I Moved To Oaxaca

Saturday, November 29, 2003

12 hours later. Did my work, had my sopa Azteca and suero, watched some clown and acrobats in the street (? -- it's Oaxaca). Killing time waiting for Tamale Lady to show up.

Over our beers Greg and I got to talking about Mary Worth and Apt. 3-G. The world's most unfunny, boring comics. No, wait -- that's Cathy and Garfield. So let's call 'em the tiredest comics. Although that might still be Cathy and Garfield. And Andy Capp. And the Lockhorns. Anyway. We were talking about Mary Worth and Apt. 3-G and Rex Worth -- is he related to Mary Worth? Oh, wait! It's Rex Morgan, MD. With that metal doctor's badge on his head. I asked Greg what that thing is, and he he'd seen them when he was a kid and that it was to focus a beam of light on the patient. I asked Greg if they had flashlights when he was a kid. Hey! Don't you start, too. When he was a kid they didn't have plastic, frozen foods, or ballpoint pens. No Bics! But I have gotten nothing but teasing about it since.

Tomorrow I'm going on a 45km bikeride through the Oaxaca valley. Whoo-ya!

Who doesn't like to be at work at 7:30am on a Saturday? I know I do.

I must share this tidbit from yesterday: I make flashcards using pictures cut out from old People magazines and use them in my classes. The kids love them, even though they mostly don't recognize the celebrities. I filled in for a teacher yesterday, and this group of 9-12 yr olds all knew who Avril Lavigne was, and Tobey Maguire kind of (Peter Parker!), and Homer Simpson and Jimmy Neutron, but not Colin Farrell or Queen Latifah or Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie. So when a card came up with a person they didn't recognize, I just had them make up a name. Colin Farrel became Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jason Biggs turned into ... Michael Jackson. I just about died.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Ack! The magazine truck failed to arrive at the bookstore before siesta, so we'll have to try again today. I tell ya, it got pretty ugly yesterday, what with the two of us fighting over The Atlantic Monthly. Which I'm getting close to not liking anymore, Istvan Banyai illustrations or no.

It's also Thanksgiving, and even though my lovely man gave me beautiful holiday sentiments, and my friend Tom sent me a sweet holiday e-mail, I'm still a little sad. Sad that I'm not cooking dinner for everyone, sad I didn't get my shit together to at least make a pumpkin pie, sad that I didn't do something festive at school for the holiday, sad that I'm not at least hearing a football game on TV. Basically, I'm on the pity pot. When Fuzz would get on the pity pot -- a surprisingly frequent occurance for a cat -- I would scoop her up and squeeze her, so I think I'm gonna log off and get me one of those.

Eat some crispy skin for me, everybody!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Wednesday -- in a few minutes I'm off to the bookstore for this week's supply of magazines.

Not a whole lot going on. Just continued excitement over going back to the motherland in December. We bought our bus tickets to Mexico City Sunday afternoon. Greg was feeling a bit queasy about busing around Mexico City with luggage and abyssmal Spanish, but after talking with Marcos and Osvelia he and I both feel a lot better about it. Should be a piece of cake. Or easy as pay de queso.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Suchilquitongo photos now posted, and the error in the Cuilapan set fixed. Thanks for letting me know! Would you tell me if I had a piece of spinach in my teeth?

And ... here's Elliott! What a cutie.

I’m terribly excited knowing that in one short month I’ll be back in California. And it’s not that I don’t like living in Oaxaca; I do. This city continues to amaze and delight me. Last night we heard the sound of a brass band on our street, went outside and saw a parade marching down Av. Juarez and fireworks all night. Porque? Porque. But I love that. But I really, really miss being in what I still consider my home. And, I must say, the opportunity to take a long, hot shower and use all the soap I care to. This soft water is heinous.

Oh, and it'll be nice not to be the ethnic diversity for a couple of weeks.

This morning I finished the last of this week’s magazines. I always read People first, then move on to The Economist. For a magazine that doesn’t list authors or artists anywhere (I even did a cursory online check) and never misses a chance to tout bioengineered foodstuffs or explain yet again why the war on Iraq was a good thing for all concerned, I’ve come to enjoy it quite a bit. Not the least for its irreverent covers, captions, and heds. A few weeks ago they did a special report on the trade talks in Cancun and the cover illustration – the cover! – was a saguaro cactus in the shape of The Finger. This week they’ve got an article on the Microsoft anti-trust trials in the States and Europe with a picture of Bill Gates giving some talk somewhere, gesturing on some point like why it’s important to provide users with a prominently placed Windows Media Player. I think magazines are required by law to run a picture of Bill Gates with every Microsoft article, whether it’s about him or not. But what’s the caption on this particular picture? “Grrr.” Now if they’d just work on their often-weak closes to articles.

Like I said, though, now I’m out of magazines until Wednesday. Greg’s been plugging away on his “First Spanish Reader,” but I’ve been buying discounted Penguin Classics from the bookstore; I guess they don’t sell well. The first one, when I was sick, was “The Three Musketeers” – a book both Greg and I enjoyed tremendously. If you haven’t ever bothered to read it don’t be put off by its publication date or the roster of universally crappy Musketeer movies, their only good point being to give me a delicious image for Lady De Winter – then I moved on to Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which is really a collection of short stories and essays on rural New York and England. I got it just before Halloween, read Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle first, then started working my way through the others. It took me awhile to get into it, but it was fun for me to read about old English Christmas customs, or about Tarry Town being way out in the country, about the character of Connecticut men such as Mr. Crane, or Prince Philip of the Wampanoags, since I’d been in that area for the first time just this summer. Hey, and did you know? Greg’s cousin Ned is a Wampanoag. Really. He's the guy that returned Metacomet's war club to the tribe. I'll try to find a better link.

Anyway, I came away from “Legends” admiring Irving’s style – besides, he was one of the first Americans to actually make a living as an author, impressive in any era – and dreaming of doing the same. Ha! When I went back to get another mind-broadener, the pickings seemed slim: Bronte, Dickens, philosophy. I don’t think reading about dark, Satanic mills is the best thing for me right now, so I picked the infinitely greener “Walden and Civil Disobedience.” Again, not the original title.

When I go back I want to dig “Hamlet’s Mill” out of storage. That should hold me a good long while.

Movies, now, that’s another story. The arthouse theater, El Pochote, shows a different movie every night, once at 6p and again at8p, but because of my school schedule I can only see them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it’s not always something I want to see, even for only 5 pesos. This month I didn’t see hardly anything appealing on the schedule except for some historical films but we were busy the nights they played. The theater on the corner, Ariel (its twin, Geminis, is in Col. Reforma and was where we saw La Perla Negra with Johnny Depp), closed down. A crying shame, considering its prime location. It’s easy to run out to Gringolandia and catch a movie at Cinepolis, a really nice theater, only I have to plan in extra float time as the printed schedule, the schedule online, and the actual schedule listed at the theater don’t always agree. Like I mentioned previously, we saw “Once Upon A Time In Mexico,” lotsa fun, and I’d like to go back and see “Alien: The Director’s Cut” because I haven’t seen “Alien” since it came out the first time and I read not too long ago that Bilbo was the scientist on the ship.

