Sunday, March 30, 2008

Entomatadas, dusted jícama, hot chocolate, oh my!


We awake early because we've got an 8 o'clock pick-up time. We're heading out to Tlacolula with the Cordero's. It's market day in the small pueblo about 30 minutes east of town. Vendors from all over the area gather to sell their wares from carts and stalls circling 'round the town's Church.

Rafael has been coming to Tlacolula since he was a boy. His aunt and uncle owned a hectare of land, he tells me. Inside the walls of their large property the kids frolicked all day without the parents having to fear for them getting into too much trouble. Rafael's mom even learned to drive within the property--nothing to bump into! Thus, Rafael leads us through the market streets, the closed-in bread stalls, the church grounds--until we arrive at a small indoor restaurant. He's been frequenting this place for years.

A woman appears with a tray of fresh-squeezed juice; it turns out she's Rafael's cousin. There are no menus here. The far end of the restaurant holds numerous clay cazuelas (pots) each carrying a different sauce. The Cordero's already know what they want. But they ask the waitress to list off the staples so Holly and I can select. Holly gets a hot bowl of Oaxacan hot chocolate (rich and creamy, made with almonds, sugar and cinnamon); I order a cup of Atole. Azucena spreads out the bread we just purchased at the market on the table to munch on as we wait. We don't wait long. My enfrijoladas arrive, and Holly's entomatadas. They are both topped with lettuce, sliced radishes and lime. Holly comments on how fresh the ingredients are. "So many flavors!" she exclaims.

After breakfast (which cost about $4 a person! Rafael kindly treats us) we head out to explore the market a bit. Holly finds a nice deal on a woven bag--"perfect for her laptop," the vendor nudges. Alejandro and I goof around nearby--neither of us interested in a purse. I pass this stand that sells jícama on sticks, that is then dusted in your choice of chile salt. I take a taste of the dark red--oácala (as they would say "gross").

We eventually wind back towards the parked cars. Azucena is toting her basket filled with foodstuffs (fresh herbs, bread, chorizo), and Holly's got her handicrafts.

Later that night we hop a cab uphill to the Hotel Victoria. Their open air café has a beautiful view of Oaxaca's skyline. Holly and I enjoy an evening drink and a light bite--we even continue our earlier game of gin rummy! (By the way, Holly--the final score is Blonde Butt 970, Megora 1175. Little sister dominates!)

It's a breezy, perfect cap to a lovely day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Monte Albán v. The Martin Ladies


Note to readers, this post is chock-full of pictures from our trip to the ancient Mesoamerican ruins of Monte Albán. So get ready!

Holly and I had reserved tickets for a tour of Monte Albán a bit earlier in the week. So we rise early, gorge on a huge breakfast to fortify us for the day at my house, and trek into town to the hotel from which the van leaves. Our van is filled with a large family from Mexico City; Oaxaca's just a quick flight, or 6-hour drive from the mammoth city--so it's a logical choice for family spring break trips. We luck out in that we are two of very few English speakers at Monte Albán today. That means that our tour consists of 6 people--whereas the Spanish speakers were sandwiched into groups of 25.

Our tour group

Monte Albán is set atop a flattened out mountain that looks over the three valleys of Oaxaca's "central valley." It's about 11 by the time we get rolling on the tour--and with no shade at the top of these vast ruins--it's a bit hot, people. Holly and are working on our tans...or for Holly, her burn.

After a tour of the grounds, complete with history of the 5 different epochs of Monte Albán, our guide sets us free to explore on our own for an hour. Holly and I head for the big pyramid on the south end. It's the one to summit. Here I am sitting at the the base.

Holly points the way forward; no fear in those eyes. Though, I guess it's hard to tell, since she's wearing sunglasses. We're determined, I assure you. We hear it's the best view in the whole place. We follow our guide's instructions and walk almost sideways up the steep steps. Even though the people that built this mammoth place were much smaller than both of us, they built the steps narrow and tall in order to force all to walk sideways out of respect for both gods and leaders.

Here's how we feel when we reach the top...

We take a quick pic at the top to prove our success as the first sisters to EVER climb this pyramid and survive.

As you can see, like the good little mid-westerners we are, we're both sporting regional caps--Holly's from Kalamazoo, mine from Chicago--go Cubs! We're not alone in sporting our hometown caps--we've spotted a few others in Boston Red Sox caps. In fact, this Boston couple was unfortunate enough to be on our tour.

