This is the second Thanksgiving in a row that I’ve been in a non-Thanksgiving-celebrating country. I can’t even recall if it was Singapore or Hong Kong last year, it blurs, all I remember is that I wasn’t in Bangkok where I was supposed to be and I’m still miffed (though if I ever mention the protesters shutting down Suvarnabhumi airport for weeks last November no one has any idea what I’m talking about—did it not make US news?).
So, today is El Día de Acción de Gracias, quite a mouthful for one word. My Spanish teacher says she was invited by three different students to some restaurant putting on a classic American Thanksgiving dinner, it started three hours ago. I declined because I already got my fill of jubilados (retirees) yesterday in a 9am-7pm cooking class. The male half of a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary fell asleep during the instructional part of the class and ultimately we got paired on making saffron, pineapple rice and he got put on plantano frying duty. Kept him busy. An odd thing about old age, or rather the generation that is now old is that the men don’t/can’t cook. All the wives were amused and taking tons of photos of their husbands preparing food because they’d never witnessed it before. One woman said when she was recently sick her husband volunteered to make her something to eat but had no idea how to make a BLT, her request. I hope that the young men of today will be able to make their wives BLTs in 40 years.
I’m not sure why I thought I was going to have all this time to write and read and get my shit together while in Oaxaca because that’s not really the way things work. I realized how lame it was to go to a new city and not spend at least some time exploring. My NYC existence is insular enough. Though, I have been a bad tourist and have yet to leave Oaxaca City, which is hardly a city, but I mean I didn’t see any archaeological sites and visit any arts and crafts villages or see the famous waterfall or largest tree in Latin America. That’s ok, I’ll live.
I am bummed that I was defeated in my attempt this morning to be intrepid and independent. I hate group tours, which is why I have stuck close to the central area (though I did get outside the tourist zone and visited a mall surrounded by a Sam’s Club, Office Depot, Burger King, KFC and McDonald’s, which deeply impressed/weirded out other Americans I’ve met in the past few days. I kind of wish I had taken my two cooking classes earlier in the week because I spent my first six nights dining and drinking alone. Well, mostly dining with a little mezcal and wine thrown in—I’m too intimidated to go to bars alone here, that is if I could figure out a bar to go to, they don’t seem to exist the same way as in the US. Only tonight, my last will I be going out with a couple of women I met yesterday, one a woman probably in her 50s with stylish white hair. I was just happy to meet a fellow New Yorker who hadn’t caved.) Upon Susana Trilling’s advice yesterday, I went to the Abasto Market, which is insane and sprawling and claustrophobic, kind of like Chatachuk in Bangkok but without the tourists and the humidity (though it has been surprisingly warm here. I was gearing for 70s but it was high 80s earlier and as always happens when I spend time outside of my apartment and office, I got sunburnt to a crisp).
My feet are not dirty (well, maybe a little–every other street seems to be torn up under construction, dirt everywhere instead of pavement–I have no idea how women wear heels here), that is the change in color from walking around in the sun for a week in shoes that covered my toes vs. always having my feet covered and shying away from the elements.
There are a zillion collectivos (shared taxis that go to a specific place and don’t leave until they are filled with passengers) zooming around and parked on the edges of the market. Many have the name of the town they’re going to posted in the front window. Same with all of the busses also zooming around. None appeared to be going to Matatlan, the mezcal village I was trying to get to be all cool and in the know (and do research for a potential article that could subsidize this random vacation) and find this small family owned mezcaleria Rey de Zapotcea that Susana has a relationship with and when I asked a few drivers they said to go a few blocks over and I started having my doubts. I swear the place probably isn’t more than 30 minutes from here. I strolled around in this painfully slow Mexican way for nearly an hour and felt like giving up because that’s what I do. I started getting worried that even if I did find a collectivo to Matatlan, what would be the guarantee I could find this family and then what if I couldn’t get a ride back to Oaxaca. I tried to leave early for me (10am) but what if I got stuck there and couldn’t get back for my final Spanish class at 6pm (I already missed yesterdays because the cooking class went long) and I haven’t paid yet. I was defeated.
I did stumble upon a woman with a bunch of pavos (turkeys) and some dead looking birds and asked if I could take a photo of her pavos because you know it’s Thanksgiving and all.
So, no adventure but I also had been feeling guilty for not visiting all the local museums so that’s what I did today. Except the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo was under construction and had no exhibits. I did see the Instituto de Artes Graficas, which has good sized library inside but I couldn’t take photos because they make you check your bag. So library of them. I did see the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca which is deceptively huge.
First, I took in a retrospective of Lola Cuenta, an artist who appeared to be active in the 1930s, that era when all the intellectuals were influenced by and traveled to Paris, and who I’d never heard of, but then, how many female Mexican artists has anyone heard of outside of Frida Kahlo? This woman did everything: printmaking, embroidery, painting, doll-making and oddly to me, puppetry.
These are some freak ass puppets.
Then all the hardcore history and artifacts on the second floor. All the little ceramic guys in cases started making me feel sad. I thought I might just be homesick, but I don't’ really get homesick and I have zero interest in Thanksgiving. I was just mad at myself for not being able to figure out to get to Matatlan in an independent fashion. I was defeated by my inability to make it outside the city with out the help of others. The Zapotecs were defeated by a much larger force: the conquistadors, obviously.
How could you obliterate a culture that made rat sculptures like this?