From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions

Working full-time and pursuing an MBA do not leave very much free time. Immediately after the new year, there was a gap of about a week before major assignments were due. We took advantage of this opportunity for a trip to México City, only a two-hour flight from Houston. There was the added benefit that Cornell has a board room of students in México City and I was able to join them for class.

The purpose of the trip was to show our son some of the many treasures of México. We went on a whirlwind tour of murals, pyramids, cathedrals, archaeological ruins, culture and gastronomy. Along the way, my husband and son appeased me by allowing me to look for interesting textile arts.

We could have spent days walking through the vast National Museum of Anthropology. The museum features grand salons for every major period of Mexican history. We made a beeline toward the magnificent Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), which is often incorrectly called the Aztec calendar. The Stone of the Sun is 3 feet deep, almost 12 feet wide and weighs almost 25 tons.

IMG_1546

The stone “depicts the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology. …it is an elaborately carved solar disk, which for the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures represented rulership. At the top of the stone is a date glyph (13 reed) which represents both the beginning of the present sun, the 5th and final one according to mythology, and the actual date 1427 CE, thereby legitimizing the rule of Itzcoatl (who took power in that year) and creating a bond between the divine and mankind.

(Source: http://www.ancient.eu/Sun_Stone/)

Textiles

After staring at awe at the massive stone, we wandered through various halls and came across these ancient textiles of the indigenous Nahua.

“Clothing distinguishes the indigenous groups of México and even within one group. Among the Nahuas each subgroup, each region and even each village has its own way of dressing. Each pattern conserves a tradition, each design speaks of knowledge maintained over the centuries, each form represents a way of seeing the world.”

(Source: Museum placard)

Basketry

We saw woven bags and baskets made from hard fibers such as junco, bejuco, palm and carrizo.

Weaving

This is a reproduction of a typical home in the village of Contla in the state of Tlaxcala. According to the museum placard, rustic pedaled looms were installed in any available space.

Crafts

A day at the Saturday Bazaar in San Ángel yielded a wonderful surprise. Since we were there right after Christmas, we saw all the winning entries for the Primer Concurso Nacional, “De Principio a Fin, Tradiciones Populares Mexicanas” (First National Competition, “From Beginning to End, Popular Mexican Traditions”). Themes revolved around the Day of the Dead and Christmas.

Las piezas que se elaboran con motivo de estas festividades, dan cuenta de la compleja concepción de la vida humana y de la constante interacción entre la vida y la muerte dentro de la cultura popular mexicana.

The pieces that are created for these festivities tell the story of the complex idea of life and the constant interaction between life and death within popular mexican culture.

(Source: Event signage. Translations are mine.)

Nacimiento tejido en palma natural maciza y tierna, elaborada con técnica de esfera. 38 piezas.

Nativity woven from natural strong and tender palm constructed with a spherical technique. 38 pieces.

Carro alegórico con ofenda tradicional del Día de muertos, elaborado con fibra de trigo. Tiempo de elaboración: 1 semana

Allegorical vehicle with a traditional offering of the day of the dead, constructed with wheat fibers. Time to produce: 1 week.

“Los animales van a ver el nacimiento”
Tira bordada con hilo de algodón mercerizado con punto fino. Tiempo de elaboración: 4 meses

“The animals go to see the nativity.” Embroidered strip with mercerized cotton thread with a fine point. Time to produce: 4 months.

Nacimiento con bordado fino mazahaua en manta de algodón.

Finely embroidered nativity on cotton cloth in the style of the Mazahaua people.

“La tradición de mi pueblo”
Servilleta elaborada en telar de cintura, con técnica de brocado, tenida con tintes naturales: caracol púrpura y algodón coyuchi verde.

“The tradition of my village.” Napkin woven on a backstrap loom with brocade technique and tinted with natural dyes: purple snails and organic green cotton.”

