Monday, May 30, 2011

Oaxaca street art

Untitledtaggerover my shoulderSilviauliseseyes of love
pray for mesurprised kingfishdead lookingtake me awayBaroque 2arte divina
almost goneasaroAJbleeding heartassassin clownbright bird man
as it isbaroquedead saintcurly precautiondangerous playdancing spray

Oaxaca street, a set by lesliepule on Flickr.

Photos by a good friend of Oaxaca's street art in May 2008. Some of this graffiti was still visible last summer.


I became fascinated by the expat experience way back when as an offshoot of my desire to get the hell out of the small town outside New Orleans where I grew up. My reading of A Passage to India and Henry James's novels created the framework for my experiences with the expatriates I met in my travels and provided me with many stereotypes which I used to classify, fairly or unfairly, all the characters I encountered.

I've been trolling the 'net for Oaxaca blogs and am surprised by how many there are by Americans living down there. I present a few random ones here (with no comment on my part) for your perusal. A couple of them have recent postings and photos about this year's teachers' strike that you might find interesting:

Jaguar Speaks

View from Casita Colibri

Oaxaca -- The Year After

And for local info in Spanish on happenings around town, one place to look is Oaxaca Hub.

Espero que los disfrute.

Cineclub El Pochote

One of the places that I didn't get to visit last year and planned to check out this summer was the Cineclub El Pochote, one of the projects supported by the artist Francisco Toledo. (Toledo is also responsible for CaSa and the Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca, among others.) The Cineclub had an eclectic program of film, concentrating on children's movies and classics of Mexican cinema, but also independents and the offbeat. Last summer I remember they were showing a series with titles like Frankenstein meets the Vampire Zombie or something like that. The theater was architecturally interesting, built into an 18th Century aqueduct that brought water from San Felipe del Agua, and supposedly had a nice sculpture garden and pond out back. It looked like a lot of fun and was close to where I'll be staying this summer.

So I've been searching the 'net looking for the most recent schedule or the blog that they used to keep and couldn't find any information. Sadly, I just came across this notice: "Anuncia Francisco Toledo cierre de cineclub “El Pochote” tras 17 años." This feels like a big loss for Oaxaca. Although the notice states that there are plans to relocate the cineclub, I can't find any evidence that has happened as of now. I'll be curious to find out what the space is being used for and hope I'll be pleasantly surprised in July to discover that the cinema has been reopened somewhere in the city.

As May draws to a close, I'm still working my way through the readings for the NEH institute this summer. I don't plan to blog about what I've gleaned from the articles and will save all my scathingly brilliant insights for my colleagues in Oaxaca. Let's just say that my longstanding embrace of a purely Marxist analysis of material culture is going through a long overdue sea change, and my somewhat smug belief that I've been on the side of the angels is taking a bit of a beating. ;-)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Oaxaca Lending Library

Photo via

Oaxaca has had an English language library for almost 50 years. The Oaxaca Lending Library runs special lectures and trips, language classes in Spanish and Zapotec for English speakers and programs for children and teenagers of Oaxaca who speak Spanish or indigenous languages. They also host duplicate bridge games on Tuesday afternoons which is how I came across them in the first place.

Their website is very informative as to their activities. Their hearts seem to be in the right place, and if some of what I read made me a little wary, it may have been that I was projecting my own experiences moving among expats in Italy onto this community. As someone who tends to read things very hypercritically, I probably just need to back off making any judgments for the time being.

Anyway, I'm especially intrigued by their program, Libros Para Pueblos, an outreach effort that seeks to help communities start and run libraries, and would like to learn more about it. Who ultimately decides where and when to open these libraries? Who runs them and what kind of support is provided? What kinds of books are purchased and who chooses them? Are all relevant languages represented? If anyone reading this has any info, leave a comment or email me.

