Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dia del Nino and My Rant Against Trazzler

It's strange circumstances, to be sure, but it's Day of the Child in Mexico. We remembered at around noon, so we went off to Chedraui supermarket to buy a cake and celebrate.

So, it might be the cake talking, but I'm in a bad mood. This freaking Trazzler travel website that I hate deeply keeps sending me newsletters and there is no way to unsubscribe. They say you can unsubscribe, but I just get in an endless loop of complaints that won't be registered without my email, which they say is not registered. Then how am I getting this useless, annoying newsletter in the first place?

I originally thought I'd apply to write for Trazzler which, upon reading the fine print, looked like a terrible idea. Very scammy. I read on their forums that some users are beginning to think Trazzler is a scam, too. If not a scam, then Trazzler is at least unethical and annoying, with no contact email addresses and a help forum that won't let me publish my query. With Trazzler, I am like those suckers who got lifetime magazine subscriptions through AOL and could never cancel them, doomed to pay for bad magazines for an eternity. I am Sisyphus pushing that heavy rock of Trazzler spam emails up the hill.

Boo Trazzler!
Trazzler, I do not like you.
Trazzler, I agree with those on the forums who beg to be set free from your spam.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Neighborhood and Swine Flu

It's day two of the quarantine or whatever you want to call it. I've had a lot of people writing me, asking what it's like to be in the belly of the beast, though, really, we're more in the knee, somewhat below all the action.

I'll begin by saying we live outside the immediate town center, about a mile or so to the northeast. Here, it's been quiet. A little too quiet. There are far fewer gas trucks blaring their "Oaxaca" song and dragging chains behind them. The old vocho that chugs around with a megaphone on top, announcing "Tortillas! Tortillas!" has not been making its circuit. No such luck with the orange truck, though, Steve's nemesis, that has a tape reeling over and over about fresh oranges from Veracruz, juicy and sweet, fresh for your juice, for your kitchen, from Veracruz. Hardly a nieve ice cream pushcart, announced by a honking horn.

The real absence, though, is the children because, no matter what block I'm on in Oaxaca, from the busiest highway to a random dirt road, there's kids running, backpacks slapping their backs, mommies carrying impossibly big babies (rare to see a stroller or even a baby pack) and the constant laughing, shouting and crying that goes along with all of it.

So I was surprised to find our Tuesday street market on in my neighborhood, full of vendors, but very few customers. The customers that were there were not crowding the prepared food booths as much, but there was still quite a bit of trying on shoes and examining designer knockoff purses. Some vendors and customers wore blue or white face masks, but most did not.

As I walked from here to the west side of the town center yesterday afternoon, about a 45 minute walk, I noticed that, as I approached the tourist part of town, more businesses were open.

I passed the ADO first class bus station and saw a mobile vehicle parked at the doorway, stocked with medical equipment and staffed by people wearing face masks. There was a small satellite dish atop the vehicle, generating, I believe, a wireless signal, because the medical staff had laptops. People were standing at the tables and gathering pamphlets and flyers. Just a few feet away, inside the bus station, the tourist information kiosk was open for business.

There was a big book fair on in Llano Park, with probably five times as many vendors as customers, but that could have been the hour. On a tree was nailed a forlorn paper sign: zumba class was canceled. To think that the only person who bothered to notify people of a closure was the teacher of the outdoor zumba class. Here, too, there was a mobile health vehicle.

I cut through Conzatti Park, where there were no teenagers making out, a major shift in the park demographic. From there, I walked on the outer edge of the grounds of the Santo Domingo cathedral, past the open doors of the Oaxaca Spanish Magic language school. I peered through their courtyard and spied two people semi-dozing on patio chairs--not magic, but not an infernal hell of a pandemic, either.

I arrived at La Biznaga restaurant, where I was meeting friends. The staff all wore face masks. There was only two tables occupied, but one was filled with young Mexican hipsters, drinking cocktails. Only one had a face mask, loosely hanging around his neck.

By the time we left La Biznaga, a couple hours later, the quietness was more noticeable. By 7pm or 8pm, Oaxaca usually wakes up. Stores reopen after siesta, restaurants start filling up, bars open their doors. None of that was happening. It started to feel like...Portland, Oregon, after 9pm, not a late-night kind of town for the most part.

Today was equally mellow, though we snuck out to the park and found a couple kids on swings and two teenagers, skateboarding while wearing face masks. It was so laid-back around here that I was honestly surprised when I found out the WHO raised the alert level to phase 5.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What to do when there's nothing you can do

Bizarre times, these days, with Mexico closing down all the schools until May 6th due to swine flu. We are nowhere near the major outbreaks, though my friend told me Oaxaca has its one and only case over two weeks ago, in which the person died at the hospital and they shut the whole hospital down. But, since then, nothing that I know of.

