade of the basil­i­ca of San Jose

Inside the Vir­gin her­self is above the altar. You almost can’t see her for the roco­co dec­o­ra­tions.

virgin of soledad

vir­gin of soledad

City hall is right next door. The cen­tral court yard is a pleas­ant place to wait.

the central court of city hall

the cen­tral court of city hall

Tucked in a cor­ner of the first floor is the time clock.

time clock in city hall

time clock in city hall

After spend­ing time in restored build­ings we went to see the bar called Los Dan­zantes. In a typ­i­cal colo­nial build­ing but with very mod­ern decor.

sign and masks on the wall above the bar

sign and masks on the wall above the bar

The bar itself was made out of blocks of crushed cars.

the bar at Los Danzantes

the bar at Los Dan­zantes

This is one of my favorite court­yard foun­tains in the city.

modern intreptation of the court yard fountion

mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tion of the court yard foun­tion

Then on to anoth­er church. Sto. Domin­go de Guz­man. This is the ceil­ing in the rosay chapel. Usu­al­ly there is a love­ly white vir­gin in here but she’s been moved for the week­end to the main sanc­tu­ary.

ornate ceiling in the rosary chapel

ornate ceil­ing in the rosary chapel

Tomor­row (Sun­day) the city will be cel­e­brat­ing the ded­i­ca­tion of this new retablo. It’s huge and very shiny. A lot of time (3 years) and mon­ey has been spent on it.

new retablo

new retablo

You see the strangest things on the bul­letin boards in lit­tle court­yards. This was out­side the door of Black­Box, one of my favorite ‘mod­ern’ art stores.

learn Japanese in Oaxaca

learn Japan­ese in Oax­a­ca

The last church of the day was the Cather­dral in the cen­ter of the city. it was filled with hun­dreds of these bun­dles of lilies because Fri­day was the fes­ti­val of El Senor del Rayo. Our Lord of the Light­en­ing Bolt is what they call the cru­ci­fix housed in the side chapel that was the only thing that sur­vived a fire start­ed when light­en­ing struck the orig­i­nal thatched roof.

one of a couple of hundred bundles of lilies

one of a cou­ple of hun­dred bun­dles of lilies

The city is start­ing to dec­o­rate for the day of the dead.

day od the dead decorations

day of the dead sol­dier

Day 3, in which we passed through 3300 years of history

Today was our first day of being offi­cial “tourists”. We went out with Jane and Nico, our guides, and five oth­er peo­ple who are stay­ing here at Casa Colo­nial. Today’s jour­ney was to the north into the val­ley of Etla.

Sec­tions of adobe wall are every where.

naked adobe

naked adobe

First we went to San Jose de Mogote to see some of the old­est struc­tures in Oax­a­ca. There are mounds through out the vil­lage, most of them have not yet been exca­vat­ed. The struc­tures were built by the Zapotecs around 1300 BCE. This site pre­dates the much more famous Monte Alban by about 1000 years.

This is not a mound or exca­va­tion, this is the new church in San Jose. Those are liv­ing plants in a bed built into floor of the aisle.

new church building

new church build­ing

Here is one of the first areas to be exca­vat­ed. It’s basi­cal­ly in someone’s back­yard.

built circa 1300 BCE

built cir­ca 1300 BCE

These steep steps go from the court­yard up to the build­ings that are at the top. The stone is held togeth­er by cement.

steps up form the courtyard

steps up form the court­yard

On the oth­er side of the mound are these porch­es.

porches at the base of the mound

porch­es at the base of the mound

The top hasn’t been exca­vat­ed. You can see the out­lines of the struc­tures as you stand here. The view is of the rest of the Etla val­ley to San Augus­tine and to the right along the val­ley to the city of Oax­a­ca.

the unexcavated part of the big mound

the unex­ca­vat­ed part of the big mound

There is a small muse­um in San Jose that hous­es much of the mate­r­i­al from the exca­va­tions. It was built in a cou­ple of rooms of the old Hacien­da. The Hacien­da San Jose (or Hacien­da Cacique) was one of the last hacien­das to be abol­ished after the rev­o­lu­tion.

the hacienda porch

the hacien­da porch

This is one of the head­dress­es from the San Jose site.



