Friday, December 5, 2014

Visiting the Village of Teotitlan del Valle

Many of our travels over the last twenty-five years have been pilgrimages, trips to sacred sites that have had deep meaning for us.  For me, our recent trip to Mexico was not one of these; it was a vacation (Barry saw it differently, as you can see if you check out his blog).  We did visit many ancient sites such as Teotihuacan and Monte Alban, and fabulous museums (Mexican museums are fantastic) full of ancient artifacts. I was impressed with the number of goddess figures, and I loved seeing all of it, but I didn’t experience a personal connection to pieces or to ruins the way I have, say, in Greece or Malta. 

What remains with me most clearly, though, are impressions, colors, and the depth of culture (or more accurately cultures).  People have told me that they wouldn’t travel to Mexico because they wouldn’t feel safe.  I have to say that where we went I felt perfectly safe.  Even in Mexico City (staying in the Condesa neighborhood was great).  Where I felt most connected and was touched profoundly was the village of Teotitlan del Valle, where we spent the final days of our trip.  I am so grateful that we didn’t go to the coast, which is what we had intended.  Not that we wouldn’t have loved some time by the ocean.  But being in the village was special.  Our timing was great.  We arrived on the 20 November holiday, and that evening there was a big village fiesta full of good food and folk dancing performances.  There were several hundred people, and I only saw two other anglos in the crowd.  It was not a tourist affair.  The Zapotec people are tiny, and many still dress in traditional garb, especially the older women.  We definitely stood out, but never felt unwelcome.

Teotitlan is the Zapotec weavers’ village.  It seems as though every family weaves, if not every member of every family.  Some still card and dye their own wool.  We stayed at a B&B an American ex-pat helped two widows open in order to earn money to feed their children after their husbands died.  It felt good to support them.  Of course, we had to purchase several of their small weavings.  

From the rooftop patio outside our 2nd floor room we had views of the surrounding mountains and of other nearby family compounds - yards with turkeys, chickens and goats, and stables of burros that woke us up each morning.  The area is lovely, with streams running through town and brightly painted buildings.  One nearby mountain peak stood out.  I had the feeling it must be a sacred mountain.  I asked our host and it turned out to be true, and still the site of annual rituals.

Elders here are treated with respect (imagine that!).  Barry witnessed a young man walking down our street who purposely crossed over to the other side to greet and take both hands of an old woman walking the other way. 

No one walks around here without being wished a good day.  Barry went out for a walk one evening and wound up at the church at the end of a mass.  People came up to him as they left and wished him peace, many hugging him.  He came back glowing.  We miss this, don’t we?  The simple courtesies and neighborliness that I imagine used to be the norm, not the exception.

I don’t want to paint life in the village as idyllic.  I’m sure there are plenty of problems, and it’s not realistic to think I could “get” the place in a few days.  But it was a wonderful few days that I will remember.

I’ve been writing and thinking about the importance of place ever since the workshop with Deena Metzger.  Teotitlan del Valle gave me a glimpse of something we’ve lost – a place where people have lived and worked and made art for many generations, where traditions run deep and the ancestral is very much present. 

It didn't hurt that the B&B is called Las Granadas, or The Pomegranates, which of course are sacred to me!

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