Saturday, May 30, 2015

All Things Considered

a glyph at Monte Albán

It is two weeks since I returned home from Oaxaca. It always takes me a bit of time to readjust and Monsieur has lived 10 weeks without me. Our ways of being are quite different and the return home is always a challenge for both of us.

French literature is my passion!
Both Oaxaca and Paris offer opportunities to experience the language, history and culture of another country. I have always been interested in learning about different cultures. As an undergraduate,  I was fascinated by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Montparnasse, the Latin Quarter…. More than anything, I wanted to be a European! The West Coast of Canada was not a very cosmopolitan place at that time.

I am a Canadian with a soupçon of Québecoise blood flowing through my veins. In school, every Canadian student studies French. Lots of my contemporaries will tell you that they did not learn any French although it was compulsory for a few years. Language learning does not occur without interest and effort.  Spanish was offered in my high school when I was in Grade 10 so I was able to study a third language. I never really thought of Mexico except as a tourist destination.  Mexico is rich in history but until I studied the art of MesoAmerica at university, I really had no idea.
We really don't know much about pre-hispanic Mexico because the conquistadores tore down buildings and destroyed the records.

I love to wander the streets of a city, pausing to read historic markers. Interestingly, both Oaxaca and Paris provide information about the origin of street names on the street signs. In Oaxaca, you have to watch the pavement as well because it is very uneven. Apparently, every year there are visitors on crutches. The windows of Paris provide a never-ending display of beautiful merchandise. I can wander on Sundays and I am never tired of window displays.
Paris windows are works of art.
There are no display windows in Oaxaca. Sometimes when a door is open, I glimpsed a lovely courtyard. When I was consciously looking for a shop or service, I found the address and located the business. I don't know if it is concerns over privacy and security or the limited use of glass for fear of earthquake but there is definitely no window shopping in Oaxaca. On the other hand, there might be a simple sign indicating a free art gallery which is often in a restored colonial building.
During the time I was in Oaxaca, I volunteered about 15 hours a week. Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people. My cousin goes to dances wherever she travels. When I was in Paris, I studied French. In both cities, I have taken cooking classes or food tours. I have attended church services in Oaxaca and in Paris.
A Oaxaqueña cooking on a comal stove.
I was careful about my food choices in Oaxaca and I had no "tummy troubles." Ironically, Janet and I had food poisoning in Paris two years ago. 

No comparison would be complete without a considering the cost. I usually pay about 1800-2300 euros a month for a Paris rental. My rationale is that anything less than $100 a night for a major city is a bargain. I paid $800 for a month in Oaxaca and most ex-pats pay about $400. Food is very inexpensive and a whole day tour to one of the archeological sites is less than $20. As I advance in my retirement years, money becomes more of a consideration. There is no doubt that retired Americans and Canadians choose Mexico as a second home because it offers a gracious lifestyle for a limited budget. For those facing expensive medical, dental and drug costs at home, Mexico provides US-trained doctors and dentists along with greatly reduced pharmaceutical costs. Older ex-pats hire Mexicans as live-in companions. 

I will always be a francophile! It's not an affectation, it's who I have been all of my life. Paris will always be my "spiritual home." My husband claims that he doesn't like either city… Brother Beto, his Oaxacan name, he's really Bob has become a global educator since his retirement. He signs all of his correspondence: "It's all part of the adventure. Walk another path."

Oaxaca has been my "other path" this year and I know that I will go back to the Lending Library and the Learning Centre. I already miss the conversations that I had about politics, social reform and books.
I miss the grocer at the Miscellanea where I bought a single cold "cerveza" to drink on my patio. 

It will take me a while  to "settle" but this week I met with my French student, attended Bible study 
and met a friend for lunch. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have to pursue my interests in retirement.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

May Musings


May is usually time for me to return home to Vancouver.  Since I have retired, I have spent the early spring months away from home. Summer is a lovely time at home and we are lucky to have an outdoor and an indoor swimming pool at my apartment complex.
lithography workshop on my street
One of the aspects of life at home that I do not enjoy is the reliance on the automobile. When I walk out  on the street here, I pass miscellanea (corner grocery stores) on almost every corner. The taco stands feed the people and pedlars walk along selling fruit and vegetables. La Merced Market is a block away and there are many small (almost invisible) restaurants and shops.
a taco stand on a nearby corner
The squares and plazas are colourful with pedlars and blossoms.
outside Santo Domingo
I walk past the grocery store every day and the security guard waves at me. I have found favourite restaurants and because I eat at off-hours for Oaxaca, I often have conversations with the waiters.