In the meantime, for the casual visitor, the OLL has monthly memberships for 130 pesos, about $11. Even if you won't have time to do much leisure reading while in Oaxaca, it could be a good place to meet locals and get a feel for the expat experience there.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


photo via Wikipedia

And just a (slightly off topic) plug for Mexican soccer. Manchester United plays FC Barcelona for the Champions' League trophy today, and one of Man U's star players is Javier Hernandez, called Chicharito, who plays for the Mexican national team and hails from Guadalajara. Although I'm cheering for Barca, I'd like to see the Little Pea play well!


photo of Jan Hendrix sculpture via

Last summer, The Husband and I made our way up to the Centro des los Artes de San Agustin in San Agustin Etla to see the textile and ceramic exhibits. I was very struck by the retrospective of Mexico City artist Gustavo Perez and was delighted to see that he'll be working on a project with potters from San Bartolo Coyotepec, a village famous for its black pottery, and presenting the work at CaSa in early June.

Sadly I won't be there early enough to see it -- or two other shows, one of textiles and one of the installation artist, Jan Hendrix. I was happy to see on the NEH syllabus that we'll be visiting CaSa as part of our studies, and equally sorry to see that we would not be going to San Bartolo as a group. I hope this doesn't sound too whiny. I'm pretty good about other travel annoyances, and you'll rarely hear me complain about heat, bugs, bad food, peeing in a hole in the ground, or companions who are un poco desagradable . But I will bitch and moan about all the things I don't have time to see even as I deeply appreciate all the wonderful opportunities that travel brings. So I must learn to accept that there are inevitable trade-offs to make when you have a limited amount of time in a place with so many things to absorb.

In the meantime, I'll add San Bartolo to my ever-growing list of places to go in my free time!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The annual Oaxaca teacher's strike has begun. You can read about it in the Latin American Herald Tribune and Noticias. I expect everyone associated with the NEH Oaxaca is keeping an eye on the situation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where to eat in Oaxaca City

There won't be enough days in July to try all the food that's available to the traveler to Oaxaca, but I'm sure going to try. Last summer's visit helped me get oriented, but I'll need to make a serious plan of action if I intend to sample as much as possible. But the first thing I'm going to do after my plane lands and I take a collectivo to my room is to walk to Paseo Juarez El Llano to the Popeye's there and get a paleta:

Photo of a cajeta paleta (goat's milk & caramel) courtesy of

Then I'd like to go to Marco Polo if it's still open for a seafood splurge. Since most Oaxacans eat their biggest meal before 5pm, they only open for breakfast and "lunch" and are closed by 6:30pm.

On my way back to my room, I'll have to stop by a tienda and get some cacahuates japones for snacking later. If you've never had these, they are highly addictive peanuts covered with a soy or chili flavored shell, salty and just a tad sweet.

The next morning, I'd like to revisit Cafeteria La Principal for a light breakfast of pan tostado con miele and some of their wonderful cafe. This tiny storefront shop had just opened last summer while I was in Oaxaca, and I'm happy to see the two sisters who own it have become quite popular. They make yummy sandwiches that will be perfect for days when the NEH group is on the road and I need food to go.

I expect many of my colleagues who are traveling down with the NEH have favorites and recommendations of their own which they'll share. In the meantime, if you haven't been to Oaxaca or just want a little tease of what you're looking forward to foodwise, Eat Your World -- Oaxaca has a brief illustrated explanation of some typical Oaxacan foods. The blog Goodies First has a nice post on Oaxacan market food.

And there's a wonderful Flickr group of photos that will get your mouth watering (check out the link as there are pages and pages of images):

Ensaladas (La Biznaga)EntradasLa BiznagaHosteria de AlcalaHuevos en SalsaHosteria
Chicken and grapefruittasajomorongobuffetcomalamezcal treasure hunt
Where to eat in Oaxaca City Mosaicwhere everybody knows your nameComalaComalaBrujulaTlayuda
Stone SoupHeating the StonesCafe Los CuilesTio GueroMenu EspecialColibri