Wednesday, June 30, 2004

10:07PM, internet cafe, oaxaca city

i'm sitting here this evening a bit bleary-eyed and certainly craving coffee. the past couple of days have been full. good and adventurous, but full and tiring. among our adventures: a mexican/oaxacan culinary class, a lot of artesania shopping (the incident with the zapotec woman didn't deter my shopping endeavors!), visiting local churches and art museums, and traveling to some craft villages just outside of town.

yesterday afternoon, after cooking class and its subsequent large lunch, callista and i decided to walk to the templo and ex-convento santo domingo. tour books refer to it as oaxaca city's "pride and joy" and other travelers we've encountered have also highly recommended it. they say that it's a beautiful church, with a gorgeous botanical garden and museum annex. apparently, construction of the church started in the middle of the 16th century, but was not completed until the 18th century.

we walk up the hill to the santo domingo complex in the late afternoon. the doors are open, but the sun is bright, casting shadows on the inside of the church from afar. as we approach, however, i can see flashes of gold at the altar. callista remarks that the facade of the church looks much like catholic churches she has seen in italy. she's right. the elaborate stone engraving seems european, but the stone figures of saints are shorter, with broad faces and wide hands and feet.

stepping into the church literally leaves me a bit breathless. the dark gold gleams not only from the altar, but at all four walls of the church as well as the ceiling. every inch of the walls and ceiling seem to be covered with gold encrusted religious paintings and figures. there are several sub-altars within the church where people light candles, kneel, and mumble prayers.

it is beautiful, but it is too beautiful.

as a catholic, part of me appreciates that the "religious" of these time periods wanted to create an amazing building to glorify God. a place where people could worship. another part of me feels overwhelmed at the richness of it all. it feels almost ostentatious. i think, with just part of the gold that was used as decor in santo domingo, the modern day church could take care of oaxaca's struggling and poor. i think, wouldn't that bring more glory to God?

i'm on my soapbox, i know. but i feel so much more comfortable as i enter the carmen alto church, just a few blocks north of santo domingo. built with high ceilings, this church is painted white with blue accents, a bit of gold at the altar and the same faithful murmuring prayers and lighting candles on either side of the church. though simple in comparison to santo domingo, it inspires reverence in its plainness.

Monday, June 28, 2004


10:57PM, same internet cafe, no coffee this time

for the past four years, i have been listening to people tell me what a wonderful city oaxaca is, how i would love the food (all, apparently chocolate based), the artesanias, how i would compulsively buy huipiles at the various artisan stands. well, today was my first day to prove it all true.

after a breakfast of oaxacan tamales and mexican hot chocolate in one of the markets, we decide to go the artisan market. i, of course, am in huipil heaven. there are dozens of varieties of huipiles here in beautiful colors, all significantly more affordable than in guadalajara or on the border. at the artisan market, i decided to buy one from a tiny older zapotec women who was a little hard of hearing. callista also bought a couple of things from her. all was well as we headed down another row of stands to look at more (what else?) huipiles, when the older woman appears and accuses us of taking our purchases without having purchased them.

you never gave me the 200 peso bill, she says to me in spanish.

knowing that i had indeed paid her, panic sets in as i say, uh... yes i did.

no you didn't.

and so forth.

a group of zapotec women begin to surround us as i search my purse for a 200 peso bill (which i know i no longer have) and she empties her pockets. i fear that the vendor women will turn against me to defend their own.

callista suggests that we go back to the stand to see if maybe the bill has dropped on the floor. a small crowd of women follow us as we search the floor, empty our bags, and there is no 200 peso bill. finally the little old woman checks on her back table and lo and behold. the 200 peso bill.

disculpen, disculpen, the women all tell me. it's that she's old and she forgets. it's that she's a little crazy. disculpen.

but my heart still feels like it's going to jump out of my chest. i'm embarrassed and feel a little worn out.

Sunday, June 27, 2004


10:14PM, internet cafe, oaxaca city, mexico lindo y querido

this is officially week three of traveling through mexico.

my first week, spent in nuevo vallarta with my family, was admittedly a blur of sitting underneath a palapa, watching the sky and sea change colors, and consuming large amounts of bottled water and banana daquiris, alternatively.

at the end of my time in vallarta, i was whisked away by my aunt and uncle to aguascalientes. the four and a half hour trip (shouldn't it have taken longer?) covered windy mountainous roads lined with big leaved tropical plants and trees, broad bright green spacious valleys dotted with mesquite trees, la tierra roja of Los Altos de Jalisco, the decidedly fluid lines of cars in guadalajara, weaving in and out of their lanes, diverging and converging in unexpected places, through toll both after toll both until we arrived home.

it had been eight years since i had spent any significant amount of time in aguas. during the week i found myself searching for feelings of familiarity, of belonging, but the city has changed so much. and so has my family for that matter. children have grown taller and have graduated from schools and have married and had adorable and otherwise children! (just kidding. they're all adorable, though at times a bit traviesos). a lot can and does happen in eight years. my overwhelming comfort is that family is binding. despite all the years that i've been gone, i'm still "yeni" to them, the one they patiently instructed in spanish words that would come to be my second language as wells and ideas and values and culture that would guide my direction in life.

i said another tearful good-bye to them at the airport yesterday and promised not to let another series of years pass without returning to them.

week three finds me in oaxaca with an old friend, callista. after a 6 hour bus ride from mexico city, we arrived a bit tired and a bit motion-sick to our hotel. we spent the evening meandering through the streets, poking our heads into artisan shops and perusing the vendor stands in the zocalo. we had traditional oaxacan fare for dinner at la casa de la abuela - chapulines as an appetizer and different kinds of mole as our main course. chapulines are crickets! callista insisted i try them, which i did. i can't say they're the best thing i've eaten, but at least i tried! we thought the mole dishes were much better, as did a bee, who continually tried to sample our dinners.

more adventures tomorrow...