I say "unfortunate" because these two had the misfortune to encounter superfan, Holly K Martin--who informed them in the first five minutes of our tour that they not only had a shitty baseball team, but that their football team blew it this year. I mean, she's right, people. You all would have been so proud (I know I was!)--unless of course you're from Boston--in which case you would have cried, baby.

I catch some shade at one of the few trees in Monte Albán--which happens to be situated atop the big pyramid. It's a just reward for summiting, I think.

On our way out to meet the van back into town, we pass this staircase that has been partially restored.

It's important to note that what you see in all of these pictures is only 20% of the ruins that were left behind by Mexico's ancient people. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds they cannot excavate the remainder of this hill, nor the two other small mountaintops which were a part of Monte Albán's past (El Gallo and Monte Albán Chico). Many of the tombs we passed, in fact, have been looted, or not even fully restored. So make your donations today! I'm sure there's a Monte Albán Foundation somewhere on the internet for your devoted fans of Mesoamerica.

After Holly and I get dropped off in town, I take a quick shower to wash off the ancient Mesoamerican dust. Then we head over the Cordero's house so comida. Everyone is in attendance, Rafael and Azucena (the parents), Alejandro and Mau (the brothers), and Eugenia, Isaac and Miguel Angel (the cousins). Azucena's created quite a spread, cold pasta salad with veggies, taquitos de pollo with spicy guacamole and a green salad. We finish off with a bowl of nieve (snow).

They all seem really excited to meet Holly, exclaiming "Igual que tu mamá!"(looks just like your mom!) as they embrace her. I have to do my most challenging translating yet--as they talk without cease the whole time we're there. For instance, later when friends are over sharing the story of the recent birth of their daughter, I think this is what Holly was actually getting from my translations, as I was listening and talking at the same time:

"They did a caesarian...lots of tissues layers...pull back pull back...darkness inside gut...reach in for baby...lungs open now...twist head out like ok."

It's sounds like a telegram of the events. But we muddle through. Alejandro gives us a ride home, where we relax at last. However, it's a Saturday night--so we can't go to bed early. Instead we opt to check out a movie. Alejandro, Holly and I cram into the two-seater truck to make our way out to Cineápolis. Juno's all sold out, so we opt for "Jumper," a mistake, I'm sure we'd all admit. Holly wants me to inform all of you that even though we all recognized within the first 10 minutes that this movie would be bad, we stayed through the whole thing. Apparently, it's the kind of bad you sit through and then joke about later--as opposed to the kind of bad where you throw your popcorn at the screen and run out in disgust.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The solemnity of a snowflake light gobo


Day three begins with a delicious breakfast at one of my favorite breakfast places in the city, Naturel. We pig out on fresh fruit smoothies, mine with banana, strawberry, almonds and rose flavor. Holly's with, um, something else. After the main course, enchiladas verdes for Holly, which she ordered all by herself (woah), and entomatadas for me--I order a tea so we have time to digest and look over Holly's guidebook to make a somewhat-plan for the day.

We head north through Colonia Reforma, the neighborhood I lived in in college, to the Fuente de Siete Regiones; each statue of this giant fountain presents a traditionally-dressed woman from one of six regions in Oaxaca. I'm standing in front of the Mixtecan woman, the region where I do most of my project work. The fellow on top represents the valley of Oaxaca; he's performing the Danza de la Pluma (feather dance).

We hop a bus south into town to walk around, visiting the Zócalo again, snaking back and forth to different shops. This time out we're smart, and arm ourselves with hats. That March Oaxaca sun is brutal!

After the sun and walking has defeated us, we make our way back up north towards home. There's nowhere safe to be in the city at mid-day--the 90-degree heat is just too much. So, it's time to get off our feet, enjoy the shade of my porch, and a bite to eat. And just so you all know what kind of stellar host I am, here is a shot of me cooking a feast for Holly...

This is us on my street. Arm shot!

