Women of a Certain Age. Part 4.

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This woman has appeared in my blog before. The story behind these photos is fascinating to me. And, I hope I have my facts straight. I don’t know the women’s names in these photos, but I do know a little about the older one. I put this info together from talking to a few people, doing a little internet research, and actually meeting her son.

The story goes that this woman started in business by selling scarves that she had woven. She took her very young son with her when she went to sell them. She was not only a weaver, she is also a businesswoman. When she saw that she couldn’t get a fair price for her labor and materials, she decided to cut some corners. Many craftspeople in Mexico have done that. The major work, the real quality pieces, can take days or weeks to complete. I don’t fault them for earning a living, and I have some pieces that I really love that I’m sure were done by machine.

Her son, Remigio Maestas Revilla, took a different route. He has devoted his life to changing the economics of weaving. He now has many weavers he works with throughout the small villages of Oaxaca and he presents and sells their work at a price that is fair to them. In his own way, he is keeping alive a vibrant craft tradition. He has a few stores around Mexico, among them, two in San Miguel de Allende. (One is on Correo, just off the square…Los Baules de Remigio. The other is on Recreo…Juana Cata.) The work he carries is extremely high quality, and exquisite. It is all done completely by hand, and uses natural dyes. His main store is in Oaxaca City is Los Baules de Juana Cata.

And his mother, the older woman in these pictures, also has a large store in Oaxaca City, a few blocks from her son’s store. After inspiring her son to preserve the old, tradition methods, she is still motivated to give the customer a bang for her buck. She carries room after room of Mexcan clothing that may not be made in the traditional ways, but is still very appealing. The stitching is done by machine, and the price is not enough to worry about. You can put together a completely wonderful look for not many pesos. Personally, I love these clothes. I think this woman has a real eye for fashion, and knows how to put the inexpensive pieces together for a real statement look. She is a real success story, whose  legacy will be carried on by her son and his children. I visited her store several times while we were in Oaxaca. She is quite a salesperson as well. She greets you at the door and starts to show you things in rapid order. You find yourself trying things on right in the store. If you buy several pieces you will probably get a little discount, and the colors are so bright and the prices so low…..you will leave with a full bolsa.

Then you might find yourself in one of Remigio’s stores. All the merchandise is in impeccable order. Each piece is a unique work of traditional craftsmanship. The colors are from natural dyes. They are beautiful, but much more subtle. No one rushes to show you things. You browse around and think about which piece you would buy if you wanted a splurge. One night Fred and I were there and he bought a scarf for me. The shopping experience was very delightful. The scarf came with a little tag about where it was made and who made it. Remigio, his wife and two children, were in the store. I was somehow able to communicate how I appreciate the work he does. And, that I am familiar with his mother, a true example of a Mexican woman entrepreneur.

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This is a link to a post about this same subject.

Women of a Certain Age, Part 3.

This lady is one I see frequently on the street in San Miguel de Allende, usually helping out a flower seller who works near a sidewalk cafe. There is something compelling about her. I was pleased and rather surprised when she agreed to let me take her photo. She doesn’t have the strong, outgoing personality of the woman in the first of these posts, and she doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the woman in the second post of this series. In fact, in this woman I  always sense a feeling of vulnerability and shyness. I always say hello to her. Sometimes she holds out her hand to me, sometimes she doesn’t. When she does, I always find some pesos for her.

As a woman growing up in the USA I have certainly dealt with issues of strength and vulnerability. I have always thought that a woman could be one or the other…strong or vulnerable…but not both at the same time. My life in Mexico has taught me that only when we realize our vulnerability can we really find our strength. As a child growing up in a fairly dysfunctional situation I always felt vulnerable. The same vulnerability carried over into my first marriage. I was always expecting someone to come in the door in a really hostile mood, and even if it had nothing to do with me, I always felt it was my job to fix it. At around age 35 I managed to see that I could also be strong, and I saw being strong as the key to my survival. I saw strong as good, and vulnerable as not so good.  My experiences in Mexico have helped me to see that I can actually be strong even when I am most vulnerable. In fact, the only way to be truly strong is to be able to accept my vulnerabilities, love that scared child within me, and then to find my strength. I now see that we cannot really know our strengths until we also see our vulnerabilities. It is the ability to see both these sides of ourselves that matters most. So many women, especially women like me (old enough to have been strongly affected by the Feminist Movement..and to know what life was like before it), are not willing to see how vulnerable they really are. It’s always got to be Wonder Woman, all the time.

I don’t know the difficulties that some of the women I see here experience every day. I don’t know their joys. But, what I see is their magnificent survival. It is a simpler life here, and people aren’t all worked up about impressing each other. There is a kindness of spirit that I see in the faces I meet on the street. There is a shyness, just waiting for me to make the first move and say hello. I suspect they wonder about me sometimes, too. While I know that our lives have been very different, I also see more each day how similar we are.

