Monthly Archives: August 2013

Lunch at the San Juan Market, Mexico City

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My lunch at La Jersey, Mercado de San Juan, Mexico City

San Juan Market is where many of Mexico City’s top chefs shop.  It is known for its exotic meats, fish, fruits and vegetables.  It’s where I buy vanilla beans for $1.50 USD each to bring back as gifts to the USA.  I made my way there from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, past architectural wonders of the city.

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Once I got there and started looking at the food, I realized I was hungry.  Then, I noticed a large group of people gathered around one of the stalls.  La Jersey has been there for over 85 years.  Out from behind the counter came baguettes of crusty French bread filled with layers of exotic, European cheeses and Italian meats.

Three young men, who introduced themselves as lawyers on lunch break, were sitting on stools biting into hefty sandwiches and sipping good red Spanish table wine from small tasting cups. The wine comes gratis with the lunch.  They beckoned me over, offered me the empty seat next to

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them, showed me the menu and recommended what they considered to be the best sandwich filled with prosciutto, salami, and a rich, smooth German cheese. Order Number 3, they said.  A cuarto (that’s a quarter sandwich).  When it came, it looked like more than I could possibly consume. There are probably 20 sandwich selections on the menu.  And, at least 100 different cheeses are available for sale on the deli countertop and in the cases.

Note: You are surrounded by butchered animals ranging from chickens to hanging legs of lamb, goats and other edibles.  I consider it to be part of the food chain, but just a word of warning :)

Once my sandwich came, they oriented me to using the tamarind savory jam topping to spread over the cheese.  The bread was scooped out leaving mostly crusty outside, better to hold the more than ample fillings.

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Next comes dessert, also included in the fixed price along with the wine.  It is a slice of French bread slathered with mascarpone cheese drizzled with local honey and topped with a crunchy walnut.  Two bites, then gone.  Mmmmmmm.  The man on the left ordered a fresh fig, quartered, and filled with homemade vanilla ice cream, topped with honey.  He ate it before I could get my camera focused.

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More about it.  Where to find it.  La Jersey also has a small deli in the Downtown Hotel complex at Isabel la Catolica #30, two blocks from the Zocalo.

Vacation Packing Tip: Improvised Sturdy Basket Becomes Luggage Shipping Container

Packing Tip See the handwoven bamboo basket laying on its side on the left side of my suitcase?  It cost about four dollars ($4 USD). I used it to transport three bottles of great mezcal and a blown glass Xaquixe decanter from Oaxaca to the USA.  It traveled by bus and then plane.  Of course, I wrapped everything in plastic bubble first, tucking everything in so nothing wiggled.  Then, I put the bamboo tray over the opening and sealed my improvised shipping container well with duct tape.

I’ve used larger, rounder containers like this to pack fragile ceramics and wood carvings from Oaxaca with 99% success.  Meaning, everything arrives whole and unbroken!  It’s essential to have an equally sturdy lid.

Shipping costs are so high, that if you can do-it-yourself, so much the better.

To the right of the basket you will see clear plastic zipper bags.  I’ve saved them when I buy new sheets and pillows.  These are fantastic, because one bag will contain my clothes, another my underwear and socks.  I can see everything I need at a glance without having to rummage around.  Bonus:  if your luggage gets inspected at the airport, you know that everything will stay clean!

Feliz Viaje!

P.S.  Buy these baskets at any market in Oaxaca.  I got mine in Tlacolula and plan to carry it to Morocco.  I always pack a roll of duct tape, a bit of bubble wrap and clear shipping tape.  Comes in handy and doesn’t weigh much!

Sunday Tlacolula Market: Getting There, Being There

Every Sunday, with the exception of Easter, all the Teotitlan del Valle buses and collectivos go back and forth from the village to the tianguis at Tlacolula de Matamoros.  If you want to get from Oaxaca City to Teotitlan on a Sunday, that’s a different story (see below).

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The regional street market draws thousands of sellers and shoppers from throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.   It is a confusion of blue and green tarps that cover probably ten square blocks of the town center, a protection from sun and rain.  It is also a cacophony of stuff: farm tools, meats, vegetables, household staples, garden plants and tourist treasures.

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I’ve been to this market enough times to recognize the regulars. Among my favorites are the sellers of brightly colored plastic woven baskets, embroidered aprons, and dried hibiscus flowers that I use to make agua de jamaica (ha-my-kah).

Vendors haul their goods wrapped in the plastic tarps they will use to cover their stalls.  Most will use the public vehicles provided by their villages, all pointed to Tlacolula on Sunday.

