Tag Archives: Durham

Poco a Poco: Unpacking Oaxaca in North Carolina

My first week here was busy. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and are crowned champions. I managed to stay up until midnight to watch it all and celebrate.

North Carolina living space with Oaxaca treasures.

The NCAA, in its infinite ignorance, announced it would lift the sanctions and bring sports tourneys back to NC since the state legislature amended the anti-transgender bathroom law (a sham piece of legislation that still violates civil rights).

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo alebrije now tops my bookcase.

And, I’m unpacking and settling in. A work in progress. One of the greatest pleasures of being here is rediscovering and becoming acquainted with my Oaxaca folk art collection that I haven’t lived with for four years.

I thought I had downsized to the bare bones when I dismantled my household back then, keeping only what would fit into a five foot by fifteen foot storage unit. But, my goodness, there are many more filled boxes in the upstairs loft space to unload. But, there’s no rush.

I’ll be here until mid-May. And, perhaps a folk art sale is in the offing!

Old brick tobacco warehouse walls in urban Durham condo

My new space is in an old tobacco warehouse listed on the National Historic Register. Ceilings are twenty feet high. One wall is old brick. The floor is beat-up maple, solid, showing almost one hundred years of wear. I’m downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

In the morning and again at night, there is the sound of the engine whistle as the train moves between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Cars on the street below are muffled reminders of city life.  From the top floor, I look out on tree tops.

Galley kitchen.  Alfredo Hernandez Orozco cloth/copper lampshades

This is a juxtaposition to living in the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca countryside, beneath the mountains where my rooftop terrace commands a 360-degree view of the Tlacolula valley. It is not quiet there either, but the sounds are different.

Arturo Hernandez, Mitla, Oaxaca, wove the bed spread, Chiapas pillows

I hear donkeys, goats and turkey. I hear the SONI Gas truck announcing its arrival via loudspeaker. The tortilla vendor sings in the distance. The church bell announces a wedding or funeral. Then, all goes quiet, and there is nothing to capture my attention but my own imagination.

Cozy corners, lots of light, another retreat

Here in Durham, the lulls are less frequent. I am embraced by long-time friends. The circle of life expands so that I have the pleasure of enjoying both spaces, different and comfortable. I am no longer an ex-pat but a seasonal bird.

On Monday, I managed to host twelve of us for a Passover seder, including four wiggly little boys who loved jumping on the hardwood floors and climbing the loft stairwell. Our three core families have known each other for forty years and now we get to “enjoy” the grandkids. My poor neighbors!

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you from? Where are you going? Oaxaca, Mexico. Durham, North Carolina.

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina. On the early morning flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City, I met Carina Pacheco from San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca. She was on her way to Cabo San Lucas where the family has a shop that sells famous Mitla woven cotton textiles.

Where are you from? she asks me. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I say with some pride in my voice. And, now I’m sure to add, Durham, North Carolina, too, also with equal pride. Durham will be my new home, too. Carina and I promise to stay in contact. I’m certain we will. Oaxaqueños keep their promises. Plus, we live only a few villages apart down the Panamerican Highway.

Weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca: “I made your clothes.”

In Houston, a young man named Stefano helps me load my two giant suitcases (I’m moving, after all) onto a trolley to go through customs. Stefano is from Puebla. His great, great-grandfather came from Italy. He lives in a small town near Cholula, Puebla, populated by Italians, and speaks excellent English.

Mexico is a melting pot, filled with immigrants: Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, Germany, France, Philippines, China, and yes, the USA. They are Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and more. A long history of diversity shows in their complexions and features. Racial and cultural intermarriage is accepted here.

Where are you from? says Stefano. Two places, I answer. Oaxaca, Mexico and Durham, North Carolina. It’s beginning to sound real as I prepare to move into my apartment/condo in downtown Durham, which is why I’m here now. We sit down to share a meal together before he goes on to Tampa, Florida. This only happens to me with Mexicans!

Durham is an old tobacco town undergoing urban revitalization. Its downtown is filled with great restaurants and street musicians who are steeped in the South’s blues culture. It’s a pedestrian lifestyle. I’ll be close to good, longtime friends who I miss.

Downtown Durham, NC — where I live now, too

I’m also here in a Blue Bubble, where I can make a difference by participating in the NAACP and changing the course of my state’s and country’s political history. Ojala! (That’s Spanish for, god willing.)

It’s been four years since I’ve had a home in North Carolina and I’m grateful to be back. Oaxaca is my home, too, where indigenous identity speaks to me. This is where I look out over mountains and valleys where textiles woven and dyed with the hands of the artisans are a song.

And, what are in my suitcases? Oaxaca whole bean coffee. A cotton bedspread woven by Arturo Hernandez. A rebozo from Tenancingo de Degollado. A blouse from Cuetzalan, Puebla. A poncho from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Borders are seamless in the end.

Yet, an airline representative steps onto the plane in Houston and says that due to heightened security, we will be escorted to immigration. I don’t remember that. Another new form of intimidation?

 

 

 

 

Grits and Urban Revitalization, Durham, North Carolina

My North Carolina visit is coming to a close and I return to Oaxaca on Saturday, April 30. While I’ve been here, I’ve eaten a lot of grits, tomato gravy and fried green tomatoes.  I love grits.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville, North Carolina

A particular pleasure is catch up time with important friends with whom I have a deep, long and connected relationship. It makes me think about living here more during the year and buying instead of renting.

So, I went on the Durham, North Carolina bungalow tour with my friend Hettie, organized by the historic preservation society. The temptation to own one of these beauties is powerful. Hettie and I spent time cruising neighborhoods for home ownership possibilities for me.

