A Remarkable Day of Not Much of Anything

El tremblor!  I awakened to the shaking of my bed this first morning after my arrival in Teotitlan del Valle.  An earthquake? I wondered.  Then, I heard the back and forth pounding hum of the loom, hand moving beater to tighten the warp threads through the weft and thought perhaps that the loom was shaking.  Over our leisurely 10 a.m. breakfast I asked Federico and Dolores if we had had a quake.  Si, muy fuerte – yes, very powerful, they confirmed my hunch.  I vaguely remembered Eric mentioning that the San Andreas fault runs south through Oaxaca.

It was cold this morning.  We were wrapped in sweaters and shawls, each of us sipping either atole (a hot corn milk drink), hot chocolate, and my favorite Oaxaca breakfast beverage that Stephen concocted that we call Choco-café.   This is a mix of Oaxacan chocolate milk, coffee and sugar that I love.  The local custom is to dunk sweet breakfast bread into the hot chocolate or coffee, much like the French and Italians do.  This is followed by the main course, which today was fresh papaya, chapulines, tasajo (spicy grilled flank steak), quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), avacado, salsa, and tortillas.   We ate hearty.  Our next meal – cena or lunch –wouldn’t be until 4 pm.

I took a call from Martha Henderson, a longtime friend of Erica Rothman who is our instructor for the documentary filmmaking workshop.  Martha lives in Santa Fe and comes to Oaxaca regularly.  We don’t know each other and made plans to get together in the city tomorrow for lunch.  It’s a small town and there are many interconnections.  She is friends with Remigio Mestas whose exhibit descriptions at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca I helped translate.

Finally, by 1 p.m. I set off by foot to visit Annie, who lives up the hill about a mile from the Chavez house. Now, it was the heat of the day, at least 85 degrees in the sun, hot enough to wear only lightweight linen or cotton, a big brimmed hat and sun-screen.  As I huffed and puffed up the hill, I had to stop periodically to catch my breath to get used to the 6,000 foot altitude of the Oaxaca valley after coming from the lowlands of the NC Piedmont.

What a spectacular day.   I walked along the river path passing doves and songbirds, under ancient trees with gnarled wide trunks, groves of bamboo, donkeys grazing, dogs sleeping in a corner under the shade of an overhang.  I passed an old woman in traditional dress, hunched, carrying a basket on her head laden with a food I didn’t recognize.  She pulled the basket down, folded over the floral cloth covering to reveal something purple and white and offered me a taste.  I smiled and said I had just eaten, declining the offer.  I am cautious not knowing whether the water used is purified.  It is not worth the health risk for the adventure of a new taste sensation.  I walked on, crossing over the river bridge onto the cobblestone road leading up the hill to where Annie lives.

There is lots of new construction on the hillside, a new row of street lights which brings electricity to the neighborhood, which promotes more growth.  I wonder when this dirt road, which was recently graded and widened, will be paved over.  The bright red Noche Buena (poinsettias) bloom this time of year… red the color of a Santa Claus jacket against the indigo blue sky is extraordinary.  Tonight starts the first posada, nine days before Christmas.  The prickly pear nopal cacti are in bloom.  I stop to catch a breath and finally reach Annie.  The bull grazing in the yard in front of her house looks up,  continues chewing.  Annie comes out calling welcome.  The guacalotes cackle, dogs bark, the village church in the valley below us is shining white under the sun’s rays, and beyond the house the mountainside is a pasture of green, crowned by a granite outcropping.

We sip tea and suck juicy fresh pineapple cubes, catch up under the arbor of her outdoor kitchen protected by walls and roof constructed with bamboo.  The bamboo shadows form a grill work design across the room. Fingers of sunlight spill through the cracks.  The  simple wooden table is covered in floral oilcloth.  The cups are earth red crockery, decorated in primary colors and highly glazed.  The Mexican poodle puppy sleeps curled by the kitchen door.  There is just enough to be more than satisfied  — mountains, sun, flowers, lazy afternoons, the cool of an adobe dwelling, friendship.

On my walk home to the Chavez house, across the foothill path that winds along the base of the mountain, I look beyond the tilled fields and see our casita under construction.  Soon, very soon.

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