Tag Archives: History & Traditions

Out-of-the-Way Archeological Sites

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-10-17-33-amBy Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

When we first started to explore the major archeological sites of Mexico such as Uxmal, Tulum, Chichen Itza and Palenque, each visit was an adventurous trip to an out-of-the-way destination. Few people were willing to chance the rough roads and limited places to stay. So the ruins were pretty much free of other tourists and we could explore to our hearts’ content. Today tour buses ply splendid highways bringing hundreds of tourists to the many hotels that surround the ruins, and tour guides lead crowds of people hurriedly through well-guarded sites. Continue reading Out-of-the-Way Archeological Sites

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Black Pottery… A Modern Folk Art

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-5-44-41-pmBy Brooke Gazer

If you have been to any Mexican craft market, it is likely that you noticed many examples of Barro Negro (Black Pottery), for which Oaxaca is famous. In spite of its overwhelming popularity, this is a relatively new medium of Mexican folk art. For over 2000 years, the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec produced very basic utilitarian pottery. These sturdy vessels, which were used to carry water, oil, or mescal, were rustic with a matte grey appearance. In the early 1950’s a petite Zapotec woman, named Rosa Real Mateo de Nieto, altered the way her people handled clay, and subsequently the economy of her village. She is now fondly known by the honorific name of Doñs Rosa. Continue reading Black Pottery… A Modern Folk Art

El Maestro de Los Monos

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-5-45-19-pmBy Geri Anderson with photographer/translator Marcus Wilkinson

If you’ve ever wandered through Oaxaca City’s Jalatlaco neighborhood to the corner of Niños Heroes de Chapultepec and Calle Aldama, you’ve probably noticed José Octavio Azcona y Juárez, Mexico’s foremost monero (puppet maker) working in his shop, creating monos de calendas (huge dancing puppets). Until retirement three years ago, he might have been changing a tire on a semi-trailer truck right there on the Pan American highway! That was his life’s work for 30 years, that AND making monos, which are sometimes called gigantes because they truly are gigantic creations. Continue reading El Maestro de Los Monos

Beyond the Artist: The Cult of Frida Kahlo

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-5-45-57-pmBy Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Frida Kahlo never shied away from publicity. Well before her death at age 47 in 1954 she was well known in Mexico City for her flamboyant style of dress, her tumultuous marriages to Diego Rivera, and her open affairs with both women and men of note, including Leon Trotsky. However, she currently has an international iconic status that did not start to blossom until almost 30 years after she died. Continue reading Beyond the Artist: The Cult of Frida Kahlo

Oaxaca’s “Vintage” Chango Mezcalero (Clay Monkey) Mezcal Bottles

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 8.53.39 AMBy Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

For a half century if not longer, the central valleys of the state of Oaxaca have been known in the US, Canada and further abroad for production of the high-alcohol-content, agave-based spirit, mezcal. The region’s pre-Hispanic ruins, colonial architecture, cuisine and craft villages have been noted in travelogues and guide books for some time. More recently even beach lovers visiting Huatulco and Puerto Escondido have elected to take in a bit of culture by spending a couple of days in the state capital. The iconic Mexican drink has now taken center stage, and hence the arrival of mezcal tourism. It has gripped Oaxaca; and along with it has come a revival of the chango mezcalero. Continue reading Oaxaca’s “Vintage” Chango Mezcalero (Clay Monkey) Mezcal Bottles

Eternal Life in Guanajuato

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 8.52.37 AMBy Leigh Morrow

Perhaps the most unusual museum in Mexico is The Museo de las Momias in Guanajuato, the capital in the state of the same name. This former silver mining town with stunning examples of baroque and neoclassical architecture is a world heritage site. However, the museum here has nothing to do with the beauty found above ground. The fascinating origin of Las Momias, dates back to the mid 1800s, 1833 to be precise. A cholera epidemic was sweeping through the area, and the town, in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease, quickly buried those who had succumbed to the illness. The rapid burials may have led to at least one person accidentally being buried alive. Ignacia Aquilar may have suffered this fate. She had a rare disease that on occasion made her heart beat so faint, it was perceived to have stopped. Thinking she had died, poor Ignacia was buried. But was she still alive? Continue reading Eternal Life in Guanajuato

Where divergent religious customs merge… Death of an Infant in Oaxaca

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Daniel Perez Gonzalez was a beautiful baby. His parents Flor and Jorge thought so; my wife Arlene and I agreed. Few are able to share our certainty, though, because we were among the very few to see him alive. Daniel was born in a Oaxacan hospital. I welcomed him into the world along with Arlene, our daughter Sarah, and Daniel’s grandmother, Chona. From the womb, the nurse passed our newest extended family member into three sets of anxiously loving arms—Chona’s, those of his big sister Carmela, and then Sarah. Continue reading Where divergent religious customs merge… Death of an Infant in Oaxaca

A Primer on Pulque: Harvesting Aguamiel

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.44.23 AMBy Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

We arrive in the fields about 5:30 pm, near the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur, trying to catch the final glimmer of light before dusk sets in. I’ve invited a group of Oaxacan friends to accompany me and my native Zapoteco amigos Juana, Andrés and two of their children, into the countryside to witness the harvesting of aguamiel from the majestic Agave americana. The plant is commonly known as pulquero, because it’s the main species used to make pulque in Santiago Matatlán. And that’s the motive for the trek; even Oaxacans rarely if ever have had an opportunity to learn about pulque production first hand, out amongst the towering rows of maguey (agave). Continue reading A Primer on Pulque: Harvesting Aguamiel

Mayan Mysteries and the Usumacinta River

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.44.09 AMBy Deborah Van Hoewyk

Oh, those mysterious Maya! Google “mystery” and Maya” and in less than half a second, you get more than 12 million hits. There are lots of little mysteries, being solved every day by archaeologists and anthropologists working in the Mayan ruins spread across what is now Chiapas, the Yucatán, Belize, Guatemala, and the western borders of Honduras and El Salvador. To the Maya, we owe the wonders of Chichén Itzá (Yucatán), Palenque (Chiapas), Tikal (Guatemala), Caracol (Belize), Copán (Honduras), and hundreds more places where ancient stones rise out of hillocks in the tropical jungle. Continue reading Mayan Mysteries and the Usumacinta River