Monday, February 29, 2016

Sunday in Oaxaca

How do they create the wall art?
I often find weekends lonely when I am away from home. Since I have probably spent six months
in Oaxaca over the last five years, I don't do a lot of sight-seeing. There are always different exhibitions in galleries and music in the streets but I do miss a familiar voice or a conversation.

I am now in the Parador del Domenico, a hotel near the lending library where I volunteer. The Parador is a Mexican hotel with rooms around a central courtyard. I have a small private patio
off my room but no cooking facilities. Breakfast is served in a room off the courtyard and today
I met some women from Vancouver Island. We chatted throughout our breakfast of a fresh fruit plate
and scrambled eggs. There are so many Canadians in Oaxaca right now!

waiting to perform

Sunday, the zocalo is where the action is. Last year, there were protesters camped in the zocalo so there were no concerts. This year, campers gone, there are youth bands playing every week. It seems that every Mexican youth plays music and owns a regional costume. 

Today,  I stumbled upon the First Annual Oaxaca Marathon. The finish line was at the zocalo as well. Streets throughout Oaxaca were closed and I have never seen so many police. 
the first Oaxaca Marathon

In a corner of the zocalo, in front of the Government Palace, there is a banner and megaphones.
The fate of the 43 missing (murdered) student teachers is still uncertain and nobody has been
punished. The Trique people (an indigenous group) are living in poverty and being forced off their
still missing

In the zocalo on Sunday, there is something for everyone! I listen to the first few readings of the mass in the Cathedral, watch the band for a while, and people watch.  Mealtimes are different in Oaxaca.
I ate breakfast at 9:30 in my hotel but nobody eats the next meal until at least 2:00. I have been eating
just one full meal a day but since breakfast is included....At 2:00, I make my way to a seafood restaurant where the first person that I see is another library volunteer.

crayfish tacos with fresh guacamole

Entertainment is very inexpensive in Oaxaca. There is always something to see in the streets and squares. The expatriate community is very welcoming and a little bit of Spanish goes a long way with the local people.

 It's Monday morning again and time to get ready to work at the library. Today, I am also attending a lecture on the history of Oaxaca. Time is a very subjective thing! Sometimes I feel lonely and time seems to pass slowly, then I realize that I have only 10 days left and.....I never know what new experiences I might have.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jalatlaco and Libros para Pueblos

the devils dance on a coffee shop wall

Oaxaca is a city of contrasts. Today, I travelled to the barrio of Jalatlaco to process books for Libros para Pueblos. Since I have never visited this barrio before, I went early to visit a bit and to have a meal. I find that I usually only eat one meal a day in Oaxaca. It's hot and I snack on yogurt or nuts
throughout the day 

I visited a coffee shop called Xiguela for a real Oaxaca desayunos of enfrijoladas with huevos and
a cappuccino. What a pleasant place to read my book! The restaurant was full and I noticed some other gringos reading or using the wifi.

across the street from the devils is the Virgin of Guadalupe
Oaxaca is a mixture of Christian saints combined with indigenous words. The
church in the barrio is called San Matias de Jalatlaco. One definition that I found for Jalatlaco
was that it was Zapotec for "dusty ballfield." Certainly ballgames were popular in Mesoamerica. 
Even today, Oaxaca has a baseball training camp!
7500 children's books

My mission today was to help prepare 7500 children's books to be distributed to 75 libraries in the state. Boxes to open, books to stamp and pack. I love to handle books! I love to see what books have been chosen for the libraries. Quite a few translations...I noticed Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Hat by Tomi Ungerer. A lot of beginning Spanish novels as these books are destined for elementary schools.

I love to work with "people of the book." When I was a teacher-librarian, I prepared my new books alone or with a parent volunteer but here I am working along with librarians retired from New York
Public Library and from New England....booklovers from all over Canada and the US who are volunteering to work in 85+degreesF so that children can have books! 

Tomorrow, I am going back to work and to meet some different volunteers. There are so many retired people who are living here and contributing to the welfare of the indigenous people. It feels like the right place for me to be!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

En el Estudio Rustico and Adjustment

en el estudio rustico
Over the last four years, I have lived in a lot of rental apartments. In Paris, especially, I have chosen
to spend more money in order to live close to the Seine. My apartments, although much smaller than 
I am accustomed to, have been aesthetically pleasing to me and close to cafés. There have always been épiceries and markets nearby. This year, I planned only to visit Oaxaca for two weeks but plans change....Oaxaca is such a popular winter spot for retired Canadians and Americans that apartments are rented on a year-to-year basis.
la cocina

So, I came to stay for 16 nights in "el estudio rustico." That really is the name of my mini-apartment.
A friend had stayed in this complex and I was fortunate (after a booking mistake) to find a bed. The complex has 8 apartments and "el estudio." It is located close to the "ring road" that separates the centre of Oaxaca from the outlying areas. Many of the nearby businesses seem to be automotive supply shops.
a touch of colour
The enclave is surrounded by a rock wall that looks as though it dates from the 16th century. Despite
the lack of water, there are flowers and greenery throughout. Water in Oaxaca is scarce right now. As there has been no rain since November, personal use of water is limited. I, fortunately, seem to have warm water for a shower on a regular basis.