We take a tiny siesta like good Mexicans. Then we pretty ourselves up to head back into town. Oscar, my musician friend from Tlaxiaco, has invited us to join him at a free concert in town at the beautifully-maintained Alcalá Theater. A woman named Alejandra Robles
is playing with a 7-set band that includes, guitar, violin, two saxes, guitarrón, bass, cuatro, and some kind of drum of which I don't know the name. Her music is described in advance as a mix of Mexican Folk music and Carribean music. That just about describes it. The band was fantastic. The singer even performed the heal-heavy tapping common to the Son Jarocho music of Veracruz. One of the unique elements of the concert, and I find this to be true of all the concerts I've attended at this theater, is the distinct lighting design. Obviously someone has invested some money in moving lights--like the kind you see at rock concerts. And that same someone, I will wager, is totally jazzed to run the light board during live events. He just can't get enough of scrolling through the various gobos and colors. For instance, say we're in the middle of a slow, solemn song where the singer is drawing out the story of a woman distraught from the death of her son--that is the EXACT moment in which this dude chooses to scroll the central light over the snowflake gobo, it's blinding white light twirling and twisting, bouncing like a teenage girl. Awesome.

Unfortunately, neither of us snapped pictures of the theater from our private box overlooking the whole thing. All I have to offer is this shot of me in my seat texting someone.

After the fun we wander along the car-free street towards Santo Domingo. The streets are littered with tons of 20-somethings. It's out-on-the-town night, folks! We head off on a side street to a small restaurant with a rooftop terrace that overlooks the illuminated Santo Domingo. It's quiet and retired--so we can digest the food and the concert. And now, to bed!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A view, some meat, and a few pillowcase blouses


We awake early out of necessity. As Holly discovers, even if one doesn't want to rise at 7:30 AM--the dudes who deliver gas and water and sharpen your knives will make you get up early, as the whistles, music and shouts that arise from their delivery trucks make it nearly impossible NOT to shake sleep off for the day ahead. We take a hike up behind my house to the top of the Cerro de Fortín. It's a trek, for sure. But the view of the city can't be beat for a way to orient yourself. A large statue of Bénito Juárez, the country's first president (and a Oaxacan!) points the direction City, I'm guessing. Gotta look that up!

We hike even further up to the observatory, and to the trails that wind back to the other side of the hill. The sun's rising now, though, so we make our way back downhill, taking the Escalera de Fortín (basically a long stone stairway that makes almost the whole length of the hillside). A quick stop off at Juguita Lupita, my favorite place for smoothies and fresh juice in the city. It's nestles inside a city market. Lupita and Jerry run the place--a really kind couple who quickly slosh fruit and veggie juices into plastic bags with straws for us to drink on our walk back to my house.

After showers and a bit of breakfast, we head out to explore. Here are some pictures of our journey. A lot of these are from Holly's camera. So you'll get a look at Oaxaca through her eyes...

Here's Pochote, a plot of land that was bought by famous Mexican artist, Francisco Toledo, then transformed into this lovely garden. It houses an organic farmer's market every Friday and Saturday, as well as an art film cinema every day but Monday.

I defy even cameras to capture my cheetah-quick movements!

We take a stroll past Santo Domingo again, this time in daylight. Impressive, eh?

Then we head further downtown, giving Holly a taste of the streets, the colors, the orientation of the city. We head south and west of the Zócalo to two of the bigger indoor markets, Mercado de Juárez and Mercado de 20 de Noviembre. One carries foodstuffs.

Mmmm, meat!

The other houses textiles, woodwork, leather work--all of the local artesanías. Holly gets a few little things, and we continue on. Take a look!

This is a small craft market called El MARO, which is a collective formed by women from all around the valley of Oaxaca who bring their wares to this central market on 5 de Mayo street to sell to tourist and locals, alike. Each room is dedicated to a different craft, alebrijes (little carved wooden animals colorfully streaked in paint), huipiles (woven dresses), black and green pottery, rugs and jewelry. Holly and I both snag some good buys here. I won't spoil the surprise for those of you lucky enough to get gifts from my big sister (I guess this really sucks for those who get nothing--you know, to know that she got someone something, it just wasn't you.) :) I finally find a locally-made blouse that isn't in the shape of a house. Awesome. Most of the blouses here are boxy and not fitted at all. It's charming on local women. But on us güeritas (whiteys) it's just looks like you're wearing a pillow case. Seriously.

Goodbye, Day 2!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Martin Ladies in the Oaxacan House, yo.


As many of you might be aware, my sister Holly came down for a quick visit this past week. She arrived in the late afternoon, after a full and early morning of travel from Chicago. As I see her walk off the plane and onto the tarmac in Oaxaca (that's right! the airport is so small here that you actually do the walk outside) I giggle at the flannel and leather coat is carrying. I'm in Capris and flip flops...poor, poor Chicagoans. Holly's a bit travel weary, but filled with questions at everything flying by her backseat window in the car; we make our way (with my friend's help, and his car!) to my place. She stretches out, unloads the bag filled with goodies for my Mexican family and me: iPod for Mau, towels for Rafael, tennis shoes and jeans for me--yay! I make us some quick quesadillas with tlayudas from the Sierra Juarez mountains, fresh quesillo from a local market, and organic cilantro from the Pochote. And even though Holly's travel-tired, she rummages some energy to take an easy stroll into town to get an evening look at the city.

