Oh, no, not again?

Our mayor, no doubt with visions of rivers of money pouring in to our perennially empty treasury, revived the parking meter plan this week: put meters in the Centro.  Announced with great fanfare before taking it to the city council for approval, it kicked up a firestorm of protest.  In fact, only the parking meter company and the mayor liked the idea.  When it got to the full council, it was resoundingly defeated.

The protest was led by the shopkeepers in the Centro, who showed up before the meeting in large numbers, and rightfully pointed out that this would succeed in driving even more shoppers to the suburban malls and big-box stores.

[This protest was not about parking meters. It was MULT, one faction of the civil war in San Juan Copala, come to town to demand action in the investi-gation into the assassination of their leader, on the anniversary of his death.]

My own opinion is that the memory of the debacle caused by a similar scheme over ten years ago was the real motivator.  Nobody wants to be stuck with the responsibility of backing a disaster like that.

Oaxacans are by nature a rebellious constituency.  The Revolution of 1910 to 1919 didn’t end here until 1923 or so…

After weeks of glued-up pay slots and disappearing meters, the city was forced to shut down the “pilot project” and pay the contractors for failing to complete the deal; and pay, too, for removing the meters, filling in the holes in the sidewalks, etc.
Oaxaca has a terrible parking problem.  Too many cars for existing slots has resulted in double parking which chokes down most of the downtown streets into one lane.  Even though parking lots are appearing where older buildings in disrepair are being torn down, their capacity falls so far short of what is needed that they haven’t made a bump in the street chaos.

We gave up our car in part because of the endless traffic jams downtown.  We have seldom regretted the decision.  Aside from the stop-start, there is the pollution, which of course is worse when the cars are idling, and worse still when the idler is an over-aged bus…

Oaxaca has been studied, and many plans have been suggested, including a light-rail system and commuter-lot free buses on the outskirts.  So far, no concrete (no pun intended) plans have been adopted.

[Meet Jorge, who comes to town from Mitla to sell his pants, shirts and table-cloths. Max introduced him to me as his tailor. He is in the Zocalo from late morning until very late at night, and that stack is heavy!]

Expatriation and the political junkie:

Decades ago, moving from the US to Mexico meant giving up many of the conveniences  that we enjoyed (or were enslaved by, depending on your point of view).  It meant being cut off from family and friends, except for s…l…o…w  and unreliable MexPost mail services.

There was no internet in Oaxaca when I arrived in 1994.  To send or receive an e-mail, I had to take my laptop to a “larga distancia” shop, where, for about a dollar a minute, I could hook up to a Compuserve node in MexCity.  Surfing the Web was for Daddy Warbucks…

[October 23 belongs to el Senor de los Rayos, a fabled Jesus statue, which found its way to the Cathedral, where it resides in its own chapel except for a few days when it is brought out and placed upon the altar. The Cathedral is decorated inside and out with tens of thousands of flowers. Every doorway, every pillar, and of course the high altar, dazzles the senses, and the smell is almost overpowering.]

The only source for political news from home was “The News in English” from Mexico City, and that was pretty spotty.  Otherwise, we had to rely on the overseas service of the BBC.  Even if we wanted to – and I wanted to – there was only a limited amount of time that you could spend keeping up with the latest shenanigans in D. C. or Minne-no-place.  It forced me to find other ways to while away my lavish and sleepy retirement.  One result: this Newsletter.

Fast forward to the present day, and listserves, and streaming videos, and programs that fool streamers such as ABC into thinking that one lives in the U.S. (Mexicans are not allowed to access some ABC programming), and it’s like dropping an alcoholic into a vat of booze: political junkie heaven.  Never mind that all the channels pretty much cover the same events.  Each pundit has his or her own viewpoint.  And there is at least one channel for each political persuasion: Fox News for them; MSNBC for us — and  just about every stripe of true believer residing here.

Diana and I are in the same position here as we were up north: most of the gringos around us don’t know, or don’t want to know, from politics.  They’re either not interested, or totally reliant on mass media to deliver the “common wisdom”.  Some of us birds, similarly feathered, flock together to vent our anger and frustration with a system / society to which, in some real sense, we no longer belong .

[This garden is a community effort, growing inside the ruins of an old colonial house in the very center of town. They grow everything in pots and boxes, and grow such exotic plants as yellow eggplant.]

We expats are as a group pretty ignorant of what goes on here.  Our limited Spanish, combined with our sense of “foreign-ness”, means that we don’t watch or read the news much.  Those of us who do “have Spanish”  are more likely to read the local papers, but most of us do not bother to go beyond “have the teachers blockaded the roads again?” or “anyone killed in the center yesterday?”.