One of the most important things I have learned about living in Mexico is that I simply cannot judge the lives of others. Many people come to a country like this and think that somehow the people’s lives are inferior because of the standard of living that they see. But, wait. Stop and look. This is not inferior, it’s just different. If you can put aside your own standards and expectations you can find a world very different from what you have ever experienced, but a beautiful world, nonetheless. And, you can look inside yourself and find strengths you didn’t know you had. And, when you need to feel vulnerable, you can just do that, too…without judging yourself at all.

Women of a Certain Age. Part 2.

This photo will never cease to amaze me. What amazes me is that I got it. This woman walked by me in the twinkle of an eye. We were in a large market in a village in Oaxaca. It was packed with local people, and a beehive of activity. People were selling things, looking for things, buying things…..things including live chickens, all sorts of food, clothing, household goods, motor parts, vats of a nasty local moonshine called pulque….you name it. From the midst of all the confusion, I started to go down a little flight of stairs, from one area to another. At that moment I saw this woman, and she saw my camera, right in her face. Instead of turning away, as many of the women here are likely to do, she gave me a beautiful smile…a little pose. She even found her light. Then she was gone. I got one shot at this one, and it was sheer luck. Or perhaps I should say, a magical blessing.

The feeling I came away with from this instant was the confidence of this woman. She is who she is. I asked Fred last night if that phrase, “Vanity thy name is woman,” came from the Bible or Shakespeare. (It was Shakespeare.) There is something about this woman that has caused me to think about my own vanity. Not to be too hard on myself, because working in the fashion/art business in the USA can sure cause a woman to want to look as young as possible. I certainly did. Almost everyone I hung out with was also concerned with this. And, most of them were a good 15 t0 30 years younger than me.   And, if you want to true confession, I always wondered why anyone who had access to that kind of technology wouldn’t do it if they possibly could.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not at all critical of having a little work done. God knows, I’ve had a bit. I am not sorry for doing any of it. I just wouldn’t do it at this point. I have come to realize that the right people don’t love you or like you because of how you look. They love you because of the way you make them feel. And, in this culture, the attitudes about age seem very different. Elders are respected. The grandmothers are powerful members of the family unit.

I have been away from the assistance of needles, lasers, and all the other wonderful help with this situation since October. It’s definitely available in San Miguel and it’s about time for a fill-up. But, I’m not going to do it. I am becoming happy with my face the way it is. In this culture I feel no real need to look young; I just want to look healthy and happy. And, of course, I’m not “cashing in my chips.” If you know me you know I love make-up and dress-up. I just am starting to feel that I can feel comfortable with the way I actually look and come across as a 73 year old woman at the same time, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s remarkable.

Women of a Certain Age. Part One.

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I am so moved and amazed by the older women I see in Mexico. There is a strength of character in their faces. Some of them have lived hard lives, but they are a true inspiration to me. The lady in these pictures is Publita, I see her occasionally on the streets of San Miguel. I always stop and give her money. She gives me a smile. She has so much personality. She seems like a force of nature. I know very little about her, but I always look for her when I am out and about. What a wonderful face she has. I am going to show you five women in this series. They are just the ones I have been lucky enough to capture. There are many more that got away. All of these faces have made me change some of my ideas about aging. I no longer see it as something to dread. I see it as something to aspire to.

A Trip to the Queretaro Mall

About an hour’s drive from here is Queretaro, said to be the fastest growing city in Mexico. Ever since we arrived here we have heard that there is a large mall there, with interesting stores. Since Fred and I occasionally enjoy a bit of retail therapy, we decided to head over and check it out. The Antea Mall is, in fact, quite nice. Some of the stores are brands we recognize  (there is a Birkenstock store, there is a Sephora, there is even a Mac, a Gap, a Puma….and a P.F. Chang. There are also many stores and brands that I’ve never seen before. There are two large anchor department stores, Liverpool and El Palacio de Hierro. I think that both of these are Mexican chains. All in all, we did our damage at Crate and Barrel, with a little trip to Sephora on the side. I found it somewhat interesting that the very American Iris Apfel was the featured image promoting a line of clothing I am unfamiliar with. The lady has definitely gone international. To be honest, as I walked around and checked things out, I realized that I really prefer to wear ethnic Mexican clothes, rather than look like I did while I lived in El Norte. Of course, a girl always needs jeans and nice teeshirts regardless. And make up…and Birkenstocks from time to time. Here are some more scenes from the mall.

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Dylan. Lipstick, Powder and Paint #9

Another side to the personalities of these two Dylans. A bit of a sullen moment, perhaps?

We shot this one on two separate days. The light in that living room at around 4:30 in the afternoon was so bright, but I kind of like the way the outdoors was almost exposed out. I had to be careful of timing on this picture…it had to happen at the same time of day. I ended up having to brighten the window side of her face a bit, but I think it works pretty well.

Dylan. Lipstick, Powder, and Paint #8

This bathroom scene is one of my favorites. It is such an intimate thing, for two people who are in a relationship with each other to share a bathroom. During those routine moments, when you do what you do everyday…put on your makeup, shave…you are lost in your own thoughts. Yet you are aware that the one you love is right beside you. Fred and did these same things most every morning in this room. I think Dylan captured this moment beautifully. This photo makes me feel nostalgic.

