I Moved To Oaxaca

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Okay, I figured out why I'm finding even The Economist necessary reading these days: media deprivation. No English-language newspapers (except those online), no magazines other than the occasional Economist and People, no TV, no radio, no movies. Apparently, the trick is to wander past the theatre, stick your head in and see what's playing that evening, and at what time. Last time I looked it was "A Man Apart" and I'm not yet that desperate. They have posters up for Pirates; when are they going to show that?

This afternoon is was muggy as all get out; not really hot, but awfully muggy. Then around 4:30 or 5 it rained; we even got a few good peals of thunder. It usually rains every other day or so, sometimes lightly, sometimes one of those tropical-intensity deluges that lasts for about 10, 15 minutes then quits. We often hear thunder, and sometimes see lightning. Nothing too dramatic, but after growing up in California, it sure is nice.

Two news leaves on my little coffee plant. Sure looks nice in its tortoise planter. Thanks, Atzompa potters!

Class today went fine, despite my doom and gloom attitude yesterday. But really, it's pretty easy to entertain grammar-school kids between bouts of English learnin' -- today was phone numbers and street addresses. Monday I have my first adult class, using the less-than-good book (Getting Around In English versus Berlitz English, which is a breeze). I also get to teach Patricia, the director, one hour a day starting Monday. I was supposed to do it last week, but because I was ill Greg took over my week. So I'll teach her this week and next, then it's Greg again for a week, and so on.

The walk to school takes about 15, 20 minutes, and part way there, as we leave the centro and enter Colonia Reforma, we have to cross what we refer to as The Intersection of Death. It's where Benito Juarez street, with all its buses and traffic coming into the centro from Colonia Reforma, San Felipe, etc, crosses Mex. 190, which in the city is called Heroes de Chapultepec. Now, being a big-city kid I should have no problem with a busy intersection. But. Drivers in Oaxaca (and, I think, all of Mexico) drive like people do in Boston, eg, lane markings are only a suggestion, but really, drive where you will! And they do. Plus, even though the dedicated turn lanes are clearly marked, being in one doesn't mean you're going to turn. That only happens about half the time. Signal use is sporadic as well. Heck, people in the middle or right lanes will turn left, too. There's just no telling. So pedestrians gather at the curb, eyeing the signals and the traffic, and when it looks safe, dart into the road like quail, heads swivelling in every direction, piping up when a wayward vehicle is spotted to alert the others, and bunching up on the safety of the median. Repeat to get across the second half of the road. And we always cross on one side of the intersection, because after a couple of tries on the other side, where we have to watch for people turning right, we decided it was too fraught with danger. Somebody was going to get squished. And as an added thrill, one day Patti Topper told us about a bus driver who one day hit a Japanese tourist pedestrian, then backed up over her while she lay in the road to finish the job. Why? Patti said it's because in Mexico you get in more trouble if you injure somebody than if you kill them. I don't know, but I'll tell you, we run like hell when we see a bus coming.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Ah, my turn to hit the wall today with these stupid lesson plans. Or maybe my creative well was just a bit too dry this afternoon, who knows? What I do know is that for my two kids classes, I have two of my three lesson plans for next week mostly done. For my two new adult classes, ugh. We don't get a lesson plan book for adult classes, so I just scribbled some notes on a piece of paper. Not much different, really, than filling out the lesson plan book, but it seems a bit sketchy in my head. Well, I've got tomorrow after my marathon 3-hr class to work it out. Sigh.

Street Food Report: On a good note, since today is Friday the roving market was up the street. I went up this morning and got some produce, then when Greg and I went to school this morning for a training session, we stopped in and got tacos from Los Sombrerudos, the stand recommended to us by Adam, a fellow teacher. We watched for a minute to see what the process was. A lot like Shalimar: wade up to the woman with the apron and slips of paper, tell her how many tacos, she gives you a slip printed with a number and tells you how much. Next, wade up to the meat guys, hand them your slip of paper and tell them what kind of meat -- today we chose carnitas. When the meat guy asks you, "Todo?" say yes and he adds a chopped onion/cilantro mixture and some green salsa. Take your tacos on their little styrofoam tray to the middle of the action and add the extras: guacamole, salsa fresca, lime wedges, and pickled onions. Find a shady curb in the parque and eat. Six meat tacos cost us 33 pesos, and filled us up. I splurged and got a tuna water from the vendor next to Los Sombrerudos. She had two kinds, agua and hieve, and since I had and still have no idea what hieve is, I went with agua. I got a couple scoops of squished up tuna (the fruit, people, the fruit!) in a plastic cup with some horchata-like water, some chunks of cantaloupe, and a sprinkling of walnuts. 10 pesos.

Oh, good news: I don't think I have dysentery anymore.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Well, a long day. Yesterday Manuel, the Instructional Supervisor, mentioned that in September all the adult classes would switch teachers, and that I'd pick up two adult classes. He said one of them meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30am, and would I observe the class this Thursday? Maybe he saw the misery in my eyes, and said that I could observe the second half of the class, at 8:15am. I'm thankful for small favors. Our earliest class so far has been our 10:30am Spanish class, with all of our English classes in the late afternoon/evenings. So typically, we don't get home until 8:30 or 9:00 if we go to the Internet cafe first. We usually eat after 10:00pm. So suddenly having to get up at 7:00am this morning after months of staying up late weren't easy, as Tom Sawyer might say. And Manuel and I kept trying to meet during the day to work on the schedules for my classes, but one thing or another would come up -- like Patti Topper coming in and a big flurry of activity happening in Patricia's office -- so I spent a lot of the day at Berlitz without much happening. I did manage to squeeze in a Donut Lady lunch of tasty chicken taquitos and a donut as well as a short nap.