“Nacimiento tradicional de Cuetzalan del Progreso. Puebla.”
Telar de cintura de algodón azul, bordado de brocado.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

“Traditional nativity of the city of Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla.” Blue cotton on a backstrap loom embroidered in brocade. Time to produce: 1 month

Tapiz de Nacimiento Mexicano, elaborado en telar de cintura de algodón con doble alzadera y puntas de flecos.
Tiempo de elaboración: 1 mes

Tapestry of the Mexican Nativity, woven on a backstrap loom out of cotton with fringe. Time to produce: 1 month

These are only a sampling of the many handicrafts we saw during our trip. More to come.

Spring Blooms

For Easter weekend, our family congregated at my sister’s home in San Antonio, Texas. It is a three-hour monotonous drive between Houston and San Antonio on Interstate 10. As I was traveling alone, I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting. I took a detour north on State Highway 71 headed to La Grange, Texas – population just under 5,000 and home of the Texas Quilt Museum.

There were three exhibits on display that were particularly impressive. The first, “Modern Quilt Guild at the Texas Quilt Museum” showcased the guild’s first juried quilt show. Photography is not allowed inside the museum but you can see photos at the Modern Quilt Guild’s blog. Here is one sample.

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Source: MQG Blog

Also on display were the Magna Carta Quilts from the UK. There are a total of eight quilts. According to the Magna Carta Quilt website:

…four Medieval Quilts will tell the story of the Magna Carta in a graphic novel style… The story starts with the death of Richard the Lionheart, which lead to the ascension of his brother John to the throne of England, runs through the events leading up to the sealing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede… The Magna Carta was the first document ever imposed upon a King of England…by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The four Legacy Quilts…will be the shields of the 25 feudal barons who drew up the terms of the Magna Carta…

The detail of these quilts was mind-boggling. The figures depicted all had singular expressions, carried different items in their hands and wore varied medieval clothing according to their rank.

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Medieval Quilt IV (Source: Magna Carta Quilt)

The third exhibit of note was called “Wild Fabrications” sponsored by the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). You can view the entire exhibit online at the SAQA website in a slide show format. I highly recommend viewing it in full screen mode. My favorite was the polar bear.

larrea-NowYouSeeHim-Full-2nd
Now You See Him by Cat Larrea (Source: SAQA)

Wild Fabrications celebrates a world of animals both real and fantastical. The theme not only lends itself particularly to bold colors and whimsical imagery, but also to beautiful realism, and humor that can be ebullient or dark.

On the exterior side wall of the building that houses The Quilt Museum is this stunning mural that depicts traditional 19th century quilts.

Quilt Museum Exterior

The mural serves as a backdrop to Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

Many quilt makers…are also gardeners, and many quilt patterns were inspired by flowers, plants, trees, and nature in general. We named the garden for a beloved Depression-era quilt pattern, “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

Grandmother's Flower Garden 1

Grandmother's Flower Garden 2

Grandmother's Flower Garden 3

And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit, next door to The Quilt Museum is a fabric and YARN store called The Quilted Skein.

The Quilted Skein

There were four rooms of fabrics in all colors and patterns. And WALLS OF YARN.

The Quilted Skein - Yarn Wall

The staff was busily climbing ladders to hang up beautiful new quilt displays. They were having a good time making sure no one toppled off ladders and took time to assist me as I perused the yarn and picked out some fabric squares.

The Quilted Skein - Sock Yarn

It was time to get back on I-10 and continue my trip to San Antonio. From La Grange, I took a leisurely drive on Farm to Market Road 609. The countryside was littered with bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes – picture-perfect scenery.

Bluebonnets on FM 609

Indian Paintbrushes on FM 609

Back on I-10, I made another stop in Seguin, Texas, the pecan capital of the world – so-called because of the large production of pecans in the area. Seguin has a quaint downtown historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. My destination was You’re So Crafty, a crafts store for making pottery, painting, beadwork, knitting and spinning. One could spend weeks here and not run out of crafty things to do.

You're So Crafty - Spinning Tools

This display was full of yarn spun from locally produced fibers. These skeins are from Windmill Crest Farms, a small alpaca farm of about 50 animals located in Seguin.

