Friday, December 31, 2010

On the brink of a new year

I really love making New Year's resolutions, and I wonder why that is. Perhaps because I'm rule-oriented? Anyway, I cheat a little, rarely making a resolution to do something I haven't already been doing. Here's some random resolutions, then, for 2011:

Bake bread.
Wear better shirts.
Hike more.
Pitch stories.
Write a good zine that doesn't sound slick and commercial.
The subjunctive.
Watch movies.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Imperfect Tense

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

I quoted this Leonard Cohen song recently, on my Facebook page, and it has stuck with me. I think it captures the essence of Oaxaca, a place so messy and imperfect, filled with music and, well, with cracks in everything. And the light gets in.

I'm wanting to stretch out my hand for Jenny to hold as I watch the river fade to a creek in Huayapam, as I see the new graffiti damning URO and PRI spring up on walls in the centro, as I watch my children run through the parks and the streets of the place they call home.

I feel regretful for not having made a more cohesive tribute to Jenny in these nearly seven years since she died. I wanted there to be this great epiphany, this moment where her stories and folklore and humor and art came together and told me what to do with all of it. But maybe I need to let go of the perfect offering and be thankful for the bits of light, the flashes of memory I've had recently...

Whenever we had an extra seat in our row on an airplane, we'd call it the garage and throw tons of stuff in there.

Jenny valued sleeping in a hammock more than almost anything.

Brandy reminded me that Jenny tracked her tiramisu samplings at various restaurants.

She bequeathed her leather motorcycle jacket to Max. It's hanging in my closet.

She was always torn between going back to the places she loved and visiting new places.

She kept lists.

We ran on the giant sand dunes, and watched the breeze change their patterns.

Whenever I did crunches, she got on the floor, as close as possible to me, to do crunches, too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


I've just read a story over at the ExpatWomen website about the family lunch tradition in Brazil, and it has inspired me to reflect on the Oaxacan comida.

The word "comida" can mean just a meal, but it can also mean THE meal, the big kahuna. In Oaxaca, I've found most people follow the traditional schedule of having comida at 3pm or so, when the children get home from school. People take off work, or bring their kids to the workplace, and start the process of cooking several items. There's usually corn tortillas, maybe a broth-based soup with veggies or lentils, whole beans or bean paste, some type of main dish like tasajo or mole enchiladas, and an auga, or a fruit water.

But comida means more than just the food. The whole cultural concept of having the main meal closer to midday than in the evening reshapes the day. Most people in the family find time to hang together and it can be loose, with kids running around, friends, neighbors, maybe a modicum of homework getting done. Rather than the standard lunch half hour or hour I saw in my variety of jobs (though I was often the "eat quickly at the desk" type so I could leave earlier, when possible), comida goes on. People read the paper, practice instruments, make out in the park, whatever, but it seems to go on for a good couple hours. Maybe in my old days in Oaxaca, 15 years ago, this was called siesta, and shops closed. Now some shops stay open, but people may have their kids on their laps and be dining in the middle of the shop.

This major comida time also creates what we call comida rush hour. Everyone picks up and leaves at 2pm or so to collect children, get food, start cooking, or whatnot, and it can be more jammed than the morning or evening traffic. What it also creates, however, is what my family calls "the golden window." The golden window is a space of time, usually between 3 and 4pm, in which you can zip through town, go grocery shopping, pay bills, and not encounter many other people, except those slowly dining at comedors, puestos, and restaurants.

When people visit me in Oaxaca, I sometimes try to hold them off from eating lunch. It's very hard, 1pm hits and they don't want to keep looking at folk art or snapping pictures of graffiti. They don't understand that if they can just wait one more hour, the eateries around them will transform. Waiters pull out sandwich boards listing the comida of the day. It's a fixed price menu, featuring everything from agua, salad, soup, main dish, tortillas and sometimes dessert, and it usually costs under four bucks, maybe five or six if you want to go gourmet. And it's almost always wonderful. Steve and I scored a comida at Maria Bonita last week (it's our date "night" at 3pm)that included tostadas and bread, green salad with avocado, vegetables in shrimp broth, pan-fried fish, orangeade and fruit in honey for dessert, for 60 pesos.

The final aspect about comida that I find quite profound is that, due to its early hour compared to the United States version of dinner, people go out again. Sure, many have to return to work or second jobs or puestos they have set up in their garages. But just as many head out for the parks with their kids, or to walk around, or to slowly shop, filling vinyl market bags with fruits, veg, tamales. The city opens up, for this second afternoon shift, just as my al norte compatriots are getting stuck in rush hour traffic.

Of course, the question always arises, when my visitors try to wrap their minds and stomachs around this schedule: If you eat your main meal at 3pm, don't you get hungry later? The answer: Of course! When am I not hungry? Then it's time to roll out the cena, or dinner, which is a lighter affair, though my son, Max, hasn't gotten wind of this concept. For kids, every meal is comida but, for me, comida is something special, that golden window of time, food, and family.