After Hallowe’en and my birthday, this is my favorite holiday. It is the midsummer or midwinter feast, depending on your hemisphere. On the night of June 23-24, you build fires and jump over them. In northern climes, summer swimming begins today.
I have some advice on the city of Oaxaca de Juárez which is very, very touristy. This is tourist advice and I am a tourist, but I am a really skilled one. The town is so colorful that when I got here from Mexico City I thought I must have eaten a mushroom on the way. It also has this very colonial situation that you can read up on. Francisco Toledo, a noted painter, was quoted this week in the paper with reference to a specific problem, saying “All Oaxaca is greatly wounded…”. I am not completely sure but I suspect that the water saving hotels for liberal foreign tourists, although they may use less water than hotels do in the US, still use more water than the regular hotels without large bathrooms and high pressure showers.
1. Never accept a hotel room sharing a wall with the street. No matter how quiet the neighborhood, the cars in this state have noisy engines; their body parts also clank together as they bounce over the cobblestones. 2. Hotels and restaurants around Santo Domingo are recommended as being quieter than downtown; this is the most theme parkish area, however. I preferred to go further up, above República, where you get back into real life. I had neighbors up there who sang songs at night with this extra-deep guitar. 2.5. I stayed in one place I liked and another I didn’t; ask me which and why if you are interested in the information. Many people would probably prefer the one I didn’t like as much. 3. It is true what they say about comedores familiares – even those which look fancy are infinitely cheaper and better than restaurants with similar decoration. 4. Current price of comida corrida is about 40 pesos if you go to a nice looking place that just isn’t within easy view. You do not have to go far to find this; don’t give up when you see bad looking places in obvious locations charging 45, or medium looking ones charging up to 100. 5. There’s a café on García Vigil, the Espresso Gallery, which posts notices about concerts and movies. Further up, under the aqueduct, is the film club; it shows interesting films every night at 7 PM and sometimes more often. 6. Watch out for shopping, as you will be expected to shop and this is not inexpensive. I wanted to buy a certain kind of huipil I had not seen before, black and very long with large embroidered flowers of a single color (you could wear it with a black pencil skirt, black heels, and Mexican jewelry, and look fantastic) but the asking price was $120 where I started looking, so I cancelled the idea. I ended up spending $120 anyway and this was without getting the book I wanted or the earrings. What I bought: 4 Mixtec CDs, $47 (in a store); 1 Zapotec carpet 3×5 feet, complex and subtle design/tight weave, $55, because the genie-like seller had made it himself and kept laughing and would not go away (asking price had been $75; perhaps it is a flying carpet); 1 Mixtec table runner, $18, because the seller was the regular weaver of a friend of mine (asking price had been $20). 7. I recommend, in addition to the museums and churches (Rufino Tamayo’s pre-Hispanic collection is spectacular) the Ethnobotanic Garden. It is connected to an open newspaper reading room and archive, and an ethnobotanic library, very nice. It also has a film club on Thursdays from 6 to 8 PM, and a good bulletin board announcing intellectual and cultural events.
At the garden, which really is beautiful, I learned that Oaxaca is not only one of the most ethnically varied places one can find, but also one of the most botanically varied. I saw bushes and trees in evolutionary transition from having leaves to having spines. The bushes in particular were very impressive; they look like wire sculptures with broad needles but really they are bushes looking taut because they have leaves and spines that both have the form of broad needles.
The garden was organized by the painter Francisco Toledo and some friends. He is a painter and cultural preserver of some visibility and one should try to visit his other aposentos, which I have not. One should also visit the Taller de Artes Plasticas “Rufino Tamayo,” Juárez 514, Centro, and perhaps register for classes.
I am still disappointed to have miscalculated such that I missed the Monsiváis events, but if you read the papers for 22 June you will find them described and commented upon in loving detail. There is also an article about Monsiváis and the Mexican left which says in part:
Monsiváis reivindicó la utopía. Sostuvo que el totalitarismo es el asesinato de las utopías y, que, ante la distopía del neoliberalismo, mantener la utopía en el mapa de las convicciones es un requisito de salud mental. Optimista pese a todo, aseguró serloporque ahora sé que los malvados, los explotadores, los represores, sólo tienen éxito y felicidad mientras viven (antes creía que en el cielo también reprimían las manifestaciones de protesta).
Hace unos años, Carlos Monsiváis escribió:El mundo que conocí ya no existe y el que ahora padezco se está desvaneciendo. Mi consigna al respecto es muy sincera: o ya no entiendo lo que está pasando o ya pasó lo que estaba entendiendo. A pesar de semejante confesión, es difícil comprender cabalmente la izquierda mexicana actual sin estudiar el papel que Monsiváis jugó en ella. Ahora será más difícil hacerlo sin él.
It is worth reading the whole thing.