Friday, August 10, 2007

Serious Doubt

Everyone pretty much spent Sunday recuperating from the previous night's activities, but I decided I wanted to go to the market in Tlacolula since it would be my last chance to check it out. The market in Tlacolula only happens on Sundays and the class had gone the week before, but I stayed at home to rest. The cool thing about the market here is that all the local vendors and shoppers come to the market dressed in their wonderfully colorful local dress. Most of the women wear a dress with an embroidered apron over it, ribbons braided into their long hair, and silk scarves. It's quite beautiful.


The nice thing about Tlacolula is that it is a little smaller than Abastos (which I visited the previous Saturday) and therefore more manageable. Plus there are a lot more artisans selling here, so you can get rugs, embroidered tops, pottery, etc. in addition to veggies, bread, and other household items.

We got back to the house pretty late in the afternoon and rested up to prepare for the writing class later that evening. After class, Raul wanted to have a quick meeting with Team Leather, as we were heading out to San Dionisio Ocotepec the following day and he wanted to make sure we were prepared.


First of all, a little bit of history...Don German and Dona Clara have 5 daughters and 1 son. One of their daughters is named Sarahi, and she is involved with the program, as an assistant (she lives at the house and all). Last year, Sarahi and one of the other daughters worked with the class as artisans. This year, we are working primarily with Don German. Raul is very involved with this family and he cares deeply for them, and as I mentioned before, they are at a serious turning point financially. Apparently Don German is always flip flopping on whether or not he will go to the States. Adding to this somewhat complicated situation is the fact that Don German is a very difficult man. There are many different issues at play here...first, the leather group is composed of four women (me, Katy, Adrien, and Lindsey), and this is a man surrounded by a family of women, and pretty strong women at that. It seems sometimes that he is just trying to keep his head above water and maintain his power as head of the household. Every time he comes to our house, he is dying to talk to any of the boys--Raul, Tomo, Josh. Secondly, he is a pretty proud man, and it seems that he is always testing us, making us prove ourselves. I think he was pretty disappointed in our performance the first day we worked together (when we all made huaraches) he expected us to be perfect cobblers our first time. Don German is a man who makes you earn his respect...the hard way. Finally, he, unlike his daughter Sarahi, is less comfortable with experimentation and the process we are advocating...I think he finds it all very weird and has a harder time making the leap from a form experiment to product.

So, you can see this is kind of a hairy situation...on top of the design challenges, we also have a lot of interpersonal challenges to work with. Raul had a short meeting with us to make sure everything went smoothly with Don German this week.

The aim of the class is arrive at a mutual understanding of each others' processes: the artisans share with us their mastery of a certain craft, and we share with them our design process (which involves experimentation, prototypes, etc.--things that are completely foreign to them). This is to result in a hybrid process wherein we collaborate on new designs together. Well, as you can see in one of my previous posts, I created a bag and a shoe. Apparently I wasn't supposed to do that...instead of making a bag, I should have just cut slits into a piece of leather and taken it to Don German and asked, "What should this be?" I've found that often, communication of the class objectives and processes are not very clear, and I did not realize that what I did (i.e., create a finished product) was not ideal. Raul pointed out that the last thing we wanted to do was to go to the artisan and say, "I designed this, now you make it." I was kind of freaking out a bit that I had messed things up in terms of the collaboration, but I was able to calm myself down a bit by realizing that: 1. Raul freaks out for no reason all the time (really, he's pretty dramatic), and 2. We had a pretty wide range of stuff in the group, from finished products to form experimentations, so there was still room for collaboration with Don German. In any case, the discussion on Sunday night left me pretty nervous about the meeting the following day.

We headed out to San Dionsio Ocotepec the following day (Monday) with Mariana (the class TA) as translator. I think we were all on edge a bit from the previous night's discussion, but we agreed amongst the four of us in the car that it was OK that we had a few finished products because Don German is a man that wants to be impressed (remember the whole earning his trust thing?) and also because he has a harder time looking at the result of an experiment and being able to see where we might be able to push it. For these reasons, we decided it would be a good idea for me to present my stuff first. I had woken up that morning feeling kind of weird (I would find out later I had an amoeba) and I was really nervous presenting my shoe and my bag to him.


