Tag Archive for 'Dia de los Muertos'

Our first three weeks in Oaxaca

At the end of our third week in Oaxaca, we can say that we couldn’t have chosen a better city to stop in for a while. I’m sure we’ll pass through cities as beautiful and exciting in their own ways, but how do you top the historic downtown, the churches, the surrounding mountains, the friendliness, or the mole of this place? First of all, a plug for our language school, Amigos del Sol: this is the best language school. Our classes are tiny to the tune of two people per teacher (or less!). The teachers are flexible and care deeply about teaching the language. We looked at many schools here that seemed to be more interested in doing business than ensuring that people learn to speak Spanish. They all have nicer websites. But the fella who runs the school – Rogelio – is a true education nerd. (Takes one to know one.) Amigos is not in the centro with the others, but up on the northern hill of the city. Rogelio moved there after an awful strike that turned to some pretty serious violence in 2006. Whose strike was it, you ask? The public school teachers’. Yep, the kids didn’t have school for SIX MONTHS. Some of us are a little horrified. If you’d like a more in-depth rant, email Aran.

Our homestay is equally awesome. We are living with Paty and Mario are a Oaxaqueño couple who host because they love to travel and meet people. Mario works in a government job south of the city, and Paty, who doesn’t own measuring spoons, has a catering business out of her home. This means that the food we eat here is unfailingly delicious. We have eaten a lot of mole. Mole is a sauce made of about six hundred ingredients (yes, I’m exaggerating, but a real recipe may include as many as 75) including cocoa, nuts and seeds, chiles, etc. It is served with some kind of meat, usually chicken, and is rich and delicious. It is the traditional dish of holidays and celebrations here, and this week was Dia de los Muertos. Hence, lots of mole. Yum. We have gained a Mexican family much larger than just Paty and Mario. Paty’s daughter, Paty and granddaughter, Paty come every day of the week for comida (the giant meal in the middle of the day). They are delightful. We’ve also met around 30 members of Paty and Mario’s families.

Dia de los Muertos is bigger than Christmas here, we are told. It is far more vibrant and happy than you’d think a holiday to commemorate the dead would be. There were events (free concerts, lectures, exhibitions) all week, and their most traditional decorations involve a lot of individual creativity and work. They make “tapetes” (spanish for “rug”) out of heaps of brightly colored sand. We saw some incredible ones in the Plaza de la Danza outside of the school of arts, and also listened to children’s orchestra performance (really badly mic’d, really enthusiastically received.) Another tradition is to assemble an “altar” in your home, which is a table covered with brightly colored tissue paper and intricate paper cut-outs. People put out offerings of fruit (apples and tejocotes), sugar cane, photos, candles, mezcal (a regional drink similar to Tequila), and plates of mole. The smallest Paty invited us to her school to check out the tapetes and the altar that the kiddos had put together. Our favorite tradition to observe, though, was the incredible 3-day party in the graveyards. Everyone hangs out and decorates the graves of loved ones with orange and pink flowers, praying, eating meals, singing, and playing cards over the graves of the dead. This puts our Halloween to shame. Also, death is as funny and loveable as it is scary here. There was a GIGANTIC family meal at Paty and Mario’s house to which the entire extended family came. We added a touch of USA with Andrew’s pumpkin recipe, which was, in all modesty, the hit of the meal.

On a day that isn’t made of giant parties, we spend 4 hours in school. Our Spanish is coming along very nicely. Then, we often walk down the hill into the city’s center to visit things. The zócalo is a happenin’ place no matter what time of day or which day of the week you go. Mexicans love to be outdoors and hang out. Planned things or events are never necessary for a good old time.

This weekend we took a bus (yes, we would have ridden, but bike maintenance is long overdue, so that needs to happen first) to Monte Albán. This is an ancient Zapotec city on a hill south of Oaxaca. It is more intricate and mysterious-feeling than Teotihuacan near Mexico City, though it’s a lot smaller. There is an odd asymmetrical building that is extremely out of place among the very traditional symmetry of the rest of the city. Its purpose and asymmetry is a bit of a puzzle to archeologists, apparently. After our touristic venture and a quick dinner, we went to a Lila Downs concert at the new venue in the city. We had seats that were really far away, but through our binoculars – the only pair in the theater, we’re pretty sure – we could see clearly that Lila Downs, in addition to having the most gorgeous voice we’ve heard in Mexico, is one of the most beautiful and vibrant performers you could hope for. Sunday we lay low, did some laundry and changed some brake pads. At the request of our wonderful hosts, we also made some yummy brownies using chocolate Oaxaqueño, too. They were a hit just like the pumpkin pie.

In other news, Alex and Amanda’s baby girl arrived on Friday, and our niece is BEAUTIFUL. We are very excited for the three of them. Welcome, Emma Joyce! We loved you before you got here.