There is always music in Oaxaca.

There is always music in Oaxaca. At San Pablo, a cultural complex, you can sit with a coffee and listen to music. I think that I may go for breakfast today. It's Saturday so I don't have my library volunteer job.
There are lots of activities each week
In Oaxaca, there is no need to have a large entertainment budget. Most galleries are free or charge less than $5 Canadian. Galleries are usually located in restored colonial buildings and offer a respite from the heat. The Spanish knew what they were doing when they built the cool interior courtyards.
a beautiful gallery on my street
As a solo woman traveller, I have met a lot of people during my visit. Waiters and shopkeepers are friendly if you smile and greet them when you pass. Through my volunteer work, I have met lots of ex-pats who have invited me to join them for meals or activities. Once the "snowbirds" leave at the end of March, there are fewer organized ex-pat activities.  The Lending Library has a website that lists "Things to Do" and  I check it every week.

I have spent 9 weeks in Mexico (8 alone and 1 with my brother). It is definitely easier to convince people to visit me in Paris. It's a long time alone and I have felt lonely sometimes. Skype and FaceTime do provide a connection with home. 

If you are a solo woman traveller, I would recommend Oaxaca as a destination. I have felt safe every moment of my visit. There is no need to carry a lot of cash around. I spend less than $30 Canadian a day and I eat in middle class restaurants. If I were more daring with my food, I could get along on half of that. 

I don't go out alone at night but I am sure that if I wished to, I could find another woman to share a taxi with. 

Mother's Day is on Sunday. I am feeling a bit sad and eager to go home as I heard about the death of an old family friend yesterday. I have known her since I was born and she played a significant role during my girlhood. 

I was wondering where I spent last Mother's Day. iPhoto's last 12 month feature supplied me with the info. It seems a long time ago.
Last Mother's Day I was a Moorlands in Devon.
I was walking the coastal path in England last May. How far away is that! The flowers were in bloom and there were lambs.

I have not done very much writing since I have been here. I seem to be "on the go" too much but I am reminded by my photos of Moorlands' most famous visitor.
Agatha wrote her first mystery at Moorlands
It is coming up four years since my retirement. I have indeed travelled the world since then!





Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Perfect Red

a  cochineal painting of Oaxaca de Juaréz

When the Spaniards first came to Mexico, they were amazed by the brilliant red colour of the blankets of the Aztec nobles. They learned that the dye for these blankets was paid as tribute by some people who lived to the south. The source of the colour was a type of cactus  beetle that produces carminic acid as a means of protection. A few weeks ago, I was able to visit a site where the cochineal is produced.
Today there are very few cochineal plantations.

The beetle lives on nopal cactus that grow in the desert areas of Oaxaca state.
The cacti are cultivated on the plantation.
Nests are placed on healthy cacti.
The eggs begin to hatch and leave the nest.
Clean, fertile females are placed in "Zapotec nests" to be fertilized by the males. They are kept at a temperature of about 27degreesC. As the eggs hatch, the mites leave the nest and infest the nopal.
The nopales are infested.
Only the females survive to feed on the nopales. They are harvested after about 90 days.
The cochineal must be cleaned and sorted.
It takes 80,000 to 100,000 insects to make one kilogram of dye. Once, second only to silver as an export of Mexico, today the cochineal dye in Oaxaca is used mostly by the native weavers to produce textiles. The colour can be changed by adding an acid or a base to it. Even when different people squeeze the beetle, the colour is slightly different.
The pink and scarlet wool is from cochineal.
Weaving in an important industry in Oaxaca. Most of the inexpensive weaving sold in the zocalo is from commercial dyes. The cost and time involved in production make cochineal  relatively expensive in Oaxaca. Children learn to weave at about age 6 in the pueblos.
This wool has been dyed with natural dyes.

There has been renewed interest in natural dyes in the last few years. Most Oaxacan dye is used locally but Peru exports cochineal that is used in printing, art and cosmetics.

As for me, although I have resolved to buy little during this visit, there is a beautiful scarf in the Museo de Textil store. Perhaps, I will go and take a picture of it!