Well, I am happy to say that he was ecstatic with our designs. He kept asking if all of this had come out of my brain, and saying that our heads should be smoking because we were on fire. SCHWOO. He wanted to start making stuff right away, but we kept telling him that we weren't ready for that--we still wanted him to take our ideas and see where he could take the concepts. He was pretty reluctant to do any experimentation--he just wanted to start making stuff, but we felt it was important if we were going to try to collaborate. We spent the rest of the day explaining our concepts and showing him how we had made everything, and we decided to leave his house early so he could spend the rest of the day experimenting with our ideas (plus, I was feeling pretty sick by that point so I wanted to head home).

Looking back on this day, I think this is the point when everything changed...we had earned his respect and he was finally ready and willing to do all the silly exercises and experimentations that we were advocating. It was a great day. :)

Poetic Moments

Sorry about the lack of updates...I will definitely be posting about my last week in Oaxaca (cuz it's too good not to write about!) but my computer has been back at Apple getting serviced so I've been a little debilitated since coming back to the States. In the meantime, amuse yourself with Tomo's photo set of our Poetic Moments (click on the photo below for the full set):


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tomo's Oaxaca Photos & Video

Tomo has done it are is is Flickr photo set from Oaxaca. If you look closely you can catch all of our "Poetic Moments."

Also, here's his personal project "Back to Oaxaca," which I filmed!:

Monday, August 6, 2007



Yay! I made it home! Four of us in the class booked the same flight back from Oaxaca and we had to SPRINT to catch our connecting flight in the biggest airport in the world (Mexico City). Luckily, the flight was delayed, but even still, we barely made it. There was no way I was going to spend the night in DF! The bad news is that they lost my bags and my computer is messed up, but I sure am happy to have spent the night in my own bed. :) Here are a couple of other things I am really grateful for (in no particular order):

- Brushing my teeth with water that comes out of the sink.
- Throwing toilet paper in the toilet.
- Actually understanding (fully) what people are saying to me, rather than having to figure out what they mean from the 3 words I understand in the sentence.
- Seeing my man.
- Seeing my kitties.

I'll be posting this week to update you all on the last week of activities in Oaxaca, so stay tuned. It was an amazing, difficult, beautiful, challenging experience and even though I was probably crazy to do it so soon to our wedding, I am a better person for it. :)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Personal Work

Fantasmas Final

I've finished my personal work, letterforms that I found in the covered up graffiti in Oaxaca. Some of the local students that are working with our class said they really liked my piece, because (intentionally or unintentionally), there is a political component to it (most of the graffiti is political in nature, and therefore covered up by the powers that be).


I also wanted to share Tomo's personal work. There is a little boy who plays the accordion (and begs for money) right in front of Santo Domingo church, in the same place every day. In the middle of the night, Tomo went out and did this tape painting on the wall, right where the boy sits. That's right...he put up long strips of masking tape and cut the image out, then peeled it off. Everyone has been walking by taking pictures of it and I think the little boy has made out like a bandit. :)

Daily Life Part II



Mayates are enormous beetles that live underground, eat shit, and come out from under the ground to die. They are EVERYWHERE in Oaxaca and they are huge. I took the photo above for can see they are about the size of your big toe. It's kind of sad and poetic that they only see the light of day when the are going to die, and finding them everywhere is kind of a daily reminder of the cycle of life.



Taxis in Oaxaca are kind of weird...there are taxis that drive you to places withing the city limits, and then other taxis that take you from city to city, so if you want to leave town, you have to take a taxi to the taxi stand so you can get in another taxi. None of the taxis have meters...usually you just hop in and the guy tells you how much you owe him at the end of the ride . Typically it's about 30 pesos in town, so split amongst several people it is really cheap. The taxis that take you from city to city are sold by the seat, so you pay about 20 pesos for your seat and they cram a bunch of people in there to make the drive worth it. It's best to get in the back because they sit 3 people in the back and 3 people (including the driver) in the front and if you are the person caught in the middle of the front seat, it's a tight squeeze. I had a man pretty much crawl on my lap on the way back from the market in Tlacolula. Also, the taxis drive really, really fast and there are no seat belts. Lindsey, one of the gals in our leather group, is usually very tense on the ride home from San Dionisio Ocotepec.

