I Moved To Oaxaca

Saturday, December 06, 2003

After those extra, superfluous classes Friday, Greg and I went to the home of one of his students. Alberto had suggested coming over for a glass of wine since before the holidays, and Friday was the agreed-upon day, dragging asses or no. So off we went, bouquet of flowers in hand. Not surprisingly, almost all of our social events are tied to people we know from school. I guess the surprise is that they all aren’t. Alberto’s invitation was different in that we weren’t sure what “a glass of wine” means in Mexico. And when Alberto opened the door and we saw the set table, we were glad we kept our nicer work clothes on instead of changing into our usual grubby American attire.

Alberto, his wife Alma, a lady friend whose name we never did catch and since we couldn’t remember if it was “como se llama” or “como te llamas” we didn’t dare ask, and Alberto and Alma’s toddler Alberto Jr. were all very sweet and willing to chat in English or Spanish so we plunged right in. Dinner was a typical light Mexican dinner, pasta, cheese, and peanuts. And the promised wine. Alberto likes good wine, and made up for the thin wines we’d had at Manuel’s house (that was more of a beer bash anyway). The first bottle he brought out was a Rhone. The second was a Burgundy, rich and complex, very tasty. And no, Alberto doesn’t know why California wines don’t make it to Oaxaca, either.

I gave Greg The Eye just after 10 o’clock, and we made our excuses, thanked them for a fine evening, etc etc. The friend whose name we didn’t catch gave us a ride home. Nice people. I hope we catch a little more exposure to behind-the-doors Mexico.

Alberto and his family live south of the zocalo, in an area much-less frequented by tourists or gringos, who accumulate in the Centro and San Felipe neighborhoods. It’s a pretty quick change from the relatively ritzy “historical zone” to the “this is what it’s really like” zone. As we walked down Calle Bustamante we passed a pair of guys with a potato chip cart. Ooh! I haven’t seen one of these since El Grito. But we had a place to be and passed the cart by. However, Saturday night Greg and I went out strolling, trolling for eats, and we looked at each other and headed toward Bustamante. When we saw the cart the line was about eight or nine people long. We queued up and discussed what to get: papas a la francesa – French fries – or papas fritas chica, mediana, grande, o familiar. We decided on one French fries, one grande bag of potato chips, con todo. Which you should know by now means with salsa and lime juice, and a squirt of mayonnaise for the fries as well. We had to wait a minute while the fries cooked, and stood clustered around one end of the cart with two other families doing the same. We got some good-natured teasing about our accents, but people seemed pretty happy despite the frigid (for Oaxaca) air. Then I realized: oh, people are out doing their Christmas shopping. Duh. And I looked around and along with the papas cart and the taco carts were a fair number of carts selling Christmas lights, decorations, wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, ornaments, the works. And what I take to be a seasonal speciality: tacos and soup of smoked pig’s head. Later, when we went looking for a taco stand, we mostly saw stands with piles of chopped-up pig head pieces on display instead of the metal bubble-grill of the taco vendors.

So, the chips and fries were delicious, as you’d expect from chips and fries made right on the spot, one guy slicing and the other guy stirring them in his big kettle of hot oil. Delicious. We wandered around, ate our tacos, then headed home. Four meat tacos with cabbage, guacamole, and a lovely salsa verde, 16 pesos. One bolsa grande of papas fritas, 12 pesos. One styrofoam plate of fries, 13 pesos. So, what’s that? Dinner for two, 41 pesos. Eating dinner on a stoop surrounded by Christmas shoppers: priceless.


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