Friday, November 23, 2007

Los Arquitos

My new favorite neighborhood in Oaxaca is Los Arquitos, or The Archways. It is a colonia located beneath and behind the city's old aqueduct. All sorts of secrets hide beyond the archways, like the Friday and Saturday El Pochote organic market. Steve and I scored a couple lovely plates of fresh vegetarian enchiladas in mole sauce, for about four dollars.

There is also a free film series which, someday, I will attend.

Steve and I wound through several of the alleys in an attempt to find a house for sale. No such luck, but we did meet some friendly neighbors who admired Jenny's wild hair.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Looking for the Light

When things go wrong around here, it exhausts me. It's not just the language that gets in the way, but figuring out how things are done.

Last Sunday, turning on the coffee maker caused all the power in the house to go off. And stay off. We called our landlord's assistant and they immediately sent a maintenance man (on a moto) to check it out. On a Sunday afternoon. So I was feeling very fortunate for how things work in Mexico, with people available immediately on a Sunday afternoon.

The problem was, Juan Carlos couldn't fix it. He tried and tried, scaling the side of our house and teetering along the roof by the wires. He plugged and unplugged things. He removed fuses and changed them. He took apart the refrigerator. He called around and decided we needed a looked like a cable in a box. He asked if I could get one and I said I probably couldn't because, well, how could I? And what would I do with it if I got one, anyway?

So we tipped him and he returned the next day with the thing. But still it didn't work. We had half our lights and no refrigerator.

Four days later, all our food went bad and stinky and I felt a little desperate. In the darkness of the late afternoon, we accidentally locked ourselves out of our own bathroom and had no key. Max was doing homework outdoors, trying to catch the last rays of sun.

The mommies at Max's school, who I cherish and who love to advise and chide me (thank goodness), told me I would have to visit The Commission. Oh god, I didn't like the sound of that. It's the Electric Company, but Mexican government style, surrounded by guys with big guns.

Instead I called my landlord's staff again. They said to be patient. I went next door to the little store I love that is attached to our house. I shared my troubles with Julita, the proprietress, who said, "For the rent you're paying, you should get better service."

She gossiped about my difficulties to a neighbor, who took it upon herself to come over and instruct me in how to call The Commission. Which I did. The repairman came within an hour of the call. He backed his immense truck and crane into our driveway, trotted up to the wires, and had all our power on in five minutes. And just like the difficulty of having no electricity had loomed so large in my life for five days, having it fixed seemed nothing short of a miracle. Even though, all told, I had involved twelve people in my problem. Gossip--that's my kind of Google.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Dead Head

It's Dead season around here, and I'm lucky to have a 6-year-old son who can show me the ropes for some of the more key traditions. First: chocolate. Oaxaca is known for its chocolate factories, and they hit full hum around Muertos. The chocolate is other-wordly--perhaps that's why it's put on altars. At the factory, you can see the cinnamon, chile powders, nuts and such that they add to the various flavors. I also love to see the mole sauces, many made with unsweetened chocolate and ground pumpkin seeds.

We had a feast at Max's school. It was very challenging to stop myself from eating a mountain of tamales, pumpkin in cinnamon sauce, arroz con leche, homemade chocolates, and fresh tortillas in mole. All of this at an elementary school party; it really puts my old days of hot cheetos and Hawaiian punch to shame.

There was a calaveras poem contest where the children had to write about their dead selves. Although it sounds macabre, the children find this practice very entertaining. Max: Habia un calavera Maxito, quien fue bien chiquito. Tuvo un gatito que tambien fue calavercito.

Oaxaca is trying very hard to woo tourists back and had many extra frills for Muertos this time around. The zocalo was the stage for a series of altars, each representing different regions. And there was a giant sand tapete, essentially a brilliant painting done in sand, flowers, seeds, and glitter, depicting Frida Kahlo, in the grand Municipal Palace.

We made visits to a couple of cemetaries and set up an altar for Jenny. I made sure it has popcorn and Mayordomo chocolate. Max added an orange and marbles. The cemetaries were filled with families and flowers, orange and maroon, flickering candles, copal incense, little framed pictures of saints, and children drinking soda and running around the gravestones.

Riding the bus home last night, I thought about how I have happened upon one of the world's most beautiful places, at one of my favorite times. It's such good fortune that I sometimes feel as if I am rising out of my body, like I can't quite touch the ground. Jenny called it "living life like you're in a movie", and she was right.