Friday, March 27, 2015

Rentals:Oaxaca and Paris

During the last three years, I have rented 4 apartments in Paris, 2 apartments in Oaxaca and 3 casitas in Tucson. Locating the apartments and negotiating prices is definitely part of the adventure.  There is not such a large rental inventory in Oaxaca because "snowbirds" return every year to the same "nests". A lady that I met from Victoria rents her Oaxaca "home" all year even though she returns to Canada for 6 months. For this reason, I am spending a month at the Casa Peyrera before I move to the Learning Center.
There are brightly coloured ornaments in the patios at Casa Peyrera.

I originally researched Oaxaca about six years ago when I was still working. All of my life, I have wanted to experience different cultures. I had trained as an English as a Second Language teacher in the 1980's as a means of achieving my long-term goal. Little did I know in the early 1980's that the Vancouver area would have such an enormous influx of immigrants. In 2010, I discovered the Oaxaca Learning Center apartment where I stayed for two summer vacations. 

In order to rent an apartment in Paris, I have had to use rental agencies. I tried a private rental once but the deal "fell through". In 2012, I was planning to study in Paris for 5 months. Location was important to me and I knew that I would be having a few visitors. I located my "perfect" apartment on Rue St Jacques close to Reid Hall where I would be studying. This would be my most expensive apartment at 2100 euros a month. Fortunately, the Canadian dollar was worth more 3 years ago because today the cost would be $2850 Canadian a month!
This was a lovely bright apartment with a place for me to study.
Only one of the apartments that I rented in Paris included regular cleaning in the rental price. Romantique, located in Montmartre, was a beautifully decorated apartment, that I found through VRBO. The owner was easy to deal with and the apartment was cleaned and the bed linens were changed weekly.
Last year, I did laundry in Paris.
I do feel that, with long-term rentals, cleaning and fresh  bed linens and towels should be provided. A long-term tenant means fewer financial transactions, fewer communications and fewer cleanings. In Oaxaca, Sofia, spends 2 hours cleaning my apartment every week. When I move, next week, I will leave her a tip for all of her thoughtfulness. A bed was set up downstairs for my brother who also was given his own keys and clean towels.

The rental market in Oaxaca is busy from November to March because of "snowbirds". The couple from Chicago who have been in The Learning Center apartment have already booked for two months next year. Here, in Casa  Peyrera, I am paying $1200US but I will only be paying $800US at the Center. That rental fee has not gone up since I was here five years ago.

Locating long-term rental properties is always a bit stressful. I have had nightmares of entry codes that might fail and late-appearing property managers. There is nothing like sitting in front of an unknown building in a foreign country waiting for a stranger to let you in. But so far, I have enjoyed the adventure of each temporary "nest".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oaxaca Living:Food

mole negro, fresh salsa and guacamole
One of the reasons that I chose to spend the spring in  Oaxaca this year was cost. This is my fourth year of travel and I need to consider the lower value of the Canadian dollar. In Oaxaca, I can live well for very little money. In fact, unless I buy something exceptional, my costs are averaging about $30 Canadian a day. This does not include my rent but I am eating in lovely restaurants and choosing healthy food.
un omelette saludable (healthy)
In Oaxaca, the middle class people (for those are the people who eat in restaurants) have coffee and a light snack upon rising. I have some yogurt or a multigrain bar in my apartment. Desayunos (breakfast) in a restaurant is served until 2:00 pm and involves, meat, beans, tortillas, cheese, eggs and fruit with optional sweet rolls, juice, coffee or the regional hot chocolate. I usually skip this meal but on week-ends, it is fun to watch families sharing desayunos. If you look, there are healthy options. My omelette,
with unlimited coffee and fresh grapefruit juice cost under $10.
The restaurant is beautifully decorated with flowers, paintings and springtime cutout banners.
The restaurants that I choose are all nicely decorated with bright colours. They are excellent spots to watch people or quietly read my book as I wait. Many of the waiters in Oaxaca speak English as they have worked in the United States. Since there were few jobs in Oaxaca, many left but have returned and  outside many restaurants, shops and bakeries, there are signs seeking employees. Remember the minimum wage is 66 pesos (less than $5 a day).  My omelette cost 85 pesos.
fresh citrus salad with zucchini flowers
Although it has just started to rain a little. Oaxaca usually is dry from November until April. I don't see greenhouses anywhere so the greens and fish that I tend to order must be trucked in. So much for  the 100 Miles Diet.The zucchini flowers are served with just about every dish here so they must be local.
fresh salmon with salsa and vegetables
The coast is about 5 hours away by road that winds through the Sierra Madre Mountains so my salmon,probably imported from Chile, is one of the more expensive dishes. I eat fish at least once a week and it is always prepared with fresh salsa made of chopped vegetables sprinkled with citrus juice. Carrots and broccoli are served frequently. Mexico exports more than 100 million dollars worth of broccoli annually.