The car is still parked on the street, but at least it's in front of our building. Luis loves our car. He tells us every time he sees it. Wednesday night, about midnight, Greg and I heard the chihuahua barking, and rushed out to see if someone was messing with the car. It was fine, and a pair of policia turista were tsk-tsking over the broken window. We explained that that had happened several nights ago. As we came back, Luis saw us and suggested moving Little Jumbo to its present location. And today when Rosa saw me she rushed over to say that the window was broken and the police were asking about it, so I explained to her, Monday night, blah blah blah. Since she doesn't speak English our conversation was heavy on the blah. We're going to be sad leaving this neighborhood, broken car window and all. We really like the building we're in, we like Rosa and Luis, our neighbors, the area. Rosa even offered to rent us one of the big apartments in the back for the same price we're paying for the little unit we're in, but we had to say that we could not, as we will soon have our cats. When Greg explained that Miss Izzy is seventeen, she understood. And really, it's too expensive for us to stay there long term. But still, too bad.

A little on prices. I saved the receipt from Pitico the other day (all prices in pesos): a dozen huevos organicos, $14.40 (they weren't sorted according to size, so I got to pick and choose me some big ones); 200g pasta (enough for a good-sized dinner for two), $1.70 per bag; one-liter boxes of juice (mango and pineapple), $11.50 each; a package of napkins, $3.60; a box of Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, $25.50; that tiny-ass jar of chunky peanut butter, $23.80. I didn't buy any yesterday, but a bag of beans or rice is about $6 pesos or thereabouts. You'll notice no produce; that's because tomorrow the roving mercado is on near our apartment, and I'm gonna load up there. Last week, a big canvas grocery bag of produce cost me about US$5.

Oh! Our kitchen, and others I've seen, is equipped with this wood utensil, the purpose of which is a mystery to me. It looks way too fancy to use as a kitchen gadget. I saw a poster of a collection of these wood thingies, and rushed to read the caption, "...utensiles madera," or "wood utensil." Some help. But we ran into Osbelia one night as we were both heading home, so she stopped in at our place for a bit of chat. I asked her, and she said it's for making hot chocolate. The end is shaped somewhat like a flower in order to squish up the partially-melted chocolate, then when it's almost ready you spin the handle between your hands to froth the milk. Groovy. Greg wrote down the name but it's in his old notebook.

Finally, walking home yesterday, we had a clear sky and could look up and see Mars, in all its luminescent glory, shining down on our apartment. I hope you got to see it, too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

More pictures! See especially the stuff from our trip to Mitla.

Here's a view from inside Santo Domingo church of the plaza near our house. Just out of view in the lower left are the payphones where we call you all. To the lower right, again just outside of view, is the Internet cafe we patronize. And if you again go out of the picture to the left, one short block, that's where our apartment is, and where the Donut Lady sets up.

This one's a shot of the extensive botanical gardens associated with SD. You can see why I keep raving about the cacti. Can't wait to get some space for plants!

Well, I'm getting pretty desperate for English-language reading materials. The building where we stay has a place to collect old mag and books, but it's mostly filled with the pulpiest of fiction and old Mexico travel guides. Some caring soul did leave a stash of New Yorkers, vintage May 2003, which I happily read as I was on the AT then. Oh, and one Economist, which we both read. So I found myself reading a Niven and Pournelle novel. Ugh. For a novel set in Los Angeles, how can only one of their characters be non-WASP? Quite a feat. Better was the Elmore Leonard novel "Cat Chaser." Oh, I'm not saying I'm going to run out and buy some Elmore Leonard novels, but I didn't dislike it, to use a Gregism. That's the first crime novel I've read since high school (and that one was "The Bourne Identity," my one and only Robert Ludlum novel).

Speaking of high school, in Spanish class today Gilberto used these little stuffed animals to get us producing Spanish ("The pink pig with three legs is lying on the table," "The little rabbit with the blue dress is on the chair, but the brown rabbit with the coat is sitting in the jar"). During our break I started playing with them, changing their clothes around and such. You should've seen the fit Greg had! "No, don't put the dress on that one; it's a boy!" "You're going to confuse us!" What a fantastic display of grammar school "follow the rules" attitude. And of course I just laughed and kept doing it, even after Greg gave me the finger. Maybe we would've been friends in high school, but I don't think we would have gotten along in grammar school at all! Hey, and I also found out today that "drawer" in Spanish is cajon, plural cajones. When I raised my eyebrow and said, that sounds like a bad word, Gilberto wrote down the bad word: cojones (Remember HAL). Well, that provoked another laughing fit when I realized that some people keep their cojones in their cajones. Guess I'm feeling better today.