The upshot is that I don’t see as many movies as I would like. I suppose if I looked into it I could see which movies are being distributed in Mexico concurrently with a U.S. release and which aren’t – because some movies do come out right away, some come out down here months after they’ve tanked back home, and some I have yet to see.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

We've got our schedule! Greg and I will be in San Francisco from Dec 21 to Jan 3, then Greg flies back to Mexico while I stay in Texas until Jan 6. Hot rats!

Hey, about yesterday. Our plan was to drive north and see some more ruins: San Jose Mogote and Suchilquitongo. We needed gas and to put some air in the front right tire. And we noticed Jums wasn't starting up right away. After two such balks we said, hell, let's just go pay our parking ticket and go home. We had a mini-adventure doing even that: the ticket didn't have an address for the place where you pay (and get back your license plate, which the cops remove when they write a ticket), only a set of verbal directions from Manuel at school. Then Greg started having one of his periodic cop freak-outs. But we paid the fine (12 bucks), got the plate and a juice, he calmed down and we decided to go for it after all.

San Jose Mogote is right outside town, so we blew it off and drove farther down the road to Suchilquitongo. The site and a village share the same name, and for a Mexican village it impressed us with its quiet prosperity. Yes, the roads and sidewalks and storefronts all looked like they do everywhere else, but a couple of nice houses were peeking out from behind walls, and the main drag boasts a sneaker store, a miscellanea advertising cold beer to go, and an Internet cafe. Pretty remarkable. The museum was closed, so we just drove up the 2-mile dirt and gravel road to the top of the cerro where the site is. Like Zaachila and Yagul, it's only partially restored; unlike any other site we've been to, there are no Stay Off The ____ signs anywhere. Just 4 padlocks on the tomb. Okay with us -- we happily clambered around and over mounds of dirt hiding old temples and old stone staircases and the like. Pictures soon. Greg says it's his favorite site so far, because of the lack of No Tocar (no to touch) signs and the lack of people. Other than a couple of kids on bikes and what I take to be an on-site custodian, all from the village, we were the only people there. And on the way down the road we saw our first caracara! And even though we had never seen one before, we both instantly recognized it from the shape of its head. Thumbing through the bird books pays off once again.

(I forgot this until I read Greg's blog: dog bombs! Despite or maybe because of the semi-successful deadbread pudding experiment, we still had two loaves of dead bread left. And half a bag of catfood. And two sticks of margarine from Timothy's visit. So Greg, his heart warmed by the gentle fires of St. Jim, made dog bombs. Or dog tortas if you will: stale dead bread stuffed with chunks of margarine and dry cat food jimmies. We stuffed them in a plastic bag before we set off to get gas. And when we'd see a scrawny-ass Mexican dog, we'd pull over, put out a dog bomb and say, This is for you, with compliments of Jim Hooker, and drive off. The dogs would always wait until we pulled away before running over to see what it was we'd left.)

On our way out of Suchilquitongo we realized we hadn't eaten any lunch, so by the time we got home about 4:30 or so, we were starved. So we splurged and went to Pepino's Italian restaurant and got pasta and salads and a decent bottle of red Baja California wine. (We toyed with the idea of the Chinese restaurant, but I just couldn't.)

Friday, November 21, 2003

Driving to the countryside in a bit, but I wanted to mention last night's movie, Once Upon A Time In Mexico. I saw El Mariachi when it came out, and thought it was okay. Didn't see the second one. Once Upon A Time in Mexico is the third installment, and we had a blast. The movie dialog is about half in Spanish and half in English. It was a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be, for one thing. For another, it was several minutes after the movie switched into Spanish before I realized that people were speaking a language I don't, AND I could follow about half the dialog, so I'm chuffed. Especially after the last couple of weeks thinking that I'm an idiot because after four months I still can't speak Spanish and thinking that I'd be down here for years without ever learning it. And, it's hard to go wrong with Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, and Willem Dafoe (and Salma Hayek!) all in one movie.

We found more of that delicious ham at Pitico. No decent rolls for sandwiches, but we've got the ham.

Had sopa Azteca and sueros down at the crowded zocalo last night and people-watched. A nice day.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

It's Revolution Day in Mexico, a national holiday -- we also get Friday off, too. But not Saturday! What is wrong with Berlitz? Oh yeah, money. No classes, no paying students. Huh.

So instead of a fabulous four day weekend, we have to content ourselves with two consecutive days off in a row -- in itself a rarity -- working Saturday, and off again Sunday. Next year, we're going to do like Cesar did this year, and take the damn Saturday off. Man, we coulda driven down to the coast! Ah, well. Hopefully we'll catch the schoolkids parade, this time with the camera. We caught one yesterday sans camera: the kids were dressed up like little revolutionaries, with painted-on sideburns, sombreros, bandoliers, and serapes (made from the ubiquitous, striped-cotton dish towels!) for the boys, little ribbon skirts and blouses for the girls. Cute as hell.

I think we might road-trip tomorrow out to see some more ruins north of town. Pretty soon we will be out of open-to-the-public archeological sites to visit!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Why I still love California: fish fete.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Okay, Zaachila, Yagul, and Cuilapan photos up in the links bar.

Other things of note ... Greg and I went to a party at Manuel's house Saturday night, arranged by work to welcome the new teachers (Paola and Christine) and say goodbye to two teachers (Jessica and Nunki) and Nayeli, our receptionist. To feed everyone Patricia ordered a ton of pizzas; no surprise really that instead of leaving packets of cheese and peppers, the delivery guy left packets of salsa.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Monday morning. I just got an e-mail from Noah, Greg's oldest son -- he and his wife just had the baby! A couple weeks early. His name's Elliott, and he was born Nov. 14. Noah was saying he wanted to give him a Greek/Spanish name, like Ulysses or Heraclio -- I don't know what happened on that front. But in any case, whee! The baby's here!

I'm going to a travel agent today to get us flights from Mexico City to the States for the latter half of December. Izzy can't ride in the passenger area of first-class Mexican buses, so we might have Greg fly back a few days early, bus to Oaxaca, then drive back up with Little Jumbo to pick us up from the airport.

Sunday Greg and I went joyriding around the Oaxacan countryside; I'll post the pictures soon. We went to Cuilapan, a town with an old, 16-century, uncompleted basilica. Very pretty, even without a roof. We stopped in to see the ruins at Zaachila, then cut over to see more ruins at Yagul.