You're So Crafty Local Yarn

Content with the day’s discoveries, it was time to make the rest of the trip to my sister’s house. Both my brothers from back home and my mom and aunt were there, plus some neighbors. Between all of us, there were 25+ kids and adults hitting piñatas and cracking cascarones on each others’ heads – brightly colored confetti everywhere! After the meal, the older kids (teens and college students) gathered at the dining room table for a fierce game of Monopoly. As my siblings and I sat outside, we reminisced about how once upon a time, it was us running around the yard and competing at board games. Now we sat around comparing what medications and maladies we had in common. We had good laughs and good food surrounded by family. It was a glorious weekend full of spring blooms.

Slices of South African History

A must-stop in South Africa is the Apartheid Museum. As you walk through the museum, the history of 20th Century South Africa unfolds. Even the entrance makes a statement. The ticket to the museum arbitrarily assigns you as either Blanke or Nie-Blanke; and depending on which you draw, you enter through the appropriately labelled door. Thus begins a lesson in history.

Apartheid Museum Entrance

It could easily take days to truly appreciate every exhibit and to read about the many cultures converging on South Africa before apartheid – the Dutch (or Afrikaans), the Brits, the Chinese and others.  Clips from speeches and news casts and stark photographs tell a story that is hard to hear but impossible to turn away from.

Apartheid Museum Taxi Sign

In a small courtyard, stands a replica of the cell (roughly 10’x10′) in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. It was difficult walking through it and daring to imagine nearly a lifetime inside of it.

Apartheid Museum Mandela's Cell

In one section of the museum, countless nooses hanging from the ceiling served as reminders of all who were tortured and killed fighting for freedom of oppression.

Apartheid Museum Nooses

It was eerily quiet as I walked past the solitary confinement cells.

Apartheid Museum Solitary Confinement

Time flew inside the museum. Two and a half hours later, we were on our way to Soweto or South Western Township.

Soweto Sign

We stopped at the Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West Soweto. The house was small but full of history. The house has been restored and converted to a museum. The blemish in the middle of the wood beam in the top left photo is a bullet hole. If you enlarge the photo of the open window (top right), you will see a message inscribed into the brick wall. I love that I captured this photograph of the house just as the sun shone brightly above it.

Soweto Mandela's House

Soweto Mandela's Home Back Entry

‘It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Inside the home turned museum were artifacts from Nelson Mandela’s life. According to the placard, in the early years of his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was only allowed to write and send one letter every six months.

Soweto Mandela's Letter from Prison

Besides the Mandela House, we stopped by the former home of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Amazing that two Nobel Price Laureates lived a mere two blocks from each other. We also stopped by the memorial to 12-year old Hector Pieterson who was killed by police during a student demonstration. For an interesting recent article on Soweto, read ‘The Nobel Street’ where Mandela and Tutu lived by Alex Court and Diane McCarthy for CNN.

Soweto Hector Pieterson Memorial

While much of the housing in Soweto was modernized, our driver did take us past some of the squatter camps, communities without running water or electricity. If you look closely, you may see an antennae or two above the shacks, possibly electricity being diverted from the nearby train tracks.

Soweto Squatter Camp

We were fortunate to have a few hours to visit the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site at Maropeng, about an hour’s drive outside Johannesburg. Maropeng means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana, the main indigenous language in this area of South Africa. (source)

Cradle of Humankind Visitor Center

Featured inside were the over 1,500 fossils of the Homo Naledi skeleton. What an amazing opportunity to see something of such historical significance first-hand! To learn more about this find, you can read the National Geographic article online.

Cradle of Humankind Homo Naledi Fossils 1

The top photos are close-ups of the Homo Naledi jawbone, teeth and hand. Below are 3D printouts of the reconstructed Homo Naledi foot compared side-by-side to the Au. sediba foot and the foot of a modern human being. (source: museum display placard)

Cradle of Humankind Homo Naledi Fossils 2

Stepping outside, I could see for miles across the South African landscape.