Dylan. Lipstick, Powder and Paint #7

Before we had even finished our first photo session I knew exactly how I wanted to photograph Dylan. I wanted to play up both sides of his gender identity at the same time, in the same photograph, as though they were having a relationship with each other. This was such a fun project to do. I really enjoy playing around with photoshop, so this was a great way to play. I had seen other similar things done with photoshop and I thought Dylan would be perfect for this because he was such a great mixture of both these characters. One of my goals for this project was for Dylan to portray himself as either gender, in a very real and comfortable way. We really didn’t need to make up a name for the female character, because she was Dylan, too.

Of all the photos from this series, this one really makes me smile. I think Dylan completely nailed it with personality here. All these photos were done at the house where Fred and I lived in Nashville. So, I figured out what this couple would be doing in various parts of the house.  The female character was wardrobed from my closet.  Dylan just posed in whatever he had worn over to the house. We would shoot a couple of male characters one day, and the corresponding females on the next. Sometimes there would be a day or two between shoots, because Dylan was involved with school. We would work for about 3 or 4 hours, then go out to eat. Or, sometimes I would have something cooked. Fred would usually join us for dinner. It was such a joyful project.

Dylan. Lipstick, Powder, and Paint #6

I have posted an image of Dylan as Frida before from this same photoshoot. This one was not the original one I decided to use. When I looked again, I think this one is stronger. This is the last picture I took of Dylan. I took it the summer before this past one. Dylan got back from Los Angeles, and I got back from a long stay at the beach. That summer I was getting things ready for us to be gone for 6 months on our big Mexican adventure. I was pretty focused on that, and Dylan had a lot going on, too. One thing was a film that he was working on with his friend Bralyn Stokes, “Silas.” I spent some time with them around the movie, and I even had a walk-on part.Part of it was shot at our house. That was fun. I was cast as a woman in a bookstore, giving Dylan a dirty look because his character was making too much noise. If you get a chance to catch a showing of that movie, check it out.

Dylan and I did get some time  to act on one last idea of mine…to make him up and shoot him like Frida Kahlo. I was all about Frida after spending some time in Oaxaca, and Dylan was game for anything. As always, Dylan used his own hair, I did his makeup and I had a great Mexican dress for him to wear. Frida wore lots of jewelry, and loved flowers in her hair.

After we finished the shoot, which we did one afternoon, we went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. No, Dylan didn’t keep the dress on, but he should have. He did wear the makeup. I hadn’t heard from Dylan in a while, but this series of posts has re-connected us. He sent me one of the Marc Jacobs ads that he was recently featured in. Dylan is the gorgeous one on the right. With the legs.

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Lipstick, Powder and Paint #4

First time we hit the road for a pageant trip, Arnold wasn’t a contestant. He was going to be a back-up dancer for Dee Ranged, a friend who was a contestant.  Arnold’s job was to dress as a penguin, if I remember correctly. He seemed to be really looking forward to this. We drove up to one of those towns in Ohio that starts with a C, to attend the pageant. Arnold packed a nice picnic lunch for us (would you expect anything less?) and we were on our way. This was also my very first time to take pictures at a pageant. I was enjoying it, and starting to feel a real creative stir, but I was also really technically stressed. To shoot in that crazy lighting, dodging people, and by trial and error learning how to take pictures that were very different from jewelry on models and product shots, all with much more control involved.  Editing so many pictures….shot in such weird lighting….all while I was trying to be very polite and discreet….and at the same time, figure out my fairly complicated camera, which I quickly realized I didn’t know squat about. It was a stretch. And, I am sorry I didn’t keep any of the penguin pictures. Little did I know I would really have liked to have had one for this little piece.

The pageant was The All American Goddess Pageant. The year might have been 2010. The woman who ran it and also was performing onstage during this photo was Candi Stratton, whose gender at birth was male. She told a story about how she got into pageants, after transitioning. She basically realized that drag performance is just what she loves and understands. Her energy was very refreshing, and her self-confidence was impressive. She came in for an afternoon practice  looking like a woman who going to work..hard. Then she appeared in the evening looking like this photo.This particular pageant is open to anyone who works through the system to compete, regardless of what their gender identity is. It is just about doing great drag.

We had fun staying at some little interstate motel. I’m sure you’re dying to know….we always shared a room. Arnold is one of the easiest people to share a room with and remain completely modest that I have ever taken a trip with. He also doesn’t snore. Now, the make-up in the bathroom thing sort of keeps him from being perfect. Arnold spent most of his daytime hours working on the penguin costume. I could see how much he puts his heart and soul into everything he does.I spent most of my day trying to figure out how to photoshop these pictures and I admit, I was pleased with some of these first attempts. This, in fact, was my very first drag pageant photo. That strange double-exposure effect was a happy accident. I only had one chance at this shot because security made me move from that perfect spot.