What a nice day. I bought fresh tortillas from the tortillaria about six blocks from our apartment and Donna made a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and all the trimmings that we rolled into the tortillas and ate with gusto! Then we walked about a mile to the Basilica de La Soledad, which was rich, huge and beautiful. We learned that the Vergin
de La Soledad had been robbed of her two-kilogram gold crown, a large pearl and many diamonds in the ‘90s! We were able to compare her with pictures of what things looked like formerly.
From there we looked for a couple of religious stores as Donna was asked by her daughter-in-law to bring an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on cloth. We weren’t able to find the right thing so we continued on to the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. We had one positive recommendation and one negative. Luckily for us we agreed with the positive recommendation. What interesting works of art! They were textiles, all right, but what imagination! Some had led lights
built in. It was definitely one of the most interesting museums that we have seen here.
A beer on the zocalo refreshed us before we took a taxi to a supermarket where we were able to find Cointreau’s First Cousin, called ‘Controy,’ an orange liquer. When we got home we threw ourselves into making REAL Margaritas, and they really were great! Finally! The Controy label on the bottle imitates Contreau—a rip-off, but a good one!
A couple of corrections to make from my last email—-I had the dishes we ate in the market backwards. The Mexican pizza is a tlayuda and the corn fungus one is huitlocoche. (Thanks, Naomi!) Then I’m told that all orange tiger-striped cats are males, so I should have been calling it a ‘him.’ (Thanks, Carolyn!)
The Templo y Convento del Carmen Alto is a very old church in Oaxaca, especially the south doorway. An unusual side chapel to Santa Teresita had a sun-like altar, maybe to attract the indigenous people.
Moving on down the street, we came to a couple of street food stands. We thought the food looked really good, so we are planning to return here for breakfast some morning.
Next on this street we visited the Salanueva home where Benito Juarez found sponsorship when he first came to Oaxaca, working in their bookbindery. The early 19th C. house is furnished in typical middle-class fashion, and the bookbindery has been preserved as are many pictures and papers relating to Juarez. Donna and I viewed a video on his life, but had trouble understanding the Spanish. He came to Oaxaca searching for his sister, who was a maid in the Meza household. He eventually married one of the Meza daughters—decidedly ‘marrying up,’ but of course he became President of Mexico so it turned out that she ‘married up!’
The next day we had breakfast at a food stand in our neighborhood. Memelas made of tortillas that the cook made in the stand
were cooked on a grill, covered with asiento (pork lard with bits of chitlins) and cheese, a tasty breakfast, (our poor arteries!).
We taxied on to the Mercado Abastos, the largest market that I’ve ever been in. It sells all kinds of food—meat, chickens, live turkeys, rabbits, and ducks, produce of all kinds, beans, squash blossoms, ready-made moles of different persuasions; it has restaurants, clothing, household items, artesania items like tablecloths, embroidery and pottery; it has furniture, tools, straw hats (I bought one) and every other thing you can think of. We asked directions to the artisania rugs, but couldn’t ever find them before we were completely exhausted mentally and physically. I hadn’t brought my camera (a rare event) as the market is known for its thieves. Still, I may have to go back later with my camera as it is really a sight to behold!
Another breakfast we made at home was ‘Huevos Divorciados’ (divorced eggs) with beans. The eggs are ‘divorced’ because one has red sauce and one has green sauce. That day I met Gail for a comida but Donna stayed quietly at home as she was not feeling up to par. Gail and I went to El Quinque, a lovely modest restaurant where we had the comida of soup, enchiladas, salad, and guava juice. On the way home I passed by Los Arquitos, the remnant of an old 18th C. aquaduct that they used to bring water into the city from a mountain spring.
The cat is back! He visited us one night—the landlord said that he would put up a barrier to his path into our house. No big deal—he disappears soon after he comes in, in the middle of the night!
Our wifi is also on the fritz. It works intermittently. The landlord tried to get some action from the local wifi provider, but that’s not so easy to do here.
There is a big demonstration again by the teachers’ union here in Oaxaca. According to our landlord, the government is trying to reform teachers’ practices of buying certificates and also giving them to a daughter or son if a parent (teacher) retires. The government wants a competency exam as a prelude to being able to teach, but the union is resisting this. The union has 70,000 members so has lots of political power. I would be curious to hear the teachers’ side of things.
