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!

A Growing Market

tourism for older adults

Oaxaca has identified itself as a destination for "older adult" tourists. This poster is advertising a course in developing tourist programmes for the members of the "grey-haired" generation.  How very progressive! There are so many opportunities for retirees and those who write, teach or work online to live comfortably in Oaxaca. 

view from my rooftop apartment
Rents are very inexpensive. Many of the single ex-pat women that I have met pay $400-$500US for an apartment. Word-of-mouth keeps these apartments rented and some people sub-let when they return to Canada or the United States.  I have paid more because I have chosen to support the learning centre. Who could wish for a more pleasant classroom than the courtyard downstairs? It hums with activity from about 8:00 am until 8:00pm. 

water is a luxury
Those of us from Canada and the United States take water for granted. The delivery truck is a common sight here. Some of the apartments do not have hot water and drinking water is not included in the rental price. My rental includes both. There are not many washing machines around, landladies frown on tenants using the water for laundry so clothing must be taken to a lavandería where an attendant does your laundry. Many people buy clothing from thrift stores as clothes don't last well.

clothes line on my roof
Fortunately, I am allowed to wash my clothes and there are clothes lines on the roof. There is even an iron and ironing board in the apartment. I have been wearing my "Oaxaca wardrobe" for almost eight weeks. 
a wedding procession
On Saturday, I heard music on the pedestrian street and thought that it was a parade for the 483 birthday of Oaxaca that is being celebrated this week. But no! It was a wedding, complete with giant puppets, dancers and a brass band! Entertainment in Oaxaca is definitely on every street corner. This week, there is a documentary film festival as well as Fiesta Oaxaca.

I have been finding the heat oppressive as this is the hottest part of the year. The rains have not yet come and every afternoon, the temperature hits 90+F.  Yesterday, I was invited to the swimming pool of a lovely hotel where ex-pats pay a modest membership for year-round use. Water shortage or not, if I lived here full-time, I certainly would join.

Today, I have students in the afternoon and I am finding that 13-year-olds don't want to study in the afternoon any more than I want to teach. School starts at 7:00 am. and by 4:00 in the afternoon, they have little interest in learning English.

The heat, finding my way in a very different culture and meeting new people take a lot of energy. I am contemplating taking some Spanish classes during my last two weeks, visiting some favourite locations
and relaxing a bit before I return home.