We arrived home in mid-June after a longer-than-normal stay in El Norte. Thanks to the good graces of a friend, a neighbor, and an understanding land-lady, our furniture was not on the street; the electricity was still on, along with the telephone (and therefore the Internet); the inevitable cobwebs and dead insects on the floor had been swept away; and plants had survived.
[Triqui market at Labastida Park by night.]
Since then, we have slowly re-stocked the larder, caught up on the local gossip with old friends, and prepared ourselves for – and endured – the two weeks of crowded streets and watering holes that go along – pretty much for the first time in three years (since the rebellion of 2006) – with the season of Guelaguetza. The masthead photo is of the front row of this year’s contingent from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Starting with the festival of Carmen Alto church, and continuing with the International Festival of Mezcál, and the Guelaguetza street dances and parades, the joint has been jumping. Fireworks, official and unofficial, go off at all hours. On Friday, we attended two openings; next Friday there will be more. No rest for the culturally motivated: the Summer Music Festival is about to kick off, with events most nights for two weeks.
The peso seems to have leveled off at around thirteen to the U.S. dollar for now, although how it can maintain itself in the face of enormous job losses (one government agency estimated the unemployment for June of this year is 47% higher than last June) remains to be seen.
[These masked people are all of the male persuasion. They are the “Devil Dancers”, and one of their jobs is to cause confusion and be generally disruptive. No dance festival is complete without them.]
Fridays are for shopping:
Long before there ever was a Friday organic market on the Pochote theater grounds, we did almost all our weekly shopping at Conzatti Park. There, a large troupe of modern gypsies came every Friday – they work other parks on other days of the week – and set up their booths that sold just about everything. We had our favorite fish monger, chicken seller, and produce dealer; our orange man; our — well, you know what I mean, because we wrote about it a lot.
We had breakfast at home, in the early years. Later on, we started having breakfast out, usually at the 1886 restaurant (known to many as the CocaCola Museum). It was convenient, being right across Reforma from the market; the portions were big; and the meal was amazingly inexpensive.
Then, our routine changed. An organic market opened up on the grounds of the Pochote theater. Starting with just produce (and not many varieties of that), it quickly expanded to include small-hold handicraft items, processed foods such as honey, cheese, salsas, fruit drinks, and small stands selling fresh hot food made on a comal or in an Olla: I still maintain that the best chicken enchiladas in town were served there. We began going there first on our Friday rounds, and starting our day by eating our breakfast at one of the many tables (sometimes you had to wait quite a while for a chair to open up) or off our laps while sitting on the wall.
[People still munch at Pochote, but none of the dishes are hot, and all the folding chairs and tables are gone.]
In addition to providing a good breakfast, Pochote also served as a great meeting place for us and many of our friends, particularly during Snowbird season. Being open on Friday morning, information exchanges helped us all plan for the weekend’s events.
Unfortunately, the popularity of the fresh-cooked food at Pochote attracted even more comal kitchens, causing a further spiral of diners, with attendant overcrowding. Many of the original produce vendors complained that people just came to eat and not to shop. In an effort to scale back a bit, the first folks to be invited to leave were the textile vendors.
One day, a venerable tree fell down. In what seemed to me to be voodoo ecology, its demise was blamed on the smoke from the cooking fires, and all the comals were banned, forcing us to seek a different venue for our pre-shopping breakfast.
For a while, we breakfasted on Matamoros, in the front room of Tentación nightclub, but they started getting flaky about opening on time. We tried Caffeina on Alcala, the Italian place in Plaza Santo Domingo, the café on Garcia Vigíl just across from the entrance to Carmen Alto, Marco Polo, and 1886. All are fine. But after a year, we have decided to eat breakfast at home.
Instead, we are resolved to go out for Sunday brunch. We started last Sunday, with the buffet at the Mission de las Angeles. We will try to find a different place every time. We will report on our experiences.
You can help. If you have a favorite Sunday brunch place in Oaxaca, let us know. Preferrably buffets, but all suggestions welcome — and we’ll let you know about our experience there.
Speaking of Pochote:
It’s now official. This coming Friday is the last day that the market will be there. Starting the following Friday, most of the vendors will relocate to a space in front of the Xochimilco church. They will be joined by many of the vendors who left during the control squabbles that plagued the Pochote. It isn’t clear yet whether the comals will be present. We hope so.
[A doorway to the Pochote Theater. There used to be a pond where the bricks are.]
A few of the vendors – mostly the ones who have been “in charge” at Pochote – have declared their intention to start a new market of their own, in a vacant lot somewhere down on Colón street. However, it isn’t at all certain that they have the money to buy the lot, and make the improvements: the owner will neither rent nor donate time.
It’s Guelaguetza time:
On Sunday the 19th, finally rested from our red-eye flight and restocking the larder, we ventured downtown in quest of a cappuccino in the Primavera, a sort of symbolic “we are finally arrived”. The Alameda and the plaza in front of the Cathedral were empty of vendors.
