Category Archives: Oaxaca

Australian Loteria, Part One

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Click on the picture to go to the NEH Oaxaca website, also known as the Wired Humanities Project. Scroll down to High School/Middle School Art / Celeste LeTard Williams / “Lotería” to download the PowerPoint tutorial.

Last summer, when I attended the NEH Oaxaca Institute for School Teachers, I created a PowerPoint tutorial on how to make an original Loteria game about any topic.  I am happy to say that it was posted on the Wired Humanities Project page along with some worksheets and resources for the classroom.  Just click on the image to the left and it will take you to the lesson plans prepared by myself and my colleagues from last summer’s Mesoamerican Institute.  You will need to scroll down to the section which says High School/Middle School Art, then look for my name and the title “Loteria”.  There are also some worksheets to be used for students to draw a loteria card, as well as a rubric and a sheet with the original cards and calling rhymes listed on it.

This year, I planned on having my students create a Loteria game about Australia.   The idea was to introduce the original Mexican Loteria and to have the students search out analogous icons and symbols from Australia to replace the Latino images.  I have done blog entries about this idea in the past. This one actually lists the different cards of the Loteria in order.   I also collect Loteria decks and images, which I use for classroom examples.

An important resource is also the gallery of Loteria Card Deck uploads at Elsewhere.org.  There are about 20 decks scanned and uploaded to the website.  They are great for examples.  You could have students research the images there, but just beware of the “Queer” Loteria because of inappropriate images.  Some of the other decks are great for pulling images.  Or, you can just purchase a Loteria game at a Mexican grocery or at an online source.

The thing I appreciate about Elsewhere.org is that there IS a variety of images.  So you can pick and choose your images for classroom appropriateness.  There are things on the traditional deck that could be considered inappropriate.  For example, La Sirena/The Mermaid is usually bare-breasted.  You can find images with covered breasts, such as the Anahuac Sirena and the Compadres Sirena.  There is a non-smoking El Catrin (also known as the Dandy, or the Gentleman), El Valiente (The Brave One)  without a weapon,  La Botella that is not Tequila – yes, I know, the one in the original deck is catsup, but I don’t like the image.

There are also some images that could be offensive, such as El Negrito (The Black Man) and El Borracho (The Drunkard).  And, El Soldado (The Soldier) is pretty much always going to have a gun.  But, you could replace those images with something else from one of the other decks, such as El Payaso (The Clown), or El Mono (The Monkey) or El Moro (The Moor, or Arab), or El Atleta (The Athlete) or Los Boxeadores (The Boxers).  Also, I like it that El Apache could also be El Azteca.  And… El Gorrito (the Bonnet – who wears a bonnet anymore?) could be replaced by El Sombrero (The Hat).  The possibilities are endless!

I really appreciate the work that was done with the Loteria Card Gallery.  Take some time to look throught the images.  Especially noteworthy are:

  • The Clemente Jacques Series 2 and Alternate Series 2 – These were introduced  in the 50’s or 60’s.  The images in the Series 2 Alternate look older than the Series 2, which are more refined.  These decks are very hard to find – I paid almost $100 for a Series 2 on E-Bay.
  • The Loteria de Teresa Villegas – also published by Clemente Jacques and available online – try E-Bay.  Teresa Villegas also has a website with more details about her Loteria project.
  • My Loteria, by Cristina Sosa Noriega, was available at HEB grocery stores, along with coordinating products.  Some of the products are still seen on e-Bay and she has a website.
  • The Loteria Zarela was commissioned by WalMart several years ago and was put on a product line for home and bath.  Zarela Martinez is a celebrated chef who has a restaurant in NYC and has authored many cookbooks.  She also had a designed loteria of fruits and vegetables.  These items are very hard to find now.
  • Maison-Celeste.com – my CafePress Store is where I display and sell my own Loteria designs.
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On Grant Writing

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National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars and Institutes for Teachers

Last year, I applied for and was accepted to participate in an NEH Summer Institute for Teachers.  This grant was to visit Oaxaca for four weeks to participate in an Institute on Mesoamerican Culture and the National Endowment for the Humanities paid $3300 towards the trip. That money covered the apartment rental, air fare, meals and various other expenses.  I had some money left over to buy some art and books – and I may have had some left over to pay for expenses for some of my family to visit…

I have spent some time trying to get the word out about the NEH seminars and institutes that are available this year.  I have encouraged my colleagues to apply.  There are two seminars that are going to be in France – one in Avignon and another in Paris, Lyon, and Normandy.  There appear to be many offerings for Spanish Speakers, with destinations such as Spain, Mexico, and New York City. Many of the seminars and institutes are in the United States, but there are others (besides the ones I mentioned) that will take you to Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Austria.

