I was recently asked how I like Mexico by a Oaxacan friend. We were sitting in my apartment in Reforma, one of the nicer neighborhoods in Oaxaca (pronounced wah ha kah) City, the busy streets lined with restaurants, markets, doctor’s offices, taco and torta (sandwich) stands, tiny local product shops, and more; basically almost everything a person needs within a six block radius. Christian, a student at the local university Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca, and I ostensibly meet for language exchange – me assisting him more advanced English, him with my basic Spanish — but our conversations often veers into sociological, economic, and cultural issues including my perspective from other countries. Hence I took the question with a broader context.
It’s an interesting question for me after six years of traversing eleven countries and upwards of 40 towns. The truth is the excitement of the early days has give way to a more staid perspective. And because Christian and I were in the habit of speaking honesty and deeply about so many things I told him the truth.
“At this point every place feels the same to me, when you get down to the roots of it. Everywhere there are families, children going to school…” I said waving my hand toward the street, “you know, daily life, what I’m doing, it’s the same everywhere.” I thought about it some more and added, “The only outlier for me is Giza and the pyramids in Egypt. Living near the pyramids is another thing entirely…” My thoughts traveled back to the camels and horses trotting past the dingy cafe adjacent to the Pyramid complex.
My answer, I could tell, didn’t satisfy him. So I took another sip of Mezcal, a local clear alcohol made from the agave plant, which we were drinking from teeny-tiny terracotta clay cups with colorful flowers on them, also made locally, and said, “Yeah I like it here,” with an expression that said ‘of course. how could you not?’
As I said this I immediately thought back to the Oaxacan-style wedding procession I stumbled upon a few months earlier in front of the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo, a four hundred year old church. I’m hard to impress (jaded you might say) having seen a number of spectacular weddings, celebrations, and just plain incredible sights in India, Israel, Egypt, Malaysia, Nepal and Singapore, but this was something special. First and foremost there were two giant puppets, each ten feet tall or more. The female Mono de Calenda (monkeys of the procession), as I later learned they are called, was dressed in a colorful dress, the male in black slacks and a white shirt. And they were dancing! To a twelve-piece band! While four women in brightly colored skirts and big baskets on their heads filled with flowers and plants twirled, as did two people carrying giant balloon-like-things on tall sticks. In addition, there was a person dressed in a rag-like traditional costume with a tall wicker top hat called a tiliche who danced, bounced and twirled without pause, adding further joyful mayhem to the gathering. In the center of all this was the bride decked-out in a Cinderella-esque pale pink gown and members of the bridal party, who were also dancing.
When I first came upon this incredible scene I was moseying down the pedestrian promenade in centro, a tourist mecca lined with street vendors, restaurants and art galleries. I quickly forget about my plans to get home and settled in to enjoy the show. Eventually the monos led the group down the promenade while the band continued to play and the dancers and tiliche danced. Of course I followed. I couldn’t stop smiling. Next stop was the Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church, a five hundred year old church only a block or two away which offered an even more spectacular backdrop for the ongoing festivities.
After a while I needed a break from the sensory overload and I went to sit on a nearby stone wall. I got to talking to a young guy who told me that the family must have gotten special permission from the authorities because due to covid restrictions these processions were not allowed. Later I learned that similar processions normally took place on an almost daily basis, organized for festivals, graduations, weddings and even protests (yes there are protest monos, some with slogans affixed to them). To think that monos, dancers, and tiliches could become ho-hum! One can only hope.
With or without giant puppets, life continues. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty great most days, despite all my jaded tendencies. On the horizon is a move to the mountains which surround the city. I’m hungry to be closer to nature. I found a place just north with a view, private terrace and hiking trails only a fifteen minute walk away. By the end of the month, if all goes well, I will be newly ensconced in my mountain aerie. There life will continue. Eating, sleeping, writing, praying. And inevitably, there will be moments when the ho-hum recedes and I will fly. Swept away in the swirling skirts of cosmic dancers. My teliche rags fluttering in the wind. As if all time, all place, were unfurling at once amidst the peel of trumpets and reverberation of drums. Then, once again, I will land. And life will proceed wearily and sometimes merrily on.
NEW !! Check out myvideos of the wedding on my new channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6sEbjKS6vBO11a__zXLiwQ/playlists
**having some layout challenges with wordpress, apologies for any issues