This fig­ure is the only prone fig­ure from the Zapotec era that our guide knows of.

unusual prone figure

unusu­al prone fig­ure

A lit­tle ways up the road from the court­yard and porch­es you can climb the hill and see where the ball court was. The Zapotecs played their own ver­sion of the bloody ball game that the Aztecs played in Mex­i­co City.

unexcavated ball court

unex­ca­vat­ed ball court

San Augus­tine Etla is also known as Vista Her­mosa. It sits on the moun­tain slopes and receives a lot of water from the springs above it. In the 1883 a cot­ton mill and gen­er­at­ing plant were built here. The man­u­fac­tur­ing stopped in the mid 20th cen­tu­ry. Over the last 10 years Fran­cis­co Tole­do has over­seen it’s recre­ation as an arts cen­ter.

The pur­ple col­or in the foun­tains at the front of the build­ing was made by run­ning water infused with cochineal over the steps for a cou­ple of years. They used to be very red, now they are fad­ing to pur­ply-pink.

the new facade

the new facade

The inte­ri­or of the cen­ter is two open floors of gallery and work­shop space.

the upstairs gallery/workshop space

the upstairs gallery/workshop space

The build­ing wasn’t the only thing that got atten­tion. The grounds are won­der­ful. There is a sys­tem of linked shal­low ponds that flow from the top of the site to the front.

part of the system of ponds

part of the sys­tem of ponds

From San Augs­tine Etla we went to see one of the most famous pot­ters in the area. Irma Blan­co is a rec­og­nized nation­al trea­sure. She sat down and made a small statute of a mar­ket woman for us. It took her about 10 min­utes. In this pic­ture she’s just start­ing.

Irma Blanco creating a market lady

Irma Blan­co cre­at­ing a mar­ket lady

This is Irma’s kiln. She and her fam­i­ly fill it and then cov­er it with bro­ken tiles. It is fired with wood.

kiln for large figures

kiln for large fig­ures

This is one of her mer­maids. She loves to add flow­ers to every­thing. The black clay dries to this light gray but it turns a light tan when it’s fired.



Day 4, in which we visit many things that Rudolfo Morelos loved

Day 4 (which was actu­al­ly yes­ter­day) we went to Ocot­lan. Birth­place of the painter Rudol­fo More­los.

But before we got out of town I saw this set of signs and thought you all need­ed to see them as well.

signs outside a auto parts store

signs out­side a auto parts store

Ocot­lan is south of the city of Oax­a­ca. The biggest build­ing in town is the church. Unlike many colo­nial era church­es in Mex­i­co, the church in Ocot­lan has been restored to the way it looked in the 1880s. Much lat­er than the usu­al 16th cen­tu­ry. A lot of build­ings in Ocot­lan use the same blue, white, ocher, and black col­or scheme.

Sto Domingo Ocotlan

Sto Domin­go Ocot­lan

Inside the church is white, gold, and black. It’s much brighter than many of the church­es. This is the main chan­cel.

main chancel

main chan­cel

While we were in the church I could hear a bird singing. It was a tough to locate the source. I was sure it was in the church but couldn’t find it until I real­ized that there the upper por­tion of the wall between the main chan­cel on the rosary chapel was open. I found this lit­tle guy perched on an angel’s wing.

finch perched on an angel's wing

finch perched on an angel’s wing

The chapel has a col­lec­tion of obscure saints in the spaces between the vaults.

one of the saints in the ceiling

one of the saints in the ceil­ing

This is a close up of one of the geo­met­ric designs that lines the chapel.

design from the wall of the rosary chapel

design from the wall of the rosary chapel

it wouldn’t be a church if there wasn’t a shrine to El Nino.

shrine to el nino

shrine to el nino

Next to the church is the clois­ter. Which before it was turned into a muse­um for some of the More­los col­lec­tion was the local jail. This is what you would have seen if you were spend­ing your days in the jail­house court­yard.

the dome of the church as seen from the courtyard

the dome of the church as seen from the court­yard

Among the pieces in the muse­um are these exam­ples of sculp­ture by the Jose­fi­na Aguilar and her fam­i­ly.