These seminars are open to teachers from K thru 12th grade.  All subjects are welcome – don’t assume that a trip to Mexico, for instance, is just for Spanish teachers.  In our Institute, which took place in Oaxaca, there were art teachers, Spanish teachers, social studies teachers, and even a media specialist and a science teacher.  Read the Dear Colleague letter and think to yourself about what you can bring to the table.  There is a new part of the program where graduate students may also apply (up to 3 positions can be filled with graduate student applicants).

In order to apply for a grant, you need to register online with the NEH.  An applicant can apply for up to two different seminars or programs, but can only attend one of the choices (if the applicant is offered a spot on both!).  Then, the application process is spelled out on the web pages of each of the participating universities.  Basically, it involves writing a 4 page essay on why you want/need/have to participate in that particular seminar.  I encourage you to have some concrete ideas or lesson plans or units that you envision completing during the seminar.  You will need to procure 2 to 3 sealed letters of reference from colleagues or administrators, and write up a curriculum vitae as well.

If you are planning on taking family or your spouse with you, I suggest that you contact the director of that program.  When I went to Oaxaca, my husband was able to accompany me there.  He could not participate in any of the classes or field trips, but he did go to the opening and closing receptions.  He also did all of the shopping and errands – it was good for his Spanish, I think.

The application deadline for an NEH Summer Seminar is March 1, 2011.  The application envelope has to be postmarked before March 1st.  I recommend that you use a delivery confirmation or something that will let you know it got to its destination.  I had a really great Director who was patient when I kept e-mailing to ask if my application had arrived (even though I had used delivery confirmation, there was a snafu in even THAT process!)  The participants are notified, I think, in April, and have a limited amount of time to accept or refuse the grant so that alternates can take their places.

Fund for Teachers Travel Grants

Four years ago, I was awarded $5000 from the Fund for Teachers to study Spanish in Morelia, Michoacan (Mexico) and to collect art and arts integration ideas from the region.  The grant was for five weeks and included air fare, apartment rental, one-on-one language classes and trips to Patzcuaro, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, and Puebla.  I also had money left over from my budget to buy art pieces to exhibit at my school.

Unfortunately for most teachers who live in Georgia, there are not many school systems that are eligible for Fund for Teachers Grants.  The organization is out of Houston, Texas and the year that I applied was the one and only year that Marietta City Schools employees were eligible to apply.  I believe that there must be some sort of auxiliary present in the system – a group of wealthy people, I mean – to raise part of the funds for their teachers.  That’s just a guess.  I think I’m right:  here is a page for Partners who provide funding.  But some Partners cover a lot of states.  You need to go to the Apply page and see if your school system is eligible.

When it comes to the application process, the Fund for Teachers Program is really the most user-friendly of the two.  The entire application is done online.  That means, of course, that you need to read over the instructions carefully and come up with your itinerary, project, and projected budget before you go online “live”.  There are all sorts of helpful resources – examples of successful essays, budget tips – really everything you need to get the process done right.  The added bonus is that you don’t have to worry about postmarking and mailing the application – and then worrying about when it gets there. I think that I remember that correctly, but it may have been necessary to apply online AND send in a written application.  Check the website.

Now, when you are awarded your trip, you are expected to keep up with all of your receipts and expenses, and make a detailed financial report when you return.  You are given a couple of months to gather your report materials, and to write an essay or make a scrapbook or do SOMETHING to record your experience.

One more note on the Fund for Teachers application process.  A couple of years ago, I was invited to participate in choosing the candidates for the Atlanta Program.  I believe that I received 3 to 4 applications ahead of time to read and evaluate. It was a lot of fun – we gathered at a nice restaurant and sat at round tables (about 7 to 8 to a table, I think).  After a presentation of the program and past participants, the people at my table got up and presented the application (or applications) that we thought merited a grant.  When we were done, we had ranked the applications in order of importance.  Then, the emcee went around to each table and chose grant recipients until there was no more grant money left!

