Once again I ventured into Mexico to attend a Michael deMeng workshop. The workshop is always enough but two years ago I was in Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos and it was a very moving experience for me. Combining my favorite artist and this intriguing city means it is a sure bet. To all of this I add my fellow deMengians who populate his classes and it is a guaranteed adventure.
Michael's Oaxaca workshop, deMeng de los Muertos, is organized by Colleen Darling of Solvang, CA. Colleen is a great organizer and really understands Mexico. She ably assisted by her daughter Molly Robertson. Colleen booked us into the Holiday Inn Express Oaxaca Centro Historico. It was a great venue for our workshop and an easy walk or cab ride to anywhere you want to go.
This year's adventure started at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, October 24, 2014. I was up that early as I am flying from the Milwaukee airport to Atlanta to Mexico City to Oaxaca in twelve hours. Believe it or not, that was cheaper than starting from O'Hare in Chicago and flying a shorter route.
I do have two examples of how Milwaukee is sort of a one horse town on occasion. The first is that the money exchange at our airport is only done if you are a customer of BMO Harris bank. The second is that the restaurant opens for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. So for me, it was breakfast at home, a trip to the airport with Denice and an exchange of money in Atlanta where they do not care who your bank is.
I am now TSA approved which means I still need to empty my pockets but I left my shoes on and my electronic equipment in the carry on. In the Atlanta airport I ate sushi for lunch around 11:00 a.m. The it was on the plane for a ride to Mexico City.
In Mexico City, the first stop is Immigration where they verified my forms and let me in the country. Despite having checked my bag through to Oaxaca, I needed to get my bag and take it to customs before going through their version of TSA.
With a little time to kill, I was wandering around the Mexico City airport when I glanced over at a woman walking next to me, glanced away, thought about it, glanced back and away again and then realized it was Teresa Reaver, a fellow de Mengian. She told me that she was waiting for Kristy (KD) Duncan and Lois Inman Engle. While we were standing around waiting for them to show up, they announced a gate change for our Oaxaca flight. So Theresa and I went to the new gate. Time went by and no KD or Lois. Did they know the "right" gate to be at and we were at the wrong one? Now there is nothing as thrilling as sitting at a "new" gate in a foreign country not knowing if you are in the right spot at the time your plane is about to depart. Just about the time we decided to verify our gate number with the help, the two wandering classmates showed up, out of breath and ready to board.
Landing in Oaxaca, we decided to rent a van for about $17 per person to haul us to the Holiday Inn Express Oaxaca Centro Historic. Once there we walked into the lobby and were greeted by Michael, Colleen, Molly, and Deb Denton. Colleen gave me the fish eye and told me I had told her I was arriving on Saturday. We went to the desk to see if I had to sleep in the park across the street from the hotel this night but it turns out I did have a room starting this night. Whew!
The crew unloaded, unpacked, and then ventured out into the night to eat at Tacos Alvaro where I had a big bowl of soup. Then it was back to the hotel to unpack, Skype Denice and get some sleep.
I might have a bit of altitude sickness which is something I suffer from. I had felt a little odd after arrival and this night I thought I was awake most of the night. My night was spent tossing and turning, complaining to myself that I was not sleeping. Oh, yea--and wondering why the rabbits were speaking Spanish in the licorice factory. Wait, that must have been a dream. So, I guess at some point I had fallen asleep.
We can add a second Gary to the game. Yes, it turns out that the only two men taking this workshop are both named Gary. How weird is that? The other Gary is from Portland, Oregon, and is a fun guy to have around despite having to share names. That awkwardness was alleviated when Michael started calling Portland Gary by his nickname, Cap't Mole! I was devastated to find out that I would have no nickname which was explained away when Michael told me he had "a long relationship with Cap't Mole!" Sniff--I thought I had a long relationship with Michael de Meng. Oh well.
Today we are being led by Deb Denton who wants to go to some places we visited two years ago. A group decision is made to rent a van so we all can ride together rather than trying to cab it around the city. This turns out to be a great decision and saves us time and money. Plus, we got a cool driver named Javier who even ate lunch with us.
We had a great time wandering through the stock and selecting pieces to buy.
Despite the temptation to buy one of her pieces (I already have a piece of her work from the 2012 trip), instead I am swayed to buy a piece created by Fernando Garcia Aguilar. I buy the creepy red clown guy with puppets in the back row.
(Unfortunately, the little puppet on the left is destined to fall off on the ride home--sniff. I still have plans to try to put the pieces back together and see if I can repair it).
Next stop on our journey is the Azucena Zapoteca Restaurant run by artists Jacobo and Maria Angeles in San Martín Tilcajete.
This is the home territory for "alebrijes," or the animal carvings of Oaxaca. Not only did we get to eat a fine meal in this fine restaurant but we could shop the booths of the many local artist setting up for the tourist coming for Dia de los Muertos. I bought a jaguar head painted in metallic colors with the alebrijes style done magnificently.
After driving back to the city, Deb and Joanna talked KD, Robyn, Theresa, Sue, Marilyn and me into attending a workshop at the Frida Kahlo Art Shop in Oaxaca. It is within walking distance but this is quite the walk. Perhaps now is the time to mention that Oaxaca is just a sprained ankle waiting to happen. The streets are up and down and sometimes cobbled stoned--and so are the sidewalks.
The class in "alebrijes" painting was taught by Candida Pérez Velasco from Ocotlan assisted by his wife and their tiny little son.
Candida was very patient with us and did his best despite people like me who barely understand Spanish. That being said (or not, as the case may be), he was a very entertaining teacher who made the class very easy. We had to buy a animal figure from him (already carved of course), a few of the paints we wanted to use, and some brushes. Of course, we all wondered why we did not bring our own supplies from our class. After about two hours of painting, this is what I created:
After the walk back to the hotel, we went to El Fogoncito, an Argentinian restaurant that is a small plate specialist. Our party was KD, Marilyn, Theresa and Deb. When we walked into the place we discovered Solange and her friend Jan eating there as well.
After dinner, KD, Marilyn, Deb and I walked the alcala to the Zocalo. The alcala is a broad street that at least partially is closed to traffic so pedestrians can walk safely to the Zocalo.
One of the churches or schools was having a street festival on this night which had a talent show like feel to the entertainment.
The Zocalo is the town square and the center of attention anytime. But, this is not a normal year. The center of the center is a tent city populated by striking teachers. Around the strikers are hundreds of vendor booths selling mostly junk or food. Honestly, it totally ruined the experience that I remembered having in 2012. It is only later that I learned that on September 26, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa were murdered in Iguala, Guerrero, when they tried to protest at a conference held by the mayor's wife. The national outrage would cast a pall over the city the entire time we were there.
We met Joanne and Sue at one of the many restaurants that string the Zocalo but the atmosphere, despite the music, is lacking this year and after a short period it was time to call it a night.