poblano en nogada
Oaxaca is famous for its moles, complex sauces usually served over chicken or beef. I have tasted most of the moles and so this visit I am avoiding them. I did, however, visit La Azucena Zapoteca, a restaurant known for its poblanos en nogada, a roasted pepper stuffed with chicken, nuts and fruit, served with a creamy sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate and nuts. I couldn't finish the dish but it was delicious.
I was served a complimentary mescal.
Oaxaca is  also known for its hot chocolate and its mezcal. Tequila is a mezcal that is made in the state of Jalisco. Mezcal is made from the agave cactus. You drink it in one gulp (for me two).  I don't usually drink hard liquor but the orange was juicy sweet, the cayenne was spicy and the mezcal burned on its way down. The contrast of tastes and sensations is the basis of much of Oaxaca's cuisine.
At home in Oaxaca, I have very simple meals but today my brother is coming from Canada to visit. I will go down the street to Carmelita's pastelería to pick up pastries for tomorrow's breakfast. Pastries cost 6 pesos (about 40 cents Canadian).  We won't have them every day but after a day of travel, my brother might be hungry tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, I asked my mentor at the library, a lady who has lived here for more than 20 years, about food and sanitation. The people selling food in the street have no running water or refrigeration. They wash their utensils in buckets of water. She does not eat street food for this reason. Food right off a comal (grill) is probably safe but I really don't feel like taking the chance.
My "expert" says that this is probably safe but the added sauces are not refrigerated.

My brother has never been to Mexico before so I will enjoy introducing him to all the sights, sounds and tastes of Oaxaca!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Day in the Neighbourhood

Please do not use the Cathedral as a bathroom.
Today was a day of no tutoring or library work so I just wandered a bit in the neighbourhood. I live about 4 blocks from the Zócalo or main plaza of Oaxaca. The Plaza's official name is La Plaza de la Constitución and it is the site of the former Governor's Palace and of the Cathedral of Oaxaca. There are also lots of people camped out in backpack tents, electrical cords running along the ground in every
direction and the  sounds of live and recorded music competing with speeches of all sorts. I went over to listen to what I thought was a political speech and it turned out to be a man selling herbal remedies.
The sign above implores people to not use the church as a bathroom. There has been quite a lot of criticism of the Zócalo on Trip Advisor but I find it a pleasant spot to people watch.

The vendors in the stalls are very relaxed and I stop to browse but I don't purchase. There's a lady further up Avenida de la Independencia where I have purchased a woven scarf. She's just on a street corner which means she probably can't afford a permit for the Zócalo. I put my loose pesos in my pocket so that I could give the street musicians something. I don't like to take my wallet out on the street but I do like to be ready with some spare change.

Further down Independencia, I see a tiny woman with two grey braids and the traditional woven apron
selling lettuce, herbs and zucchini flowers. I bought a little bag of lettuce (which is soaking in disinfectant right now) and politely asked if I might take a photo. She was not willing. If you are interested in seeing pictures of the people in traditional garb, I found some photos taken by another Canadian on Flickr. Many of the people of Oaxaca are shorter than 5 feet tall and traditional clothing is common.
El Templo de San Felipe de Neri
Between my apartment and the Zócalo is yet another church. I live within the sound of three sets of bells. Today, when I went in, there was another funeral. San Felipe is in a Spanish baroque style and was built in the 18th century of the local cantera stone.

It's interesting to observe this Oaxacan world. There is so much to see but I am sure that I miss a lot because it is so different from Canada. I am meeting so many Canadians and Americans who choose to live here for part of each year. It truly is a magical place!