Not only are we to keep the kids out of school (and they've only been back one week since their two-week spring break), but we cannot go to the usual kid energy-guzzling places I adore, such as bouncy castle heaven Poing Poing, TerraLandia (Gymboree-ish, but with more challenging stuff), Cinepolis for first run movies, Pochote for old movies, toy stores, the children's library, the English library, Las Brisas swim park, the Hacienda de Santa Marta buffet and play area, the children's area of the Stamp Museum and of the Textile Museum--it has made me realize how many kids' places I'd racked up in my mental itinerary of things to do.

So, I'm digging out the old camp and day care memories, channeling Jenny who was so good of making fun out of thin air plus, sometimes, a little bit of stuff. We started this afternoon by making homemade limeade and squeezing limes, sampling the results in shot glasses and painted gourds.

Tomorrow, I think, will be fort day, with blankets and pillows and stuffed animals camping with us. Perhaps a picnic lunch on the rooftop.

There will be days lazing by the kiddie pool on our terrace and evenings around the warm, cozy DVD player. I've already looked up how to make playdough (if I can just find "crema de tartar" at the market). Perhaps some flashlight games. Build a puppet theater or, my lazy way, a finger puppet theater. Maybe it's time to sketch out a mural for the garage wall. We could plant a garden or at least get rid of dead plants and replace them with some tough cacti. And isn't it time to go through all of the old toys and clothes and make up boxes for donation?

Somewhere, in there, I will get some work done, as well as attempting to apply for a couple gigs to heal the wound of my killed story.

So, it sounds doable here, in blog land, but that doesn't account for the mess and the cranky, the bedtime fight and the homework that is still supposed to get done. Not to mention Geni's long-standing proclivity for flooding rooms. If I can make it through this week without screaming at them (you know, a bark or two is totally acceptable in my book), well, then, that would be startling. Let me make that my benchmark: no screaming. I'll check in and let you know how it's going.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What happens to a story killed?

Does it dry up
like a Lindsay Lohan in rehab?

Really, it's just sagging like a heavy load right now. And the story just sits there, killed.

I should figure out the way to negate this having happened, like send out 10 pitches and apply for 10 gigs next week.

But, right now, a bad movie on cable will do the trick.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From Strep to Pinotepa in Three Days

Watching Geni's little throat minute by minute, wondering if the little white dots coating it will be moidered by antibiotics in time for her to strut the streets of Oaxaca tomorrow.

Because the time has come for another calenda, little Geni dressed in the Pinotepa costume of a flowered blouse and flouncy skirt, parading with the 20-some preschools selected from throughout the city. It's firecrackers and showers of candy, cloth-covered globes and cellophane colored lanterns, banners and a live band, the streets closed so tiny children can announce the annual preschool indigenous dance festival, known as Guelaguetza Infantil.

And, if I weren't so tired, maybe I'd be prouder, but Geni sick is not a pleasant person during the nighttime. The only thing that chilled her out was watching YouTube videos of Dana Carvey singing "Chopping Broccoli".

The upside of all the chaos and the sleep deprivation: we found a great pediatrician, perhaps the best ever. I'd write her name if I remembered it. Beatriz Sumero is 50 percent of her name. She's on Murgia street, I believe, half a block to the west of the Alcala. She interviewed me and talked to Geni and slowly, slowly built up Geni's confidence so she could do a thorough checkup. Geni was happy, I was elated. I mean, I didn't have an appointment, and she snuck me in first, ahead of when her 5pm appointment showed (she's only open 5-8pm). No insurance, no problem, the cost out of pocket was 300 pesos, or about 25 bucks and she spent half an hour with us.

She even said my favorite words a doctor can utter: "I hate to prescribe antibiotics". Good things. But, of course, with strep throat we needed to bring in the antibiotics, so let's just get this kicking in so that my Geni can perform at the Guelaguetza. Maybe I have the makings of a stage mother...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Las Oaxaquenas

I had breakfast with my Oaxaquena posse this morning and I again was struck with what luck I have had making friends in a foreign country, speaking in a foreign language. To be sure, there are huge gaps in my understanding that seem to arise more from cultural differences than linguistic differences, like the look of shock Flor gave me when I treated for her breakfast as a belated gift. Al norte, it would be so easy to insist, "I'm treating!", but here it felt like I had done something terribly strange.

The strangeness aside, though, my friends always shock me with some little bit of information, an insight into their version of contemporary Oaxacan culture, that makes me appreciate them so. For example, they often complain about machismo or women not being able to stand up for themselves in certain situations, and it just goes against this stereotype of the more traditional Mexican woman. They rehearse strategies for speaking with their husbands about touchy subjects, and we all argue about approaches and commiserate.

