Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Reflections on Being in Oaxaca

"Let me sit here, on the threshold of two worlds. Lost in the eloquence of silence."
          ~ Rumi

Does it seem an odd way to begin speaking, to allude to the eloquence of silence?  It feels right to me, because there is so much that cannot easily be said. Not only that, but the experience of travel, whether it is down the street or into another country, contains a great deal of what Rumi illuminates--sitting on the threshold of two worlds-- lost in the eloquence of silence. Beneath and within the outer movement, the poetry of the subconscious mind, the spiritual dimensions of being, the dancing world of the imagination are all at play.

The simple facts are: I arrived in Oaxaca on December 1st after spending five days in Cholula and Puebla, which are southwest of Mexico City. Here, I was happy to settle into a small, clean and pretty studio apartment in Al Sol, located in the southern part of town. There is a mercado a few blocks away for vegetables and fruits, empanadas and juice,  and it is an easy walk to the zocalo and the northern part of town.

Costumed women prepare to dance outside of Santo Domingo Church
In 5 days, I will be moving to the northern part of town, because I could not book an entire month here at Al Sol. I'll be staying with a family there. As it turns out, that is my favorite part of the city, so I am looking forward to living there for a couple of weeks.

Oaxaca is about the same size as Guanajuato, but it has quite a different feel to it. It is much more culturally active and politics here are far more radical.  As everyone will tell you, the zocalo, where many cultural events usually take place, has been occupied for months by a teachers' strike and by those protesting the murder of 43 students here. Many seem to mourn the loss of the public gathering space there and frown upon the increasing graffiti to be found on the walls of ancient churches and public buildings, all calling for justice and change.

In the plaza of a cultural center

In this part of Mexico indigenous peoples such as the Zapotec and Mixtec form an important part of the culture. I am still naive about Mexico, its history and its peoples, so I will make no attempt whatsoever to make any comments on indigenous culture here at this point. 

I loved being in Guanajuato, which is slower and more relaxed than Oaxaca and the most courteous city I have visited thus far. In Guanajuato, drivers seldom honk their horns. They give way in a relaxed fashion to other drivers. It's more like Hawaiian style driving.

Here in Oaxaca, drivers honk and drive in a rather haphazard and aggressive fashion, a bit like New York City drivers unleashed, if you can imagine that.

Tio  Guero, a colorful small restaturant

Oaxaca is still in the altiplano, or highlands, of Mexico, sitting at 5,000 feet elevation, with mountains surrounding.

In these photos, I'll share a little of what I have experienced here.

Ruins at Monte Alban

I was fortunate to visit the archeological site of Monte Alban with Joanne and Richard Moeschl, who lived in Ashland for many years and now dwell in a small village near Oaxaca. Richard is an intellectually curious and widely read person, and his comments and conjectures about the place added a lot to my appreciation of it.


According to UNESCO, "Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte Albán were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography.

The grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began."

Again from UNESCO: "Among some 200 pre-Hispanic archaeological sites inventoried in the valley of Oaxaca, the Monte Alban complex best represents the singular evolution of a region inhabited by a succession of peoples: the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs."

A place suffused with the resonance of the past, a place that leaves me at a loss for words "lost in the eloquence of silence" as Rumi says.

The Museum at Santo Domingo

The cathedral of Santo Domingo is a central place in the life of Oaxaca. In the spacious plaza in front of the church, many dances and other cultural events take place. Right next to the cathedral is a large edifice whose construction began in 1570. Once a monastery, it is now a museum. Just as Monte Alban resonates with the culture that once inhabited it, so does the monastery/museum. It is one of my favorite places here. It feels familiar, as if I lived here before now.

I went there twice last week once to look at its exhibits and again to attend a marvelous Debussy concert given by two highly accomplished pianists--offered at no charge, as are many artistic and cultural events and places here.