It was amazing how passionate and defensive some of us got about our “pet” applicants.  We were truly disappointed when our pets did not make it.  On the other hand, it seemed easy to see those applicants who mixed up the name of the organization.  It’s not FUN for Teachers – although it can be.  I’m just saying that your application really does have to have some evidence that you will be sharing your experience with your students and colleagues.  Keep that in mind before you ask for that trip to Vegas to study “math”.

The application deadline for a Fund for Teachers Grant is January 28, 2011 @ 5:00 PM.  After that, the computer application center closes.  I know that’s short notice for this year, but, if your school system is eligible, consider it for next year.

Smoky Margarita Syrup

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I ran out of my last batch of smoky tea syrup and did not take notes when I made it.  So, today, I’m making some more.  I made regular margaritas yesterday and found them less tasty (okay, sweet.) than my new regular.

So, I have all of the ingredients handy, and I did write my measurements down:

First, start with the chile water:

Put the three chile peppers in a pan with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and let the chile peppers “steep” for a whle – you may smush the chile peppers with a wooden spoon if you like.

Strain the chiles into a receptacle to catch the chile water.  You may save the chiles for another use. Check the measurements and add more water if necessary to bring the amount to 3 cups again.

Next, use the chile water to steep your tea:

Return the chile water to the pot and bring to a light boil again.  Place tea bags in pot and steep for a while.

Add:

  • 1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Penzey’s smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Penzey’s ground red chipotle
  • a dash of cinnamon (okay, that may not be necessary)

Strain the mixture one more time and add the following while the water is still hot:

  • 2 cups sugar (1 cup white and 1 cup brown) – I ran out of white sugar.

I strained it one last time, adding a paper towel to my strainer to sift out most of the grains of spice.

Transfer to a glass or plastic bottle or container and keep in the refrigerator. Keeps in the refrigerator for over a month.

It looks sort of like this...Here is the first try-out:

Pour the ingredients (except the lime wedge) over ice into a cocktail shaker.  Shake well, then pour into a glass with crushed or chipped ice cubes.  Garnish with lime wedge.

Now, ordinarily, this is also supposed to include Mezcal, but I didn’t buy any this time.  I have to say that this is pretty good – I could taste the chipotle only in the concentrated syrup.  I didn’t think that the drink itself was spicy in a bad way.

In Pursuit of the Smokey Margarita…

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I spent the month of July and part of August in Oaxaca – it was an amazing opportunity.  I was awarded a fellowship to the NEH Summer Institute for Teachers there, where we studied Mesoamerican Cultures in History.  While we were there, we were educated on the production of mezcal, and even visited a mezcal distillery run by Beneva called Rancho Zapata.  The waiters there were kind enough to pass out free samples.  As were all of the pretty girls who ran the tasting rooms on the streets of Oaxaca.

The main difference between tequila and mezcal is the type of agave used, and the process for distillation.  The main characteristic, I think, for mezcal is that the agave is roasted before it’s fermented.  Here is a cute little video that leans a bit in the favor of mezcal…

Anyhoo… When I returned to Atlanta, I was happy to see that at my favorite restaurant – El Agavero Cantina – there was a drink offered called the Smokey Margarita.  It was actually a happy accident that I got to taste it.  My friend who arrived early had ordered it and did not like it.  She mentioned that it had mezcal in it.  So, I traded my margarita for hers.  Every since then, I have ordered it when I dine there.

Of course, I started wondering just what made it smokey.  Sure, mezcal has a smokey taste, but not that smokey.  So… to the internet!!!

In my search for the terms “smokey” and “margarita” – this is what I got:

A recipe by Bobby Flay for the Food Network:

  • 2 ounces tequila (recommended: El Tesoro)
  • 1-ounce Triple Sec
  • 1-ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • 1/2-ounce mezcal (recommended: Del Maguey “Chichicapa” Single Village Mezcal)

Place tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and shake until combined. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and pour mezcal on top; do not stir the mezcal into the drink, as it should “float” on top.

It was kicked up a notch by this reviewer: ” The mescal really adds some nice flavor. Took it one step further and picked up some smoked salt at whole foods to rim the glass and all I can say is that is one fantastic margarita smokey goodness.”