Saturday, November 15, 2003

It's been a little over 24 hours, and the cheese has not killed me, or provided a vehicle for mind-control parasites.

Friday market day. After my last post I strolled over to the Conzatti market, looking for cabbage and jalapenos. I bought a wedge of cabbage last week, and Greg made two Chinese dinners out of it, so I am hoping for more.

I swung by the fish vendors and took a look, but passed. Didn’t look so good this week. Saw a little campesino selling tamales, so I bought four. Mmm. (They turned out to be tamales dulces; no meat, just sweetened masa steamed in the corn husk. Very yummy with a little salsa verde!) In the northwest corner is a fruit and vegetable vendor who I usually buy from, ‘cause Francisco is pretty above-board with me on prices. I was almost at his stall when a bag of little orange fruits caught my eye. I asked what they were, but didn’t write it down. They look like, uh, well, they’re about 2 inches long, oblong, and go from red to mango orange to yellow in color, sometimes on the same fruit. I asked the woman how they’re eaten, and she washed one off and pantomimed popping it into her mouth, then handed it to me. The skin’s a bit tart, and a little bit like the skin on a kumquat, but inside it tastes like a creamy mango. Very good. I bought a bag for ten pesos, then said hi to Francisco. I got a quarter kilo of jalapenos, a quarter head of cabbage, a cucumber, a big bunch of watercress for salad, and some burro bananas. Then I got a hankering for cheese.

So far we’ve been buying manchego, or the Mexican equivalent of Safeway brand bland yellow cheese. But in the market vendors typically sell two other kinds of cheeses: balls of ropy Oaxacan cheese, very similar to string cheese but with a stronger taste, not much to my liking; and queso fresco with or without flavorings. I headed over to the generally busier cheese vendor and took a look. She had rounds of queso fresco, the sides supported by hoops of woven cane, wood, or banana leaves, depending on the size. I stood there, asking myself if I really wanted to experiment with this cheese. Is it pasteurized? How clean is the cheese-making equipment? Has it been sitting in the hot sun in the back of some truck? But the woman behind the counter gave me a slice, and damn it was good. So I bought a queso fresco chico and had some with my tamales for lunch. Mmm. Greg wouldn't eat any; he said he'd wait and see if I got sick first.

I bought a tejate to sip on the way home and headed off. Then I remembered reading in the little paper that publishes the art-house theater schedule that the folks that run the theater were putting on an organic market today, so I turned around and headed uphill to check it out. It was small, but busy. Not too many vegetables, really, mostly prepared foodstuffs or organic health and beauty products. But I did buy some mystery fruits and a jar of local honey. I hope the market's successful!

So now I’m at home, full of yummy tamales and cheese, and making some pickled jalapenos. Maybe string together some dried marigolds. Maybe go out. It’s a nice day.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Well, Sam's Club was as horrific as I imagined. I never did see any pickle relish, though they do have tofu, and 8.4kg blocks of cheese, and bags of Krusteaz as big as a bag of cat litter. That's an awful lot of exquisite pancakes.

Thankfully, we brought the wool blankets with us after all. Greg said they were in the closet. And what do you know? We're sleeping soundly at night now. All nice and toasty.

I've had a jones lately for tamales. We got some really good chicken mole tamales wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, right around Day of the Dead. But we haven't see Tamale Lady since. Tamale Lady, where are you! Donut Lady is still around, Elote Lady is almost always on the Llano, the Candy Man, too, with an array of dulces tradicionales, aka mysterious-looking sweets in strange colors and shapes, but that are generally pretty good.

Okay, I'm off to the Friday market.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

At school, whenever Greg or I relate a little “welcome to Mexico” anecdote about adjusting to Mexico our students often come back with, “go to Sam’s Club!” My opinion has been, I don’t shop at Sam’s Club back in California, why start now. Well …

There’s been a change in the weather. Sunday it was cool enough in the late afternoon that I wore my hiking jacket (the only jacket I have here) when we went out. No socks, mind, but a jacket. And I noticed that, while I wasn’t waking up cold, I wasn’t sleeping soundly. So last night both of us wore a t-shirt to bed. Wow, what a difference. I woke up and realized, hey, I’m comfortable … but my legs are on the cool side. We’ve been planning on retrieving a lot of our colder weather things when we head Stateside in late December/early January. But now I’m thinking we may need a blanket before then. And I’m thinking Sam’s Club might be the place to go looking for one. Besides, Greg says, maybe they sell pickle relish.

Okay, cold weather in the tropics. On one of my visits to Hawaii, I was driving across Volcanoes National Park [link] with a group going to South Point. The Big Island has year-round snow on top of Mauna Kea, where the observatory is; I think it’s around 14,000’ high. The park isn’t that high, but its got enough elevation that it’s good to take a jacket when you visit. Anyway, we’re driving through the park, going from Hilo to South Point on the other side of the island, and as the temperature drops we hit a patch of vog (volcanic fog/smog). So the guide is telling us about the weather in the park, saying it can get downright chilly, and to illustrate just how cold it can get, he says, “sometimes I have to put on socks!” Yeah, dude, that is cold.

Wishing for some tropical weather now, are ya? Here's Isaac Hale State Park, and a business in Honoka'a, and a sea turtle, and a Kailua-Kona beach, and some pals of mine.

Latest book to pass the time before the new magazines arrive: Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories. Originally titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., but I think Penguin did the right thing in changing it. Every time he mentions some place wa-a-a-ay out in the New York countryside, like the Tappan Zee, or Sing-Sing, or Tarry Town, I remember how fast a place can change. When I was a kid my family lived for a time in an apartment right on an arroyo: street, apartment building, parking area in back, arroyo. Across the channelized arroyo was Alhambra (now sadly of Phil Spector fame). Across the street a couple of the older houses, on big wooded lots, still survived, though by the time I graduated from high school they’d all become apartment complexes. Anyway, a woman lived in one of those houses, and she’d tell me what the street was like when she was a kid in the 40s, before the arroyo became a concrete wash. All the lots had little wood houses on them, no apartment buildings, no American Legion Hall, no convalescent hospital on the corner, no Victor’s restaurant (a business that kept blowing up and/or burning down; last time I was in San Gabriel it was gone for good). She never mentioned the embankment at the end of the street, which was thick with nopales, but it was so extensive I imagine that it was there in the 40s, too. She did say that their were fields still in front of the mission and city hall back then – by the time we lived there, the only greenery was a small park sandwiched between the mission, city hall, and busy Mission Rd. Or was it Mission Blvd? We had one of each, and they intersected, much to the consternation of out-of-town drivers and to the amusement of us kids.

Spanish continues to amuse me. Now, along with sin nada (without nothing) and no hay nada (there is no nothing) comes unas – that’s right, a plural singular. Ones.

I don’t feel so bad about inflicting lie, lying, and liar on my students.