Cradle of Humankind Landscape

South Africa is a place of stark contrasts. We drove past mansions surrounded by high walls and vibrant flowering plants and lush trees, except that each wall was topped by barbed wire or electrified fences. We were told under no circumstances should we walk along the streets unescorted and certainly not past nightfall. This is a country rich in natural resources such as gold and diamonds and where over 17,000 murders occurred in one year (source). Yet it is a vibrant place full of energy and possibility and a rich history. I hope to have another opportunity to return and more time to explore.

College, a President and Needlepoint

During the Winter break, my son and I went to visit colleges. It was sort of a Mother-Son trip. We hung out, talked, tried new restaurants, and toured the campus. It was nice having that one-on-one time with my 17-year old. Soon enough he will be gone from home and I cherish these moments together.

While visiting the campus of Texas A&M University, we stopped at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. A long time ago, when I worked on the Hill, I came within a few yards of then President Bush (the elder, not “W”). Visiting the museum gave me a deeper appreciation of him. The museum chronicles his time in the service, how he was married with a baby during college, and his rise in politics. Coincidentally, while we were visiting the museum, he was hospitalized in Houston; and more recently, he and Barbara Bush celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary! Regardless of your politics, that is impressive. He even tweeted about this milestone – so sweet!

As interesting as all the artifacts and exhibits of his life were, my attention was diverted by several yarn-related installations. Much to my son’s chagrin, I spent a considerable amount of time admiring and photographing these adorable yarn houses and an amazing Noah’s Ark and Nativity Scene done in needlepoint. They were stitched by the Saintly Stitchers from Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The Nativity Scene was presented to the President and Mrs. Bush in 1989, and the Noah’s Ark was presented to them in 1991 along with needlepoint ornaments for the White House Christmas tree.

I highly recommend clicking on any photo below to view larger images. That way you can see the detail of the needlepoint. So much care went into each figure. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with my boy.

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Tres

It seemed fitting to share photos of our visit to La Catedral de Sal on a holy weekend. We visited on our third day in Bogotá. The cathedral is an old salt mine that has been converted into a Catholic Church 200 meters below ground. Mass is held on Sundays at noon.

Inside the mines, long vacuous tunnels show the routes miners took when the mine was active. At different points, you can look over the edges of seemingly bottomless cliffs. As you enter the mines, the tunnels have been converted into the Stations of the Cross depicting  the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion. Regardless of one’s belief system, I think it’s a beautiful representation of a spiritual journey. Each station is hand carved out of the halite and incorporates symbolic properties of the salt and the mines into each stop.

You can even pay a small additional fee and be a miner for the day. They provide hard hats and pick axes and you spend 30-45 minutes experiencing the mine through the eyes of a miner. We passed on this part. The thought of crawling through narrow, low caves made me catch my breath!

We did not get to spend any time in the city of Zipaquira which looked like a vibrant but quaint colonial town. On the way back to the city, we enjoyed the gorgeous views of the mountains and the lush countryside. We passed green fields dotted with grazing cattle and greenhouses nurturing the flora and fauna of Colombia. What a wonderful way to cap off our three days.

The best way to view these is by clicking on the first photo (twice). This will enlarge them and allow you to read the commentary. Hint: You may have to scroll down a bit to see the comments.

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Dos

The highlight of our second day in Bogotá was a visit to the Museo Botero. Fernando Botero’s paintings and sculptures are characterized by disproportionately large people and objects. I felt as if I was looking at the portrayals through a different lens. They made me smile.

Museo Botero - Monalisa

Museo Botero - Pareja Bailando

Museo Botero - Concierto Campestre

The museum is located inside a roomy house built in the early 1700s for the local archbishops. It has wide verandas and beautiful gardens with views of the nearby mountains.

Museo Botero - Casa 1

Museo Botero - Casa 2

The museum also has a collection of art by international and local artists. This large textile was another favorite. It is the work of Olga de Amaral, a textile artist from Bogotá.

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98

The tapestry is called Muro tejido No. 98 (Ca. 1972), made from animal and vegetable fibers.

