"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mexico Photos Part One (Shout Out to Rowan)

The trip home was almost interminable - we were up at 5 am two days in a row - but is it finally over. We arrived back at the farm around two o'clock this afternoon, to some very excited dogs and other animals. Everybody is fine and healthy.

Rowan did an amazing job taking care of the place and deserves some public props. For almost three solid weeks she was fully and solely responsible for feeding the horses, goats, chickens, dogs, rabbits, and cat twice a day. For the first week we were gone, the hose was frozen solid and she had to haul warm water in buckets, a nasty job. She kept the house clean (or at least cleaned it before we got home) and even threw a Christmas party for a bunch of teenage friends without wrecking the place. She dropped us off at the airport (125 miles away) when we left and picked us up when we arrived home. She did a bang-up job, and I'm extremely proud of her. Thanks, sweetie.

According to my iPhone just now, I took 488 pictures while I was gone. This is what happens in the digital age, I guess. I am old enough to remember buying three or four rolls of film before a trip and being choosy about what I photographed. Nowadays everyone - including me - just walks around with a camera raised to their face pretty much all the time. This actually drives me batty, in much the same way that people breaking off a conversation in mid-sentence to answer their cell phones irks me, but I am nearly as guilty as everyone else, so I am ashamed to complain.

However, the compensation for seeing Mexico on a three by three inch screen is that I do, in fact, have a lot of very nice pictures. In the old days, I used to come home and eagerly develop my precious 36 frames, usually to discover that 22 of them were complete crap. I specialized in pictures of my own feet. Now, even though the crap:pleasant ratio is about the same, I have a lot more to sift through and can come up with a few pictures worth sharing.

Here are some of them, in no particular order:

Homero sitting on a wild horse. Not kidding. This was during our trip to Crecencio's village to deliver some gifts to his family (A Visit to La Mixteca Baja, Mixteca Trip Part Two, Take Three, Damnit!). The young man holding the horse's head actually went out into the hills and captured that horse, brought it home, and broke it and trained it himself. He is seventeen. The boy, not the horse.

On the way out to Crecencio's village, we stopped to visit the ex-covent of Yanhuitlan. Passing by, Temy, my sister-in-law, noticed it was open. She yelled "Stop!" Apparently, it is almost never open. It was well worth the delay. This enormous and beautiful temple-complex (I don't know what else to call it) was built in the mid sixteenth century by the Dominicans. Well, actually, as the caretaker told us, by six hundred native Mexicans working every day for twenty five years. I have my doubts about whether a single Dominican priest ever lifted a single stone. But breezing right by that (shall we) it is a place of extreme beauty. To be honest, now that I look at the above picture, I think it is probably not of Yanhuitlan at all, b ut instead of one of the apses in Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City. Hmm. So many beautiful churches in Oaxaca, they blend together after a while. But Yanhuitlan's beauty is austere, and Santo Domingo's is baroque. Well. Either way.

Ahem. Moving on. Below is a very ordinary, typical street scene in central Oaxaca. The streets are cobblestone; the buildings are stone or stuccoed adobe, still habitable and functional after five hundred years. The native stone that much of the city is made of is called cantera, and is usually a beautiful light green, though sometimes rosy pink as well. The building on the left is made of cantera. The small fountain in front is operational, and is a favorite place for young lovers to pass a few minutes "tortorleando." Literally: acting like lovebirds.

Below: street corner on the edge of the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, which is the main central market. Plenty of people still shop there for their daily goods, but it has largely become a tourist attraction. That is not to say, however, that you should pass it by if you happen to be in Oaxaca. By no means! Go! The market is a real experience. It may give you a migraine from the press of people, the competing music blaring from adjacent stalls, the mixed up smells of raw meat, rotting flowers, fresh herbs, copal, and sweat, but if you go to Oaxaca and miss the central market, you may as well not have gone.

Besides, the other option is the Mercado de Abastos, where the majority of city residents go when they want to shop (those that don't go to Wal-Mart, that is) and that place is scary as hell. The Mercado de Abastos is for professional adventurer tourists only. There you can hire a brujo to take a curse off of you, or get a pirated version of a movie that isn't even out in theaters yet, or buy anything from a live chicken to a pair of fake monolo blahniks, but you can also get lost irrevocably in the vast labyrinth of tarp-backed puestos, and I am here to tell you that that is not a fun experience. Once was enough for me: now I stick to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, touristy though it be. It's plenty colorful enough for me. Look below and you'll see.

Senora Maura's garden. Although her patio is very small - perhaps only 10 by 30 feet or so - she has managed to create a very serene and beautiful haven. The concrete walls are dusty pink, and dozens of terra cotta pots are planted with flowers and edibles. The two trees in the photo are a papaya (left) and a pomegranate (right). She also has a chayote vine (that's mirliton to you southerners) and a chile de arbol. A bird of paradise plant blooms along the other wall, and night blooming jasmine scents the evenings. It was a beautiful place to spend a few hours on a warm December night, chatting and drinking mezcal.

In my experience, if I may generalize, Mexicans have a gift for creating beauty in small, intimate spaces. As tourists, many Americans never have the opportunity to get behind the two-story wall of concrete that lines every Mexican street. From the perspective of a tourist, Mexican towns can seem loud, dirty, and claustrophobic. Those damn unbroken walls of cement! There are no sight-lines - all views are blocked by walls. The noise of unmuffled trucks and loudspeakers announcing God-knows-what at high decibels bounces back and forth against the concrete walls. The walls are decorated with spray paint, much of it artless graffiti or poorly drawn representations of Disney characters.

What the unlucky tourist may never know is that just on the other side of each of these walls is a shady, serene courtyard. Every home, no matter how humble, encloses a central space open to the sky. In the city center, the most gorgeous, expansive colonial homes may have three or more courtyards, gardens, fountains, balconies, trees - but none of that will be evident from the outside.

Mexico, somebody talking about sex once said, is not a prudish culture, but it is intensely private. I think that is true of its houses, as well. Homes which are closed up tight as an oyster yield lush, sensual hospitality once you are granted entrance. There are no people on earth as generous, as fun loving, and as welcoming as Mexicans - but you might not guess that from the impassive faces you see in the street. Mexico has a great poker face. But get it to crack a grin - and it's the most beautiful smile you've ever seen.


Garden Lily said...

Ha, yes. I remember my parents having a single roll of film in the camera for a number of years. Now I can easily snap 300+ photos in a week's vacation.

The photos and insights you shared are great. I have never had the opportunity - or perhaps courage - to visit Mexico, but you have peaked my interest.

It sounds like you have passed into another stage of life, knowing that Rowan can "hold the fort" so successfully when you are gone. I think I hear more trips in your near future? :-)

Penelope said...

I remember going to Mexico with Karin and getting stuck in a mild hurricane that washed out all the roads including the one back to our hotel, the waiter at the bar we'd been hanging out at all night instantly turned into the most respectful warm generous hero, taking us to his auntie's hole in the wall restaurant to collect warm clothes for us (we were soaked after having to swim through the streets to get there) and tequila for warmth, then taking us back to his house and sleeping on the living room floor so we could take the only bed. truly Mexicans are the kindest most welcoming hospitable people on earth