We got a big maildrop yesterday. Yay! Greg’s student loan papers, some postcardX lovin’, a postcard we sent ourselves from the birthplace of Elvis, miscellaneous paperwork. And when I finally make it up to my mom’s we’ve got a friend’s wedding pictures, some squished pennies, and a signed copy of the latest Western Field Guide to Reptiles. I do love mail!

This morning I had a yoga class. My second. When I moved down here I figured I’d find another dojo, and while there are plenty of tae kwon do dojos around – something about a Mexican national or Olympic champ – and the rarer aikido or karate studios, I’ve been reluctant to try any of them out. Like I’m not being loyal to my old dojo, silly as that is. What, are they going to kick me out? So rather than deal with why I feel that way I sidestepped the issue and found a yoga studio a couple of blocks away. It’s hatha yoga, nothing too strenuous, and refreshingly low-key – I was a little worried it might be some scene straight out of the Marina, but my ragamuffiny appearance fit right in. It’s also cheap: $250 pesos a month for all the classes I care to cram in. I suppose I could do two classes a day, five days a week, if I wanted to. And yes, my arms were a little sore from Monday’s class.

Did you know that cats taught people hatha yoga? They did:

...most people are familiar with Hatha Yoga, which is the discipline of posturing the body that one may concentrate upon an awareness of the soul. Apparently we have cats to thank for this method of enlightenment. Here's what happened. There was once a young Indian prince who was filled with frustration because his mind continually wandered when attempting meditations in Karma Yoga. He went for a long walk in the jungle, when he happened to come upon a cat. This large cat was sitting as still as could be in a most meticulous posture. The prince was amazed at the sight and was captivated by the soft purr coming from this wonderful cat. Filled with desire to learn, the prince asked the cat how she could possibly concentrate with such focus when his own mind would not allow him the slightest meditative satisfaction. The cat, now alert and refreshed, arched her back, then stretched each of her four legs to their maximum length. She then twisted her entire body around with ease, once again stretching legs, paws, neck, even her tail. Upon completing her display, she told the prince that this was her method of meditation, preparing her body with stress relieving movements, tensing her muscles and then allowing them to relax. This, she said, helped calm the body, thus quieting the mind and allowing focused meditation. The cat taught him several stretching and twisting exercises, then she showed him a soothing sitting position with legs crossed and arms folded in his lap. As the prince allowed his body to settle, he imitated the cat's purr which came out sounding like "OM". Every day from then on the prince returned to the cat where she continued to teach him more and more of the art of Hatha Yoga. When the prince at last learned all there was to know of this spiritual system, the cat told him that together they should travel about India teaching others the system of Hatha Yoga. So the two did just that, remaining friends for the rest of their lives as they instructed the world in this method, first practiced by a very wise cat.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A pretty quiet Tuesday. I had a morning class, and will have one afternoon class. Oh, and a Spanish class today so Alba can work on her thesis. Greg doesn't have any English classes today -- how'd he manage that? -- and has disappeared. My morning class students told me that in Mexico, when a child loses a milk tooth, they place it under their pillow and during the night mice come and exchange the tooth for money.

Oh, and some pictures of Cerro San Felipe flora are up in the links list on the left:

-in the trail picture, the big tree on the left is an ahuehuete -- just like the Tule Tree! -- and is a relative of the California sequoia and redwood;

-the cactus/oak assemblage was typical of the park's southern exposure hillsides. I took the "sun-loving flower" photo near the spot of the cactus/oak picture;

-most of the flowers pictured are half an inch to an inch across. I love my little camera!

Monday, November 10, 2003

I’ve been meaning to climb San Felipe, the mountain north of town, for awhile now. On Sunday I had time, weather, and health on my side, so Greg and I, following the directions in our Oaxaca guidebook, drove north to the bus turnaround in Colonia San Felipe del Agua. He and I agreed to meet back at the turnaround in four and a half hours; he drove off and I headed up hill.

The guidebook said that park headquarters and ranger station are a quarter mile or so uphill from the turnaround. After about a hundred yards or so the dirt road ended at somebody’s house. I walked to the end of the road to see if I could see which way to go, but all I saw was a group of raggedy dogs, who then saw me and ran over, barking and snarling. As I was debating which doggy head to snap-kick first, a guy came out of the house. I asked him which way to el cerro. He walked me past the dogs and pointed out a path. I scrambled up an embankment to a once-paved, but now washed-out road, and headed north. The road quickly curved down and around. I started thinking, well, at least I’m out getting a walk in, the road dumped me out at a parking lot with about a half dozen cars, and the little ranger station.

The guidebook also said to get a trailmap at the ranger station. Silly gringo! There are no maps, just a sign-in book, two rangers with rifles, and a little tienda selling chips and sodas. I signed in, party of one, then asked for the road to the top. The ranger rattled off directions faster than I could catch, but I did hear “cascada” and “derecha” so I felt confident enough to give it a go. I fell in behind a scout troop heading off on a hike; just ahead of them was another troop on bikes. The park was filled with families and couples out enjoying the day, so despite the doom and gloom scenarios most people spout whenever the words “woman,” “hike,” and “alone” occur together, I felt fine.

I quickly past the cavorting kids as the trail ran through the scrubby woods, alongside a creek. I kept my eyes peeled for the cascada where I was to turn right, but I didn’t see anything looking like a waterfall. But I did see lots and lots of flowers and butterflies. Lots. When I started walking I had my camera in my daypack, but I quickly got tired of stopping to get it out and just stashed it in my front pocket. (I ended up taking 69 photos, and keeping 43.) And as I headed along the creek I realized pretty quickly that this was a Mexican park: no maps, no information kiosks, no trail markers. And definitely a multi-use trail, open to hikers, bikers, horses, and cattle (including bulls). Okay, then! I passed a fish ladder and thought, could a fish ladder be called a cascada in Spanish, too? I looked but didn’t see any trail off to the right. Kept going.

After about two hours of following the creek and not really making much elevation gain – again, the guidebook said it was a 4,000’ climb, and I’d maybe done 200’ – I started to wonder if I was going to end up with some kind of 3,000’ climb in a mile scenario. But I rounded a corner and came to the real cascada, oh maybe a 50-foot waterfall, very pretty. A family was there ahead of me, having their lunch while their toddlers played in the water. I sat down for a snack and to decide what to do. It was 11am, and I’d figured I’d need to turn around by noon. And I still saw no trail leading out of the waterfall area, except a really tenuous scramble that looked more like kids looking for a way to the top of the waterfall rather than a trail someplace else. So I finished my apple, declined the family’s very sweet offer of a torta, then headed back. Since I knew I’d have time on my hands I made sure to stop and get all the flower shots I wanted. Got back to the turnaround just after 1pm – no dogs this time, though I was prepared with a stick and rocks – and waited for Greg to show up.