My apartment is cleaned thoroughly every week and the linens are changed. Laundry must be difficult here. I bring clothing that can be washed in the bathroom basin and dried on a hanger. The wifi works well enough for Netflix but I have been having a problem with Skype in Oaxaca.

After a few days, I have discovered the benefits of living in a non-touristic neighbourhood. The, restaurants, almost hidden from street view, are very inexpensive.
This cheese omelette cost 2 dollars.

There are opportunities to explore foods that I have never tried. Yesterday, I visited a neighbourhood restaurant that I had discovered on Trip Advisor. Nimbus, an artisan pizza place, is about 4 blocks from el estudio.
My pizza was topped with queso de cabra (cheese), floras de calabaza (squash blossoms) and
chapulines (grasshoppers). It is the first time that I have eaten insects but they were crispy and salty.

I have begun my volunteer work in the library. Next week, I shall be helping Libros para Pueblos to box up books for the villages. The Oaxaca Lending Library provides me with lots of reading choices
and opportunities to meet with other gringos. I have been invited to join a book club called "Broads
and Books" but I'm not going to be here long enough. Maybe next year...

Adjustment to new surroundings often takes a bit of time. I have had a cold and low energy. Some days, reading my book and taking a short walk seem to be enough. Perhaps, it is best to release my expectations and to enjoy what the days bring. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

En la Calzada de Cuauhtémoc, in el Barrio de la Trinidad de las Huertas

my street corner

For two weeks, I am living on the Calzada de Cuauhtémoc in the Barrio de la Trinidad de las Huertas
on the outskirts of Oaxaca. My address is significant because it is one of the few streets that I have encountered that bears the name of an indigenous historical personage. Cuauhtémoc, a nephew of Montezuma and the last Aztec emperor, refused to surrender to Cortéz and his Spaniards but was eventually executed in 1522. He is a symbol to the indigenous people of  strength and endurance in the face of adversity.
Opening the lock is probably my greatest adversity.

After the Spaniards conquered Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), they heard that the source of the Aztec gold was in the land of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. Since these peoples had always paid tribute to the Aztecs anyway, they offered little resistance. Unfortunately between 1532 and 1650, the indigenous population declined from 1.5 million to 150,000 due to disease and overwork. My barrio, La Trinidad
de las Huertas was the area where the workers lived. It was also where many of the gardens that fed the colonial city were located.
I am living within an adobe enclosed garden right now.
Today, Pope Francis made a "collective apology" to the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, a state in which 76% of the people live in poverty. Three native languages were used in the service and a Vatican proclamation was made allowing the use of another indigenous language.

Today, I was engaged in a discussion over at about retirement.
A remark had been made about "not wanting to just sit around". For some, that might be a choice but
there is so much to learn and understand about the world and it can come from a small thing like
my curiosity about my address.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

La Aventura

painting on a wall in Oaxaca

My brother says (too often) "It's all part of the adventure!" My travel experiences lately have been plagued by reservations that have fallen through or been lost. Last year, I was without a hotel in Mexico City at midnight. A helpful porter escorted me through the streets until I found the wonderful
Hotel Central right next to the zocalo. On my New York City trip in September, our apartment rental (already paid for) was cancelled and my daughter and I ended up in Brooklyn. I loved Brooklyn and will stay there again!

giant flying horse sculpture in the zocalo of Oaxaca
Yesterday, after many hours of travel and waiting, I arrived at my destination, a studio apartment (I thought) in an unfamiliar barrio. I had corresponded in Spanish with the owner who came highly recommended by a personal friend and by Trip Advisor and had given her the time of my arrival BUT she had forgotten and had rented out my studio!!! This one of the busiest months in Oaxaca....Remember, it's all part of.....So many times when things go wrong when I'm alone, I think "Okay, if I were with so-and-so, they'd be losing their temper right now. The lady made a mistake but...she gave me her daughter's bedroom until Saturday. If I were with anyone, that would be impossible as I have a single bed, a toilet and a basin. It's clean and it will have to do for now.
This store window displayed religious dolls.
Today, I wandered to the Lending Library where I will volunteer during my visit. I ate a complete breakfast for $3 and I read my book in a 15th century plaza. My room is costing me $15 a night.

It seems that, in solo travel, we must accept whatever comes and learn to depend on the kindness of strangers