Went to the store this morning and got some organic eggs, whee! And some more cereal and a jar -- a small jar -- of peanut butter. I don't think they sell peanut butter jars that small in the US. I almost didn't find it, either. The shelves easily devote twenty feet of aisle space to mayonaise, but for peanut butter they had one brand, three types, all in those tiny jars (about the size of the small artichoke hearts jars): sweet (don't want to find out what that's about), smooth, and crunchy. And it cost almost as much as the big box of fancy American cereal. Yeow.

If I had something to read I'd go home and read for a bit before wandering back to class -- we got the first of our parent-teacher conferences, to be conducted in Spanish, and somehow I don't think "the black and white sheep is here on the table; the brown bear from France is there on the floor" is going to get me far.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This just in: we're back to going for the apartment we really like that's just outside our budget. But hey, we have a week to change our minds.

And Sunday afternoon we did indeed go to the museum at Santo Domingo. Wow. Well, wow because it's a big collection, from old, old pre-Columbian through churchy stuff, icons and whatnot. The setting is great -- Santo Domingo is a beautiful old building, with a kick-ass botanical garden -- but the lighting and display were sometimes below what the objects deserve. The signage was pretty bland, as was the audio assist. But hey, you never know until you try. But, oh, some of the items on display: they had the turquoise-encrusted human skull, Porfirio Diaz's old uniform, conquistadore armor (plate and chain), really fine gold- and stonework that reminded me of the Scythian stuff for quality. We didn't see nearly all of it, but as soon as we get our Berlitz IDs we can get in Sundays for free. As it was, I started pooping out. By the time I got home and ate some tortillas and an avocado, I felt pretty wiped out. Yeah, you know it: new city + small children = illness. Fortunately, the fever only lasted through Monday morning. I feel, okay, now.

Oh, and Sunday I'm going up to Pitico, shuffling along up Reforma and I see this family oohing over Little Jumbo. I'm not too surprised because it's probably the only Subaru in the city, and it has California plates. Well, on my way back I saw what exactly they were oohing about: somebody had taken a rock and smashed in the rear, driver-side window! Crap. Nothing disturbed other than the shattered window; maybe a stray Oregonian? I moved the car around the corner onto Independencia, which isn't as well lit but also not travelled except by residents, while Reforma is a through-street. Monday someone helped themselves to the motor oil and gas-line antifreeze in the back (guess I shoulda taken that out), but better that than the stereo. So now we're looking into parking lots. I think we've got one picked out -- on Reforma -- that we're going to try and firm up tomorrow morning, as our Spanish just wasn't up to it tonight, though we tried. I think we understood what she was saying, but we want to be sure.

Spanish class in the morning continues to be fun, though the vocab is coming fast and furious now. Did we show off too much too early in the lessons? Ha!

I think a fresh plane of tourists arrived from the States -- they're everywhere tonight. Herds and hoards of 'em. It IS pretty funny how easy it is to tell the American tourists from the European or Mexican ones. Mostly the clothes, I think: the knee-length shorts made out of sporty polyesters, the daypacks with lots of bungee cords and straps, the trail runners. The Europeans tend more towards strappy tanks (though I should talk; that's what I'm wearing now but I have paired it with a high-tech fleece, so there), sandals or flip-flops, and tans. Many of the Mexican tourists are family groups, which often include a nanny. Haven't seen too much of that with the American crowd ... so more about the housing thing. Part of me feels like a whiner even complaining about a big-ass apartment in the city center with a private patio for US$420 (side note: I know the exchange rate isn't 10-to-1, it's more like 13-to-1, but I like just moving the decimal point. If you want to do the math, just add a zero and look for the current rate of exchange) after living in the Bay Area where US$420 gets you butkiss. I think that should be capped but it looks better lowercase. And we've been looking around, and unless we luck into something tasty like our friends Marcos and Osbelia, who rent a place near us for about US$200, two hundred gets you a crappy place IN the city, or a nice place out in one of the colonias. Now, that wouldn't be so bad since we've got Little Jumbo, we we thought about it: we have to (currently) go into school twice a day, which we walk now and would give up if we drove; when our schedules don't synch, like when Greg's classes start at 4:30 and mine start at 6:00, one of us will have to sit around and kill some time in the city; we are so disgustingly urban that I don't think we'd know what to do out in one of the colonias, where the entertainment consists of tv/radio (if you have electricity, but I think we'd spring for that) and/or watching the kids and dogs parade up and down the dirt roads. Hoo-whee, pass me another beer, Vern! Plus, we know some people in the city now -- well, two -- and we wouldn't know anybody outside of town. But, man, it IS cheaper. Like $125 for a place ten minutes' drive from city center. Now, I haven't laid eyes on this $125 place, but still.

Hey, do you know why we call our car Little Jumbo? When we were moving stuff from the House of Mystery into storage, our new swingin' pad in The City, and taking the fish up to Alisha and Brian's place in Arcata, we rented a big white panel van. Huge. We had it for a week and referred to it as Jumbo ... yeah. So when we saw the little white Subaru that would later become ours ... it was a natural. Sometimes we call it Jumboita.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Okay, I finally figured out how to post photos. What a genius! While I go back and embed photos, here are a bunch of photos to amuse you in the meantime:

a hibiscus from the first place we stayed in Oaxaca, the Posada de Chencho

a dog watching the Gueleguetza parade

Me at Monte Alban

can't get away from Winnie

And how's this for some anti-war sentiment?