This dev­il sits jaun­ti­ly on the dis­play case.

little devil

lit­tle dev­il

One of Josefina’s sis­ters makes these hys­ter­i­cal hook­ers. This one is wear­ing m0re clothes than most.

made famous by one of the sisters

made famous by one of the sis­ters

This is the whole his­to­ry of the world. Or at least the part that we keep repeat­ing.

the fall of man

the fall of man

The muse­um also con­tains a num­ber of More­los’ paint­ings but the rooms are too dim to see them decent­ly, let alone pho­to­graph the instal­la­tion.

A cou­ple of blocks from the church — across the Zoco­lo — is Rudol­fo More­los’ house. This is the view of the gar­dens at the cnter of the house.

the gardens from above

the gar­dens from above

This walk­way leads from the stairs across the top of the porch to More­los’ stu­dio.

upstairs at the morelos house

upstairs at the More­los house

I get stu­dio envy every time I come up here. This long sky-lit room now hous­es some of his lith­o­graphs.

morelos's studio, now housing lithographs


Dial­o­go espera.

one of the lithographs

one of the lith­o­graphs

The house is full of lit­tle sur­pris­es. You can only see this fel­low if you turn around and look back­wards from the stu­dio door.

sculpture upstairs

sculp­ture upstairs

There were birds singing in More­los’ house.

canary in a blue cage

canary in a blue cage

Anoth­er fan­tas­ti­cal beast.

carousel horse

carousel horse

A lit­tle fur­ther down the street we went to the home of Jose­fi­na Aguilar. She demon­strat­ed how she builds her sculp­tures.

josefina creating a market woman

jose­fi­na cre­at­ing a mar­ket woman

She has the most amaz­ing hands. Most of her work is done by feel.

amazing hands

amaz­ing hands

It took her a lit­tle over 20 min­utes to cre­ate this sculp­ture of a mar­ket women car­ry­ing calla lilies and marigolds — the tra­di­tion­al day of the dead flow­ers. I don’t know how the lit­tle dog fig­ures into it.

market woman with day of the dead flowers and a puppy

mar­ket woman with day of the dead flow­ers and a pup­py

Josefina’s son Demitrio is also a tal­ent­ed painter. I bought this gem from him.

untitled paiting by Demetrio Aguilar

unti­tled paint­ing by Demitrio Aguilar

Demetrio Aguilar

Demitrio Aguilar

ObMo­to. This mechanic’s shop was right next door to the Aguilar’s.

sign for a moto mechanic's shop

Jim found this inside. But there was no-one around to ask about it.

partially rebuilt moto

par­tial­ly rebuilt moto

Our last stop for the day was St. Mar­tin Tilca­jete. We went to see two fam­i­lies of wood carvers.

Here are two masks carved by Isado­ra Cruz, one of the old men of wood carv­ing in the val­ley.

two unfinshed masks

two unfin­ished masks

Crafts in Oax­a­ca are fam­i­ly busi­ness­es. This is Isadora’s daugh­ter Rosa hold­ing a half fin­ished Dia de Muer­tos mask.



There’s not a lot of straight tim­ber left in the val­ley.

wood used to make masks

wood used to make masks

Leav­ing town we had to give way for this gen­tle­man and his field work­ers.

a pair of brahma bulls

a pair of brah­ma bulls

Day 5, in which Jim visits Monte Alban

Today, the ‘tour’ was sched­uled to go up to Monte Alban, a pre-columbian arche­o­log­i­cal site just west of Oax­a­ca. My love­ly bride has seen it once, that was enough for her, so the tour depart­ed slight­ly down on troop strength.

