Monday, April 23, 2012

Week Two in Oaxaca City

Hola Ustedes,

Without knowing it ahead of time, we are here for the 480th anniversary of Oaxaca. 480 years is a long time! The festivities go all day and night. In the Zocolo (main square) the sidewalks are loaded with vendors and tourists, and it only gets more crowded at night. As you walk you can barely separate the different musicians. An elderly man stops at the sidewalk cafes and plays "I did it my way" over and over again on his saxophone. Afterwards he creeps through the cafe with his walker and asks for payment. There is a boy, about 10 years old, who drags his foot and begs for money, but I've seen him walk normal. Security guards try their best to keep the vendors away from the tables, but it's impossible . . . they are outnumbered!

In the center of the Zocolo is a giant gazebo that showcases famous mariachi bands. Last Saturday night we happened upon one of these performances and were given front row seats. We sat for a good hour and listened to them play. Afterward we stopped and watched a chess match taking place on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral. A bunch of people behind us began line dancing to the music from a high school band. A clown had a huge crowd surrounding him fifty feet away. Everywhere vendors carried massive bouquets of balloons. Children ran circles around clusters of state police officers. We finally left to find a quiet place to eat. An Italian restaurant caught our interest. Right after we ordered, a jazz band came in and set up right next to our table. At first I thought "Oh no!", but they were wonderful. The lady's voice was beyond professional quality. The pizza was not so great (Joe says I'm just prejudice against Oscar Mayor weenies on my pizza).

We went to the actual market place, which was just like the one in Florence, except more crowded. Everything was organized in large groupings. A section for flowers, for bread, clothes, meat, backpacks, etc., and of course the ever present chapulines (fried grasshoppers). The textiles here are good. A lot like Guatemala.

We've settled into our routine of favorite places to go. Studying at Black Coffee Cafe or another little hole-in-the-wall place with a forgettable name, but cheap beer and mochas. A glass of wine and a Negra Mordelo at El Olivo with it's fabulous view and refreshing breeze. Dinner at La Olla for the Mole Negro de Fandango and Joe's favorite beer, (expensive) Tempus. The creative lighting using vegetable strainers at La Olla always makes me smile. More commonly we eat at the local Arabian Taco Restaurant. I have never had such a good quesadilla with meat in my life, and the employees are so friendly. We love that place.

Last Sunday we found a church close to our home. It is a Calvary Church. The people were nice, but we couldn't understand the pastor. The worship music was good though.

Back here at the house things are much more tranquil, except when Adriana is here to attack Joe. She is the five year old niece of Viki, our hostess. Adriana is adorable, and she and Joe have become buddies. They play soccer in the backyard, read stories together and collect bugs to creep me out. Adriana tries to distract me while I'm writing, but Auntie comes to my rescue. A German lady is staying here from our school. She seems nice, but her German accent makes her Spanish unintelligible. A man, Jesus, rents the room next ours. Denise the Canadian rents the studio apartment downstairs. She and I have become pals. Her boyfriend, Ricardo came by the other day to meet us. Nice guy.

Well time to go eat at Taco Arabe. Lots of love Heidi and Pepe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our New Home


Since I last wrote, we've had many good meals. The best was at La Olla. I had chicken breast stuffed with plantain bananas smothered in a mole. Mole (pronounced mol-ay) is a type of sauce that is special to Mexico. Eight moles are served here. The most complex one has 20 ingredients, which was the one on my chicken. Delicious! I brought my own wine, thank goodness. As I write this I am sitting on the porch of a small hacienda listening to the thunder in the massive mountains surrounding Oaxaca. I am sipping a glass of Runquist Syrah (very rich/strong flavor).

Our homestay here is with Viki. She inherited this hacienda from her father. It is in a gated community north of downtown Oaxaca. Our school letter said it was a 20 minute walk . . . I swear Mexicans don't understand the clock. It is 30 minutes to school downhill, 40 back home. We have discovered the city bus for 50 cents one way. We are near a student hospital, kind of like UCD Med Center. Sirens all day, all night. Scrubs and white lab coats are the norm.

Our school is great. Our instructor is a cute young Latino named Adrian. Our classmate is a guy from Switzerland. It is a fun class. There is another couple (not in our class) who have been on vacation for 2 years. 2 years! I can't imagine. My boss, Debra, would kill me.

We went to church Sunday at this amazing cathedral. We couldn't understand much because it echoed, but we still enjoyed the atmosphere. They have festivals all the time in front of the Catholic churchs.