Donna had seen an article in the NYTimes telling about a micro-loan program in Oaxaca for women living in the villages around Oaxaca. Saturday we went on their tour. The money we paid for the tour ($50 each) supports 85% of the money used for loans to micro businesswomen (15% is donations). The village is asked by the Fúndacion En Via people (mostly volunteers) if they would like this program to come to their village. If so, En Via advises women who would like loans to join into groups of three. This offers support to each woman and keeps the payback rate at 99%. They are presently working with seven villages, and plan to expand this enterprise to more villages. The women are required to take several one-hour business classes before getting a loan.
The first loan is about $100; if successfully paid back, the next is for $200, and the next for $300. These are interest-free loans. If they want to continue building their business they can take more loans at 30% interest, which is the rate the Grameen Bank (that started micro-loans in Bangladesh) charges.
The tour took nine of us plus two volunteers in a van to two villages where we visited with five women. The businesses were a grocery store, a clothing store, and chickens in the first village of Diaz Ordaz, and in the town of Teotitlan, where everybody knows how to weave and does, we visited a weaving business and another chicken business. Additionally one of the women’s daughter-in-law makes piñatas, and will probably apply for a loan in the future to expand this idea. The women gave a short presentation and then were peppered with questions. They were very proud of their businesses and very hospitable to us.
At the end of the tour we had lunch (included in the price) in Teotitlan at a restaurant with weaving that is owned by one of their loanees. We also visited the interesting church in that village. The church site had housed a Zapotec Temple before the Spaniards razed it and built a
church on top. There are stones from the
old temple incorporated into the church. One of the women spoke Zapotec, and,
when asked, made her presentation in Zapotec so we could hear it. She said that her three children understand some, but really don’t speak it fluently. That’s the way with family languages, I think. BUT, she said she was teaching it to her two-year-old granddaughter. One woman made her presentation in rather good English! How did she learn it in that tiny village?
On Sunday Donna and I went to the Museo de Arte Contemporáno, in a pretty old house. The art didn’t particular thrill us, but it was a pleasant outing as we ended it with a lovely dinner at Hosteria del Alcala, again in a lovely courtyard of an 18th C. house.
On the way home we negotiated with the taxi driver to take us on an excursion the next day. Unfortunately our taxi didn’t turn up at 8:00 AM, the appointed time. After waiting 15 minutes, we grabbed a cab that happened by, who was willing to take us on our excursion.
Off we went, first to Yagul, an archeological site that Donna and I had never seen. The ball court is supposed to be one of the largest in Mexico, although it doesn’t seem
like that to me; the ‘Palaces’ are extensive—I could barely find my way through that labyrinth;
there are many tombs, now empty; and a statue has been called a
jaguar, and a frog. I think it looks more like a frog, but I suppose a ‘jaguar’ is more
dramatic! Most of what is visible today was built about 750 AD. At that time it was a leading settlement in the Valles Centrales around Oaxaca.
After about an hour we pushed on to Mitla,
another archeological site. Mitla is quite unique in that it has wonderful geometric patterns in all its buildings that were made form small stones. It was made by the Zapotecs, as was Yagul and many other sites, but someone clearly had some interesting and unusual ideas.
When the Spaniards came, they razed one temple and built a big church on those foundations, which still operates today. While we were there, a profusion of bell- ringings sounded over the valley, which was quite dramatic. This church, La Iglesia de San Pablo, seems to fit into the site and embellishes it, rather than detracting from it.
The Zapotec Mitla buildings are beautiful; there are many, many panels of different geometric patterns.
A most remarkable sight awaited us on our last stop of the morning. We went to the small village of Tule to see the ‘Tule Tree.’ It is a type of cypress, called ‘ahuehuete’ and is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old! I had seen it years ago, but now, of course, it is fenced off to protect it. The circumference of the trunk is 58 meters (about 188 feet) and the height is 42 meters (about 136 feet), truly astonishing! It towers over the pretty, little 17th C. church in its churchyard, and now one pays 10 pesos to see it!
That was our last stop for the morning and we got back home about 12:30 before the strong heat of the day. We are noticing that the last few days are really getting hotter than earlier; should I be complaining after hearing about Minnesota’s winter???