Common BLossoming tree on Monte Alban

Com­mon Blos­som­ing tree on Monte Alban

It was a beau­ti­ful day, some cloud cov­er so it didn’t get too hot, but enough blue sky to make it inter­est­ing. These trees are all over Monte Alban, and the sto­ry is that they are the gen­e­sis of the name that the spainiards gave to the place (monte alban- white moun­tain). This one is near the vis­i­tors cen­ter and muse­um.

part of our tour group discusses the site

part of our tour group dis­cuss­es the site

This was one of our first stops, at an exca­vat­ed res­i­dence, com­plete with bur­ial tombs. We had a pret­ty long and involved dis­cus­sion here of the soci­etal forces and reflec­tions around hav­ing all you ances­tors buried in your back­yard, for all intents and pur­pos­es. This was not a mobile soci­ety, obvi­ous­ly. No one wants some­one else’s rel­a­tives buried in the back yard, after all!

The view of the northern portion of the top of the mountain

The view of the north­ern por­tion of the top of the moun­tain

Look­ing south across the norther­most sec­tion of the Monte Alban site From here we hiked south, kind of around the nw cor­ner of the exca­va­tions on the hill­top, lead­ing us to this:

Looking south across the northermost section of the Monte Alban site

Look­ing south across the norther­most sec­tion of the Monte Alban site

This is the area just to the north of the main plaza, the round­ed lump you see cen­tered in the pic­ture is the un-exca­vat­ed top of the south­ern edi­fice on the site. From here we move south, up the steps in the mid­dle of the pic­ture, to see this:

The main plaza at Monte Alban

The main plaza at Monte Alban

This is the main plaza at Monte Alban, the lit­tle black dots you see down there are peo­ple, it gives a lit­tle idea of the scale. The place is pret­ty huge! The last time we were here it was win­ter, and very brown. This is the very end of the rainy sea­son, so every­thing is nice and green.

This is one of the more sym­met­ri­cal and com­plete pyra­mids among those that have been exca­vat­ed.

one of the more symmetrical and complete pyramids here

one of the more sym­met­ri­cal and com­plete pyra­mids here

This large con­struc­tion is in the NW cor­ner of the main plaza.

another large construction at Monte Alban

anoth­er large con­struc­tion at Monte Alban

These columns once stood 12 meters high, and held a roof over this walk­way, prob­a­bly so the chiefs could look down upon all the activ­i­ty below in shad­ed com­fort.

A walkway, once covered

A walk­way, once cov­ered

A sunken area in the main plaza.

A sunken portion of the main plaza

A sunken por­tion of the main plaza

These bas-relief fig­ures are in the SW cor­ner of the plaza. There is much aca­d­e­m­ic dis­cus­sion over their actu­al pur­pose, some say they are med­ical pic­tures, some say they depict pris­on­ers, but pret­ty much every­one agrees they aren’t dancers. it was the first thing that came to some­ones mind, and it stuck.

Stone carvings known as Los Danzantes

Stone carv­ings known as Los Dan­zantes

More Dancers

More Dancers

This is the Ball Court, where a cer­e­mo­ni­al game rem­i­nis­cent of soc­cer and hand­ball was played.

The Ball Court

The Ball Court

Day 6, in which we went to the market

Today began with a trip to the Abas­tos mar­ket, near the south edge of the cen­tral dis­trict of oax­a­ca. Today was the open­ing of the spe­cial ‘Muer­tos’ sec­tion of the mar­ket, full of spe­cial flow­ers, can­dles, trin­kets and food for the “dia de los muer­tos” cel­e­bra­tions. We bought flow­ers, can­dles, lit­tle skele­ton fig­urines, copal incense, and incense burn­er, and some sug­ar cane. Here, Lara buys some marigolds

Lara, buying flowers in Abastos market

Lara, buy­ing flow­ers in Abas­tos mar­ket

On the way there, we found elvis!