Oddities that stand out in my mind:
*A woman in a fur skirt. It looked like a llama pelt and it was full length. Her shirt was heavily embroidered in earth tones and she had a huge basket on her head. It is very warm here. She looked hot to me.
*A man selling his book of poetry stopped at our table and recited from memory a beautiful poem about Oaxaca.
*We were sitting on a rooftop terrace sharing a glass beer when we noticed that the house across the street had a big cage of monkeys. They had little hammocks in the cage and different toys. They played the whole hour we were there.

Things that make us laugh:
*The first night here we heard explosions like cannons. I would jump every time I heard it. Now it is familiar . . . they have a fetish for fireworks here. It doesn't need to be night time either . . . its all day long.
*A lady walking across the zocolo with a basket on her head texting on her cell phone.
*A wedding procession with a 15 foot tall bride and a groom following the real bride and groom to their reception. We asked about it later and apparently it's normal for all weddings here.
*The crosswalk signs at traffic lights are so comical. They have a slowly walking man under the seconds remaining to get across. As the seconds tick away the man speeds up until in the last few seconds he is running. I'll have to film it someday.
*Okay now this one is just bizarre to us. Picture traffic going along in the correct direction. Whatever is normal for your country. In Mexico its the same as the USA. However, here it depends on the street. If a one way street merges with another one way street it could be the opposite of normal. Wait . . . that's not weird enough . . . at some point they will create an X and change sides. This is on a major thoroughfare (like Watt Ave).

Well Joe just woke up from his siesta, so we are headed off to eat . . . in the rain :)

Lots of love, Joe and Heidi

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oaxaca, Mexico

Hola Amigos y Familia,

We made it! As usual Joe talked me into a midnight flight and for the first time I slept on the plane. Probably because I'm sick . . . Joe gave me his cold. Our flights were extremely close this time, or the planes were running late. In Mexico City we found our gate and noted the sign for Oaxaca with a message saying the flight was boarding. We rushed up to the counter only to be told "No problem, don't worry". Okay. When the sign changed to final call for our flight to Oaxaca, I tried again. Now I had a small contingent of 'worriers'. I felt better when a man going to Puerta Viarta got mad because his flight said "departed". She finally waved her hand at the signs and said "that doesn't mean anything". We boarded 10 minutes later with boarding passes in hand (after a bus ride to the plane). Seats 27B and 27C, no problem. It was a bit of a shock to get to the back of the plane, along with passengers for seats 20 through 29. The plane only had 19 rows! Okee-Dokee. The stewardess said, with a wave of her hand, "sit anywhere, no worries". Eso es Mexico.

Our taxi driver drove like a madman, but we were dropped off at Las Bugambilas Bed and Breakfast Inn. We were two hours too early so the receptionist let us put our bags in her own room. Joe and are still laughing over her bathroom. The toilet was inside the shower. Thankfully our room has a 'normal' bathroom, with a huge shower and hot water. The bed has a beautiful mural on the wall. A minor problem was being locked out onto our patio. It seems the screen door has a latch that can't be disabled. The first time a worker saw us and came to our rescue through our bedroom. The second time we pried the screen door open on the bottom and I squeezed through enough to pop the latch. Now the latch is sitting on the table in the room.

On our first walk we met two lovely young ladies selling book markers. We are now the proud parents of a 18 year old girl named Maria Isabelle. Her sister offered her to us when they discovered we couldn't have children :) Nice sister huh?  We had a little cluster of college students approach us to interview us for the English class. Their teacher stood by to ensure we didn't speak Spanish to them. They were adorable.

Oaxaca is the most beautiful, gracious city I've been to. It combines the elegance and antiquity of Florence, Italy with the vibrancy of Guanajuato. The zocolos (town squares) are everywhere and have enormous trees. Hundreds of people congregate there to visit or sell their wares. The stages of life are all represented; Teenage couples smooch on shady benches, young couples walk holding hands with babies and toddlers, older couples sit watching their teenage daughters walk hand in hand deep in conversation while their teenage boys attempt to get the girls attention, all of this is overseen by the grandparents.

Now I sit in The Black Coffee Gallery, an open air coffee shop. Across the street a woman in her eighties is sitting in the shade selling hand made purses. A three foot tall Cinderella just walked by. A man sits next to me talking to someone on his computer video cam.

The cathedrals are awesome to see. There are art galeries, restuarantes, museums, and clothing stores everywhere. Speaking of stores . . . I've never seen so many shoe stores!

I haven't found my niche with the food yet. Breakfast this morning was pretty good . . . variations on the tamale. Tomorrow we move to our family's home where we will remain for four weeks. School starts 8:00 sharp on Monday morning.