So I didn’t get the ham workout I was hoping for, but I did get a lovely little walk in the countryside, which is awfully pretty: woods, cactusy scrub, and riparian, all blended together. I didn’t recognize too many plants, an oak, some willows, salvias, and what looked like a buddleia. The rest were a complete mystery. Maybe I can find a decent plant book at the library.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

It's Saturday night, and I just got back from a datelet with G-man. Took him to see Matrix Revolutions. Not as bad as you'd think reading rottentomatoes.com. And not as bad as Revenge of the Teddi ... uh, Revenge of the Jedi. Best part was seeing the trailer for Return of the King a second time. Whoo!

So, how did the dead-bread pudding go? Like this:

I downloaded four bread pudding recipes off the Internet. None were formulated in a Mexican kitchen. I knew I might have problems getting all the ingredients, so I hedged my bets and made a list featuring the ingredients from all four recipes. It’s not like I’m gonna run out of dead-bread anytime soon.

I did not find all the ingredients at Soriana’s. Opened all four recipes on the Mac and set to work.

So here’s my recipe for dead-bread pudding:

1) Buy an enamel-ware pan at the supermercado. Scrape off the label and decide that wiping it out with a cloth will probably make it more germ-free than washing it out in tap water. Use the margarine Timothy bought (what was he thinking?) to grease the pan.

2) Crumble two loaves of dead-bread into the pan. Set aside the little painted dough faces for a later project.

3) Couldn’t find cream or half ‘n’ half or evaporated milk at the supermercado, so use milk instead. Realize each recipe calls for a differing amount – one calls for water! – so guess that 2 c. is sufficient.

4) Decide that the King’s Hawaiian Bread Pudding recipe is probably closest to calling for the right amount of sugar: 1/2 c. Realize that I don’t know where the measuring spoons are; did I bring them? Go with 1/2 tsp. vanilla and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Add some chopped-up margarine. Wonder what is in Mexican margarine exactly.

5) Eggs next. 3 large, lightly beaten eggs, 3 egg whites, 2 slightly beaten eggs, or none? Settle for 3 slightly beaten eggs of various sizes, as the eggs at Pitico aren’t sorted by size anyway. Add a pinch of salt because it seems reasonable, then go for broke and add a can of pineapple pieces. Mix the whole thing up while Greg lights the oven for me. Lid on or lid off; all four recipes are silent on this topic. Prevaricate for a couple of minutes. Decide a crispy brown top means baking with the lid off. Look at the oven dial while opening the door and notice that, if the dial had numbers at one time (which isn’t a sure bet), it doesn’t have any now. Don’t bother converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. Notice next that the single oven rack is way up near the top of the oven. Grab a dish towel to move it to the lower rack. It won’t come out. Struggle with it for several minutes, cursing and shaking the stove.

Greg comes over to give it a try before I destroy the oven. The rack won’t budge. Get the flashlight. Turn the oven off after Greg sets the dishtowel on fire. Invoking Orlanth (“Violence is always an option!”), G-man finally yanks it out and places it gently on the lower setting. Relight oven, guess at a temperature setting, put the top on the baking pan, and hope for the best.

Recipes all agree on 40-minute cooking time, but I begin to smell crispy bread at the 20-minute mark. Take a peek; it looks done … turn off oven and leave the pan sitting in there for another 10 minutes just to be sure. Plop some in a bowl and spray on some whipped cream. Comments range from “not bad” to “it’s edible.” Agreement all around, however, that the dead-bread pudding is better than a giant bag of stale bread.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

People down here say that the spirits of the dead eat the essence of food on a family’s Day of the Dead altar. I believe that’s true, and I believe I’ll download a bread pudding recipe; otherwise, I’ll never use up all this dead-bread – the stuff the dead didn’t physically consume before they went home Monday afternoon. We ate two loaves with our morning coffees and mochas before they got too stale, but I’ve still got another five to go. I thought about making a load of stuffing, but dead-bread’s a little too sweet for that, so raisinless bread pudding it is!

Can you freeze dead-bread pudding?

We’ve been swapping magazines with Jonathan, one of the teachers at work. I think he’s even more left-wing than we are. Anyway, he gave us a handful of old Progressives and Mother Jones magazines – woefully out of date, but who’s picky?

I’ve been struggling with the whole happy-meat issue* – well, since I left the Bay Area, but more specifically I mean in Mexico, the land of carnivores. I have to say, I’ve let the issue slide in the interests of eating some damn good Mexican food. But one of the magazines had an article by Eric Schlosser; that’s right, Mister Fast Food Nation himself. So I’m back on the happy-meat bandwagon, only … I have some Issues. First is that, barring Miguel allowing me to keep a cow in the building courtyard, I cannot get happy milk in this city. Hell, I’m lucky that I usually have a choice between whole and light milk (when Pitico doesn’t run out of one or the other). And I really do not want to give up 1) coffee or 2) my breakfast. So I’m drinking the unhappy milk. I can get organic eggs, and when we leave the city happy meat’s not really a problem, as all the animals are running around in people’s yards. Okay, I just avoid meat while in Oaxaca, a bit difficult but not impossible. And there’s passable seafood. But the cheeses and oils … I know those are the products of unhappy animals. It’s real hard to avoid manteca – pig lard – in anything fried. I’ve seen that, but not vegetable shortening, for sale in supermarkets, so I don’t know what I’m going to do about pies.

Well, having written the above yesterday, I had awful dreams of slaughtering turkeys last night! I will spare you the details, and move on to a happier subject: cats. Yes, happy cat news! My friend Tom reports that Tyson is doing well in his San Francisco rooftop domain.

I now have a collection of bread pudding recipes courtesy of Google. Now to test 'em out!

*happy-meat: I think it’s okay and natural and desirable to eat meat; I don’t think it’s okay to treat animals like we do in our modern and efficient meat factories. So happy-meat to me is meat that comes from animals that lived like animals, not like line items in a spreadsheet, widgets in some Gran Bretanian supply chain, or temporary workers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Timothy's taking the first-class bus back to Mexico City this afternoon; we spent the morning drinking coffee and talking about that favorite subject of the New Age, community: finding one's place in it, building it, expanding it, enriching it. Marcos and Guadalupe have been lobbying Timothy to move down here in a few years, but Timothy said this morning that although it's tempting as he really likes Mexico, he realizes his community is in Williams, and down here he'd be an outsider. I've been thinking a lot about community since I left the Bay Area, being sad about leaving my community behind and wondering if or when I'll find another. I don't know.

My good friend Tom, the Mayor of Hayes St, sent us this:

Since you guys left I sit out front with my tea and
paper for about 20 minutes every morning. Even sat and
sun. I just realized this morning this is a habit
from waiting for you guys in the mornings.