Dogs on the Roof



In Oaxaca, nobody walks their dog. Instead, dogs are kept on the roof to "protect" the house (i.e., bark at you). They are usually very mean, and that was the case with these two guys above. It's kind of interesting when you take Walter (Raul's dog) for a walk, as people are very afraid of him, and they think he is kept on a leash because he is dangerous. Also, everyone thinks Walter is very fat. If you've ever traveled in Central or South America, you know that the dogs are pretty much emaciated down here, so a healthy dog like Walter looks like a fatty. I always wonder if the Oaxacan dogs look at Walter and think, "fat, rich American dog!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sabado Sabado Sabado

Saturday was my one and only TRUE day completely off, and had a blast. It was one of those wonderful days that makes you so happy to be alive and interested in the world around you.

Raul had arranged for an optional tour of Santo Domingo church (by the man that restored it) that morning, and though it sounded interesting, there was no way I was going. I needed a REAL day off to recharge (and rest up for the night's festivities...more on that later).

I started off the day by heading to yoga...I've been to a few classes and they have always been pretty interesting. As if doing yoga in Spanish weren't interesting enough, it's, um, different here. In the first class I went to, after we om'ed, we had to sing. For a long time. I kept wondering when the singing was going to end, then realizing that thinking that wasn't very zen, and then finding myself wondering again when the singing was going to end because it had been going on for a really long time. Also, about half way through the class, the instructor makes us do these weird lion's roar/freaky/barbaric yawp sounds. It's very strange and it's all that Adrien, Katy and I can do to keep from cracking up.

I followed up yoga with a trip to the organic market for some breakfast. I met Tomo there and we ate and agreed to work on our personal projects together later that day. As part of the class, Raul is asking us to do personal work, something that makes you interact with the city, or involves your response to this place.


Something I really love about Oaxaca is all the colorful walls and the street art. But what really makes this place special and endearing is how people paint over the graffiti and street art with any random color paint they find. This would never happen in the United States...people always try to match the original color of the wall, almost erasing the act of vandalism, trying to pretend as if it never happened. In Oaxaca, they will paint over a yellow building with some green paint. There's something really charming and honest about that, like they are honoring experience, or the past. For my personal project, I walked around the city photographing these walls and finding typographical forms in them. Ultimately, I am making a typeface out of my images. Here's what I have so far (I am missing several letters still, like G and Z):


I am naming the typeface Fantasmas (ghosts). The extra bonus to this project is that I got to walk around the city, on streets and blocks I hadn't traveled yet, seeing things that weren't on the "main drag" in Oaxaca.

I also helped Tomo with his personal project. He had me videotape him as he was walking backwards through the city. Afterwards, he reversed the tape. it turned out SUPER cool. I'll post it at some point if he ever gets it on YouTube or something. We got a lot of strange stares from people on the street.

After walking through the city, I was pretty sweaty, so I went over to the hotel to go swimming. It was nice to cool off for a bit and relax in the sun, and that's pretty much how I spent the rest of my afternoon...resting up for the evening's festivities.

As I mentioned in some previous posts, the Oaxaca class is like a big happy family. There are tons of people who live in Oaxaca who just sort of orbit around the program. Well, two of these people are Luisa, an artist from Colombia (I posted a picture of her glass piece--the one I saw at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City), and Gustavo, this guy who owns a small boutique/gallery in Oaxaca that carries some really interesting pieces (usually they are an intersection of design and local artisanry...right up our alley!). Anyway, Gustavo just moved his store to a new location, so he had a grand opening party at the new location. We hung out there, drinking mezcal for about 2 hours, then it was on to a show honoring Colombian artists (where Lusia was showing). They were playing Colombian music at the party and it was super fun! We were all dancing and drinking and just having an excellent time.

OK, the next thing we did...might just rank up there with Lucha Libre as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the south of the Oaxacan state, some small villages throw a huge ball (I believe in conjunction with the guelaguetza, though I could be wrong about that) called a vela. They elect a queen, and that queen has attendants, etc. Everyone dresses up in their traditional garments and it's a huge deal. Well, in Oaxaca, the most progressive and gay-friendly states in the country of Mexico, this custom also gets practiced. With drag queens. And they are FABULOUS!!!

Here is this year's queen, right after she got crowned:


And here is last year's queen:


Here I am with the queen from two years ago (center), and her partner:


One really funny thing about the vela is that with your entry fee of 150 pesos, you also get a case of beer. Here is Luisa and her friend, carrying in their cases of beer:


The dresses and hairpieces are just gorgeous:


It was a BLAST. We danced all night to traditional Mexican music, drinking beers and getting hit on by both men and women alike. What can I say? WOW.