Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oaxaca Report #1 (2010-11-09)

    Background: “At one time a meso-American center whose cultures rivaled those of the better known Maya and Aztec, Oaxaca is now among Mexico's poorest states. The Zapotec, one of the largest and most powerful groups in pre-Hispanic times, once dominated the Oaxaca Valley. The Zapotec people possessed a calendar system and written language and raised the hilltop city of Monte Alban, which reached its apex about A.D. 650, only to be mysteriously abandoned shortly thereafter.

    In a land the size of Indiana, 14 indigenous languages and 90 different dialects are spoken. The Zapotec, Mixtec, Chatino, Trique, Mixe and several other groups make Oaxaca the most ethnically complex state in Mexico.”

    Report:  Well, we have been in Oaxaca for more than a week and feel, somewhat, like we've been here forever. The city is just as wonderful as we remember it: the people, the restaurants, the views, and everything else that we expected. It has taken a while to settle into our apartment and, aside from a few minor glitches, we are really happy with it. We love having the chance to practice our Spanish, both with each other and with people who speak the language.

    We pretty much blew off all responsibilities as soon as we arrived and decided that we were not going to rush for anything or anybody for the next 3 months.  Richard seems to be having a harder time adjusting, but he doesn't get to drop out the way Pattie has because he still has to check his messages, call in prescriptions, talk to patients, etc.  Also, we arrived in a city of high energy with a carnival atmosphere.  It was non-stop pageantry with parades, dancing, loads of costumes, kids dressed up, bands playing in the streets and plazas day and night, and even revelry in the cemeteries.  That all slowed down when the Day(s) of the Dead celebrations ended.

Templo de Guadalupe:

    The only problem so far is that we are eating too much and feel like little piggies. If we don't control it, soon we will look like little piggies, too. Oaxaca has so many types of food, that continually delight us. Surprisingly, for us, there is excellent Italian food also, but with a special flair in the style of Oaxaca, which is a combination of traditional Mexican fare combined, altered, and augmented with indigenous and European techniques and flavors. We have found some good vegetarian dishes, too, but have yet to try out the several vegetarian restaurants that are here. All in all, there’s little chance of going hungry.

    Our landlady sent her maid to us with a bowl of stewed pumpkin and a loaf of Muertos bread (sweet, anise-flavored bread with a small skull of what tasted like uncooked dough on it), which was delicious.  Living below us are a pathologist at the American University in Beirut and her 3 amazing daughters in their 20s, all of whom live in the states.  They are charming, cultured, very well-traveled, and super multi-lingual (Spanish, English, Arabic, French, Swedish, and Farsi between them).  It has been an especial treat to share breakfast and conversation with them in our courtyard.

    Our apartment is very light and airy.  We also have a roof patio with a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the domes of the churches, of which there are many.  We often go up to the roof in the morning to watch the sunrise and at night to marvel at the city lights.  The living room has floor-to-ceiling glass with a courtyard below. There is an orange tree right outside the window and the courtyard has Bird of Paradise and Poinsettia plants, lots of flowers and greenery, five canaries who sing all day, and wrought-iron table and chairs.  We are very comfortable here and feel at home.

    People are so friendly here that we keep making new friends. A family of four in the outlying town of Etla with two adorable young children; a family of three in Oaxaca where the 11-year-old daughter, Blanca, studies English for two hours every Saturday and wants to share her experiences with us; a 33-year-old shop girl who speaks no English; and others.

    Soon, we are planning to go to Tlacalula.  It is a town about 20 minutes away that has a big Indigenous farmers market every Sunday.  We visited the neighborhood market this morning for steaming hot tamales cooking over a wood fire (we bought 4 - one was stuffed with chicken in a spicy green chile sauce, one stuffed with dried fruit and soaked in a sweet sauce made with hibiscus flowers, one in a yellow mole and one in black mole, some wrapped in corn husks and others in banana leaves) and freshly-picked vegetables for tonight's dinner.  The variety is amazing.  The fresh cheese is great and there are far too many pastries.  Crafts abound.

    We had dinner near Santa Domingo church last night.  A wedding party was entering the church as we entered the restaurant.  Leaving after our meal, the wedding had finished and there was a wonderful fireworks display.

    To be continued  . . . If this is more information than you want to know and we are clogging up your email with periodic reports, please say so and we will stop; we understand.  We hope all is well with you and look forward to hearing what is happening back in the real world.

    Lots of love,

    Pattie y Ricardo