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It is wonderful to catch the bus at the corner of my street and join the pack. At 11 a.m. it’s hard to find a seat unless you get on at the village market origination point.  Today, my traveling companion is my eight-year-old niece Ixcel Guadalupe, who we call Lupita.  She is wearing her best Sunday-go-to-church-dress, adorned with the green felt flower we made together the day before.

Today, my shopping list is a pretty mundane: a bell for the front gate, a rope to hang it, a tightly woven bamboo basket with tray lid to adapt as a packing container for the gifts of mezcal bottles.  I’m always open to whatever else may present itself.

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I have in mind to get Lupe a smaller version of my shopping basket and perhaps a new apron.  First, we come across a costumed Pancho Villa selling art posters of the revolutionary army.  We look and move on.

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What catches my eye is gorgeous black clay pottery that I recognize from the  village of San Bartolo de Coyotepec. But, these pots are different, more authentically rustic, with lots of interesting variegation in the clay.  My dad was a potter and I know pottery!  I ask the vendor about them.  As I suspected, he hand-makes these in the old waterproof style originally used for holding mezcal. Hand-polished. Beautiful.  I bought a large one for 400 pesos (that’s about $32 USD).  He invited me to come visit him.  I extend the invitation to you:

Leopoldo Barranco, Calle Galiana #3, San Bartolo de Coyotepec.  No phone. Leopoldo is home all day during the week, he says.  A lovely man, definitely worth supporting this ancient craft.  His pots are much more interesting, in my opinion, than the commercially produced pieces one sees all over town.

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These tools (above) are all hand-forged.  The picks are incredibly sharp.  I bought two of the golden bells, and two stakes with rings that I am using to secure my roof-top laundry line.

DanceFeather_Aeromex-10After lunch at Comedor Mary (opposite church side-street on permanent market side) and wandering around, Lupita and I stop for ice cream at Neveria Rosita.  She has tuna (hot pink fruit of the nopal cactus) with lime sorbet.  I order chocolate and tuna.  (Both these places are clean and the food is excellent.)

By this time, I’m hauling the clay pot, the basket, the metal stakes, and bells.  She is carrying two aprons in her little basket.  I decide it’s easier and faster to take the Teotitlan collectivo back to the village.  The collectivo station is behind the Tlacolula Zocalo. Turn right, then left. Or ask anyone!

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When we get home at 4 p.m., we are greeted by a herd of grazing toros in the field next door.  Now, it’s time to pack those bottles of mezcal!

Getting to Tlacolula from Teotitlan del Valle by bus:  All the village buses go to Tlacolula on Sundays.  They run about every 30 minutes starting early in the morning. Catch it either at the mercado or anywhere along Av. Benito Juarez. Cost is 7 pesos (under 10 cents) each way. Last bus leaving Tlacolula for Teotitlan is at 5 p.m.

The collectivos leave from the parking lot on Benito Juarez.  They go when they are filled with five people — two in front (plus driver) and three in the back.  Take the back seat if you get the chance.  Much more comfortable.  Cost is 5 pesos one way per person.

Getting to Teotitlan from Oaxaca on a Sunday:  You can take a private taxi that will bring you right into town to your particular destination for 250 pesos. For 10 pesos, catch a bus at the baseball stadium headed toward Tlacolula or Mitla.  Ask to get off at the Teotitlan crucero (crossroads).  Take a collectivo, or bus or moto-taxi from the crossroads into town.  Don’t pay more than 10 pesos for the moto!  The bus will cost 7 pesos and the collectivo 5 pesos.

In-Between, Let It Rain, and Murex Sea Snail Purple Dye

August 26, 2013–In Mexico City it’s raining, it’s pouring.   I left Oaxaca this morning to a full-tilt drizzle that went on through the night.  The maize fields are almost saturated.  Whew!

My Zapotec friends told me about the mysteries of the ancients. Don’t worry, they said a few days ago.  It will start raining on August 26.  I didn’t believe them.  Yes, they said, the ancient Zapotecs know.   It’s part of the natural cycle in time for the Calendula. It will rain throughout September, they said. Ah, hah, I discovered the rain will produce the wild marigolds so essential for Day of the Dead celebrations.  The rhythms of nature.  When we move too fast, we don’t have time to put our ear to the earth and remember our history.   This has been a wonderful part of my learning experience living in a small Mexican village.