Here is another from the blog Daddy-O’s Martinis:

Build over ice in a double old fashioned glass.
1 oz metl silver mezcal
1/2 oz metl silver tequila
1/2 oz grand marnier
1/1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz agave nectar

Place the bottom of a cocktail shaker upside down to cover the old fashion glass and shake vigorously. Reserve drink in tin and salt rim of glass, pour back into the same glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

This one from Mission: Margarita – it is similar to Bobby Flay’s recipe.

Here is one that uses smoked paprika to add flavor:

Ingredients For 2 Cocktails

  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon
    smoked paprika,* divided
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 ounces tequila

Preparation

  1. Mix sea salt and 1 tablespoon of the smoked paprika on a small plate. Wet outside rims of margarita or other beverage glasses with lime wedge. Dip glasses into sea salt mixture to coat.
  2. Fill cocktail shaker with 2 cups of ice. Add lime juice, agave nectar, tequila and remaining 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika; shake until well mixed and chilled. Immediately pour into prepared glasses.

*The regular paprika you have in the spice cabinet is probably sweet paprika. Spanish smoked paprika is a special kind, smoked over oak fires so it takes on a smoky flavor. In Hungary, there are six classes, or types, of paprika ranging from delicate to hot. In order to achieve the flavors of this recipe, you’ll need to use Spanish smoked paprika.

But this recipe – Carlyle’s Smoky Margarita (notice the smoky instead of smokey?) – gave me some real ideas:

1.75 oz Herradura reposado tequila
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lapsang souchong syrup

Shake over ice and serve on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Here’s his note about the lapsang souchong syrup:

Lapsang souchong is a delicious Chinese black tea dried over burning pine wood. This distinctive process gives it a strong smoky aroma that lends itself well to use in cocktails. To make the syrup, simply brew hot lapsang souchong and mix with an equal volume of sugar.

So, I’ve been working with smokey things:  dried ancho chiles soaked in hot water, powdered chipotle chiles and ancho chiles, paprika (not the smoked kind, though), and I even a couple of packets of All Night Samba Yerba Mate tea I had in the pantry.  And, yes, I mixed them all together.  It wasn’t bad.

Now, so far, the only variety of Mezcal I have been able to find is Monte Alban.  It’s not bad, but I was just curious as to whether or not there was a smokier brand.

But, lucky for me, I live near downtown Norcross, home of a great shop called Taste of Britain.  And what do the British LOVE?  Tea!!!  Strong, black tea.  So, I stopped by and bought a large box of Taylor’s of Harrogate Lapsang Souchong tea bags.  And, boy are they smokey…

At the moment, this is my recipe:

1 part tequila (Jose Cuervo Traditional)

1/2 to 3/4  part Patron Citronge (or orange liqueur)

2 parts sour mix (I am using 1 part Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix and 1 part Sinless Margarita Mix at the moment)

1/2 to 1 part strong tea mix*

agave nectar to taste

*I am still tweaking the mix.  More on that later…

 

 

 

Two great meals in the Oaxaca area

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Yesterday, as part of our “Arts and Crafts Week” here at the NEH Summer Institute on Mesoamerican Culture, we went to the town of Teotitlan del Valle.  There, Lynn Stevens, a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies who lived and studied the weavers in Teotitlan.  She even learned how to speak Zapotec while she lived there!  Just for our visit, the family she lived with gathered and made a big lunch for us at their compound.

One of the things we did while we were there was to go out into the milpa, the cornfield.  There, corn (maize), beans and squash are grown at the same time (I had thought they were rotated by season or year).   The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb on, and the squash is planted between the rows to keep the ground covered and the weeds out.  While we were out there, one of the men pulled up a weed and told me to taste it.  He said that this weed was going to be a part of the soup we were going to eat shortly.

Here is a milpa

We went back to the compound, where we were given a demonstration of dying wool using natural colorings.  Then, we sat down to long tables and prepared to eat.  It is a tradition to toast the meal with mezcal shots, and we also had agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower drink) to drink.  As promised, the soup was served to us first.

I found out later that the herb used in the soup was called chepil (or chipil) and it was very good.  Here is the info on it from a website on Mexican culinary herbs:

Chepil or chipil crotalaria longirostrata:  An important ingredient in Oaxacan cooking, probably because of its drought resistance, the tiny leaves are tucked into the famous tamales de chepil and their green bean-like flavor adds a delicious touch to white rice.