I tell ya, I don't want to float around for the rest of my life! I love being in Oaxaca, I'm glad we did what we did, but I miss my friends and family and California. Fall is my favorite time of the year, but this autumn I find myself looking right past it to the end of December/beginning of January, when I hope to come up and visit. I can taste it.

Monday, November 03, 2003

It's a new month, coming up on the four-month mark since I moved to Oaxaca. My teaching schedule changed today, as it does every month; this time, I've got two private classes, and both of them cancelled tonight, so I got off early. And no more 8pm - 9pm class -- whoo-ya!

So where did I leave off in my Day of the Dead adventures? Yesterday Greg and I had a few errands to run before heading out to Teotitlan to pick up Timothy and eating lunch with Zachirias and his family. One of them being going to the ATM to collect our rent money (our ATM cards will be ready next pay period). Another was to do some Internet. On the way to the Internet cafe we saw Osbelia struggling with too many shopping bags, so we took them all from her and carried them to her cafe. We asked her what we should bring out to Zachirias's place, and she said, well for Day of the Dead they'll have all the food they need already .... We said, we know, we're stuck. How about coffee? She allowed that coffee was good, so we got some, and we asked, what about candy for the kids, and she agreed that would be welcome, too, so after chatting with her and Marcos for a bit, and doing some e-mail and blogging, we got Little Jumbo and drove over to Gigante -- most of the stores and businesses in Oaxaca were closed for the holiday, but Osbelia knew Gigante was open, as that's where she was coming from when we intercepted her and her packages.

Now, I don't like Gigante: it's too noisy. But in we went and bought a couple of bags of ... basically a Mexican version of Blow-Pops, except they were mango-flavored, with New! four layers of chili flavor! And off we went to Teotitlan, running a bit late, but we figured they were probably running on Mexican time, too. And we were right. We pulled up to see Timothy and Zachirias chatting out front, munching peanuts. We came over and said our hellos, and Zachirias said it would be a little bit before lunch, so why not go see the museum? We walked the km into town. It's easy to see that weaving is doing well by little Teotitlan. The streets leading past the bulk of the weavers shops and to the museum (the only two tourist draws) were fancily paved, and the sidewalks with hardly any holes or abrupt changes.

The museum was small, and didn't allow photography or I'd have a photo to show you of the funny paper-mache mannekins in the weaving and marriage displays. Not too much interesting inside, but the church outside was pretty, and incorporated carved stones from the old Zapotec city that preceeded Teotitlan. I've got pictures up at left: the Zapotec name of the town (which I wrote down, but Greg's not here so I can't tell you) means, Under The Rocks, and those are the rocks behind the church. The jaguar teeth motif runs all around the walls on which the church is built. The church is the oldest in Oaxaca valley, mid-16th century, and while it's pretty ... dig this! Some of you may remember the High-Class Quartz Clock -- a gold plastic clock hung in our dining room, with a picture of the last supper and red and green lights above the diner's heads -- and the hideous tunes it played on the hour. Or would play, if we allowed it to. Now, that clock is one of the few decorative items we brought with us to Mexico. We love it dearly. But if we put the battery in to let it play tunes we'd go crazy. It plays only secular tunes, and really loudly, then chimes out the hour. Only the mechanism is broken so the chimes sound like the dying song of some unknown sea creature. Well, Timothy, Greg and I are sitting in a pew in this church admiring the ceiling when Greg and I hear one of the tunes from our clock. We looked into a niche on the left, and saw another High-Class Quartz Clock! Jesus Fucking Christ! Only its chiming mechanism wasn't broken, and it had a faux wood finish instead of the lusterous gold tones of our beloved timepiece. A woman I used to work with bought it for us as a wedding present, somewhere in the Sunset, and neither she nor I nor anyone I know has ever seen another one, until yesterday in the oldest church in Oaxaca valley. Truly a miracle.

Nothing else in town could really compare to that* so we headed back, and while Zachirias made sure everybody (but the driver) had plenty of beer and mescal, his wife Amelia Beatriz (yes!) brought in big bowls of mole negro with chicken and rice and tortillas. Oh, so tasty, but somebody please remind me next time not to wear a white shirt to a mole lunch!

We then whisked Timothy back to Oaxaca. Greg had class early the next morning (today), so Timothy and I went out to another nearby graveyard to see another display of fine sand rugs and decorated tombs. Only when we got there about 9:15p, it was already shutting down. Too bad, though the tombs didn't look all that decorated. But there had been a raging street fair out front, with the usual kiddie rides and games of chance and food booths and plastic stuff made in China (including Offering Packets, $10). So we went back home and went to bed.

Today, after Greg got back from his early class, the three of us drove out to Mitla to see the Frissell Museum. Only we got to Mitla and couldn't find it, so Timothy asked a guy on an ATV where it was. Turns out the guy's from Georgia. He told us the museum closed a few years back, and that the collection's dispersed. Too bad! He asked what we were doing in Oaxaca, and we explained teaching English blah blah blah. He said he was with, ah, some group that sounded like a language institute, so he and Greg exchanged e-mail information. As we were driving away, though, Timothy said the "language institute" is really a fundamentalist Christian group that translates the bible into local languages -- your first foot in the door. Guess we won't be hearing much from him when he sees Greg's website!

Instead we took Timothy up to see the ruins at Mitla, then headed back to Teotitlan to drop him off and hustle back into town to get ready for afternoon classes. And I think that pretty much brings us up to date, except that I need to upload some Day of the Dead pictures.

*What could possibly be just as good as a High-Class Quartz Clock sighting? Happy street dogs! Yes, indeedy: as we rounded the church, we saw a black puppy lying on the stones. And the puppy came up to us wagging his tail. Usually street dogs either ignore people or move sullenly out of the way. They never come up smiling and wagging. This dog was being downright silly, too, and tried to play with us! Then its friend, a slightly older, tan dog, came over grinning and trying to engage us. So, Teotitlan must be a prosperous village if even the street dogs have a decent time of it.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

This is the kind of guy you want in your roleplaying character's party:

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - An Icelandic fishing captain, known as "the Iceman" for his tough character, grabbed a 300 kg (660 lb) shark with his bare hands as it swam in shallow water towards his crew, according to a witness.

The skipper of the trawler "Erik the Red" was on a beach in Kuummiit, east Greenland, watching his crew processing a catch when he saw the shark swimming towards the fish blood and guts -- and his men.

Captain Sigurdur Petursson, known to locals as "the Iceman", ran into the shallow water and grabbed the shark by its tail. He dragged it off to dry land and killed it with his knife.

"He caught it just with his hands. There was a lot of blood in the sea and the shark came in and he thought it was dangerous," Frede Kilime, a hunter and fisherman who watched from the beach, told Reuters by phone from Greenland on Thursday.

Icelandic author and journalist Reynir Traustason, who knows the trawler captain, said the act was typical of the man.