Nearing the Primavera corner, we had to wend our way through platoons of police in battle gear. There must have been a hundred of them. Standing on the corner was a group of about 20 people, mostly women. They were demonstrating for the release of political prisoners and information about the “disappeared”. The staff at the Primavera and the Franquica next door were busy pulling in the tables and chairs from the sidewalk and lowering the grates in the front, although a few blasé diners were carrying on as if nothing was happening.
We stood and watched for a while, and then moseyed on around the square, ending up at the Coffee Company at the foot of Alcalá, where there was a large group of men, some with cameras, gathered in the streeet, looking up Alcalá. We looked and couldn’t see anything, so we sat down, ordered our cappuccinos, and tried to get some sense of what was going on at the Primavera by observing body language of folks coming from that direction and listening for any change in the tone of the barely hearable orators and their audience.
Just as we completed our coffees, we noted a definite change in the body language of the group that was gathered in the nearby street. Our view up Alcalá was blocked by a pillar, so I got up and took a look, and here came the annual Guellaguetza parade. In a flash, Diana was up and taking pictures. It was hard, because she is short, and the crowd swelled to fill all the space between the café and the curb, but she’s a trooper. Some of those pictures are in this Newsletter.
On the Monday, there were two Guelaguetzas, a tradition that began in 2006 when the APPO uprising prevented the official one from happening, and put on one of their own. In 2007 and 2008, with ticket sales very anemic, the government bussed in thousands of paid enthusiasts in order to fill the 11,000 seats in the amphitheater up on the Fortin hill. This year, in spite of the NAFTA flu scare, there was little need to “plump” the attendance figures.
While the “official” Guelaguetza went on undisturbed, with the attandance of hundreds of heavily armed police to guard against trouble that never occurred (causing a little apprehension among attendees), the “unofficial” dances drew an audience, by various estimates, of between 20 and 40 thousand to a free extravaganza in the stadium area of the Technological Institute. With only a few hundred chairs available, the crowd stood or sat on the ground for hours in the blazing sun.
The week until the second Guelaguetza on the 27th was filled with small dance performances, some in the parks around town for free, and some in the Juarez and Macedonio Alcala theaters for pay.
Now the Guelaguetza is officially over. The crowds that consumed the Zócalo have gone home, mostly to Mexican destinations. The pageant, the hype, the smiles on the Governor’s face, have passed into history. It should be easier to get a table at the Primavera now — always assuming that they haven’t been taken in because a group of the bereft are being menaced by the police for demanding their rights…
[Payasos (clowns) on the Cathedral plaza warming up. Less bread, but more circuses…]
The tools of the trade:
As those of you who have been with us over the years know, Diana started out shooting 35mm film, which I then scanned to produce the photos in the Newsletter. Quite a few years ago, she supplemented the film camera with a digital box, and as time evolved, used the film less and less until today she almost never even takes her 35mm camera around.
This summer, Diana bought a Sony “cybershot” model 230, in a lovely shade of dusky rose. It’s her third, and far and away the best so far. Nothing fancy, just point, zoom, and shoot. You can judge the results for yourself, all the Guelaguetza pictures were taken with that camera.
I too bought a camera this trip. It’s a Flip video camera, smaller than a pack of filtered cigarettes, capable of storing two hours of video on it’s electronic chip. It is the perfect instrument for a person with a poor eye like me. I can shoot some footage, and then take it home and pick out a single frame, using its internal program. The Pochote photos and the Missión tree came out of that process. Each camera cost less than 200 dollars. Just thought you might like to know…
Brunch at the Mission de los Angeles:
Last Sunday, we returned to the dining rooms of one of the largest hotel / conference center / resort complexes in Oaxaca, after a hiatus of more than ten years, to revisit what used to be a lavish spread. It was disappointing.
Gone was the fish and seafood, the ham and beef and bacon and sausages, and the deserts, of old. No potatoes, no salad bar, no pancakes. What there was, ranged from adequate (eggs in a 3-chili salsa) to remarkably good (omelettes to order), and the coffee was excellent, as is the atmosphere.
Service, and timely replenishing of the chafing dish items, was poor, probably overwhelmed by the totally full dining rooms. No doubt these would be much improved during normal (non-festival) times.
[Another of Oaxaca’s giant trees, this one in the middle of the Mission grounds/
The Mission is worth visiting just to take a stroll in the grounds, which are beautifully landscaped, and include a large swimming pool and tennis courts. I doubt we’ll be going back for the 130 peso Sunday brunch anytime soon.
The political news:
There was an election in July. The APPO sympathizer falsely accused by Ulises is about to be sentenced. There is much else to report. Expect an “extra” edition in the form of an email letter, in a week or so…
**Instrumento Verano starts on July 31 and lasts through August. Daily schedules are available by going to the Oaxaca Calendar or downloading the schedule from enamorartedeoacaca website.
**Longtime Mexiphile and raconteur Rod Gully and his mate Gail Ann Morden have created a new web site about Old Alamos. Lots of interesting factual material and scads of photos. [Fair disclosure: they’re subscribers]