The sopa de chepil was served with squash blossom quesadillas made with freshly made tortillas.  The soup itself seemed to be a broth (chicken?) with chilis and corn masa.  There was cut up squash and chepil leaves in the soup as well.  I thought it was great.

chepil in the wild

Following the soup was chicken in mole negro, accompanied by white rice.  The mole sauce was great and I ate all of mine.  Dessert was a strange regional dish called nicuatole.  It’s basically, in the words of a colleague, “corn jello”.  I had a version at one of the local restaurants that had a very smoky taste, but apparently this is not usual.  The nicuatole served in Teotitlan del Valle was made from blue corn and had a thin layer of red dye on the top (the dye came from cochineal beetles – the same red dye used to color the wool for the rugs.)

The next day, we had a very interesting talk on corn by Marietta Bernstorff of the MAMAZ (Mujeres Artistas y el Maíz) Collective.  She had gotten together a group of women artists who have made art related to corn and its importance in the cycle of life.  There is a wide variety of artwork in their shows, including photography, collage, installations and multi-media works.  They are very concerned in protecting the traditional varieties of corn indigenous to Mexico.

Nicuatole, or "corn jello"

Then, we went to Itanoní, a restaurant in Oaxaca City that specializes in native corn from the Oaxaca area.  We had a tasting menu that consisted of: quesadillas made with blue or white corn, memelas with beans and queso fresco, and chalupas.  Next time I go, I will need to try their agua fresca made with lime juice and mint (or the one with lime juice and parsley…).

Zapotec Ratatouille

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Before I came to Mexico, I made some (okay, a lot.  OKAY, TOO MUCH!) ratatouille in my crock pot.  Until we got tired of it, it was a good way to get our veggies in during the summer.  I am not always good about eating vegetables, and it’s nice to have some around to just heap in a bowl and run through the microwave.  With Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese on top, it was a meal.

There are a lot of recipes for ratatouille, but I definitely wanted to try and make it in the crock pot.  According to my computer, I either used this recipe or this one.  Because I live so close to the awesome and exotic Buford Highway Farmers’ Market, I had in the back of my mind an idea.  The idea was to make a ratatouille using vegetables and spices that come from Mexico.  I brainstormed:  Onion, Mexican zucchini, yellow squash, corn, poblano peppers, chayote, nopales, tomatillos… and I was going to use maybe epazote, dried chilies, cumin, Mexican oregano, and salsa verde to kick it up a bit.

I did a bit of searching on the internet, and of course, there are no new ideas under the sun, so I found a recipe for something called Mayan Ratatouille.  It is from Mario Martinez of A. J.’s Fine Foods in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is on several websites, so since I gave them credit, I will put it here:

Mayan Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 2 chayotes (also known as cho-cho or mirliton), halved, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Arbol chilies, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. achiote paste
  • 1 Turkish Bay leaf
  • 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise & sliced
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded & diced (substitute canned diced tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. dried epazote or 2 sprigs fresh
  • ¼ cup salad olives with pimento (or chopped pimento-stuffed green olives)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper or hot sauce to taste

Preparation:

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until lightly browned. Add the chayote, peppers, achiote and bay leaf and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini, tomato, paprika, cumin, and epazote and cook, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients except for the cilantro, mix well, lower heat to low and cook another 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in the cilantro, and season to taste with salt and pepper or hot sauce. Serves 6-8.

So, here I am in Oaxaca, with markets all over the place.  I sent my husband to the local equivalent of the WalMart here – interesting that they have a Sam’s Club, but no WalMart – with a translated list of ingredients.  The ones he was not able to find, I made up at the big market called Benito Juarez.  This afternoon, I chopped and chopped, and here is what I have so far:

Zapotec Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • 2 Mexican zucchini
  • 2 chayote squash (also called mirlitons)
  • 1/2 pound of chopped cactus paddles (nopales)
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 1/2 to 2 poblano peppers
  • 3 – 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tequila or mezcal
  • 1 – 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh epazote
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of Mexican oregano (1 tsp. crushed)
  • 1 – 2 tsp. of paprika (I sort of over-poured…)
  • 2 – 210 gram cans of Herdez salsa verde
  • 1 – 210 gram box of La Costena tomato puree
  • 1 ancho chili pepper

1.  First, crush and dice the cloves of garlic.  Then, chop up the poblano peppers and onions into a dice.  Pour olive oil in to a pan and sautee until fragrant and softened.  Add Tequila or mezcal and let it boil for a bit…

2. While you are doing the cutting, cut up the tomatoes, zucchini, chayote, and nopales (I bought my nopales already chopped).  I added the tomatoes first, then cumin and let it simmer for a while.