"He's called 'the Iceman' because he isn't scared of anything," he said. "I know the people in that part of the world. They are really tough."

Hey, and if you're curious, here's more on what the temescal in San Sebastian Rio Hondo was like (I wrote this up for a friend who's been thinking about making a straw-bale sweat lodge back home in California):

Adobe walls, dirt floor (though looking again at the photo it could be that they just plunked the temescal on top of the brick flooring on the patio). The adobe was maybe eight inches thick. It was smallish, big enough inside for a six-foot guy to lie down and stretch out. A layer of pine needles covered the floor – not short, stabby pine needles but these lovely, long needles from one of the pines that grows at high altitudes. I’m going to try to collect some because they’re perfect for basketry: 10-12 inches long, five to a bundle. But they’re not Torrey Pines. The door was a square hole set in one of the walls, with a plank door, much like what you’d see as a cover to the crawlspace under someone’s house. No attachments or hangers, just wedge the door in place when you want to close the temescal, take it off when you want out or after the sweat. I’ll check with Timothy but, unlike our local sweat lodges where the door usually faces east, I don’t think directions are important when orienting the temescal. Nope, he says it seems like it’s a bit more functional as to where the door is. And there is no altar – or at least, there was no altar outside this one.

I’m not sure how high the ceiling was; when I laid on my back and stuck my leg straight up, the bottom of my foot was a couple inches shy of the ceiling. There’s a slight rise to the roofline back to front. Now, you know how good I am with all things carpenterial (yeah, right!) but I’d say the change from back to front was only maybe 5 inches, though it looks exaggerated in the photo. The roof was constructed from vigas about 3 inches in diameter, spaced about 12 to 14 inches apart; the vigas were laid running back to front, not side to side. Ten-inch boards were laid crosswise on top of the vigas, and tar paper on top of the boards. I asked Marcos about the effects of the steam on the adobe, and how tightly laid the roof was, and he said, you can make it as tight as you want, but this particular temescal wasn’t so tight so that it could dry out. Then he pointed out to me a little hemispherical opening, maybe 7 or 8 inches wide, cut into the adobe opposite the door and just under the ceiling. It was stuffed with more pine needles, and he said the opening helps against moisture buildup, too. I didn’t notice it at all in the sweat, even though I was sitting under it. And he seems to leave the door off when the temescal is not in use to keep it dry.

Lastly, what about the hot rocks, right? In the photo you can see a little fire hole on the lower left wall of the temescal. The same corner inside the temescal had a little adobe fireplace: a rectangle of adobe built up oh, maybe a foot from the floor. The long side was about 20, 22 inches; I forgot to measure the short side. But the long side of the fireplace ran across the temescal, not toward the door. In any case, the fireplace has got to be high enough that you can 1) set a fire using that outside hole in the picture (you can see the smoke stains on the wall) and 2) have an iron grate in the fireplace on which to set the rocks, which are 3) piled high inside the temescal on the grate. So the rocks cook in situ; at the one we experienced, when it was time for us to go in, people took the wood and coals out of the fireplace and transferred them with shovels to chimayos Marcos uses to heat the cabanas. And no special wood, just whatever was on hand.

When we crawled in to the temescal (modestly attired in shorts or undies and a t-shirt for the lady, and with no formalities like smudging, seating order, or phrases like “all my relations”) and shut the door, I saw that they had a candle burning in one corner – bold, what with the pine needle floor covering – and a big pottery olla next to the fireplace filled with water. For a dipper Marcos had a little Tupperware bowl, but a gourd-half would be perfect. And he had a couple of rattles. We all sat up, but Timothy said that, in more traditional temescals, people lie down so they can be scourged with herbs by the person running the temescal. Oh! and Marcos said that they sometimes heat the water in the olla in case you want to pour a dipper of water over your head, and that sometimes they put herbs in the water, too, like cedar, comfrey, or arnica.

So again, the temescal opened with very little fuss: an opening prayer by Marcos consisted of a quick directional call-in with some bring-in-the-good-keep-out-the-bad prayers. We were just sitting wherever, except Marcos who was parked by the fireplace, and he’d sing a song, then pass the rattle around, pour water onto the rocks (which were double-fist sided rocks, and I’m not sure how many, but a goodly mound of them). If people got too hot or wanted out, he’d open the door and take them out while the rest of us kept going, though at one point everyone got out just to cool off a bit, though it wasn’t a cooker. Pretty informal. The candle stayed lit for the entire ceremony, and the end was just as relaxed as the rest of it; nothing fancy or special done, just everyone got out and we blew out the candle.

I’m boiling some water to do the dishes. It’s Sunday morning, and Greg just came back from the estacionamiento, or parking lot, where we’ve ensconsed Little Jumbo. The holidays finally convinced us to put her in a lot instead of leave her parked overnight on the street. Osbelia says Day of the Dead brings in thieves from out of town. Not only did Timothy’s pickpocketing incident unnerve us, but someone’s been leaving women’s clothing in the backseat.

Oh, yes, the pickpocketing incident. Timothy had planned on spending Day of the Dead back up in San Sebastian in order to get a more traditional take on the holiday than the very public, very tourist-oriented version in Oaxaca. He’d planned to take the bus out to Miahuatlan and then on up to Marcos’s place, but as he was getting on the second-class bus at the Abastos, he got pickpocketed! He thinks it was the driver’s assistant. He had his wallet in his front pocket, and his bags strapped across his chest, but as he and others were getting on the bus there was a big push from behind, and rather than fall onto the steps or into the person in front of him, he reached out to grab the rail. And that’s when he felt a hand pluck his wallet out of his pocket. They made off with his money and credit cards, now cancelled; fortunately Timothy’s passport and plane ticket were with most of his stuff back at our place. But anyway, he was bummed and not really looking forward to any more second-class bus rides, so he stayed and hung out with us.

When Marlys was over the other day we got another dose of building gossip: our handyman Carlos, Miguel’s nephew, threw in the towel and left over the crummy pay – I wish we’d been able to clear the air first – and Miguel’s mother, who owns the building, has to pay her son rent!

Water’s almost ready. I’m writing this one at home instead of at the keyboard at the Internet café. Not that typing this on the clock would break the bank, but there’re a lot of people in town now and the café’s been crowded.

Right now I’m listening to “Sonora Santanera: 25 Grandes Exitos,” a cd Oscar bought for us in Tlacolula’s market. He and Claire are in Mexico City now for Day of the Dead, and they’re heading to Morelia after that. Yep, they moved away. At first they were going to go to Cancun, but after hearing everyone say, Why are you going there? they decided to give the mountains a try. Marlys told us what she’ll say to Oscar if she sees him again – he left without saying goodbye to her – and while I didn’t catch all the bad words, I understood her pantomimed slap across the face.