It's Sunday, and after we're done here (Greg is also uploading text and photos to his site: check it out!) I'm going to the supermarket for milk and cereal and vinegar (for some homemade pickled jalapenos), then making some calls about apartments/houses for rent. Yes, we are panicking about the cost of the place we've agreed to rent. $4200 is a lot per month, especially since without our FM-3 visas, we are paid per class, and we're only working about 18 hours a week each. Oh, and we do plan to see the museum associated with Santo Domingo since it is open today, and Greg wants to find this little Spanish book on Mitla Ivan said we might find there.

I got an e-mail from an old high-school friend asking whether or not I'm going to the reunion this October. Oh, if wishes were fishes I'd pan-fry me some up right quick. Maybe if the gods and goddesses of online budget travel are with me, I can combine a trip to LA for the reunion Oct. 4 with a swing through Dallas to pick up Miss Izzy. I miss her like crazy. I wake up thinking about her. I'm still weighing if it's cheaper enough to drive up there, and whether flying with an angry cat or driving with an angry cat would be better. If I drove I could get my bike and a shitload of Simply Green cat litter (pun definitely intended). But maybe I could ship my bike in its bike box and take some cat litter and peanut butter in my suitcase. Argh.

Speaking of "argh," Greg and I go back to Immigration on Wednesday. We have the forms from our last visit, which we must fill out using a typewriter -- oh, how those high-school business class skills come flooding back! -- so we have to track down one of those. We also have to have our translated documents, courtesy of Adam at Berlitz, formatted to look just like the real thing. So a begrudging thank you to Microsoft as well for Word's table functions. Greg's getting it to look pretty good. (For those who might wonder, why is Greg doing the formatting, I could do it on my Mac ... then redo it after popping the document onto the PCs at school; might as well do it on the PC from the get-go.) We also still have to send off the forms to have our documents certified as the real deal. For Greg's New College degree, no problem as it's in California. But our CELTA certificates were issued in Cambridge, and I'm not talking MA. That might take some time.

A photographer was at Berlitz yesterday morning to take photos of Greg and I -- "for our paperwork," Patricia said -- and I wonder if he captured the frantic look in our eyes. I had 11 kids yesterday, and five of Greg's six teenage students responded to "Why do you want to learn English?" with "Because my mother wants me to." Mmm, mmm.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

I was a bit rushed yesterday, and when I got home thought of all this stuff I could've written about. So I made some notes for today. Shortly after we arrived the papers all had a big story about the big Volkswagen plant in Puebla stopping production of the old-style VW bug, affectionately known in Mexico as the vocho. About half the city cabs are vochos; when I was in the Yucatan ten years ago, all the rental cars were vochos; and I'd say one in five cars on the streets are vochos. It makes me miss Anti-Ed Anger terribly. Yes, I pine for the most uncomfortable death-trap I've ever driven or ridden in, and I have ridden in some god-awful hoopdies. I would love to have Ed here -- I think people would like and appreciate his paint job. On what SoCal desert dune does Ed ride these days? Not that I don't appreciate Little Jumbo, she's a great car. Does a great job on Mexican pavement, thank you AWD! And I think we've decided to leave our hats and a couple of bandannas in the car, as we got a little ... crispy during our Mitla excursion. Nothing too bad, but Greg does have an interesting design on the top of his feet now.

My left foot is not having a great year. First it was the cracked skin on my AT hike. Then on Wednesday I wore my Doc Martens sans socks. No problemo in foggy San Francisco, but with the humid weather I ended up rubbing a big ol' blister on the heel of my left foot. It's about the size of a quarter, and the color of ripe strawberries. Not much to do except apply the aloe vera, change the bandage regularly, and wait for it to heal.

Culture moment: during a Spanish lesson last week, our instructor, Gilberto, asked us to draw little characters -- Greg drew Randy from PeeWee's Playhouse and I drew Zippy the Pinhead. We both got complete blanks from Gilberto. And when he had us recite the names of the five continents ... yeah! America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceana (which includes all the Pacific islands). Antartica doesn't rate. And more Pooh sightings in Pitico; let's hope for picture links soon.

Ah, Thursday after class the director and a fellow teacher said to be sure to go to the roving Friday market near our house; we got to say, rather smugly, that we had already been. In any case, we went Friday morning before our drive. And it is a fine market; I like it a lot better than the sessile Juarez market. The fruits and vegetables were for the most part excellent, real California-quality. And, as a Californian, it was a treat to see a handful of fruits? vegetables? I have never seen before. Must get better about writing down the Mexican names. Anyway, I bought vegetables (green beans, broccoli), salsa fresca fixin's, fruit (bananas and a type of mango I've not seen before; Penny at Gathering Tribes says she always tries the unusual mangoes for fun when she visits Oaxaca), some potting soil for my coffee plant, some crappy pomegranites (is that spelled right?) off a woman selling on the ground*, maybe more. My shopping bag was stuffed. Despite my using as few plastic bags as possible, vendors insisted on sticking my purchases in little plastic bags. I don't know why. But since we don't have any plastic wrap we use the little bags for leftovers, so I guess it's a wash.

We've seen almost no recycling in Mexico. That surprises me, considering the amount of poor people. Have the government or a private agency buy #1 and #2 plastic and aluminum cans, and I guarantee you there will be an army of people making sure not a bit of it goes into the landfill. I mean, would you rather pick cans or lie on broken glass at a stoplight?