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98 a

Museo Botero - Muro Tejido No. 98 b

Our last stop was all about shopping! The Galería Artesanal de Colombia had countless tienditas (little stores) full of local arts and crafts

Galería Artesanal de Colombia

I fell in love with these exquisite crochet bags handmade by Wayúu women. The bags are crocheted with cotton thread and come in vibrant colors and interesting designs, each unique to the woman who made it. Multiple threads are woven together to make the straps.

Bolsos Wayuu 1

As young Wayuu women come of age, they learn to weave and crochet Wayuu Mochila bags. According to legend, the tradition comes from “Wale´kerü”, a spider that taught the women how to weave their creative drawings into the Mochila bags. Each design incorporated into every Mochila bag is unique to the weaver, telling a story through the bag’s colors, patterns and shapes. (Source)

Bolsos Wayuu 2

Along the long aisles of hammocks, baskets, bracelets and hats, there were more crocheted bags.

Colombian Crochet Bags

There were also textiles woven in bright colors.

Colombian Textiles

By the end of the day, my head was spinnng, possibly due to the explosion of color, or the altitude! Another amazing day in Bogotá.

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Uno

This was our first visit to Colombia and now I know where all the beautiful people come from. The capitol is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. The vegetation is rich and green and vibrant with colorful flowers. The people are charming and open and beautiful inside and out. Here is a recap of three wonderful days in Bogotá.

Day One

We walked through the cobblestoned streets of the historic La Calendaria district. At its center is Plaza Bolívar anchored at one end by the Cathedral of Bogotá. The Cathedral was built in the early 1800s (source) and has seen better days. But the church and the plaza were still the heart of the city pulsing with people and activity.

Cathedral of Bogotá

The plaza was taken over by pigeons, hundreds of them. People were buying dried kernels of corn from the street vendors and feeding them. For a moment, I had the sensation that I was in the middle of a Hitchcock movie.

Birds at Plaza de Bolívar

And what’s a plaza without llamas!

Llamas at Plaza de Bolívar

Close to Plaza Bolívar is a very small restaurant called “La Puerta Falsa” (The Fake Door) that has been around since 1816 (source). The first thing that draws you in is the window featuring trays full of these.

Dulces de Colombia

The ones on top are cocadas de arequipe con cacahuates y cocadas blancas (coconut with dulce de leche and peanuts and sugared coconut). The goodies at the bottom are called Marquesas. They are filled with fruits such as guanábana and moro (sour sop and mulberries).

Inside the tiny restaurant, we had a typical Colombian meal of tamales and ajiaco. The tamale was filled with a delicious mixture of cornmeal, chicken, chick peas and carrots all wrapped and tied inside large green banana leaves. To accompany it I had a glass of fresh mulberry juice. My husband had the Ajiaco Santafereño, a thick soup of chicken, yellow potatoes and corn. It was accompanied by rice, avocado slices, crema fresca (fresh cream) and capers.

Tamale Santafereño

Ajiaco Santafereńo

It so happens that “La Puerta Falsa” was featured in an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. Watch Anthony enjoy a steaming tamale.


Our next stop was el Cerro Monserrate, a mountain in the center of the city. One can hike up or take either a train or cable car. We chose the teleférico (cable car). The cable car took us over the funicular rails below.

Ruta de Funicular

Once up the mountain, from 3,170 meters above sea level, there was this incredible view of Bogotá. The city stretched farther than I could see, possibly due to the smog. According to Colombia’s Official Travel Guide, the city has over 10 million people.

Bogotá from Monserrate Peak

Bell at Monserrate Peak

The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) featured pre-Colombian art hammered out of gold.

Museo de Oro - Gold Funeral Mask

Gold funeral masks…made of the sacred metal…immortalized the chieftains with their symbolic power.

Museo de Oro - Gold Ceremonial Ornaments

During ceremonies, the hanging plates on ornaments twinkled in the light and gave off metallic sounds…

Museo de Oro - Circular Symbol of Time

Time was conceived as being cyclical or like a spiral…

As I turned a corner to the next exhibit room, I saw this.

