Recently, we spent an “overnight” in Santa Maria Teotitlán del Valle, staying at a B&B,wandering around the town, and visiting a women’s rug weaving co-op. The mast-head photo was taken outside the Church. It tells that the church, on which construtction was begun in the 16th century, was dedicated by Friar Jacobo Castillo, in October of 1751.

Josefina Ruiz, a weaver, is quite proud of this work in progress, although it is not hers: it belongs to her nine year old son. Weaving goes back generations in Teotitlán. When I first visited in 1973, serapes were the main item. Now, nary a serape is to be found, having given way to carpets, pillow cases and purses.

Josefina is the proprietor of “Las Granadas” (the pomegranates, named after the huge tree in the couryard), the B&B in which we spent the night. Widowed, she shares the premises with her children and her widowed mother-in-law. Josefina is a member of the weavers’ collective “Vida Nueva”, about which more below.

We stayed in a lovely room with a large terrace on the second floor above Josefina’s house. Small by most standards (two habitations), Las Granadas is one of several new B&B’s and guest houses springing up in Teotitlán.

Prices are quite reasonable: 250 pesos for the double room with bath which we occupied(150 for one person), which included a full breakfast. Other meals may also be arranged (we had a comida the day we arrived, for 50 pesos each). To make reservations or inquire further, just send an email.

Back in 1972, when I first saw Teotitlán, there were no “permanent” structures such as this one. All the salesrooms on the town square were made of carrizo (a kind of bamboo),with a thatched roof. There was no pavement, except for the cement basketball court in the center of the square.

I had been visiting friends who were wintering in Oaxaca, and one day I ran into a fellow Gringo, who had driven his Chevy pickup down from Bean Blossom Indiana, home to the world’s largest Bluegrass Festival, founded by legendary mandolin picker Bill Monroe. He told me he’d come down especially to buy a truckload of serapes and take them back to the U.S. to sell, but he had a small problem. Aside from the word “cerveza” (beer), he hardly spoke a word of Spanish – and, more importantly, he didn’t know how to count (or bargain). Would I care to take a trip with him to Teotitlán, and act as his interpreter? Although I barely spoke any Spanish, I did know how to count, so I said “sure”, and off we went.

We had a lovely time, drinking beer and bargaining with the local serape merchants as the sun climbed higher into the clear blue sky. By the time we were done, it was siesta time for sensible people, but not for us. We had been challenged to a game of “two on two” basketball, by a couple of short Zapotecs in bare feet. “Piece of cake”, we said to each other. Half an hour later, sitting under a tree, the cerveza all sweated out of our systems, panting for breath, we contemplated our ignominious defeat at the hands of a people who had never had a team in the NBA.

[This is the church front. You can’t see it clearly in this picture, but the raw stone places to the right of the door attest to the common practice by the Spanish conquerors of using pieces of indigenous temples when building temples to the “new” God. The next photo shows a closeup of a similar construct along the back wall of the church.]

Teotitlán has certainly changed a lot in the intervening 25 years. The shift from a domestic” production model (serapes) to an “export” product (rugs) produced, in the last decades of the 20th century, a small boom economy that resulted in vast infrastructure investments: roads, water and sewage; schools – and scores of new and rebuilt homes. The saturation of the rug market, the decline in U.S. discretionary spending of the last few years, and the precipitous fall in tourism due in some part to the “troubles” of 2006 and the stubborn refusal of the U.S. State Department to recognize the current relaxation of tensions and thereby lift the dire – and unnecessary – travel warnings: all have contributed to a renewed increase in migration northward to seek work.

[This photo was taken in a new coffeehouse, “The Sacred Bean”, near the B&B. There are four tables, and they also rent dvd’s -and sell carpets, naturally.]

In the last few years, Teotitlán has received a small but steady influx of gringos looking for a place to live outside – but not too far from – the city of Oaxaca. As more folks settle there, there will be more “amenities” provided for them: B&Bs, coffeehouses, restaurants, “casitas” (small houses) for rent. The newcomers will contribute, as some already have, to help weavers to better market their products. All this will contribute to the next stage, as Teotitlán continues to roll with the punches, reinventing itself to keep up with changing times.

Vida Nueva is a co-op formed to market rugs and other goods made by its members. Membership is limited to single mothers, widows, and unmarried women. In addition to the marketing side, the co-op members have become a strong mutual support group, and in turn support some community projects.

The current “president”, Pastora, makes her showroom available to all the other members, and shows their rugs with enthusiasm equal to that with which she shows her own.

This is Pastora’s grandmother. She still weaves occasionally.

Of course we couldn’t just visit, so we bought some small things: a table mat for Diana and a “runner” rug to put between my side of the bed and the wall. No more cold floor when I get out of bed…

Each weaver’s tapete comes with a brochure that identifies the weaver, and tells something about the weaver and the co-op; gives instructions on how to wash the rug; and includes a map showing how to get there.

Isabel Aguilar is the woman who made the rug I bought.

More information can be gotten by e-mailing the co-op.

The municipal market in Teotitlán is a reflection of much of what we experienced while we were there: a blending of old and new; of innovation and tradition. We have provided two photos of the outside.

The rest of the photos are of the walls, a favorite (almost an obsession) of Diana’s. Teo-titlán is run on the indigenous system of “usos y costumbres” (uses and customs), in which most important issues are decided by town meeting; and walls are used as a kind of reminder of what has been decided. Town officials are chosen by the meeting, and do not “run for office” with a party designation. However, the town is said to be fiercely PRIista; and as yet women are not allowed to participate in town meetings.

Many books have been written about Teotitlán and its’ traditions. Four come to mind: “Zapotec Women” and “Transborder Lives” by Lynn Stephen; “Oaxaca Celebration” by Mary Jane Gagnier de Mendoza; and “Zapotec Weavers of Teotitlán” by Staunton and Phillips.

Teotitlán takes recycling seriously.

In Teotitlán, the choice is clear: recycling and paradise, or go to hell.

Violence is not necessary. It is often learned at home.

Guard agains violence. Nobody can evade their responsibility. Nobody should cover their eyes, cover their ears, or fail to lend a hand. Report it!