Elvis lives!

Elvis lives!

and on the way back, we found a sign which if direct­ly trans­lat­ed to eng­lish, results in a hilar­i­ous, if off-colour phrase (grupo=group, tornillo=screw)

this is why direct translation can be bad

this is why direct trans­la­tion is bad

Then it was back to San Mar­tin Tilca­jete, to see our old friends Jacobo and Maria Ange­les, and to leave a bunch more mon­ey there in exchange for exquis­ite wood carv­ings. As always, there were a bunch of gor­geous pieces there, fin­ished and in progress, as well as a huge stock of carved blanks, ready for paint­ing. We select­ed anoth­er ‘gato’ blank:
This the blank carving we picked

This the blank carv­ing we picked

and chose black and red for this one, kind of in the style of this one

We picked a color scheme like this item

We picked a col­or scheme like this item

after­wards, Jim found a lit­tle ‘Oso’ that he had to take home, too. Before we left, we made sure to get a pic­ture with the artist and one of his recent works!

Lara, Jacobo with one of his works, Jim

Lara, Jacobo with one of his works, Jim

After such a stren­u­ous shop­ping expe­ri­ence, we went to Jacobo and Maria’s restu­ar­ant and had a great comi­da. Then back to town, drop of some laun­dry, then back to the casa for seista!

Day 7, in which we watched a man pull a rabbit out of a tree trunk.

To day it was south and a lit­tle west of town to the Zaachi­la val­ley. Traf­fic has been ter­ri­ble this week so our guide Nico took us down a super-secret short-cut. Like going down the rab­bit hole.

tunnel of reeds on a dirt road

tun­nel of reeds on a dirt road

Speak­ing of rab­bits. Our first stop was the wood carv­ing vil­lage of Arro­zo­la. Arse­nio More­les took a machete to a block of wood and cre­at­ed one of his sig­na­ture long eared rab­bits.

carving a rabbit

carv­ing a rab­bit

This is the view of the back yard (and stu­dio) of one of the oth­er carvers. I have real­ly bad stu­dio envy.

valley view from arrozola

val­ley view from arro­zo­la

I haven’t been to Arro­zo­la in about 5 years. The town looks much the same but the qual­i­ty and vari­ety of work being offered has gone way up. This pea­cock is one exam­ple.



All the way down this main street you can walk into the front room of any house and find carv­ings for sale.

looking down the main street in arrozola

look­ing down the main street in arro­zo­la

At one house where I bought a lot of lit­tle things like ear­rings and hair sticks, this lit­tle par­rot fol­lowed us around while we shopped. If you look close­ly you can see that he fol­lows the painters around too. That’s a love­ly shade of blue on his tail.

parrot that followed us around

par­rot that fol­lowed us around

After Arro­zo­la we went to Cuila­pam de Guer­ro­ro. Their mar­ket day is Thurs­day. We walked through the ani­mal mar­ket. They don’t get a lot of gringo tourists walk­ing through the ani­mal mar­ket.

Most land in this val­ley is worked with oxen.

field oxen

field oxen

Goats, with lit­tle bun­dles of alfal­fa tied to the pan­els.

goats in pens

goats in pens

All of the pigs are this pale pink pricked ear type.

a litter of pigs

a lit­ter of pigs

Turkey is native to Mex­i­co and the favored meat for fies­tas. All of these will end up under a mole this week­end.

turkeys for dinner

turkeys for din­ner

This is look­ing over the town from the site of the large — aban­doned Domini­can church.

down the hill into the village

down the hill into the vil­lage

The Domini­can church in Cuila­pam was one of sev­er­al being built in the Oax­a­ca area in the mid­dle of the 16th cen­tu­ry. There were more church­es being built than there was mon­ey to build with. This one was aban­doned in favor of the cathe­dral in Oax­a­ca city.

unfinished church

unfin­ished church

The chapel as been par­tial­ly restored. It nev­er had a roof. The indige­nous peo­ple could not fath­om the idea that you would go -inside- to pray to your god. The Domini­cans met them half way. In a church but with­out a roof.