Museo de Oro - Spinning Exhibit

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 1

The spindle whorls that were used for spinning were fitted to the end of the stick which the cotton thread was rolled around. Fabrics from this region were noted for their fine quality.

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 2

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 3

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 4

Like a metaphor, the weave notion can be seen in the filigree work in earrings…and in other objects… [200 a.C – 1000 d.C]

Museo de Oro - Woven Net

Museo de Oro - Filigree Earring Detail

Cotton and sisal were spun using spindles that were driven by engraved stone whorls…

Museo de Oro - Engraved Stone Whorls

Museo de Oro - Spun Cotton

…and the resulting thread was used for making blankets, caps, bags and nets. [600 d.C – 1600 d.C]

Museo de Oro - Crochet Bag

We ended Day One with a fantastic dinner at Andrés Carne de Res. We went to the city center location; the original is in the suburb of Chia. I can’t tell you more about it because no retelling will do it justice. It’s the sort of place you simply have to experience, like Bogotá.

Of Yarn and Kimonos

It was almost time for my 60-day visa to expire and I had to leave China to renew it. So off we went to Tokyo. My first priority was yarn. I googled yarn stores in Tokyo and several blogs had recommendations. I made my list and went in search of yarn.

My first attempt was a fail. We took a long circuitous route in search of Mother Earth supposedly located at 3-3-39 Minamiazabu Minato-ku. We strolled through some very interesting neighborhoods, but no Mother Earth.

The second attempt was also a fail. I was in search of Avril, which is known as Habu Textiles in the USA. From examining a Tokyo Metro map, the stop was somewhat off the grid. Given that I had some lovely yarn from Habu Textiles in my stash already, I decided to forego Avril.

Attempt #3 was a home run. We took the Tokyo Metro from the Roppongi Station to the Shinjuku Station. According to Wikipedia, “the station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it … the world’s busiest transport hub.” I believe it.

Finding the yarn store required navigating the streets with our smart phone map. It isn’t too far from the station, but it is tucked away on a busy pedestrian street. Okadaya is an arts and crafts store. Different floors house sewing supplies, buttons, ribbons, wigs, and yarn. Photos are not allowed but just imagine yarn nirvana. There was Noro, of course, but I selected Japanese brands that I had not seen in the United States.

First I found Sonomono in this natural color. Each ball is 40 grams, 64 meters of 40% Alpaca, 30% Wool and 30% Linen.

Sonomono Yarn 1

Sonomono Yarn 2

After my husband checked on me to make sure I had not suffocated in a crate of yarn (I guess I was up there a long time), I picked up two of these cotton cupcakes by Nicotto. Each cupcake is 30 grams, 50 meters of 100% Cotton.

Nicotto Yarn 1

Nicotto Yarn 2

We also took some time to visit a couple of museums. The Tokyo National Museum was a highlight with its display of beautiful kimonos from the Edo Period (17c-19c). The garments were in glass display cases so the photos may have reflections.

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Woven Hair Textile

More photographs from the husband taken at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center in Thailand. This textile is called Trailak (The Three Characteristics of Existence), 2012. It is woven entirely of hair.

Trailak by Thanawat Muncid

The placard reads:

From his faith towards Dhamma regarding Trailak (The Three Characteristics of existence) that teaches people to consider on truth of impermanence, incompleteness and non-self. This teaching inspired the artist to weave hair that is the symbol of body or impermanence to be created as a mixed media in the form of a pagoda referred to something we should remind and pay respect at all times. The objective of this artwork is to express idea, emotion and feeling obtained from considering corpse that is the mark of death in order to refine our mind from lust and omit wickedness with the aim to do good things and reach pure heart according to Buddha’s teaching.

Trailak by Thanawat Muncid - Close-up

I am assuming that the weaver used human hair to symbolize impermanence. The pagoda is incredible, with so much detail to give it its shape and ornamentation. It is rather interesting to me how buildings such as churches, temples and other holy places can last for centuries far outliving the humans who built them.