One more thing regarding selling: on both the street and in mini-supers, you can buy, say, a cup or two of dry dog or cat food from a big 50-lb bag, or one cigarette, etc. Pretty economical.

*So, the hierarchy of selling at the open-air markets is, permanent stall, moveable stall, mat or cloth on the floor with your produce or wares, a basket on your head. As Patti's friend says, the closer to the ground, the more money goes into indiginas hands. So I try to buy low, but damn, those pomegranites were a disappointment.

Now, Wendy mentioned that I talk a lot about food, but it's the one thing in Maslow's hierarchy that is uppermost in my thoughts; besides, it's usually fun stories. I tell ya, I'm going to miss the Donut Lady when we move to the other side of the Center district. She had potato tostadas the other day, and huge pieces of white cake with peaches and meringue frosting.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Hey, we went to Mitla today! And I still don't know how to upload my photos. Is that lame, or what? I mean, I was a tech professional ... okay, I just sent my ISP another whiney e-mail asking them how to upload using an Internet cafe PC. In any case, we made the short drive out to Mitla (30 km? not far) intending to stop to see the gigantic Tule tree, then the village of Tlacochahuaya, then Mitla and back. Only we missed the turn-off for the Tule tree, so it was on to Mitla. The ruins are surrounded by the town; it was nice to drive through town, park, then walk down through the tourist market to the ruins. Most of the stuff was woven goods: embroidered shirts, skirts, and dresses, tapestries, tablecloths and napkins, rebozos. But we saw a smattering of Oaxaca crafts from other villages, too: carved and painted wood animals, bobble-heads, pottery, clay and wood geegaws. The usual. We got our tickets and went into the ruins, which aren't as large as Monte Alban. As we were getting our tickets punched, a guy offered his services as a guide. We first said no, but then Greg changed his mind and went back to talk to the guy. They came back over to where I was standing and the guy introduced himself as Ivan, or Evan, and took us around the main part of the ruins. (Later, Greg told me he'd asked Ivan how much, and he'd said $145, so Greg said, how about $100? to which Ivan replied, even the Mexicans pay $130. So they agreed on M$130.) Well, I am glad we got the guide. The site doesn't sell any guidebooks, and the signage is typically brief and/or inaccurate. And I think Ivan was glad to get a couple of tourists that actually knew something about Meso-American history. We were there for about an hour and a half, and Ivan explained how Mitla is different from Monte Alban: civic versus religious orientation, post- versus pre-classical, way different artistic styles (even we noticed that right away). Mitla is decorated with this wonderful, geometric work, with traces of the original red and white stuccowork still visible. Ivan also pointed out some construction features and explained how sturdily the buildings are, using dovetail-jointed corners, slanted stones, and big-ass lintels to squish smaller blocks into place. The city was buillt around 500 AD, and hasn't fallen down yet. (Here's the church, built on and with the stones of the old Zapotec buildings. The stuff on the bottom is the most recent -- you can see all the mortar between the stones. The layer with the geometric design is old stuff, and the pink stone in the church behind is Conquest era.)

After the tour, we asked him for the name of a place to eat in town, then went through one more stroll through the tourist market -- Greg got it into his head to find a painted wood ant and frog for some friends of ours. So we stopped at a likely place and asked with the help of our dictionary for ants and frogs. None, and none. So we wandered off, and about 10 minutes later the vendor came up to us and showed us a painted ant! So we bought it without dickering over the price, just glad to have it and tickeled that she'd tracked us down. We drove back through town to the restaurant, La Zapoteca, stopping and buying a kilo of tortillas en route for M$6. Well, the lunch at La Zapoteca was good -- greg had some home-made vegetable and pasta soup, and >I had a plate of chile rellenos with rice -- but when Greg asked, how much, they said in all innocence, cien pesos. One hundred presos for lunch! Geez, that is some gringo markup. But there you go, gotta ask the price beforehand, not afterwards.

And here's part of an e-mail I sent to my friend Wendy elaborating on the Berlitz Method of nutrition:

"cookies, juice, and chicharones (Mexican cheetos -- with salsa!) for snacks. Fortunately, they also have herbal tea and water, but the kids of course don't touch that."

Hey, nothing like feeding kids sugar, running them around on the patio, then insisting they sit in their seats and learn, dammit! My Shirts group yesterday? I was literally scooting one kid in their chair out the classroom door on a short trip to the director's office.

Crap, my hour's up at the Internet cafe. More later.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

I realized yesterday that for me the decrepitude is fading into the background. Gaping holes in the sidewalk don't bother me like they did at first. I'm noticing a lot of butterflies and flowers. It rains most every afternoon. Every day the sky has big, puffy clouds. Pumping drinking water out of the 5-gal. plastic jug and making sure there's water in the nalgene bottle in the bathroom doesn't take a second thought. Every so often, though, something breaks through this new ordinariness: I can't rinse produce or hard-boiled eggs in running water; I have to fill a bowl or pan with clean water and rinse them in that. I can't find construction paper anywhere, at least anywhere outside Gringolandia. My fingers get confused switching back to my Mac's oh-so-American keyboard. Winnie the Pooh is still everywhere I look.