3.  I added a can of salsa verde to the mix, stirred a bit, then dumped the rest of the vegetables in.  They needed to cook until they are soft.

4.  Now is when I start to randomly add herbs and spices.  Epazote has a bit of an anise/licorice taste.  I chopped that up, added some parsley, then another can of Herdez, and the tomato puree.

5.  Finally, I soaked the ancho chiles in boiling water.  Then, after they were soft, I put some of the liquid in a blender, added the chiles, some cumin, and a clove of garlic and some tequila.  I used it as a marinade for the chicken I made, and then added the leftovers to the ratatouille.

Okay, so it’s not that scientific.  Obviously, I am not ready to write a cookbook yet…  But play around with it and let me know what you come up with.

Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw

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Just before I left for Oaxaca, I started collecting Zapotec (and other Oaxacan) myths and legends.  I just happened to come across this book called The Legend of Lord Eight Deer: An Epic of Ancient Mexico by Dr. John M. D. Pohl.  I ordered a second-hand copy on Amazon.com and received it a while before I left for Mexico.

The story is based on Dr. Pohl’s interpretation of the Codex Nuttall, and on his research in the Oaxaca area.  Apparently, Lord Eight Deer was an important historical figure of the area’s past.  Here is a brief description:

“The Codex Nuttall is made of deerhide, pieced together to make one continuous strip over 40 feet long and roughly 6-1/2 inches high, then folded fan-wise into 10 inch sections to form a compact, 98 page “book”. Both sides were coated with fine lime plaster and 88 of the pages were painted with the vivid little scenes and date glyphs in bright colors.

The book is very well-written, and actually helped me to understand some of my high falutin’ readings on the codices.  When I bought it, I planned on taking it with me in my suitcase, but my husband scanned it and made PDF’s for me.  It was a really good idea, but…

The first night that we all met as colleagues, the NEH Mesoamerican Studies people threw us this fabulous party at the Casa de la Cultura here in Oaxaca.  There was food, and mezcal, and honored guests… including Dr. Pohl.  Of course, after he was introduced, and they had finished talking, I made a beeline to speak to him.  I told him how much I enjoyed his book and he said, “Oh, if you have your copy with you, I could sign it for you!”

Um, er, well…

I explained to him about the scanning (purely to save space – I DO own a copy of the book) and we had a little chuckle about it.  Since then, of course, we have been honored with his presence at a talk last Monday on Mixtec Codices.  He happens to be here with a group of his students and accompanied our group on tours of Coixtlahuaca and the ruins nearby.

A Spanish version of the Lord 8 Deer story

I have also bought this book: Ocho Venado, Garra de Jaguar, héroe de varios códices by Krystyna Magdalena Libura – It is in Spanish, but has great illustrations and descriptions. I plan on buying a copy of the Codex Nuttall, which Dr. Pohl told us that he used as a “guidebook and map” of the Mixtec Valley of Oaxaca.

I know that I have spoken a lot about Lord Eight Deer, but have not given much information about him.  I have really enjoyed, however, testing my knowledge of the calendar naming system of the Aztecs – so that I can at least read some of the names.  Dr. Pohl, Dr. Spores, and Dr. Wood have also given us some basic instructions on reading the codices, as well.

Monte Alban and Mezcal, tour day part one

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Yesterday (Tuesday) was a field trip day.  The NEH fellows met at the corner of Constitucion and Reforma and boarded a large University bus with a very stoic bus driver with sideburns.  We made our way around the top of the valley to the archaeological zone of Monte Alban.  I had been there once before with my husband and father (in 2003), but this was a little different.

For one thing, we were accompanied by the foremost expert on Mixtec culture and history, Dr. Ronald Spores.  He would periodically stand up on the bus and point out places in the distance, usually covered by urban sprawl, that were Zapotec or Mixtec sites.  He maintains that the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state never “died”, but are alive and well up until the present.