I will no doubt return again to that place, an architecture so similar to one I have experienced in recurring dreams. In those dreams,  I devoted myself to the rites of alchemy in a spacious high-ceilinged stone room with tall windows, from which I could see the moon's passage across the sky.
From the second floor of the monastery/museum, one can see the Ethnobotanical Garden next door, which is filled with the important plants native to this region.

 San Pablo Etla

Richard and Joanne Moeschl kindly invited me to visit their country home. After our time at Monte Alban, we went to San Pedro Etla, where they have happily settled with their four dogs, convivial neighbors and beautiful countryside.

They have fortunate house karma. Their dwelling is very lovely and comfortable.

Here is Joanne out on a short walk with the oldest dog, who cannot go far these days.

The Village of Teotitlan

My friend Mitzi Linn, who has been coming to Oaxaca for many years, has introduced me to several people and places here. Teotitlan is one of those places. It is famous as a village of weavers. These waxed flowers adorn the town church.

I went with a group of women who are involved with the microfinance project En Via.  En Via benefits about 250 women in the villages around Oaxaca.

According to its website, "En Via was born from the idea of combining microfinance with tourism to provide small, interest-free loans to women living in poverty"

"Through the combination of tourism and microfinance, we are able to provide women with access to affordable, comprehensive, and valuable financial products ... One of the main issues we address through our program is the lack of access to fair credit. Interest rates on microloans in Mexico are some of the highest worldwide, averaging at 70% and reaching 150% or more. Such rates make it nearly impossible for working people to borrow money to improve their businesses and lives. Our interest-free loans, generated through proceeds from our microfinance tours, offer a tangible and far more viable option for those wishing to better their businesses and thus provide hope for a better future."

I found out about En Via from Mica Miro, my dear friend Carolyn's daughter, who volunteers there. Mica invited me to join their group to visit Teotitlan. The day we visited--which was only yesterday, was the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

We walked around the village and looked at the work of some of the weavers, which I will share in another post. Hope you will be patient with me on this one, because I am not skilled enough to add any more photos into this post at this point.

This old woman was part of a family of weavers we visited. Her daughter is part of the En Via program. We stopped for tea in a garden behind their shop. After that we went to the plaza in front of the church to watch the costumed dancers do an afternoon performance/rehearsal of the Dances of the Plumed Serpent, whose main performance would take place that evening. 

Some Friends on the Journey

I have been fortunate here to spend some time with Mica Miro, the daughter of my longtime friend Carolyn Myers. I have known Mica since she was a baby but I have never really hung out with her as an adult. It has been a lot of fun to experience the kind of woman she has become and to be with each other here. A real treat.
This is Eshkie and Jerry, who live in Eugene, Oregon most of the time. They have been coming to Oaxaca for about 10 years and know a lot about it.

We get together to share a meal or take a walk to places of interest around Oaxaca. They are both very sympatico.

Again, thanks to my Oaxaca angel Mitzi Linn, who connected me with them.

This is Richard and Joanne Moeschl at the restaurant in the museum at Monte Alban.

I feel fortunate to get to know them better. They are both great people.

Here's a picture of Mica and I from a day when we had breakfast together.

I have gotten a haircut since then. Not being able to speak Spanish is problematical, and especially so when one wants a haircut. The stylist (the first one I came to the day I felt desperate for a hair cut) cut my hair quite short, and I watched as all the artful styling of my usual stylist Linda Dyer disappeared.

Oh, it looks okay. I do have some hair on my head after all. One must surrender sometimes, or often. It will be excellent to learn more Spanish before the next hair cut-- and to understand what people are saying to me, too, on many different topics.

But I did go to the mercado this morning and was successful in obtaining some vegetables, fruit and cheese.  Today I have nothing scheduled with anyone other than myself. This feels like a good thing right now. I want a bit of down time after my trips to San Pablo Etla and Teotitlan.

There are a lot of older people traveling here in Oaxaca, many of them by themselves. I think I will apply myself to interviewing some of them and reporting on what they have to say about elder travel in Mexico. Hasta luego--que te vaya bien!

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