outdoor chapel

out­door chapel

Today’s arty shot is of the tow­er of the chapel and the clear blue sky.

tower on the domincan church

tow­er on the dom­in­can church

No one can say how many of the Zapotec Indi­ans were bap­tized in this font. Some­thing between thou­sands and hun­dreds of thou­sands. The angels faces were clear­ly carved by locals rather than Euro­peans.

baptismal font

bap­tismal font

One last look at the val­ley before head­ing back into town for lunch.

zaachila valley

zaachi­la val­ley

Lunch at La Biz­na­ga (bar­rel cac­tus). Most places have a fixed price lunch spe­cial called the Comi­da Cor­ri­da. Run­ning lunch. Today it was pork­chops and apple sauce.

porkchops and apple sauce

pork­chops and apple sauce

La Biz­na­ga has one of the great bars in Oax­a­ca. There are so many votaries in this city. It’s nice to have one devot­ed to the agave plant.

the bar at la biznaga

the bar at la biz­na­ga

Day 8, in which there was one very big tree and a lot of little stones.

Today is Fri­day, we must be head­ed for Mit­la and ‘the tree’!. Our first stop is in San­ta Maria del Tule, to see a huge, sev­er­al thou­sand year old tree. In the cen­ter of the town. Pret­ty amaz­ing. The red­woods are taller, but this honker is huge at the trunk!

arbol de tule at santa maria de tule

arbol de tule at san­ta maria de tule

Play­ing ‘name that crea­ture’ is an old game here. Sup­pos­ed­ly this is a lion head.

gnarled bole on the trunk

gnarled bole on the trunk

stats on the tule tree

stats on the tule tree

Trans­lat­ed rough­ly the inter­est­ing bits are:

Com­mon Name: Ahue­huete

Age: more than 2000 years.

Height: 42 meters

Diam­e­ter: 14.05 meters

Vol­ume: 816,829 cuibic meters

Weight: 636,107 tons

This is a much younger ver­sion of the same tree.

a not as big tule tree

a not as big tule tree

Around here, your admis­sion tick­et doesn’t not include priv­i­leges to “Los banos”, got­ta get a sep­a­rate tick­et for that. When you hand over your 2 pesos, you get a tick­et and toi­let paper! (TP not pic­tured)

two tickets

two tick­ets

There’s some bizarre top­i­ary in the gar­den in St. Maria, here’s a squir­rel with a nut!



two cats? try to catch a bird?

two cats? try to catch a bird?

On the hill­side across the val­ley, they are min­ing lime. Looks too sym­met­ri­cal and planned to be a mine to me. (Says Jim)



Civ­i­liza­tion around these parts is so old, you can pull over on the side of the road and look at pet­ro­glyphs that are thou­sands of years old with­out ever get­ting out of the car.

petroglyph by the highway

pet­ro­glyph by the high­way

And here we are at Mit­la, one of my favorite Oax­a­can arche­o­log­i­cal sites. The set­ting is beau­ti­ful, the designs won­der­ful, and it’s a bit more to human scale than Monte Alban is.

northern building complex

north­ern build­ing com­plex

White boards?! Why would we need a white board? We got a per­fect­ly good piece of dirt and a twig right here! (Nico­las Gar­cia, our guide and all around hel­lu­va nice guy!)

Nico explaining the time line.

Nico explain­ing the time line.