Durham is gritty, one of those places that people are calling The Brooklyn of the South. Property values are skyrocketing and renovated bungalows in coming-back neighborhoods are snapped up within a day or two after being listed for sale.

Thanks to the New York Times and the plethora of imaginative restaurants here, Durham is a surge community. Soon-to-be opened condos in the city center are going for over $1 million. A few years ago, no one wanted to live here. It is becoming the epitome of upscale elitism and monied funk. Disparities are showing up here big time, pushing poor people out, raising the tax base.

I’m mesmerized by mixed Durham neighborhoods with ethnic, racial and economic diversity where 1200 square foot 1930s bungalows are selling for$300K+   That’s not my price range!

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

Cozy bungalow neutrals and branch cotton

As I begin to explore planting my feet here for part of the year, going back and forth to/from Oaxaca, I imagine what it would be like to be a home owner, support a mortgage, pay insurance, do maintenance and be with women with whom I have shared a connected intimacy over many years.

I’m open to a dialog about this. Now, for today, off to look at small houses in affordable neighborhoods that would be an entirely new living experience for me.

Why am I considering this?

  • Close to long-time, intimate friends
  • Having a base of my own in the USA
  • Access to university medical center health care
  • Living for today with a plan for tomorrow
  • Claiming a stake in real estate investment

What would be the downside?

  • Less discretionary income
  • Limited and less frequent international travel
  • Fewer opportunities to meet up with friends who live elsewhere
  • Fewer visits to west coast family
  • Higher fixed costs
  • Lifestyle changes

 

 

Somewhere Beyond Mexico: North Cackalacky, USA

North Cackalacky is an endearing slang term that many of us call our beloved adopted state of North Carolina. Also famous for her hot spicy barbecue sauce called, yes, Cackalacky. I just came back from a weekend in the mountains where apple orchards, dogwoods and azaleas were in full bloom.

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

On Green Mountain, Hendersonville, NC

The young maple leaves were that deep limey color we see in these parts, a Oaxaca counterpart only known by the juice I put in my Victoria beer. They don’t know Michelada (Mexico City style) or Suero (so-called in Oaxaca) here in North Cackalacky, but they do know beer.

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Poached eggs, tomato gravy, grit cakes, Early Girl Cafe, Asheville

Asheville has a beer pedal pub that holds 12 and goes up and down the streets, many of them hilly. You have to pedal while you swill, not an easy feat. Asheville has 30+ micro-breweries.

Hanging out at the Mothlight, West Asheville, NC

Hanging out at the Mothlight, midnight, West Asheville, NC

I gave my Asheville waiter the Suero recipe. He came up with fresh lemons. Lemonade beer. Not bad, but not Oaxaca. Bless his heart.

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

Window dressing at Table, farm to table Asheville restaurant

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hills and valleys. Winding roads that actually have lines painted down the middle and no potholes. Unlike Oaxaca. The hollers (that’s hollows in North Cackalacky) are the valleys between the hills where million dollar retirement houses and double-wides can sit side-by-side.

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

Moving the single-wide, Highway 9, Buncombe County, NC

We cross the Eastern Continental Divide. Climb to a bit over 3,000 feet. Look out at 6,000+ foot Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. In Teotitlan del Valle, we nestle in the Tlacolula Valley on a 6,000 foot high desert plateau surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks.

Coming to North Carolina is a homecoming for me. Here, I connect with family like friends who nurture my heart and soul. I eat soul satisfying food like grit cakes, hush puppies, sweet potato fries and liver ‘n onions at the Moose Cafe. I watch the Chef & the Farmer on PBS and hope to eat there, Downeast in Kinston, NC, someday.

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

Biscuits and apple sauce, Moose Cafe, Asheville

And, I’m also getting some things done, like finalizing my will, living will, health care power of attorney and medical directives, and completing some other essential legal paperwork.

Tomorrow, I go to Comeback Grit City, Durham, North Carolina, where renovated tobacco plants and warehouses promote urban dining and living. Friends will nurture me and we will revisit our long history together. I have brought along Gin Mezcal to get our tongues rolling.

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Leafing out lime green spring, North Carolina

Kathryn says she wants me to write about our trip down the mountain on Highway 9, from Hendersonville through Bat Cave to Old Fort, NC. It’s a long and very winding road through some backcountry neighborhoods. I’ll save that story for another time.

Cozy neutrals, branch cotton at K2 Studio

Cozy neutrals, cotton stems at K2 Studio, Asheville, NC

 

 

 

Dos Perros, Durham, NC, Mexican Restaurant Oaxaca Rug Decor

Durham, NC is the destination for dining, named among the top 10 locales in the U.S. for great restaurants and urban redesign.  The downtown is renewed, gentrified and electrified.  It is more than charming.  It is full of spunk and sizzle.  Turn the corner, discover another great dining room and bar with kick-A ambience. One of my favorite Durham eateries is Dos Perros–A Mexican Place. I’ve written about their fresh mango cayenne margaritas and tasty, reasonably priced wine list and knock-your-socks-off pozole with chicken and salsa verde.

 

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom

 

 

Yesterday, I dropped in for a visit with Charlie (owner) and Raul (manager) who selected four fantastic hand-woven and naturally dyed wool rugs made by our friend Federico Chavez Sosa for permanent display on the walls of the restaurant.  The rugs are beautiful and add a cozy, authentic decor to the brick walls of the renovated historic building that houses the dining spot. Federico is thrilled, too.  There have not been as many visitors to Oaxaca since the fear of drug violence has kept Americans and Canadians from traveling south.   So, we are grateful to Charlie and Raul for wanting to support Federico and his family while adding this special ambience to the Dos Perros restaurant decor.