Archive for December, 2015

Birth family visit 2015

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

I’ve written a few times about Olivia’s ongoing visits with her birth family. To recap: Olivia reunited with her birth mother “Ana”–a middle-aged widow–when she was seven years old. A year later, at age 8, Olivia met her birth grandmother, Abuela, and her siblings “Dulce” and “Santiago.” Over the next several years, we continued to visit the family, always in a neutral place, not Ana’s small village, because I worried about drawing unwanted attention to Ana and her family. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: In Guatemala, we stand out.

I knew our visit this year would be extra special because in 2015 our family experienced three important milestones. Olivia turned 13 and became a “senorita.” Dulce married her sweetheart and gave birth to her first baby. And Santiago moved away. Big changes, all.

On a Tuesday last June, Ana arrived by chicken bus at the appointed spot at the appointed time, as usual. But instead of clambering down the steps with Dulce and Abuela, she climbed out the back door alone. In my limited Spanish, I asked “Where is everybody?” and Ana answered that this year, we were coming to her house because the baby was too young to travel and the trip wasn’t easy for Abuela, either.

My attitude toward chicken buses is “Don’t ride them,” but what could I do? Nothing except run back to the hotel for our suitcase of gifts. Olivia and I hopped with Ana onto the next chicken bus for the return journey.

One chicken bus, one microbus, one taxi ride, and one uphill hike later, we stood in the lane at the gate in front of Ana’s adobe house, where Olivia’s family has lived for generations–possibly before the arrival of the conquistadors. A sumptuous lunch of fried chicken and squash and rice was served. The blue corn tortillas were handmade that morning from Ana’s own crop, the best we’ve ever eaten. Thirteen felt like the perfect age for Olivia to transition to a new setting. Abuela gave her a rosary necklace and Dulce’s new baby was beautiful.

As we finished lunch, Ana jumped up without notice and disappeared, and Dulce shrugged when I asked her why. A minute later, from the lane in front of the gate, a hundred firecrackers ignited and lit the sky, the snapping racket loud enough for every person in town to hear.

Ana’s daughter Olivia had come home.


The movie “Spotlight”

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

I recently saw the movie Spotlight and am as shaken as I was when the Church scandal broke. The film is riveting. I remain a practicing Catholic–we attend Mass and had our children baptized–because my belief in God transcends anything human. Catholicism is the conduit. In 2006, the SF Chronicle magazine published my essay “The Faithful,” about growing up Catholic, and my family’s response to the revelations. In case you want to read it, here’s the link.


Canillas de Leche

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

For his 5th-grade cultural project, Mateo chose the food of the Ancient Maya. Mostly this involved discussing the history of chocolate and tracking down roasted cacoa beans like the ones Mateo learned about this summer at Antigua’s Choco Museo. Because Mateo loves to cook, he also decided to make the very sweet Guatemalan milk candy known as canillas de leche. The candy is sold everywhere in Guatemala, and especially in the shop Maria Gordillo, located on Antigua’s Fourth Calle, up a block from the textile paradise, Colibri, and across from Hotel Aurora.

I don’t recommend making this particular version of canillas de leche. Recipes abound on the internet, and there’s one in the cookbook, False Tongues and Sunday Bread. Mateo and I used a “quick” version we found in the comments section of a blog I can no longer locate, which called for sweetened condensed milk instead of evaporated and confectioner’s sugar instead of regular. We also bypassed the hours of stirring and cooking required while waiting for various “soft ball” stages. Although our process was quicker, our finished product in no way resembled the sublime sweet smoothness of Maria Gordillo’s.

According to Mateo, though, none of his classmates complained. ~


Book: Traditional Weavers of Guatemala

Monday, December 7th, 2015

As a gift to myself, I bought Traditional Weavers of Guatemala by Deborah Chandler, long-time resident of Guatemala, former director of Mayan Hands, and all-around expert on weaving. The book is as gorgeous as you would expect, with stunning photos and fascinating stories of individual artisans. Just a thought around holiday time, in case you know someone obsessed with textiles.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Against the backdrop of Guatemala, this book presents portraits of artisans working in the ancient traditions of the Maya paired with insights into the creation of the textiles and the events that have affected their work. Weaving, spinning, and basket making have sustained the Maya economically and culturally against the pressures of change and a 36-year civil war that decimated their population. Their persistence in continuing traditional art has created some of the loveliest, most colorful textiles the world has ever known. Artisans share their personal histories, hopes, and dreams along with the products of their hands and looms. Their stories show determination in the face of unimaginable loss and hardship which instill an appreciation for the textiles themselves and for the strong people who create them.


Museo Casa del Tejido

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Behind the municipal Mercado in Antigua is the small, family-run Museo Casa del Tejido, a sumptuous collection of hand-made textiles from every department of Guatemala. Technically, the address is First Calle Poniente no. 51, but you’re better off finding it by going to the top of Santa Lucia near the ruins of La Recoleccion and walking straight back. The admission is not too much, and for a small fee, they’ll let you take pictures. Our guide spoke English fluently and taught us a lot.

Don’t go in expecting sealed cases and precious pieces protected from light and dust. This isn’t that kind of museum. Here, the traje of embroidered blouses and woven skirts are hung on rods or simply nailed to the wall, often approximating the figure of a person who might wear it. A stroll through the galleries impresses anyway, especially for anyone who loves textiles. Each weaving and embroidery is a unique balance of composition and color and story, beautiful in its own way.

If you visit Antigua, particularly with your children, schedule time for the Casa del Tejido. Afterwards, meander through the market for a perfect half-day.