Friday, January 20, 2006

Considering Stardome

OK, so it was two scenes in an hour-length film...but what a funny thing to see my face on screen! Last night, our local film house ( presented Sandpoint Punchline, an all-volunteer, filmed completely in Sandpoint, sketch-comedy film. The film showed to a packed house -- and there was lots of laughter to be heard (whether they were laughing at us or with us still remains to be seen...)

If you have the opportunity to come and visit over the weekend of Feb. 3/4, you can come to the official Grand Opening of the film -- it's sure to be a hit for years to come!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Some Visual Considerations of Oaxaca

Here are some fun photos from the trip -- "El Machismo" at its finest, The Cross, Baskets at the market in Ocotlan, New Year's festivities, A Oaxacan quessadilla, The gals in Mitla, an art-shot of a cool window and the church at Mitla that is built on top of ancient Zapotec ruins.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Oaxacan Considerations

In 1531, Spanish colonialist powers came to conquer the indigenous peoples of the lovely, diverse land that we now call Mexico. Centuries later, which much different intent, Shannon and I travel to Oaxaca to witness the colorful and tradition-filled culture that exists today. We spent but one week soaking in the textures, sights, sounds, smells, idioma, y sol. We marveled at la mezcla de lo indigino y lo Catolico – shifting cultures, evolving as they influence one another year after year. Our trip was fantastic!

Shannon and I arrived by flight to Oaxaca City ( ) via la ciudad de Mexico, and then to 205 Jesus de Carranza, to a warm welcome by our dear friends, Lara and Melissa. It is funny how time plays its tricks -- it feeling so long since we last saw these amazing friends and with the first hug, the months collapsed into the immediate present, as if we'd been living in the same town all this time. Good friendship weathers such distance easily -- I am so grateful to have these amazing women in our lives.
Our days moved quickly. Our first night we strolled the darkened streets of Oaxaca City -- a blend of la Mexicana del suenos y a European sensibility -- el zocalo with its cafe seating, abundant churches made of stone and design, sounds of passing trucks honking loudly, small children running. We learned the important aspects of the house -- how to flush the toilet with recycled laundry water, how never to drink the tap water (even while showering!), how to wash dishes carefully using grapeseed extract, etc. The house is large and open with a courtyard in back and a sitting room up front. It even has a side courtyard which doubles as a makeshift bowling alley if the mood is right… On Wednesday, our first real day, we started at the local market to get preparations for quesadillas Oaxacan style -- tortillas heated on the comal, queso, squash blossoms and epazote (a mild green). Melissa made a superb fresh salsa and we feasted! A perfect first meal to whet our Mexican palates. Once fed, we ventured to the bus station en route to El Tule, a huge, 2,000 year old “ahuehuete” tree that commands the attention of many, especially the young chamacos of 6 or 7 years who like to give guided tours of the animals that one can see embedded in the limbs and bark. Quite a fascinating sight -- and hard to imagine its lifespan and all it has seen. From Tule, we continued east to Teotitlan, a small Zapotec village renowned for its weaving. We were to meet Anne and Shelli (other dear friends from Seattle!) at la casa de Elena Gonzalez, a master weaver, whose family owns a posada where visitors can stay quite comfortably. We found our destination with the help of Elena's father who we met along the road and he was a gracious and inviting host. As we were resting, Anne and Shelli arrived and my heart was so filled! It was so amazing to be in such a beautiful place, so far from home, with 4 of our closest friends! I felt the giddy energy of a schoolgirl, excited to see her best pals after a long summer hiatus away! We spent our evening in Teotitlan walking the animal-filled streets (imagine 3 turkeys in a tree and donkeys baying from behind wooden fences), eating a delicious meal in town (tacos de pollo con quacamole), telling stories of our families and past relationships, and then retired early in preparation the next morning to climb the mountain behind the town. After a harrowing night of noises that only a band of donkeys, turkeys, roosters, chickens and who knows what can make, Anne, Shelli, Shannon and I arose to climb the mountain. It was a lovely morning hike up a rocky trail, amidst high desert landscape. Cacti, bromeliads nestled in the trees, sunshine...I was happy not to see the snakes I was imagining were there the whole time, watching us, waiting for just the right moment to strike... From the top, the views of the valley were magnificent -- a broad swath of land with small hills rising at intervals, banked to the north by larger mountains, which Anne and Shelli had visited just days before and where Melissa is doing some of her fieldwork. (There is a network of trails and huts that one can hike, all part of a shared communal land agreement. Melissa is studying community-based resource management and is brilliant to talk to about the relationship that these mountain villages have with one another and with the larger cities. Her main focus is in non-timber products and the role of women in the collection and sale of these resources. I cannot do her work justice here, but it is really fascinating. One very interesting fact that we learned is that while most of the indigenous, Zapotec inhabitants of the villages all speak Zapotec, there are so many different dialects that even village to village, the people do not understand each other. Spanish is the dominant second language, and everyone we encountered seemed to be bilingual, thus we had little problem communicating.)

