I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, September 08, 2003

This time I made a list:

I've felt very safe in Oaxaca. I even felt safe driving across Mexico with a car full of booty. People were nice, no one messed with our car or stuff -- and if it weren't for the broken car window, we'd have a perfect record so far. (And I still think it was Oregonians.) I carry my brightly striped handbag that I bought from a Parisian street vendor without worrying that someone's gonna come along and snatch it, even here in the very touristy centro. If we're going to the zocalo or a place with a crowd, I'll stuff my fleece or a shopping bag on top as a pickpocket precaution, but that's it. And I don't worry about personal violence at all; zero bad vibes. Like parts of Europe, where I can shed my urban angst and traipse carefree through the streets of their big cities. Excepting Amsterdam, unfortunately. A lovely city, but one with more than it's share of pickpockets and junkies. I kept a deathgrip on my handbag there, lemme tell you. So even though this country has many more poor people than the Western European countries I've been to, it's just not a problem, but here's two more, slightly conflicting observations. A fair number of people ride bikes in Oaxaca, from crummy Amsterdam-style rust-buckets to pretty nice mountain bikes. Yet nobody does anything more than a token lock job: a cable lock or chain around the frame, maybe the front wheel, and a post. In the Bay Area, I not only had a special little cable lock to keep thieves from stealing my seat, I had my heavy-duty Kryptonite lock AND another cable, and every time I locked up my bike the Kryptonite-and-cable combination went through the frame and both wheels, my helmet, and some immovable post. But not here. But then, at all the grocery stores I've been in in Oaxaca, right inside the entryway is a place to check your bags, and every bag, from handbag to shopping bag to daypack, must be checked. Stores in Berkeley do that, but I haven't seen a Berkeley grocery store do that, and they're usually cool with handbags. Oh! and in Oaxaca, if you purchase something in a box, the cashier opens the box, I'm sure in equal parts to make sure nobody's taken anything out of the box or substituted other goods. Between the two I prefer Oaxaca-style security.

And speaking of buying things in boxes, yes indeedy folks, yesterday Greg and I drove out to Gringolandia, a big shopping area about 7 minutes south of us by car. We couldv'e taken the bus, but we knew we were going to come back with some big stuff, so we took Little Jumbo. Gringolandia -- its real name is Plaza Oaxaca, or Plaza Del Valle, can't tell if that's two names for the same mall or two malls across the road from each other -- has an OfficeMax, a KFC, a handful of car dealerships, a Sears, a Pizza Hut, a McDonalds, a Gigante supermercado, a Soriana supermercado, and a smattering of small, mall-type stores. And they're building more. If you've been to Hilo, you've seen similar: old city with tons of character where it can be difficult to find stuff, new stripmall southward with absolutely no character where it is easier to find stuff, especially if the stuff you're looking for is Americana. And we were looking for Americana. The parking lot has a guardtower, called a vigilencia, and inside there's a foodcourt (that's where the McDonalds and a Domino's Pizza are). After we checked out an aquarium (the Pet's Aquarium, which was okay; mostly fish-, dog-, and small-pet stuff) we ducked into Soriana's. It's pretty much a Super KMart, the kind with a grocery store inside. Then we went over and checked out Gigante. This one was bigger than the Gigante near our apartment, but despite being in the mall, retained that wonderful Zody's-like feel. (If you never experienced Zody's, think low-rent Filene's Basement. If you haven't been to Filene's, you really need to go see Boston. It's a wonderful town. And while you're there pop into Filene's.) We picked up little things like trash bags and a new kitchen scrubbie, but we quickly started to get that uncomfortable mall itch, though -- just too much noise and visual stimulis. So we stopped in the food court for a quick bite. And I'll have you know that even though we ate at Domino's, we looked at the three Mexican chain or local restaurants first. But the Italian cafe looked ... well, they had plastic food displays of what you could get, only it wasn't plastic food. And the fried-chicken chain had the greasiest-looking chicken I have ever laid eyes on. And the torta place had one of those big spits of what is normally gyro meat. And granted, gyro meat is basically a big, conical sausage on a stick of mystery meat, but the stuff at the torta place looked like. Hmm, what DID it look like? It was yellowish, but not chicken-meat yellowish, more like chicken-fat yellowish, and it was covered in a red salsa-looking substance. But the clincher for Domino's was that the meatsicle looked like it was composed of layers, like a meaty mica. So we gave $7 bucks to the pro-lifers.

After lunch we went into Soriana's, which is a pretty nice store. We bought a fan, and a little crock pot to cook beans, and a pot with a lid to cook rice (this new apartment only has a few aluminum pots, and none of them have lids). And we bought some groceries. I think explained previously that the bulk of milk in Mexico is sold in boxes -- I believe it's sweetened, or condensed, or altered somehow -- or powdered. Well, that's okay for camping. If I want regular old milk I've only seen one brand in the stores, and only in regular or low-fat. Oh, or in plastic or a carton.

I was hoping to see a movie at Gringolandia, but our timing was off for "La Perla Negra" -- that's "Pirates of the Carribean" -- and I didn't see anything else at the MultiMex multiplex I wanted to see, so we went home. But later that evening I dragged Greg out in the rain to see "La Perla" at Geminis, a theater in Col. Reforma, near our school. Tickets were only $37.50 (take that, Bay Area!), and the concession stand was only slightly overpriced. But, they only sold soda in the can, bottled water, and the candy bars, gum, and peanuts the street vendors sell. No popcorn, no Bimbo dogs, no elotes or pelotes or chapulines with a side of tortillas. Disappointing. But we walked in, sat down and the projectionist started it up. We got two previews, one for "Identity" which I guess isn't out in Mexico yet, and "The Last Samurai." The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles, but since most of the audience was reading the movie, they had the sound turned down pretty low! It was hard for me to understand some of the dialog, and I've seen it before. And when the movie ended and the credits started to roll, the lights all came on, bang!, and the projectionist turned off the movie. He might as well have leaned out of the booth and shouted, Movie's over, get out! I asked Gilberto about it during class today, and he said that's normal. Well!

My time's almost up at the Internet cafe, but one more quick story. Yesterday Greg and I watched some ants that had found a dried-out worm work to haul it back to their nest. Unfortunately for the ants, their nest is on the second floor. They were okay maneuvering the worm on the ground, and even making the turn and heading up the piller, but the piller has a lip they had to negotiate, and they couldn't get enough ants holding on to the worm and holding on to the piller at the same time around the lip. So they'd struggle with it for awhile, then head back down and try another approach, then another ... we got up the next morning and a few of them were still trying to figure out a way to get that worm up to the nest. Then it rained.

Sometimes it's good to be a grasshopper.


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