Sitting here in our cozy ground floor apartment in Oaxaca where we've been studying and working for the last week and a half. This apartment is much closer to the historic center of town here in the smaller but-still-sprawling city of Oaxaca, and much quieter and recently renovated compared to Coyoacán. We're on a pedestrian-only side street just off the north end of the main pedestrian route into the center. It is pretty near where we stayed the first time I came to this city with S 6 years ago early in our relationship and made a lot of good memories.
Within Mexico we always travel by bus - the regional bus system is very well developed with large stations and every class of transportation available, from cheap cramped former-greyhounds-from-the-90s making local stops with a Nicolas Cage movie playing over the PA to direct business-class-airline coaches. So the ride from Mexico City to Oaxaca was a comfortable 6-hour trip through the endless suburbs and exurbs of the D.F. and up and over a few mountain ranges. Our trip was uneventful with good traffic, views, and weather until the final half hour where we caught some rain at the last pass before Oaxaca.
The State of Oaxaca is south of Mexico City, and runs from the center of the isthmus of Mexico to the Pacific ocean (but due to more ranges of mountains, it's another 10 hours to the beach from here - some other trip). It is famous for great food (chocolatey mole, plus tamales and tlayudas), and the distilled liquor mezcal, which can best be described as a smoky scotch-like tequila. The 'artisan' mezcal and cerveza (beer) market has exploded since we were last here and generally in Mexico - we have found two good microbreweries here this visit (one is more "nano-", with a 15 gallon system in the back I was able to talk to the owner about, very similar to my own setup). And we've been working our way through a lot of nice restaurants, as many even fairly fancy places offer a set daily lunch menu for very cheap. For instance yesterday we had a 4 course lunch with a salad of cactus fruits (tunas) (pitaya aka "dragon fruit" and jiotilla - latter is like all fruit flavors in one, and a rich crimson color), caldo de gato (just a name, no cats involved! a rich beef stew with vegetables), and a choice of tacos dorados in red chile sauce or rollitos (grilled flank steak rolled around vegetable slices) in a green pumpkin seed sauce - all of this followed by stewed peaches and a shot of mezcal, for $8.
Last week was focused on S's invited presentation to graduate history students at the month-long institute that first brought her here as she was preparing to write her dissertation. This year, hearing of our trip, one of her mentors invited her to present her research and contextualize it for the public health week, and following that she had a great time discussing academia and the publishing world with her now-peer scholars from Mexico and the U.S. who were in town. A great warm-up for the final week of our trip when we will be spending a week with Mexicanist scholars (and families) discussing teaching and research at a similar gathering near Cuernavaca at the end of July.
Our second week here has been heavy with Spanish lessons and practice, with a very noticeable bump in how much of our daily conversation is possible in Spanish, and a very noticeable dent in our daily schedule with 3 hours of classes each morning - we're both being pushed quickly ahead, and glad for the focused time able to practice and ask questions in our small groups, but looking forward to returning to a schedule of our own making next week. Despite all the good dining, we've also stretched our own cooking here, taking advantage of the readily available mole pastes and local cheeses etc to make chicken enchiladas with mole and a very passable version of the market stall torta sandwiches here in our apartment.
Sundays in Mexico often offer free entrance to most museums, so this weekend we visited several around town. The Textile museum has historic and modern versions of traditional embroidery and lacework, with several rooms of 18-19th century tapestries and blouses (huipils), and a large room of colorful garments from the 60s when synthetic colors became available. The Museum of Contemporary Art fit the usual pattern of having some hits (colorful dreamscape paintings and monsters painted on ceramics; a large black atrium with a poem to the Ayotzinapa 43) and many dull modern misses. Unfortunately, the Photography gallery nearby also was mostly misses, except for a few engrossing black and white street photographs of circus troops. Our final stop was the Graphic Arts space, with an inviting courtyard and cafe space whose roof is entirely hibiscus vines 20ft up with potted cactus all around - but the art on display was large canvases mostly-uniformly gray - time for some cool contemplation, but a quick visit. Outside down the middle of the pedestrian road back to our apartment a ribbon cutting ceremony was being announced over PA for a numerous collection of more interesting ceramic masks, as a remembrance and demand for less violence to women and greater political representation.
We leave on Saturday for a longer overnight bus ride further east, through the mountainous isthmus and into the state of Chiapas, where we will be staying for 4 nights in San Cristobal de las Casas.
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