I love the fact that ancient stonework exists side-by-side with mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy in this part of the world!

skyline at mitla

sky­line at mit­la

There are just a few bits of the orig­i­nal dec­o­ra­tion still vis­i­ble. These draw­ings were done in cochineal on stuc­co.

remnant of the original painting

rem­nant of the orig­i­nal paint­ing

The view between two of the build­ings, look­ing across the val­ley.

scenic view

scenic view

This is the large build­ing in the south­ern por­tion of the com­plex.

large court yard

large court yard

I love the designs here. This sec­tion of the wall shows six dif­fer­ent designs.

multiple friezes

mul­ti­ple friezes

The unre­stored por­tions of the com­pound show how rough the mate­r­i­al is. A lot of the stone was tak­en to build the church.

unrestored portion of the south compound

unre­stored por­tion of the south com­pound

Each frieze design is made up of thou­sands of small stones cut on the face and placed into a bed of mud or cement.

pieces making up the design

pieces mak­ing up the design

They are doing some arche­ol­o­gy here, a pair of dis­em­bod­ied arms mea­sures the stones.

measuring each stone

mea­sur­ing each stone

A frieze with a very cool light­ning design in it.



And the local ven­dors still use the old designs

vendors at mitla

ven­dors at mit­la

Lara and Jim

Day 9, in which there is a lot of thread(s)

Today is the Hal­loween for most of you all. Here in Mex­i­co it is the day before Muer­tos. There’s lots of get­ting ready and clean­ing and arrang­ing going on.

We were out and about doing tourista things this morn­ing. Our des­ti­na­tion was Teoti­t­lan de Valle, home to the most famous of the Zapotec weavers.

We start­ed in the show room of a fam­i­ly that has long ties back to Jane’s fam­i­ly in the San Joaquin val­ley. This is pret­ty typ­i­cal for a weaver’s show room.

rug show room

rug show room

Our sec­ond stop was at Isaac Vasquez Garcia’s. He is the best known of the weavers out­side of Mex­i­co.
The loom are hand­made and accord­ing to my friend Demetrio last about 20 years under hard use.

a loom at isaac's

a loom at isaac’s

Issac demon­strat­ed all of the steps int he process of mak­ing a Zapotec rug. here he is hold­ing a bowl of grana. Grana is the dried form of the cochineal bug that is used to pro­duce the red dyes.

isaac with a bowl of grana

isaac with a bowl of grana

Much of Isaac Vasquerz’s work is fig­u­ra­tive rather than pat­terned. Here is shows us how he works a design in small sec­tions across the loom.

isaac weaving a design

isaac weav­ing a design

Every year I go into Teoti­t­lan chant­i­ng “I don’t need anoth­er rug. I don’t need anoth­er rug.” Um, yeah, right, like that works. This love­ly gold deer is com­ing home with us.

isaac holding the deer rug

isaac hold­ing the deer rug

After the weav­ing demo but before lunch we went to see Vivian and her daugh­ter-in-laws make can­dles. These giant beeswax can­dles are dec­o­rat­ed with flow­ers, fruits, birds, and angels, all made out of sheets of beeswax. tra­di­tion­al­ly these can­dles are used in betrothal cer­e­monies. The groom’s fam­i­ly takes the can­dles, bread, and fruit to the house of the bride’s fam­i­ly. The par­ty starts at 6AM and lasts all day.

vivian and jane with a candle

vivian and jane with a can­dle

For lunch we returned to Isaac Vasquez’s house to eat tamales. We arrived as anoth­er group was fin­ish­ing watch­ing the demo. Lunch time means that the house­holds sons were around. Pick­ing oranges from the trees in the court­yard is a good way to impress the girls.

orange tree

orange tree

Before head­ing back in to town via the scenic route we stopped to walk through the ceme­tery near the church. Fam­i­lies have been spend­ing the last day or two dec­o­rat­ing the graves in prepa­ra­tion for the vig­ils.

graves int eh cemetary in teotitlan

graves in the ceme­tery in teoti­t­lan

Now it’s 7:30 (or so) in the evening on Oct 31st. In a lit­tle while we’ll go to vis­it friends, to eat a lit­tle and have a drink. Then back to the house to nap until 1:30 AM when we’ll leave for Atzom­pa and all night vig­il in the ceme­tery there. There will be anoth­er vig­il on the night of the 1st/2nd in the ceme­tery here in the city.