* side note: Dad, stop reading this!!! Let Holly tell you her side first over a nice diarrhea-free dinner**. I don't want to steal her thunder. So move along, BD, and check these blog posts out later.

**super side note: Holly did NOT get diarrhea while she was here. México's reputation is redeemed!!! Now, returning to the story for all those who are not my dad...

We pass the impressive Santo Domingo Church. We manage to squeeze in the doors just before closing. We discuss in hushed voices the magnificence of the altar wall, all crafter in gold, the side chapels, the sun-faded paintings adorning each wall. We exit, making our way south toward the Zócalo, or town center, taking the car-free Alcalá street the whole way. The Zócalo is packed with people. Each flower embankment is lined with people popping a squat, trying to enjoy the square's energy. It's the week after Easter, which is a popular travel time for Mexicans.

The sun has set; it's getting late. So after this quick initial glimpse of Oaxaca, we make our way back home. Tomorrow begins the real adventure!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tlaxiaco Recap

It's been a while since my last blog. So how about a quick recap of the days leading up to this past week...?

Hours after my last blog I hopped a suburban headed up to Tlaxiaco. It's was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The cool and fresca afternoons here have been replaced by a stifling heat. I dump my things at my room and head towards the Plaza, popping a squat under this clock. It's Tianguis (or market day), so normally vendors are stacked up still selling to the crowd. However, there's a reduced presence this particular week. It could be Semana Santa has people at home with their families. I'm not sure.

Rene meets me at Plaza center. We make our way over to the collectivo station for cars leaving for Magdalena Peñasco. We're headed out tonight to catch our work pal, Araceli, playing with her band in her hometown. Actually, she officially not going to play anything. She's what it referred to here as the Animadora. She basically introduces each song, attempts to rally the crowd, asks for requests, and reads off shout outs that the crowd turns into her on small strips of stray paper.

Magdalena Peñasco's Municipal Building, huge,
despite the fact that this is one of the 100 poorest pueblos in Mexico.


Once we make the hour's drive out to Magdalena, we hop out and hike down to Araceli's house. Her whole family has gathered to "help her" prep. Her mom's prepares a little food for anyone dropping by. Rene helps Araceli iron the band's shirts (I guess because she's the lone lady in the group, ironing falls to her :( ). I spend my time chasing Chely's brother, Freddy, around the house, and coaxing this little bunny into my arms.

I win!

The band doesn't take the stage until 10. A crowd is already gathering from neighboring pueblos. They huddle on the edges of the town's central pavilion--no one but small boys playing tag dare to step into the center of the pavilion floor. I sit backstage with Chely--as she's informed me that she needs a bit of a pep talk to get onto stage. She daily talks live on the air to thousands of people, and yet, this crowd frightens her. Funny.

Finally the band takes the stage. Chely's voice is a bit husky from nerves, but otherwise she does fine getting the band going. However, when I turn to face the crowd, no one is dancing. The band is playing Durangenses, music designed for dancing (it's surely not designed for listening--not at the decibel level they're playing tonight). But unlike the wedding I attended a few months back where everyone jumped onto the dance floor instantaneously, this crowd seems shy. There is a giant, glowing vacancy at pavilion center--and not many look eager to fill it. That doesn't stop Chely's dad from turning to me and inviting me to dance. Now for any of you who have delusions that I am a brave girl, I will set the record straight right here and say, I outrightly refused. I'm already getting enough stares just for being the only white person for miles. All I need is to tumble out onto the dance floor, the empty dance floor, and dance with some dude. He doesn't give up, however, and quickly turns to his youngest daughter, who cannot refuse, and heads out to boogie it up. A few more couples seem encouraged by the duo, and join them. That's when Rene turns to me and says, "We must help this party get rollin'." And so, I find my second string courage and shuffle out to the middle.