Yesterday, Greg had two classes, so after our back-to-back Spanish class with Gilberto and Greg's teaching Patricia English, he stayed at school to work on his lesson plans. (I don't know why he fusses so much; I admitted to him on the walk home yesterday evening that I was envious of his easy rapport with his students, and his creativity in the classroom. Of course he denies it, but he was full of fun stories about his students yesterday over dinner.) I only had the one class, and felt okay about the lesson plan, so I went home. Well, first I went cruising for construction paper, and on my way home, say that the Donut Lady's car was parked on the corner. Yes! I went over and saw that she had some new pastries, or maybe they were bagel dogs -- they had something inside them, I just couldn't tell what. She also had taquitos (or roll tacos for you Insane Diegans), and asked me if I wanted any. Oh, you bet! I got three taquitos with guacamole, cheese, and hot sauce, and a sugar donut, for M$18. Yep, a buck-sixty. The taquitos were filled with fresh chicken and chipotle chiles, and were delicious. Try to get lunch this week for a dollar-sixty -- a good lunch. I think you can get three tacos and a coke off the El Grullense taco truck near Fruitvale BART for US$3, or a carnitas taco from Cactus taquiera on Solano Ave for US$2.90, and it's about the same for a plate of chaat at Viks, too. You can get down to US$2 for a slice at the Cheeseboard, but unless you stoop to something like that "$1 Food" Chinese buffet in downtown Berkeley, I think you'll find yesterday's lunch hard to beat.

Now, today after Spanish class I took off to the Internet cafe, while Greg stayed to teach Patricia, and afterwards to start next week's lesson plans. I've got a class tonight at 6p, but after I finish up here I'm going to grab some lunch at home (unless You Know Who is there with her little white car), make a mix CD for tonight's class, then head over to school and bust out my lesson plans, too. That way we will have no school commitments for Friday. The name of our little two-student Spanish class is "Tlacochahuaya," a little village near the Tule Tree, so we might see that tomorrow. We may even drive out to see the ruins at Mitla.

We're supposed to have music in every class. During our training for the kids classes, Manuel played a cd of kids songs with stuff like "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" ... again and again and again. I still wake up with it in my head. Now, for my little Ants (4-6 yrs old) and Crickets (7-8 yrs old) I have my They Might Be Giants "No!" cd which is FAR better, even if the songs do sometimes get stuck in my head. It's TMBG; who cares? But for my group today, the Shirts, I need something else. They're 10-12 yrs old, and on our little About Yourself forms they filled out Tuesday, they like pop music. Not surprisingly. So I'm going to mix a cd and see what they think. Bet you they don't like it!

Still trying to figure out how to get photos online so I can link to them ... most Internet cafe machines are PCs. Bear with me.

Ooh! HAL 9000 Alert! Patti Topper, the third person in our Berlitz training, got canned yesterday. Greg got a chance to talk to her briefly just after it happened; Patti said the reasons given were scaring the staff at the front desk yesterday (she took the hour bus ride in the day before yesterday ... only to find out she wasn't scheduled to teach, and slammed the schedule down on the desk with a bang), and for bad-mouthing her ex. ? She wasn't buying into their corporate pitch, so maybe the slam-bang was the excuse they were looking for? Of course nothing was said to anyone else. We'll see what comes out at the next TDS. Greg implored Patti to stay in touch, and fortunately, we know where she lives. Fare well, PTP!

Monday, August 18, 2003

A pretty quiet day today ... ate my first, home-cooked beans this morning for breakfast, along with my store-bought tortillas and some Jumex mango juice. Mmm. Greg had hard-boiled eggs, his wheat tortillas, and some of the juice. Oh, and his drug-like coffee.

I´m dragging a bit today, so instead of touring the countryside, we decided to see the museum attached to the Santo Domingo church a block from our temporary apartment. Except the museum is closed on Mondays. However, the church is always open, just like Denny´s, so we had a look-see inside. Seen those brightly-painted clay nativity sets? Imagine the walls and ceiling of a church, covered in them. Every square inch. With a lot of gold leaf. That´s the inside of Santo Domingo. I didn´t take any pictures because people were actually using the church as a place of worship; I´ll try again some other time.

But we do have fabulous pictures of Monte Alban, and of the pre-Columbian art museum near our future apartment which, if this link works, I will post shortly. Some of the statuary includes this representation of Xipe, a piece showing just how fun being an upper-class child (or slated sacrifical victim?) in Meso-America is, and how difficult it must've been to find a good hat. But some -- actually, quite a bit -- of the pieces were whimsical, like this one. The pose, with the arms spread wide, is a religious pose, according to the museum's English-language literature.

Here's an example of Monte Alban-style art; I'll post one from Mitla so you can see the difference.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Hey, we jumped in Little Jumbo today and drove out to Monte Alban! Lovely. Let´s home this whole links to pictures thing works. On the way back we stopped in Santa Maria Atzompa to see the artisan´s market. We had lunch at a great little place next to the market: chicken chiles rellenos and a cantalope agua fresca for me, and sopa Zapoteca and the BEST home-made tortillas for Greg. So good we asked for a second round of tortillas.