We returned to a delicious breakfast served by Elena Gonzalez herself, a wonderful smiley, single (!) woman who spends half of the year in Teotitlan weaving and the other half of the year in Aspen, CO, selling her “tapetes” to folks from the States. Elena and her father showed us her rugs – beautifully woven, made with colors born of fruits and vegetables and cochinilla, an insect that when dried can produce a deep red dye to color the wool. Elena taught us about the images in the weaving, how she incorporates symbols from nature and from Zapotec designs -- the diamonds of Mitla, rain over the mountains, the teeth of the calavera, winds over the mountain, the circles of the necklaces worn by the indigenous people... We bought a lovely rug from Elena – rich earth tones mixed with deep color patterns. Perfect for the front hallway of our new house! Both a housewarming and anniversary present to both me and Shannon (yes, January 1, we celebrated our anniversary in style!) For more information on Elena, go to:

Later in the day, all the girls decided to travel together to Mitla, a site of ancient Zapotec ruins, upon which an entire city has been erected, yet never was the city uninhabited. This is an incredible example of the imperialistic overlay that one dominant group had over the existing civilization. In truth, Mitla represents an interesting melding of cultures -- an indigenous spirit and tradition that could not be fully extinguished, and a rich catholic faith that has been inculcated into the lives of many of the Zapotec people. And you see this in the architecture of the city -- clear Zapotec designs etched into the walls rising directly next to the walls of the various town churches. Shannon, Lara, Melissa and I returned back to Oaxaca City, rested, read and then ate yummy pizza at a a local restaurant. The next morning we took the bus to Ocotlan, a market town an hour south of the city. The market teamed with people, fruits, vegetables, clothes, kitchen wears, baskets, hats, meats, etc. It was sensory overload – but what one might expect from the regional market. My favorite sights were the piles of dried chili peppers, the colorful flower vendors, the amazing smells of the “food court,” and the surprise each time someone would walk by with a huge turkey, live, under her arm. Who knew turkeys were in such fashion in Mexico…? We celebrated Anne and Shelli’s last night in Mexico at a lovely restaurant called “La Biznaga,” which is a barrel cactus. It was an eclectic meal, the most exciting of which was Lara’s cone pastries filled with flower blossom pulp mash. A strangely sour/sweet/savory filling that was unlike anything I had ever tried.
The next morning, Shannon and I ventured up El Cerro Fortin, a local hill that arises within the city and boasts a plethora of trees, cacti, birds and fresh mountain views. It is a wonderful place of respite that sits just above the movement of the city. While one can tire easily walking up the steep set of steps that takes you up to the trails (especially given the 5,000+ foot altitude), Shannon and I made the trip up each morning thereafter to start our day off in good health.

Later, we had the great fortune to take a tour of the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical gardens -- a fabulous tour led by Carol, the ethnobotanist, who provided a wealth of knowledge about the plants, flora and fauna of the area. Oaxaca has the greatest plant biodiversity of any other region in the world; thus, they have created a well-planned and very informative garden display to educate the public in hopes to encourage conservation and preservation of the land. Carol introduced us to the Pochote tree – a tree laded with Hershey-kiss-like spikes running up its trunk that was said to symbolize the Zapotec Tree of Life -- the roots representing the ancestors, the trunk representing life and the horizontal extending branches representing the gods and heavens. We also learned of the various agaves which make fiber and mezcal. The wonderful cacti which provide flowers and fruits to eat, as well as can be made into candy – and play the host plant to the cochinilla -- a liitle bug that was the primary trade commodity back in the 17th and 18th centuries, for as it is dried and squished, it makes a brilliant palate of red and orange and brown colors used for to dye fabric. It is said that the royal clothing of the Spanish Monarchs, as well as the Red Coats of the American Revolution were all dyed using Oaxacan cochinilla dyes. (Over time, as happens too often, synthetic dyes took the place of the natural and there is little to no exporting of the cochinilla today.) For more information in Spanish:

New Year’s Eve found us celebrating Mexican style with many friends from the barrio. Early in the evening, we celebrated the 6th night of Kwanzaa (Kuumba – Creativity) with Ua, Tyerie and Kiini leading the way. Ua, all of 3 years old, had us marveling at her astute mind as she rattled off the Ki-Swahili and then switched back and forth between English and Spanish. We all shared our successes of the year and how we looked forward to living creatively in our present lives.

We then feasted on bacalao, emu sausage, fruits, cheeses and such. As the church bells rang in midnight, we each ate 12 grapes, making one wish per grape (a Mexican tradition) and then took our suitcases, and with sparklers in hand, ran through the streets (another Mexican tradition!). It was a fun and funny ritual that with hope brought us all much fortune for 2006 and much travel in the New Year (as the suitcases are to symbolize). We danced long into the night -- streamers flying and firecrackers sounding all through the streets.
New Year’s Day began with our morning venture up the Cerro Fortin. Shannon and I had the blessing to see a vermillion fly catcher -- a brilliant red headed and breasted bird that is said to bring good luck to those who see it. The sighting seemed fortuitous, given the year to come, with many exciting changes ahead.

We then took a lovely walk with M & L to Jalatlaco, a serene neighborhood with colorful church and beautiful trees. We explored the cemetery with dialogue about cremation, death and attachment, grieving processes and where we would like our ashes spread. It is inspiring and nutritious for me to be among friends with whom I can discuss ideas, creativity, politics, and life. I miss this at home and hope that we can build this into our life soon in Sandpoint. And if to top off New Year’s Day, we ended the day by renting the film “School of Rock,” an “I-would-have-never-picked-this-myself-in-fact-was-quite-dubious-but-turned-out-to-love-it” film. Rent it if you have the chance!

Our last day in Oaxaca began with a delicious brunch that Melissa made, some packing up, and then mid-afternoon excursion to Monte Alban, a tremendous site of Zapotec ruins set just a few kilometers outside of downtown Oaxaca City. These ruins represent the presence of the purported first “city” in all of MesoAmerica, some 2,500 years ago. The site has been well-excavated and visitors can get a real sense of the scope of the city that once existed. I am attaching a link here that describes the area well:

As we prepared ourselves for the return home, we were already reminiscing about the week’s events. The trip was filled with many memory-worthy sights, lots of love and friendship and moments of sheer astonishment about culture, traditions, time, human endurance, creativity and nature. I am so glad we had the opportunity to experience a small taste of Oaxaca!