Sunday, November 4, 2012

Oaxaca Travel and Dia de Los Muertos Dia Uno

Wednesday, October 24th was my travel day to the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and to take the Michael de Meng workshop De Meng De Los Muertos.  My travel companion on this adventure is Katherine Engen, owner and operator of Valley Ridge Art Studio in Muscoda, Wisconsin.

Katherine and I agreed to meet in the International Terminal at O'Hare Aiport in Chicago, Illinois.  The easiest way for me to get there is to take a CoachUSA bus from the Milwaukee airport and it is a less than two hour drive to do that.  Denice drove me to the airport, I ate breakfast there, then hopped on the bus and was at the International terminal by 11:00 a.m. Check in was a breeze, I ate lunch, went through security and met Katherine about one hour before boarding. 

During this entire experience, I was reading Pete Dexter's The Paperboy (1995) which proved to be a hardboiled novel which I thoroughly enjoyed and will review at Book Group Buzz at some point in the next few weeks. 

Our flight plan today was O'Hare to Mexico City (3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m--we arrived 45 minutes early!) where we had a couple hour layover.  Katherine and I were lucky enough to meet a painter named Susanna Tanger in the Mexico City airport and the time flew by as we talked about Oaxaca, art and other things regarding our lives.

Boarding our flight to Oaxaca (9:30 p.m. to 10:35 p.m.) was a little confusing but accomplished and we arrived in Oaxaca on time, took the shuttle to the hotel, checked in, unpacked and then I hit the sack.

Our residence and workshop is the Holiday Day Inn Express Centro Historico.  It is a wonderful establishment with very nice rooms and a lot of art on the walls. 

Day Uno of the experience started with breakfast with some of the workshop attendees.  This workshop is hosted by Collen Darlene with the able assistance of her daughter, Molly.  Both are wonderfully informative and interesting women who are fluent in Spanish.  Colleen was nice enough to provide each of the attendees with a goodie bag that included some cool smalls for the project we will be working on. Our workshop host is Michael de Meng who also is fairly fluent in the language and I was very happy to find out that it was Michael's intention to take Katherine and myself in tow and show us the town.

I was also happy to find out that despite having been through this a few times herself in the last few days, Michael's wife Andrea Matus de Meng also was happy to join the orientation.  The four of us headed down the Macedonio Alcala which is a direct access to the center of Oaxaca and the heart of the city, the zocalo.  Walking from our hotel to the zocalo takes about twenty minutes.

We spent the morning wandering the downtown area visiting various sites.  Churches are very important in this country and our first official wandering stop was the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church.  If you don't believe in any kind of religion (which I don't) it is often difficult to explain the effort put into someone else's belief system and that is certainly true when viewing such a marvelous structure as this church.  It is also hard to explain the very impressive lights flowing into the church onto the altar as we observed here.

Our second big church is la Catedral de Santo Domingo which dominates the square called the zocalo.

We managed to shop two religious stores which led to me buying some cool smalls for my project.  We also walked through a market which was both a visual and an olfactory experience.  I did not make any purchases but it was colorful experience.


Food is very important in the town of Oaxaca.  The trio that I was with wanted to go to a chocolate and coffee place.  I was forced to drink my first latte and I guess I have been missing something by not drinking coffee drinks because this was pretty darn good. 

Katherine Engen talking, Andre Matus de Meng being polite and Michael de Meng not listening at all. 
At this little place we met a man who is an expatriated American teacher and he spoke very highly of Oaxaca as he has lived here for over twenty years.  We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the zocalo where we had great food and were constantly entertained by the local musicians who play all over the square.  This restaurant is called La Cafeteria del Jardin and it will become the rendezvous point for dinner on many nights and the place for you to look for members of our workshop if you are out and about in the zocalo and need to find a friend. 

There are also many street vendors who are not shy about walking right up to your table while you are eating.  At first off-putting, eventually this becomes almost a thing you ignored with no effort unless one of the vendors is particularly more on the vagrant side and less on the mobile businessperson side. 

At some point Michael pealed off and the three of us finished our tour.  The highlight was the religious supply store where you can find every type of religious artifact ready for purchase with one exception:  this store is supposed to have great eye balls for our assemblage but wouldn't you know--this week they are out of eyes.


We took a taxi ride back to the hotel.  Of course, we are dealing with pesos.  Although the rate is roughly 12 to one, it is easier to just think 10 to one.  So when we take a taxi ride from the zocalo to our hotel and the cost is 35 pesos, we just paid $3.50 for a cab ride with three passengers.  I think I like this town.

Back at the hotel, I got my first look at our workshop space which is in the lobby right off the registration desk.  It is huge and should work well for our purposes.  I ran up to the room and hauled my supplies to the workshop.  For this trip, I decided not to bring much of anything.  The concept of this workshop is that we are making a Time Capsule because the Mayan Calendar runs out this year.  So, for the base element, I brought a toy bank, a toy suitcase and a plastic paint box.  For supplies, I brought three paint brushes, three acrylic colors, some Aves Apoxy Clay and some E6000.  For embellishments, I brought a little wire and some smalls.  That's it.  Those who know how I travel to workshops will be shocked, just shocked.

By evening, those of us who had arrived gathered in the hotel lobby at 6:30 p.m. and took the short walk down to the zocalo.  Ironically, we ended up eating at the same restaurant where we had lunch, La Cafeteria del Jardin.

There is art everywhere in this city and here is one example from the Alcala:  a street artist who makes his images out of thread--yup, all of this is sewn.

On the walk back towards our hotel I hear, "Hola, Senior Niebuhr."  It is Kim Abler from Milwaukee's Arts At Large and Tim Abler, head of the art department at Cardinal Stritch University.  We had hope to see each other but they had more confidence then I did that we would just run into each other without the use of cell phones.  I would see Tim one more time on the trip when during one of the comparsas we found ourselves standing next to each other snapping pictures. 

The group finished the night in a local bar where there was a great acoustic duo performing.  I actually had something called Toro Negro which was a martini made from vodka, frangellico and something sweet like a soda.  I loved it. 

We were back at the hotel by 11:00 p.m. and I put Day Uno to bed. 

You can see the full set of photos from this trip at

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