We got down at the entrance to Monte Alban, where we were met by family members who came on a separate bus.  My husband and nephew were there – my husband taking pictures, of course.  My nephew, who is into geocaching, was volunteered by me to operate a GPS donated to the Virtual Oaxaca Project.  The idea was to map the exact locations of the major buildings at the site so that it can be recreated in a virtual world, probably on Second Life.

To that end, I walked around with a notebook and pen, and each time Robert (my nephew) plotted the coordinates of a major temple or the ball court, or anything major, I wrote down the name of the place and its coordinates (latitude and longitude).  It ended up being quicker to just do the last digit, the “seconds” because the degrees and the minutes did not change.

Let me tell you that we went to EVERY tomb, edifice, pile of rocks, etc. that there was at Monte Alban.  The only place I did not go was to the top of the South Pyramid.  My nephew, of course, trotted up and down that twice, measuring coordinates at the base of the steps and at the top of the structure.

I stayed at the bottom and tried to sketch a hieroglyph that looked a bit like Donald Duck – I don’t know what was up with the bill… Maybe it was a visor.  While I was sketching that, the husband of a co-participant (David Geer) was sketching me!

Can you tell it's me?

After we left Monte Alban, we were heading for Mitla.  First, we planned on stopping at a restaurant and mezcal distillery for lunch.  Alas, we has an adventurous side-track because the highway was blocked – we think it was some kind of protest.  Our bus driver said he knew a “short cut”. and turned off onto a dirt road.  A one-track dirt road.  With cars going in both directions as they made their way around the blockade.  Did I mention that we were in a tour bus?  He got through just fine, but boy, were we ready for some mezcal tasting when it was done!!!

Rancho Zapata was the name of the restaurant/showroom and it is one of those destination restaurants for families to come to for the weekend.  They bring their kids with them (there’s a playground), have a leisurely lunch on the covered patio, and buy a little mezcal.  The place is operated by Mezcal Benevá, and they also raise race horses there.  There are stables in the back.

The front of the restaurant is decorated with old pictures of Emilio Zapata, and the back room has starting gate and finish line photos of their winning horses.  In the back is also a palenque or press for getting the juice out of the maguey roots.  There are vats with maguey in several states of fermentation, and a big murky tub feeding liquid into the distillers.  From there, the mezcal drips into big plastic tanks to be bottled later, I guess.

Now, the one thing I learned about this whole process is that there are a LOT of flies.  Flies on the growing maguey plants, flies on the pulverized core, flies on the vats of fermenting pulp, and flies over the murky tub.  The one source of comfort is that that stuff is boiled, distilled and stored in a fly-proof tank.  Did you know that some mezcals (not all) have an maguey worm in them?  They should really put a fly in there!

More later!  I have another long day in a bus tomorrow and I’ve got to get to bed.

First Day of Class

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Exterior of Santo Domingo church

Yesterday was my first day of “classes”.  We meet in a beautiful convent (ex-convent?) called the Santo Domingo Cultural Center.  The best thing is that it’s only a couple of blocks from where we are staying.  We have to have ID badges to get in, and our class is being held in the back of the gigantic convent kitchen.  I will have to take pictures of the frescos – at least in our classroom.

First, we have “Homeroom” where we discuss things we’ve seen – this session was more of a “getting to know you” group.  After a break on the terrace overlooking the gardens, we were given an introduction to the different groups of indigenous people who live in the Oaxacan state by Dra. Maria de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, an ethnohistorian and senior researcher with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).

We walk past the cloisters to get to our classroom.

In the afternoon, we met at the Fundacion Bustamante for a  lecture given by Dr. Michael Swanton, Coordinator of Linguistic Projects at the Biblioteca Francisco Burgoa will speak to us on “Languages and Cultures in Oaxaca.”  It was not easy to find the Fundacion, but we finally got there.  As there were no more chairs, I sat on a table in the back.

In addition to this, my nephew, Robert, was scheduled to land at the airport at 7:00 PM for the third leg of his trip to visit us.  He first flew from New Orleans to Dallas/Ft. Worth, then from there to Mexico City, and finally from D. F. (another name for Mexico City) to Oaxaca.  There were several updates from my husband, but the bottom line was that his flight was 2 hours and 45 minutes late getting in.  To add to the confusion, Mexicana Click, the airline, changed the flight number.  So, although I was fairly certain they were the same flight, you never know…

When he got to the apartment, I made some sopes for him and we fixed up the futon in the living room for him to sleep on.  Even though he must have been beat, he wanted to come along on the trip to Monte Alban in the morning.  Since family members are not allowed on the bus, which is for US NEH scholars, there was an alternative plan.  All of the S. O.’s (Significant Others, so that no one get’s left out) were going to go separately and meet us there.