This is the altar that we (all) have built here in the Casa in hon­or of Thorny Robi­son and all of the oth­ers that we miss.

altar at casa Colonial

altar at casa Colo­nial

Day 10 — in which there are pots and metal creatures

Most of the day was spent in San Bar­to­lo Coy­ote­pec.

Our first stop was at the work­shop of the fam­i­ly of pot­ter Dona Rosa. The Dona Rosa invent­ed the bur­nish­ing tech­nique that pro­duces the glossy black pot­tery that the vil­lage has become known for. Her son don Valente con­tin­ues the tra­di­tion.

Here are three pots that sit out­side of the door of my room here at the Casa.

examples of black pottery

exam­ples of black pot­tery

Don Valente is in his 80s. He still works every­day. The pot­ters here work with­out a wheel as we think of it. Instead they use two dish­es shaped like saucers. One placed upside down on the floor and the sec­ond placed right side up on top of it. The pot is then shaped by hand by turn­ing slow­ly.

setting the pot on the saucer

set­ting the pot on the saucer

cre­at­ing a pot is a mul­ti-day process. The first day the pot body is made, then after dry­ing a cou­ple of days the neck is added.

forming the neck

form­ing the neck

Anoth­er round of dry­ing and the dec­o­ra­tion (if any) is added. This is incis­ing using shaped tools. Pots can also have bits stuck on to cre­ate an applique like effect. Cut­ting away parts of the pot to cre­ate lace­work is also com­mon. (See the above pic­ture of pots in the Casa.)

incising 'grecas'

incis­ing ‘gre­cas’

The unique thing about the black pot­tery cre­at­ed in San Bor­to­lo is the glossy fin­ish. The fin­ish is cre­at­ed by tak­ing a dry, unfired pot, mak­ing the sur­face a bit damp and rub­bing it with a piece of smooth quartz. Then fir­ing the piece for 10 hours. The fin­ished piece is beau­ti­ful but frag­ile and porous. We’ve nev­er had much luck try­ing to get pieces home with­out them break­ing.

burnishing the pot

bur­nish­ing the pot

The result is the glossy sur­face on the lat­tice work on this pot.

lattice work black pot

lat­tice work black pot

orig­i­nal­ly the clay at San Bar­to­lo was used to make func­tion­al ves­sels. These are fired for 13 or 14 hours and the pots are mat­te dark grey. These pots are water­proof and durable. They also make a pleas­ant ring­ing sound when tapped. Don Valente has a set that he plays a tune on at the end of his demon­stra­tion.

fired for 13 or 14 hours

fired for 13 or 14 hours

The two pic­tures above were tak­en at the folk art muse­um near the zolo­co in San Bar­to­lo. The build­ing is anoth­er exam­ple of the fine mod­ern archi­tec­ture that being done in Mex­i­co.

folk art museum

folk art muse­um

Fire­works are a big deal and com­mon at all sorts of fies­tas here. One of the kind of freaky and cool things that they do is take fire­works into the crowds. The car in this pic­ture is a ‘mule’ that is loaded with fire­works that spark and spin. Bulls and hors­es are also com­mon shapes but any­thing is fair game.

car structure used to support fireworks

car struc­ture used to sup­port fire­works

At the folk art muse­um we made two excel­lent dis­cov­er­ies.

Miguel Ramirez, who is up in the Xochim­il­co neigh­bor­hood of the city. I’ve seen his work before but haven’t had a name to put to it. Next time I’m here I’m have a bet­ter chance of find­ing his work­shop.

tin art

tin art

The oth­er dis­cov­ery is entire­ly new to me. Adol­fo Alquisiris Guer­rero. He’s a welder who works at the Pemex plant in Sali­na Cruz. Be makes things — most­ly ani­mals out of recy­cled parts. I’ll try to set up a chance to see and buy some of his work the next time we come done.





Jim liked this pic­ture a lot. He mum­bled some­thing about grumpy kit­ties. I chose to ignore him.

folk art extends to painting

bring it, cup­cake