Anyway, after school yesterday we drove Timothy out to Teotitlan Del Valle. He’s thinking to do an article around Day of the Dead celebrations – who hasn’t? – but as we had seen the scene at Xoxo the three of us for varying but similar reasons wanted to see a more typical celebration. We didn’t have enough time or inclination to drive to San Sebastian, so we took him out to Teotitlan to see Zachirias, the guy he met out there that does temescal ceremonies.

It rained again yesterday, so the mountains and fields shone with that lovely, post-rainstorm glow from the afternoon sun, making it a beautiful drive. We pulled up to Zachirias’s, and found him there with his wife whose name I can almost remember, one of his sons, and a visiting relative. Zachirias doesn’t speak English, but his son Antonio does (along with some French and Italian to round out his Spanish). Zachirias’s wife speaks Spanish and Zapoteca, and I think I only heard the elderly relative speaking Zapoteca, which is what Antonio said they all spoke at home. And since Spanish is a second language for them, they spoke it slowly enough, and without a lot of idioms, so that I found it fairly easy to follow.

Antonio showed us the altar along one wall of the big room we were in, about 15 feet across, and very heavy on the catholic symbology, what with big prints of the BVM of Guadalupe, Jesus on the cross, and a saint whose iconography I didn’t recognize. And tons of flowers and dead bread and mescal and fruit and candles. It was quite pretty, set against the white-walled and blue-ceilinged room. Antonio explained that their custom (and by that I believe he meant valley Zapotecs, not just Teotitlan) during the holiday, the male head of a household must visit his father’s house, his father-in-law’s house, and his godfather’s house, but since Antonio was still living at home he only had to visit his godfather’s house. He also explained that because All Saint’s Day fell on a Sunday this year, the spirits of the deceased, which usually go back to the graveyard on All Saint’s Day, had to wait until Monday because they don’t travel (or maybe it’s that they can’t go into the graveyard on a Sunday? again, I’m not sure), making it a three-day holiday this year.

Zachirias then invited us to sit down and have a drink, so we sat at a big table while Antonio fetched a bottle of mescal off the altar and Mrs. Zachirias brought in a little silver tray with shotglasses. Zachirias poured us each a shot of mescal, and explained that the bits of fruit floating in it were apples from the mountains – from Benito Juarez, I asked, and they said yes, and were pleased that we’d been there – and that the mescal, though in a commercial mescal distiller’s bottle, was home-brew from Matatlan, the center of mescal brewing in Mexico. It sure was good. As we drank (after the mescal he brought out some Corona beer) he and Antonio told us stories about Teotitlan, including one about a Robin Hood-type guy back in 1600 who would steal money from government agents, hand it out or bury it around the village, and was impervious to bullets. But, this guy was apparently also a ladies man and, without a Maid Marian, played the field until one day he pissed off the wrong woman, who told authorities that the man’s heart wasn’t in his chest, but in his foot. She told them where to find him, and when the g-men did they shot him in the foot and killed him.

And Zachirias told us a story about a man his father knew, who made a bargain with an otherworldy race called the gentiles, who lived under the hills and had fabulous wealth. It was a story about this man, who was very skilled in finding lost livestock that had wandered into the mountains. One day, a man who had agreed to work for the gentiles took this other man into the otherworld through a crack in a rock, and while he was down there, the agent of the gentiles told him, if you become scared at the things they ask you to do, you’ll never get back to the village. And then they asked him to ride a bull – no big deal to this man, except that instead of a rope to hold onto, it was a snake, and another snake tying his feet underneath the bull. But he got on, and as the bull jumped and spun around, the man didn’t see anything, but when the bull paused, the bull rider would see different parts around the Teotitlan valley, until finally the bull was back where they had started. He got off and, because he’d proved he was brave, the agent let him go. And then there was an epilog where the man got some money, but I’m not too clear on what happened there.

After I mentioned that we’d been to Benito Juarez, Antonio said that even though they’re Zapotecs, they can’t understand their language. The people in Teotitlan can understand, albeit with regional accents, the people in Matatlan, Oaxaca, Mitla, Ocotlan – basically, the Zapotecs living in the Oaxaca Valley – but not the people only a couple of miles away up the mountain. When Greg took Timothy to Monte Alban on Thursday they came back with some really nice magazines, Arqueologia, on different subjects. The one on Oaxaca has really nice photos of people in typical traje from different villages around the state, and a map showing the different cultural groups. It divides Zapotecs into Valley, Sierra (like the people in Benito Juarez), Southern, and Isthmus, twenty-one groups in all.

Zachirias invited us to stay the night, but as I was both unprepared with contact paraphernalia and wanting to spend some time with our family altar, Greg and I declined, but we left Timothy there; we’re going back this afternoon to scoop him up and have lunch with Zachirias and his family, and maybe see the graveyard, too. Should be exciting.

Now, what about the graveyard we did see, the one in Xoxocotlan? Timothy took pictures with his ultra-groovy digital camera, so I’ll try to get pictures from him to post. How to describe this? Most cemetery action takes place on Day of the Dead, Nov. 1, but in Xoxo they have their big to-do on Halloween. It’s so popular now, with foreign and domestic tourists, that they have a big estacionamiento set up to handle the traffic, and tour buses from Oaxaca. We met my student Victor at his house, and joined his wife, another student and her family, and about ten Michiganers in town for a student exchange program (one of whom is staying at Victor’s), piled into the cars, and drove out to the cemetery. We got there a little before 10pm. In front of the cemetery gates was a stage and chairs, and a string band playing music. Beyond that were 20 or more food booths set up and doing a brisk trade. There were a lot of people streaming in to the cemetery. We made plans to meet up again at 11:30, and at first I was thinking, how are we going to kill an hour and a half in a cemetery, but we ended up rushing back to be on time. The cemetery was fairly big, and it was teeming with people sitting up with their dead around graves decorated with cempasuchiles, alcatrazes (calla lilies), and coronas del gallos (Antonio told me the name of the big, fuzzy magenta flowers everybody has on their altars.) plus candles, banners, sand paintings, all manner of Halloween decorations, and fireworks. I guess dead people like fireworks, too. Some graves had maybe a dozen flowers and a candle or two, while others were so brightly lit it was like being at a night game. And nobody seemed to have a problem with photographers – some of the more elaborate graves practically invited photography. So while Timothy snapped away we wandered around and took it all in: the graves, the celebrants (some sad, some in a party mood), the smell of burning copal, the cotton candy hawkers, the hordes of small children running up to every gringo they saw and shouting “Halloween!” and holding out a small plastic jack o’lantern, and the older kids in Halloween costumes. Surreal is the most accurate description I can think of.

And before we knew it, it was time to meet back up with the group. The three of us grabbed an exquisite hotcake apiece at one of the food stalls, then waited over by the stage for everyone to show up.