More about the field trip tomorrow.  Time to go to bed!

Getting a cell phone in Mexico…

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Yesterday, my husband and I got off to a slow start, exhausted from our travels.  Our priorities, after seeking breakfast – er, brunch – were:

  • find a Telcel cellphone retailer and buy SIM card chips to make our phones work less expensively in Mexico.
  • Go to a Soriana supermarket – which is the closest there is to a WalMart here in Oaxaca.  (Curiously, Sam’s Club – Yes; WalMart – No).
  • Get everything put away in our little kitchen and apartment.

After a lovely breakfast of chilaquiles and Diet Coke, we set off on foot to find the Telcel store recommended by Dr. Wood (my program chief).  It was located on 607 Porfirio Diaz, a street which is only one block over from our street, Garcia Vigil.  Or so we thought…

First, we did locate the local mercado (a street market, or hive of small business owners selling everything from blue jeans to saddles to meat to produce).  We took note of the location and plan to go there for stocking up on fresh foods.  Since it was on Porfirio Diaz, we kept going north.  The address numbers read 200, then 300, so we were pretty sure that 607 would come up soon.

After a while we were walking along a beautiful old aqueduct, and then we came upon a stretch of street where everything was broken up.  While we were trying to decide how to get around it, we noticed that the street numbers had far surpassed the 600s.  So, we tracked back, counting carefully as we retraced our steps.  No Telcel store.

We looked at the address again – it said 607 Calz. Porfirio Diaz.  Calz. stands for calzada.  Could there be two different Porfirio Diaz streets?  Well, coming from “Peachtree Street USA” – we figured it was possible.  The first person we asked – a young lady selling newspapers in candy from a booth on the sidewalk – had no idea what we were talking about.

We moved on to a hotel lobby with a gift shop, and that young lady led us to a big map they had posted on a wall in the shop.  Yes, Calzada Porfirio Diaz is different from Porfirio Diaz (calzada means road).  She then indulged me by showing me how to pronounce “Netzahualcoyotl” – the name of a street I espied and hoped I never had to use in giving directions.

As we were walking along Niños Héroes, a major thoroughfare, we espied an Office Depot.  My husband was so excited!  We could check on printer prices.  So, while I was temporarily distracted by the abundance of Distroller notebooks and backpacks, he went to the printer area and scoped things out.  We were able to buy a printer/scanner for about what you’d pay in the U.S. for a bottom of the line item of this sort.  We decided to return here after the Telcel store and buy one, taking a taxi home.

After we found the correct Porfirio Diaz, we started up the street.  Many businesses and residences do not have numbers, so we had to keep track whenever we espied one.  These blocks seemed MUCH longer than the ones on the previous street, and I didn’t know if I would make it to 607.  In the middle of the 200 block, I saw a 300 address – but it was just a cruel joke.  Finally, we took refuge in a paleta (ice cream popsicles) shop called Popeye.  I had a cajeta paleta and Wheat had a pineapple.

We agreed that it was going to take forever to get 4 more blocks under our beld, so we decided to ask at the Telcel store across the street.  There was a security guard there, and he had no idea where 607 was.  He was very friendly, though, and this was a large Telcel store, so we decided to settle on that one.  Recommendations be damned.

(My husband wanted me to include his joke – He requested “Dos tarjetas SIM por Carlos Slim” – the guy did laugh)

The process of replacing our chips was fairly straightforward, since my husband had obtained the unlock codes from AT&T before we left.  For about $15 each, we got a Oaxacan phone number and 50 pesos of talk time (about 20 local minutes).  After it was all said and done, the cashier handed over our paper work.  Guess where we were?  607 Calz. Porfirio Diaz.  Talk about an inscrutable address system!

We hailed a taxi, who took us to the Office Depot and waited while we got the printer and some paper (and a Distroller notebook for me).  Then, we went home.  Throughout the day, my pedometer told me we had walked 6.66 miles.  Whew!