We did manage to finish up the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca on a second visit. It is certainly a great museum. The funeral figures are the most fun to photograph. This time we did rent English audio devices, but discovered that the information was too general and quite boring. It was more fun just to look and look. Afterward, again we headed to the Zocalo to have a beer under the Portales and escape the few drips of rain that cooled us off. On the way we stopped in a Mexcal shop and bought a bottle. This is the most popular local drink, which is made out of agave cactus.
Living on this street is interesting. Throughout the day there are vendors that call out certain words or ring a certain bell. Of course we don’t know the codes! We were running low on drinking water when one morning I heard a couple of vendors. I stuck my head out of the window and a man saw me and called “Agua?” I called, “Si,” and two men brought up two huge bottles (up all three flights), lifted one and placed it in the dispenser, and for two empties and 34 pesos, the transaction was done. (34 pesos = $2.50). The garbage truck comes every day, preceded by a man banging a wrench on a pan. Then people come out of their houses with the garbage and hand it up to two men in the truck. I notice they sort it, putting aside plastic bottles, and putting any treasures they find in three sacks that hang on the back of the truck. Other vendors seem to be selling propane gas, and I don’t know what.
Sunday at 4:30 we lined up for tickets at the Teatro Macadonio Alcalá, an early 20th century theatre, to see a Russian ballet from St. Petersberg. We were in luck, and at 5:00 we were treated to “Swan Lake,” without live orchestra, but very enjoyable. The stars were marvelous, the Corps de Ballet, less so. Still, we liked being in the crowd and seeing the theatre as well as the lovely ballet.
One morning we walked, and then took a city bus, to the Mercado de Artesanias. Donna and I each bought a hand-woven tablecloth. With so many beautiful things on display, it’s hard not to buy stuff! I photographed this woman in the market; the next morning I met her in my neighborhood, probably heading a mile away to the Mercado de Artesanias. Right near the Mercado Juarez (the big central market) we stopped in to see the Iglesia de San Juan de Dios. This is a real working-man’s church.
The Rufino Tamayo Museum is in a beautifully restored 17th C. house that had been demolished by an earthquake. Tamayo, an internationally known artist from Oaxaca, had begun collecting artifacts from the Pre-Classic Period (1200 BC to 200 AD) in the ‘50s. In 1974 he restored the house and donated his collection to be displayed in it to the city of Oaxaca. Each piece is a treasure and it took forever for us to get through this small museum!
I get so fatigued in museums—I guess it takes a lot of energy to look closely at so many wonderful things. We went home by taxi but then took on our demanding recipe of Tamales de Mole Negro. These are made by wrapping them in banana leaves and steaming them for 1½ hours. The problems were that we didn’t have a regular beater, which we needed to incorporate the lard into the masa along with the stock; and our pot in which to steam the tamales wasn’t really big enough. I was anticipating a debacle, but wonder of wonders, they turned out very well! Luckily we have about three more meals of these in the freezer—they are a lot of work. The night before we had made Chiles Rellenos Oaxaqueños with Picadillo, which are also a lot of work. Luckily we now have quite a few leftovers.
Our street has many treasures. Just a few feet from our apartment is a purple and orange house, which has a religious shrine next to it. The other day when we walked past, several young men were drinking beer and painting the shrine. There were also flowers in front when we returned. I gather that the shrine-person lived in this house and was being remembered on this day.
Donna and I spent some time around the Zocalo on Thursday, enjoying a Bohemia beer. We chatted with the man who rents the apartment on the first floor of our building who introduced himself as he had seen us walking near the apartment.
Benito Juarez was the only indigenous president that Mexico ever had. We visited the church, Templo de Felipe Neri, where Benito Juarez and Margarita were married in 1843. Margarita was the daughter of the man that sponsored Juarez when he first came to Qaxaca. We also visited the Palacio with its Bustos murals about the history of Oaxaca, which clearly pictured Juarez. The murals also featured Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 17th C. nun that is a hero of mine. We rounded things out with a visit to the Oaxaca Cathedral, a huge 17th C. building with beautiful carvings on the façade.
Friday we started our day with Huevos Motuleños before visiting the Cultural Center, where Donna spent a month in Spanish Class in 2002. We made reservations for a tour next week to support a women’s enterprise, which will take us to two villages where they have businesses. The Amate Bookstore—the best in all of Mexico—was also fun to visit. That evening we attended a Guelaguetza show at the Camino Real Hotel. While this is a version put on for tourists, it is quite authentic. Each July the many surrounding villages do their traditional dances wearing their native clothes for a big extravaganza in Oaxaca. This ‘hotel’ version included a nice buffet and eight of the village dances. We enjoyed the other people at our table, which included a Mexican couple (we sang Happy Birthday to her), a French woman and a young Japanese woman. The buffet featured three Oaxacan moles, along with many other traditional dishes. The setting was an ancient chapel that is part of the hotel.
Yesterday we visited the Belber-Jimenez Museum, which features pre-Hispanic jewelry, post-Conquest jewelry and 20th century jewelry. Additionally there were classic huipiles, rugs and serapes. One lovely piece had been given to Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera. The jewelry was exquisite!
We have had a visitor in the middle of the night! About a week ago one morning we noticed that one of the big flower pots on our living room floor had been dug into and dirt scattered on the floor, as though a cat had been there. It seemed unlikely since we are on the third floor and it didn’t seem to us that a cat could come through the open windows. Nothing more happened for a few days and then it happened again, to the matching pot at the other end of our living room. I asked the landlord about it, and he said that it was a cat that comes in through the windows. We thought maybe if we closed the bottom windows, but left the top ones open, which we like to do for fresh air, that it couldn’t get in. Nothing further for a few days—but then one night I was not sleeping so I got up to go on the computer and as I glanced through the window, I saw a cat! I grabbed my camera and with a flash picture caught the villain! She didn’t come in as we had the bottom windows closed, but she eyed the flowerpot. What a cute cat!
Sunday we met a new friend, Gail, by the Merced Market. Gail writes on the Lonely Planet Thorne Tree, as do I, and mutual writer ‘friends’ had called attention to the fact that we were both in Oaxaca at the moment. We emailed and then met for brunch today. Since Gail has spent several winters in Oaxaca, she was a font of information about the town, which she most graciously shared with us. We started with interesting, good food at a little restaurant in the Merced market. A small tlayuda (tortilla with black corn fungus) and a huitlocoche (kind of a Mexican pizza) with Mexican hot chocolate and fresh squeezed orange juice made a wonderful brunch. On the way to the Zocalo, Gail pointed out many things of interest. Once under the Portales with a beer at the Zocalo, we listened to a very good Sunday band concert. They played classical music and show tunes. I would like to have heard them in a hall as they were a wonderful band. I did notice, however, that only two of the players were women—a piccolo player and a bassoon player.
A Martini followed by some wonderful soup that Donna made finished off our day. There are so many things left to see and do in and around Oaxaca that it will be hard to pack it all into the time we have left! Still, we’re enjoying it hugely.