Story and photos by Susanna Starr
It’s been more than 35 years that I’ve been living and working in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico and in the small outlying villages. Most of my work with the weavers, both buying and designing pieces that will be sold in my New Mexico gallery, is done in a small Zapotec weaving village outside of Oaxaca.
We are now working with the third generation of weavers from that village where we first began, almost four decades ago. Although the weaving village is my main focus, there are always other villages engaged in a craft specific to each of them to visit and explore.
This past March, however, took me back to reconnect with a special family in the city. For many years, we had rented a small, lovely house just outside of the city on the road going up into the mountains of San Felipe. There was enough of a garden to satisfy my ongoing obsession with buying plants as well as the beautiful hand-made pots made in some of those small villages known for their making of pottery.
Inside the house were all the treasures that we had accumulated over the years. There were paintings done by fine artists from Oaxaca, hand carved wooden chests and painted figures, and wonderful, colorful hand woven textiles. I also had my own extensive collection of huipiles, the beautifully embroidered blouses and dresses from the seven regions of Oaxaca and rebozos, the shawls worn by every indigenous woman of each of the villages. And, of course, rugs and pillows, many of our own Line of the Spirit designs, were everywhere. This is the work that brought me to the weaving village in the first place, in the early nineteen seventies and where I visit still.
Our kitchen was furnished with traditional hand painted Oaxacan blue and white pottery, hand- carved wooden spoons and tin figures. It wasn’t quite as packed as Frida Kahlo’s kitchen, but you get the idea. Although small, it was just enough to prepare what we needed and our supplies usually came from one of the weekday markets that always featured fresh produce.
It’s been a while since we had this house that we had come to think of as our own. Our visits to Oaxaca in the past dozen years found us staying at a small bungalow which served for the shorter time periods or sometimes with the weavers in the village. So, I lost contact with Conchita, Moises and their family, the people who owned the house we used to rent.
This time, however, I ended up going to Oaxaca alone after my partner John had to leave our beautiful home in Laguna Bacalar in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to return to the States earlier than expected. It was the perfect opportunity to stay at Casa de mis Recuerdos, a beautiful bed and breakfast owned and run by Conchita and Moises, with the perfect location, close to the Parque de los Leones (not its official name, but the name the people call it) and not far from the main Zocolo or plaza.
Although I didn’t even visit the Zocolo on this trip, I really enjoyed my early morning walks around the Parque de los Leones, only half a block away. I guess a lot of other people enjoyed it as well because there was not a time that I was out doing my power walks that I didn’t see lots of others walking, running or exercising in jogging outfits or just everyday clothes, and wearing running shoes.
One Sunday, early in the morning, I found a crowd of people gathered around a small stage where an aerobic instructor was leading the crowd in dance exercise routines. To my delight, I saw middle aged folks, older folks and young teenagers, all enthusiastically moving (fast) to the rhythms. Oaxaca has definitely become health conscious!
After my morning outing, I would return to the B&B to join the family for breakfast. Conchita has several complete sets of beautiful, hand-painted dishes and hand-blown glasses. Each morning the table is set with a different hand-embroidered runner, as well as different place settings and dishes.
The food is exquisitely prepared by two women under Conchita’s watchful eye. There are fresh-squeezed juice and freshly made Oaxacan coffee, as well as herbal teas. The main dish is always something traditional to Oaxaca, like eggs prepared in a way similar to a frittata, but made with flor de calabasa (squash blossoms). Although I ate in the kitchen, I could see that the guests were enthralled.
The patios are overflowing with plants and flowers with lots of seating scattered around, so that there’s plenty of privacy. The rooms have all been decorated by Conchita and Moises, and whenever their grown daughters discover another “treasure,” they quickly tell their mother about it, so that she can add it to her extensive collection of folk art.
For me, being with them, visiting the family who now had children of their own, going out on mini-excursions with them, was a gift. There’s always something very special about reconnecting with people you’ve known in the past. Picking up the thread of friendship and weaving it into the present experience is directly related to the feeling of family, which is how I felt while I was there.
I know the streets of the city, I know the organic market where we often stroll on Saturday mornings, I know the climate and the terrain, but knowing and being with people who are caring and proud of their city and what they have created in their own home, which they’ve opened to the public, is the most special experience of all.
IF YOU GO
Laguna Bacalar House (Casa Estrella de Bacalar, also a vacation rental):
More of Susanna Starr’s work can be found at Susanna Starr.com