I had a crazy dream last night
I had a crazy dream last night in Oaxaca. It was hot and humid. Everyone spoke an unknown language but I could understand them somehow. There was color everywhere- the houses, the streets, the trees, the animals. As I walked down the street in slow motion, music was playing. Women in beautiful dresses chugged beers and danced.
When I turned the corner, all of a sudden I was in a lush green forest and the cool air was so relieving. “Who!” said something somewhere. “Who!” “Whoooo are you!?” I looked up and two owls of purple, red, brown, pink, and green, stared at me. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know who I was. They flew away.
“Croak” I heard below. “You croaked” said a speckled green toad, sitting up like a person. What did the toad mean? Did I die? I could not speak to ask it the meaning of what it said.
Mountain goats, armadillos, cats, and lizards with what seemed like colorful tattoos all over their skin and fur approached me, sniffed me, and walked ahead. They all walked majestically and calmly through the trees in the forest, over a huge volcano, through the tunnels of the widest pyramid in the world, and swam across a deep river. I followed but could not swim. (I hate it when you can’t run or swim in dreams…so frustrating!) The green frog gave me a beautiful black boat made of clay with flowers carved into it. I got in and floated across the river but half way across, I began sinking. There were holes everywhere in the boat! Luckily I made it across just as the beautiful black boat sank.
The animals kept walking and I kept following. I wanted to be with these magical creatures forever. They made me feel protected, looked after, like everything and anything that might happen today and tomorrow would be just as fantastic as they are.
“Tamaleeeeee!” All of a sudden I got hungry, my eyes opened, and I was in a comfortable bed in Oaxaca looking at the ceiling. “Tamaleeee!” was being yelled outside. I wanted a tamale so I opened my suitcase to find my stash of money. I noticed a bunch of items wrapped in newspaper that I didn’t remember packing. I unwrapped a heavy large, round item and found a beautiful black vase or pot with flowers carved into it and holes everywhere. One by one I opened the smaller items and found beautiful, colorfully painted wood carvings of animals including owls, toads, mountain goats, armadillos, cats, and lizards. I felt a calming sensation, like everything and anything that might happen today and tomorrow would be fantastic. I guess I they had been following me the whole time.
After researching the meaning of my dream and the items magically found in my suitcase, I learned that there is a rich history and process behind these items…
Alebrijes – Wood Carvings
The animals in my dream were Alebrijes which are wood carvings, usually of animals, made of copal wood and brightly painted with beautiful traditional designs and colors. The process for carving and painting one item can take anywhere from a couple of days to a month! Often the entire family is involved in the craft. You can find these all over Oaxaca City, but they are primarily made in outlying pueblos. The one we visited is called San Martin Tilcajete.
Barro Negro – Black Clay
In contrast to the bright, fantasy-like features of the Alebrijes, my boat in the dream, which was Black Clay, is sleek, modern-looking, and yet a very very old tradition, dating back to the ancient Zapotec era. It is a truly amazing craft that involves no pottery machinery, just a plate or bowl balanced on rocks. The clay is spun and molded on the plate by hand. We took a colectivo to the pueblo, San Bortolo Coyotopec, and bought a few pieces from the family of Dona Rosa who has been making this item for generations.
Here is a video of how black clay is made, by a Dona Rosa family member. It’s a long video, but it’ll give you the gist of it. Remember, no machinery, just plates to spin the clay by hand!
And here are more pictures from our time in Oaxaca City…
Sweet dreams everyone!