So, I´m no pottery expert -- I know very little about it. Now, the baskets I see for sale occasionally, that´s a different story. But at the pottery market we just went with whimsy: a small, yellow pig condiment dish; a little green frog for my mom (mom, Greg is fixated on the frog thing, just to warn you); a napkin holder in the shape of a calla lilly; and a big tortoise-shaped planter for my teeny coffee plant, that I got at the Coffee Festival next to the Mezcal Festival during the big ol´Guelaguetza Festival. It´s still in the styrofoam coffee cup I bought it in. Now I gotta find some potting soil.

Did I mention that we finally found cat litter for sale, at Gigante?

I also bought some more beans at the Juarez market before we took off for Monte Alban. And because I didn´t want to walk through the inside of the market (sometime the meat smells really get to me), we went around the outside, where we have to constantly duck because everything is hung for people about a foot smaller than us ... and Greg whacked his head on something metal; we´re not sure what. Whatever it was left a half-inch gash in his scalp. The beans weren´t worth it!

Our bag of handicrafts set us back just under US$9. In the car driving back to the main road, we talked about that. We didn´t bargain; should we have? What´s the point, it´s already so inexpensive. Are we then driving up prices like the flood of Californians settling in Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona are doing? I usually don´t feel bad about having money, especially since I don´t consider that we have a lot of money. I mean, other than the house, Little Jumbo is by far the most expensive thing we´ve ever bought. And it´s a used car. Fodder for future conversations, I´m sure.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Was I overreacting?

There was no talking-to, just a lot of last-minute scrambling on everyone´s part in the ten minutes before classes started at 11a. I even got a happy note in my file.

So what about the class? I only had two kids today, about 7 or 8 years old. One kid was talkative, the other was not. We mostly colored in our "Hello! My Name Is ______" sheets, listened to the They Might Be Giants "No!" cd, and played outside on the patio. Until little talkative Naomi fell and skinned her elbow. We ended class by reading "Green Eggs and Ham."

My Monday class got cancelled -- Greg´s too -- so we have two days off in a row. Whee! I´ll be sure to tell you what we end up doing in the tourist department.

After school today, our friend and fellow teacher Patti showed us where Gigante is. Anyone remember Zody´s? It was a smaller Zody´s, with food. But now I have tortillas. And beans. I bought one can, then bought a bag of raw beans -- I mean, come on: the can was $5.60, and the bag was only $7.80. And they´re not hard to make, just a bit time-consuming. We couldn´t stand the sensory overload, so we didn´t look around too much, but. The row of mayonnaise went for about 20 feet. Really. Mexicans like mayonnaise. Those corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick vendors, or elotes, as Patti says, coat the corn with mayo, then chile powder, then lime juice. She says it´s really good. Because we had the car, Patti loaded up at Gigante and we drove her to her house in a colonia (or neighborhood) in Atzompa, on the outskirts of Oaxaca -- the village famous for its green-glazed pottery. She can see Monte Alban from her front door. Nice place, and a fun visit. It took us ten minutes to drive there, and her an hour on the bus. The streets are dirt, she has no indoor plumbing, and cooks on what is basically a Coleman-type stovetop. But her neighbors, who keep goats and turkeys, bring her food whenever they slaughter one of the animals, and the family across the way brings her food most every day, whatever the señora happens to have made. And people that walk by wave hello to her.

She lives way out there because she´s a sculptor and has built a kiln in her yard, and hopes to soon start producing high-fired ceramics. It was a very pleasant visit, and I have to say, I took a surprising amount of delight in the noise the turkeys made.

So, I´m chatting with Patti in her kitchen, and I ask her about cooking the beans. She said, "Oh, don´t buy beans from Gigante. They´re crap. They import them from the States, and they´re old. You could cook them for a month and they´d never get tender." Hmm. How about the Juarez market? "Oh, yeah, you can get half a kilo for a buck-sixty. Here." She then gave me two kinds of beans: tiny, black morelos with a white eye, and big ´n´beefy tri-color beans that she says are like eating meat. I´ll ask her again what they´re called. So I´ve got 'em soaking now, and I can´t hardly wait until tomorrow to eat them!

Friday, August 15, 2003

Wheeugh, what a day. We had a TDS today at Berlitz -- that´s a Teacher Development Session -- which occur on a regular basis and, since it was teaching tips and corporate bellyaching, I found it pretty useful. But before the TDS, we sat down in an empty classroom and started wringing our lesson plans into shape. It´s a simple enough thing on the surface: note the lesson goal, supplies needed, and what activities you plan to do in support of the lesson goal. In reality, for a new teacher, they´re hell. Us three new fish, me, Greg, and Patti Topper, spent most of the day tearing our hair over how to fill up 3 hours (for our Saturday lessons) with teaching and activities (related, in my case, to Introducing Yourself! Hi, my name is ... What´s your name? In the words of Glen in "Raising Arizona," I shit you negative.) And the routine is that, every Friday, teachers turn in lesson plans for the coming week´s lessons. So after we finished the Saturday plan, we had four more hour-and-a-half lessons to plan out. I take a lot of pride in my work, but I gotta say, at the end of our siesta-less day, I was listing activities like "Craft: ____"

I fully expect to be talked to tomorrow before class.