It's not too much later that the dance floor fills. People line the edges of the pavilion, some sitting up top on a ledge overlooking the floor, their feet dangling, thumping the wall to the beat. Araceli's got everyone pumped up. Hoards of messages are passed up to her to read over the mic, "hellos" and "please love me's" scrawled on backs of soda wrappers. Rene and I snap photos. I've been asked to keep time for the group so they won't play over their aloted first hour. I give Chely the signal as the hour closes. Another band will take the stage next. Then after their hour is done, Chely and her band are back on. She says they'll play until 4. I can't imagine what endurance that will require. Chely may not have to play an instrument, but during each song she remains on stage, hopping, twisting and turning to each beat. She's not a bad Durangense dancer, if I do say so.

Rene and I nod to each other as Chely's band descends from the stage. We're both anxious to find a collectivo back to Tlaxiaco. There won't be many leaving at this hour, and far less later than that. So we say our goodbyes and weave through the crowd to make our hasty exit.

The next day I make my way out to the station after a hearty, market-side breakfast of sopes. I'm observing the Sunday morning programming, which consists of the two shows that are broadcast in the States, as well as Tlaxiaco and its environs. I also do a fare amount of the not-blog-worthy background work, like arranging for future interviews, gathering information from station staff on operational issues, holding a planning session with the director about what I need to accomplish (with his help) in the months remaining.

In the afternoon I head out around 5 to grab a bite to eat. But by the time I set my ridiculously heavy backpack down in my room, my brain asks me to take a second to rest my head. When I finally sluff off my exhaustion, it's almost 6. I meet up with Chely and Eva to grab a quick bite to eat. A friend of mine, Oscar Guzmán, is holding a concert tonight to celebrate the release of his first CD, Al Sur. We've all been invited to attend. So we grab some tacos de res (I opt for the regular red meat, and not the meat they cut from the head of the cow). I must admit, while sitting at this narrow bench, my tummy pressed up to the taco stand, my face inches away from the sizzling fire and the large tree stump on which a man is chopping raw cow meat with a butcher's knife, I really don't like being this close to the action. It's grossing me out. The girls wonder why I've only ordered two tacos to their four. How does one explain the power of Ewwwwww in Spanish?

The concert is just blocks from my place. Chely takes off--so Eva and track down empty seats set up under a large yellow tent. Lots of people have turned out. Poor Oscar has come down with a terrible cold just in time for the concert. His been getting injections for his throat every day leading up to this concert. But when he takes the stage you can still hear the strain in his voice. The band is incredible. Oscar has rallied nationally recognized musicians from Mexico to help him promote his CD, which he produced in conjunction with the university he is studying with in Oaxaca. Despite his soar chords, Oscar is able to ride the public's enthusiasm through the night's line-up. He keeps apologizing for his voice--but I tell him later that it was a good stunt in order to convince people to buy the CD--they have to buy it in order to hear the songs as they were intended.

I eventually wander back through pebbled roads to my house. In the morning I rise and treat myself to a large breakfast at my favorite haunt, The Patio, make a few copies of some documents that the station director loaned me, and then hop a suburban back to Oaxaca. Holly is arriving in one short day. I've got a bathroom in Oaxaca that's calling me to clean it!

The Patio's Calm Interior

Semana Santa, a glimpse

Well folks, it's Semana Santa here in México--the week leading up to Easter. So that means everyone is on vacation. Spring Break! woohoo! But as opposed to this:

Mexico celebrates like this:
I've taken the week to get a bit sun-kissed at the pool with my brothers, Alex and Mau. Also went on a hike up to the waterfall in San Felipe with friends Josh and Lynn.
Josh and I have started a Fulbright gang. This is our new super secret hand signal...wait!

And finally I made some delicious galettes--thin dough stuffed with feta, green onions, and spices. Yum!
This isn't from the batch I made; but it's similar.

I'm off in an hour to Tlaxiaco for two days of recording before my sister arrives for a visit. So I'll leave you with a few pictures from the Good Friday procession I witnessed last night in the center of town here in Oaxaca City.

It took almost an hour for the procession to cross entirely in front of me. Huge, heavy representations for Jesus and the Virgin Mary in various different states of his walk to Golgatha. Each church contributes a statue or flag.
My two favorite parts were 1) the procession of these guys carrying crosses. You could hear them approach before you could see them--as these heavy crosses scrapped against the street's cobblestones

And 2) this parade of 62 banners, each representing a different church in town. The corner where I was standing was hooded in crisscrossing telephone and electrical wires. The poor banner holders had to duck and weave, some assisted, to pass underneath the wires. It was a nail-biting experience

Happy Semana Santa to you all!