A friend sent me an email that I read during the six-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Mexico City.  I am in-between leaving Oaxaca and arriving in the USA.  We are in-between two tropical storms, Ivo and Fernand, bringing rain on two fronts, east and west, one from Baja, the other from Veracruz.  I am now sitting in the shelter of historic Downtown Hotel, sipping a tequila (they offered it gratis, though I prefer mezcal) and listening to the deluge pouring on the soft roof of the courtyard just beyond my door.  It is a wonderful sound. The earth in Mexico is thirsty.

Mexico City has become another stopover favorite, in addition to Puebla.  It’s why I like to take the bus and take a few extra days between Oaxaca and the USA.  I can stay over a night or two and discover another part of Mexican culture.  Tomorrow morning I’m meeting a writer friend for breakfast.  Then, rain or shine, I will make a beeline to see more Diego Rivera murals and revisit the street food vendors I met in July.  What I like about this hotel location is that it’s two blocks from the Zocalo, walkable to everything, in a restored colonial house with great restaurants and textile shops.  Very convenient.

On Wednesday, I leave D.F. on a very early flight to Chicago for a reunion with friends and the Grant Park Jazz Festival.  Then, briefly back to North Carolina, before going on to North Africa.

When I retired from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, where I raised $23 million, for endowments, student scholarships and faculty support, the Foundation Board of the school gifted me with a surprise.  A trip to anywhere!  I am SO grateful.  Now, almost two years later, I’m going to use that gift to travel to Marrakech and Essaouira, Morocco, for three weeks in September-October, with a very brief stopover on the way back in Madrid.  I’ve never been to either of these places and I’m traveling with a friend who knows Morocco well.

My question is:  Are you interested in hearing about my experiences in a part of the world far from Oaxaca?  The connection, of course, is the history of weaving, textiles, and natural dyes.  I plan on investigating whether the purple dye once used to distinguish the togas of Roman senators is still in existence on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  The murex sea snail is at risk of extinction on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast and is guarded carefully, under governmental regulation.  The rocky shoals of Essaouira, Morocco produced some of the finest purple in the world.  And, I understand the textiles there are magnificent.

Let me know your thoughts.  If I write about it, will I be digressing too far from your interests?

Thanks for the feedback!

Santa Ana, California Zapotecs Return Home: Dance of the Feather — Danza de la Pluma

They were born or raised in Santa Ana, California, which they call Santana. They keep sacred Zapotec traditions alive by practicing life cycle events from their Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca homeland.

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Most especially, these young men know what it means to be a Danzante — a dancer.  The Dance of the Feather or Danza de la Pluma is a ritual rite of passage.  To become a dancer is to make a commitment to the principles and traditions of Zapotec life.   The Danza de la Pluma is practiced with as much passion, integrity, endurance and intention in Santa Ana as it is in Teotitlan del Valle.  It is not a folkloric performance.  It is a serious part of Zapotec identity.

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That’s why a group of young men from Santa Ana, fluent in English, Spanish and Zapotec, asked permission from the village leaders to return to Teotitlan del Valle and make the three-year commitment and live here for the duration.

Their group debut was in the early July 2013 festival to honor the patron saint and church of Teotitlan — Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.  The choreography is different, the finely woven intricately designed tapestry that each dancer wears on his back was either made by the dancer or a father, uncle or grandfather.

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They leap, twist, kneel, and it looks as if they are flying, as if God is carrying each one somewhere deep into the pre-Hispanic past to bring forth the spirit of the ancients.

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Many brought their wives and young children with them.  Some were reunited with family members — sisters, brothers, grandparents — after years of separation.  Some have never seen their abuelos — grandparents — since they were infants or if they were born in the USA, perhaps never before.

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It was a thrill to watch this group whose spirit infected the entire audience– villagers and about 150 guests of Aeromexico, the Mexican airline that offers several flights a day between Mexico City and Oaxaca.   Tourism is the economic engine for Oaxaca and the weavers of Teotitlan del Valle depend upon visitors for their livelihood.

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The Dance of the Feather is iconic.  It is a history retold from generation to generation of the 1521 Spanish conquest, Cortes and Moctezuma, and the dual figure of La Malinche and Doña Marina. There are few stronger images to convey a sense of place and culture.

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Both before and after, I talked to many of the dancers who said they love it here so much, they are wanting to stay on after their three-year promise ends.

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After the festivities came to a close, many of the guests walked out of the church courtyard to the adjacent community museum and rug market.  Just in time for a refreshment break, a bicycle vendor selling nieves — a Spanish word that means snow but what all of us know as delicious fresh fruit ices that Mexico is famous for!  (Try the tuna — nopal cactus fruit.) Or, if you want something more substantial, there are homemade tamales in that wheelbarrow.

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