I walked home feeling elated that they would welcome me and trust me so, but I might also have been fueled by the two cups of coffee I drank, not a typical ritual for me (but necessary because La Geni spent midnight to early morning grumpy with a slight fever and I awoke thinking I could not bear to socialize in Spanish for three hours).

What Oaxaca and just expatriation does to people is of an eternal fascination to me, because I am only starting to understand the magnitude of our decision to sell everything we own and live in Mexico. For me, it was a test sort of, a wondering, if I could really live somewhere foreign and feel like it was home, especially in regard to forging new friendships, something which rarely comes easy to me. It's never smooth but, in some ways, foreign friendships can be more freeing, because you have to let go of so much of your worries and your past, unless you have the time and the grammar to adequately express it all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Well, the Semana Santa silent processional with crucified Jesus no sooner cleared town than we had an alebrije and a black pottery festival in the appropriate villages. Having gotten a chunk of freelance work, I finally bought some bigger pieces of artesania, like a hand-painted alebrije-style chair for Genevieve and an intricate necklace of black pottery beads wrapped in silver wire.

Next up was the festival of the Tercera Raiz, a festival of the culture of black Oaxacans. There was live dance and music in the public plazas, including a band with percussion played on the giant jawbone of a horse or a cow.

After the spring break crush of tourists cleared out, I thought the hype might die down a bit, but then I got word of the CuentaCuentos festival, a series of storytelling events around the centro. I took Max to the stately library building with its massive courtyard and creeping vine giant plants and we heard stories by Peruvian and Brazilian storytellers. I was excited because of my sister Jenny's illustrious career as a folklorist, performance artist, storyteller and front porch gossiper, but I also worried that Max might feel too old for the scene which was full of little ones.

I needn't have worried. The performers unrolled these beautiful story quilts and, lo and behold, they were three-dimensional, with pockets and puffy parts hiding and holding props, figures and all sorts of surprises. Max was entranced and we stayed until the end. I imagined Jenny sitting with us, taking mental notes, because she would want to discuss every little thing later on the living room couch. Which is where I sit now, having the conversation with my blog, hoping that at least one little detail of the evening I experienced would resonate with her.

Coming soon are the Humanitas Festival, celebrating the cultures of the Mixteca, Puebla and...Spain?...and the Guelaguetza Infantil children's folk dance festival, in which Genevieve and her classmates from Colegio Teizcali are supposed to participate but Geni may choose instead to burst into tears or stand like a deer in the headlights.

And, if you're in town, do not forget Steve's annual mole enchilada party this Sunday at 3pm, a great new Oaxacan tradition.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Your Year-Round Film Festival

I'm reading the book Julie & Julia which, upon my Googling the title, has come to my attention that it was also made into a movie. So I feel a little unoriginal reading it now, with it being made by Nora Ephron and Julia Roberts being in it but I can be excused because I really have not gone to movies much since having children. Sometimes I fantasize a life of going to a different movie every night, like my dad does (happily taking advantage of his senior discount).

The movies I see now tend toward the animated variety which, in some cases, is all right, as in the case of the surprisingly semi-feminist "Monsters vs. Aliens" which kicks Disney's ass in the possibilities for skinny pretty girls department. Sometimes the movies are not quite so great, like "The Other Egg Movie and a Chicken" a made-in-Mexico "children's" movie that makes much of the fact that egg is also used as a metaphor for private parts. Ah, the double entendre. These are the films of Cinepolis, Oaxaca's version of the mall multiplex, complete with overpriced popcorn and surprisingly good Nutella crepes.

Other movie possibilities are at Pochote cinema, the free art theater under the aqueducts that I love so dearly. Not all films are that comprehensible to me there, but the experience is beautiful. Pochote figures into my "someday a nightly movie" fantasy.

There's cable, too, which we got for the first time in our lives. Cable seems to favor all of these violent action films I've never heard of that always have either a guy shooting someone or a woman about to be attacked. Not my favorite themes.

And then there's la pirata. Ah, the bootleg DVDs, it's a big, big deal down here. People set up stands full of them, and there's a whole routine for buying them. You have the vendor bring up the DVD menu on a little TV or player in the booth. You go through the menu and a couple scenes to make sure the quality is OK and, if it's important, that there is an English option. Very recent movies follow the joke on "Seinfeld", having been filmed directly in the theater, with people passing by the screen, audience laughter, popcorn spilling, the whole enchilada.

Imagine my delight last week when we happened upon reels upon reels of classic "Batman" episodes from the '70s. But, as often happens when we try to actually buy things in Mexico, no one could figure out what the price should be. They finally guessed at a price and it was far too high for our meager budget, so we passed. Little did I know Max would then spot "The Egg Movie" part one, without the chicken, and forced us to buy that for him.

Someday, a movie every night, and no eggs as stars.