But here I am, out of school, my butt parked at a terminal at our Internet cafe. I just read Greg´s travelog entry, "Don´t Even Stop For Pictures," and wanted to paraphrase some of what he mentioned. First, enterprising, underemployed people provide services or entertainment for people in cars stopped at red lights. Windows washed? Newspaper or magazine? Watch me juggle/juggle flaming sticks/lie on broken glass, etc. People also sell stuff along the side of the road. I mentioned the cacti, and naturally at toll plazas and gas stations lots of people sell snacks and drinks from carts or shacks. We fancied we could tell the regional craft speciality or agricultural product by what appeared at roadside stands, but dig this: as we neared the city of Oaxaca, we started seeing people on the highway shoulders, selling ... toy trucks. Like Tonkas, but handmade and painted; we saw a guy working on one as we drove past. Where did the toy truck speciality come from?

The other curiosity was the horizon bulls, or large bull-shaped billboards advertising Magno Osborne, a Spanish brandy (thanks, Google!). Babe´s Mexican cousins?

I fully intend to stick some links in here to pictures. Because we got some surprisingly good shots from the car.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Greg said tonight that he considers my mom´s house in Mexia our home away from home -- sorta like Beorn´s house wedged between wastelands. I´ll add that we´re getting pretty comfy at our neighborhood Internet cafe, too. We don´t say "buenos noches" or "hasta luego" anymore, just "mañana."

I went shopping today as we didn´t leave any food in the apartment for the week we were gone. The local Pitico, a small supermarket. TP, milk, rice, pasta -- simple stuff. Like I said, it´s a small store, yet it devotes an entire isle to sweets, and another to booze! If our landlady didn´t buy our 5-gallon jugs of drinking water off the aguadores, I could buy one at Pitico. And the salsa and canned chile selection is quite complete. I can´t buy chunk tomatoes in a can, though, only tomato sauce. And they don´t sell corn tortillas. Gotta get those from Gigante (the big supermarket) or a neighborhood tortilla lady, only we haven´t yet found our neighborhood tortilla lady. I did find tlayuda-size tortillas (about the size of your computer monitor screen) at the Benito Juarez open air market. And on Saturday, when the great big market hits the Abastos, I could probably find some there ... or at one of the moving markets. There´s one tomorrow near our apartment. And I´ve never seen tortillas at the miscellaneas, aka corner stores.

In the street food arena, while I haven´t yet worked up the nerve to try the scrumptious-looking boiled corn-on-a-stick (garnished with lime juice and chile powder), I did see a car parked on our corner, across from the Bimbo hot dog vendor, doing quite a business in ... something. Since I didn´t want to go the store hungry, I took a peek and saw that two women were selling pastries out of their trunk. They had fruit tartlettes, pay de queso*, and doughnuts. Not quite brave enough for the pay de queso so I bought a chocolate donut for 3 pesos -- about 25 cents. That was one good doughnut! No greasy texture or residue, just lovely slightly sweet pastry flirting somewhere between cake and bread. Mmm. As tasty as the LLano Park pancake lady´s confections.

(That corn really does look good, though, and the vendors are always mobbed. Soon.)

*Who´s got a Spanish phrasebook? Look up the Spanish word for "pie." I´ll bet you it says "torta," "empanada," or "pastel," right? Well, that´s a sandwich, a filled and folded tortilla, and a candy. What´s the deal? Don´t Spanish people eat pie? I asked my friend Alex Cabrera from Cosumnes River Preserve about this and he said, Mexican people don´t make pies, so we call that particular pastry "pie" -- spelled "pay" but pronounced the same as "pie." So "pay de queso" is cheese pie, or cheesecake. And that´s why the only kitchen equipment I brought to Oaxaca was my rolling pin, shortening cutter, and pie tins.

Aug 14, 2003 -- Greg and I finished our second-country cross-country trip yesterday, so we have a full day to relax before showing up at Berlitz tomorrow to hand in our first set of lesson plans. Oh, wait! We have to do the lesson plans today. I have three classes: a small-kids class (Let´s take the train!) and two pre-teen classes (telling time, calendars). I got off to a pretty good start this morning, thinking up activities like games and crafts and shit while Greg experimented with the new, German coffee pot. (He got it down on the second try, after toasting the spare o-ring.) I then decided to look on the Internet for some additional activity information ... and ended up playing around with blog software. Typical!

A bit about the drive across Mexico. We crossed the border at Laredo. The low point was waiting two hours in line for our permit to drive Little Jumbo across the border. The high point was getting two fabulous touring guidebooks when we got our car insurance from an outfit called Sanborn´s. They saved our bacon, since they listed detailed driving routes, city maps, places to stay, eat, points of interest, etc., which were almost completely lacking in the AAA book. You get them when you join their Sombrero Club (if you´re curious, ask Greg what it costs; I don´t remember).

The scenery was spectacular, especially for a desert-lovin´gal like myself. Huge Joshua Trees, a bevy of cacti, impressive mountains; the toll roads were good; and the weather was nice, especially now that we feel comfortable using the A/C.

We didn´t take any time to sightsee as we had a jones on to get back to Oaxaca, so we did the whole thing in about two days: half a day from Nueva Laredo to Matehuala, a full day from Matehuala to Pueba (including through Mexico City -- once is enough!), then another half day from Puebla to Oaxaca. Like I said, we were jonesing. My only regret is not stopping to buy cacti from the campesinos on the side of the road.