There are a few gringo writers living in and writing about Oaxaca now: improvements in communication make life so much easier for us.  We read the papers and watch local TV news; we receive emails from selected news sources.  It takes time away from endlessly watching pundits regurgitating the same news.
I am still an unrepentant news junkie, only now I spend more time on Oaxaca news than I do on U.S. news.  That pleases me.  So does the modest income I squeeze out of it…

[The Merced market, our personal favorite, sells much more than food. Now that Days of the Dead are nearly upon us, the paper and plastic shops have brought out their colorful stock once again.]

Trust but verify:

The Oaxaca Calendar should get a prize.  It is easily the most useful web site on Oaxaca.  The webmasters do not get paid.  It needs to be updated daily.  They rely entirely on submissions, written, spoken or postered.  It’s not an arduous task, but it requires a lot of attention to what’s going on when you walk down the street.
Still, by its very nature it can misdirect you.  An event gets moved up an hour at the last minute; a movie that is supposed to be subtitled isn’t; it’s not until a week from today…

If you see an event listed that interests you, check the info if you can.  Even if you can’t, and the listing does indeed appear to have been in error, try not to give in to the urge to blame Margie and her partner.  Instead, be a good Oaxacan: shrug your shoulders, say “so it goes” to yourself, and remember you’re in the middle of a city that you traveled a great distance to be in; and select some other activity  from the offerings before you.

Diana reviews a book by Mary Hallock:

Comments re:  Speak  to  My Bosom, Senor     by  Mary Madsen Hallock   2013

When this book was sent to my house it wasn’t the title that caught my attention.  It was the sub-title, “Sketches From a Love Affair with Oaxaca.”   Perhaps that is not the  unanimous opinion of all ex-pats who live here, but many of us who have settled here refer to it as “our paradise.”  We know there are some difficulties arising from a lack of development that we are used to in our old country,  but there are more compensating aspects of living in Oaxaca.   Many of these are expressed by the writer, who first came to this city in the 1960’s –  considerably before the rest of us.   Primarily the book is about how her family became the owners of a small bed and breakfast hotel ,  led tours of people from California,  learned about the culture, appreciate the talents of the villagers in art and music, saw the hardships of daily life, became familiar with the people and the City,  and basked in the warmth and loyalty of the people she hired.

The hotel,  Casa Colonial,  still exists,  is owned by a cousin of the writer,  and is well-known and often visited by the ex-pat population.    That is reason enough to read the book. Personally,  I recommend reading it for the warm,  slightly offbeat stories about a different culture,  about experiences of working, living, cooking, sharing and helping each other despite the differences of culture,  economics,  expectations and language.

[One of the more elaborate of the sugar skulls available to decorate the altar that beckons the beloved dead back for a party during the days that are dedicated to them.]

There are many interesting chapters about the rug weaving village of Teotitlan and its Zapotec peoples. Also celebrations of Dia de los Muertos,  and Christmas.  There are interesting and to me, valid comments on religion.  the climate, the Zocalo,  Monte Alban, and the Tehuanas;  a chapter on shopping, another one on food and cooking Oaxaca style,  and the “cargo”  system of elected officials in the small towns but particularly,  Teotitlan del Valle.  She was acquainted with seminal expatriate figures Ross Parmenter and Russell Ames and spoke of events while present in Oaxaca.  Also with the craft villages of Arrozola and Coyotopec and the artists who originally brought them fame.    And lots more.

She ends the book discussing immigration,  showing much sympathy and understanding of  the economics that drove so many Oaxacans to cross the border,  but arriving at a conclusion that I, personally,  would not suggest: recreating the Bracero program…


** The Triquis are gone:  Last month, the “unsightly” years-long encampment of former residents of Copala who were driven out of their village by paramilitary gun squads, that occupied the colonnade in front of the governor’s palace on the south side of the Zócalo,  disappeared.

Apparently, they reached a deal with the Governor, that if they left he would build a housing project for them in the area of Huixtlahuaca.  He has until sometime in January to make good on his promise, or they will return…

[Just about everywhere you go, you can find at least one colorful and happy building. It makes a casual stroll into a joyful adventure.]

** Charles Kerns’ new novel, “Oaxaca Chocolate”, is available for all you fans of his first novel about the misadventures of his reluctant border-crossing expatriate hero.  I haven’t read it yet.  Anyone who’s planning on bringing it down, please think about passing it on to me when you’re done with it…