Monday, June 28, 2010

Cactus in a cup

J and I hit up el mercado today in search of some ice cream described in her guidebook. The heladero was kind enough to give us a few samples of the rarer flavors, which turned out to be a good thing, as the Beso de Oaxaca (literally a "Oaxacan kiss," and even more literally a mouthful of shredded dried fruit) and the leche quemada turned out not to be my bag. I kind of assumed leche quemada (literally "burnt milk") was a metaphor, but it turned out to be an all too accurate description. You can really taste the burning, which is not the sort of thing I personally look for in an ice cream.

I ended up going fairly traditional--chocolate and coconut--whereas J strayed into more adventurous territory, ordering a mixture of mango con chile (which is exactly what it sounds like) and tuna (which is not). La tuna is actually a cactus, and it turned out to be fairly refreshing. According to our heladero, chocolate and lime are the most popular flavors for children, whereas Oaxacan adults tend to go for leche quemada and tuna (so points to J for authenticity). His personal favorite is mezcal, which is the local liquor of choice, and he let me try a sample. Imagine a scoop of rum raisin without the raisins, and instead of rum, rubbing alcohol.

I am not a fan of mezcal--even in ice cream form.

As we ate, we were approached by several vendors selling bookmarks, scarves and other trinkets, and we began to wonder about the market's target audience. Some of the items (the hunks of raw meat speared on hooks, dark towers of chiles, wet mounds of mole, tortilla dough) are clearly for locals, whereas others (gewgaws and trinkets and festive sombreros) are clearly targeting a foreign audience.

I've done enough reading on tourism theory to know that tourism can harm a community as easily as it can help it, and I'm very conscious of my role as a tourist in this country. So today I ate ice cream (buying local = good!) but refused to purchase any of the Oaxacan gimcracks (spurning the informal economy = bad!) and took the bus (local transport = good!) and then walked to a popular church (photographing sacred spaces = bad!).

Granted, the tourism conundrum is significantly more complicated than I'm making it out to be here, but as today was one of my more touristy (as opposed to academic) days, I was highly conscious of my impact on the local environment. At this point I'm just hoping to break even. Perhaps some further research at the ice cream stand is in order....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How we roll...

When I first arrived in the Czech Republic, I struggled to wrap my tongue around the language. The rhythm and the unfamiliar consonants were daunting, and my roommates and I used to wander around town, muttering words to ourselves. This not only gave us practice, but was a good deterrant against thieves. Also dates.

Then one day we went to the grocery store and practiced sounding out the words on all the packages. Somewhere near the checkout line, we began to wonder what we'd think if we saw a group of girls in the United States, staring at a package and muttering, "haaaaaaaaaaaaaam" or "meeeelk," which is, I'm sure, what we sounded like to the locals.

This story came back to me Thursday when we travelled to Teochtitlan del Valle, where the women taught us how to make tortillas. Our group took several thousand pictures as we rolled the dough between our palms, flattened it in a large, green press and heated the tortillas over a wide, flat stove.

The women were polite, although I imagine I'd be slightly bemused if a pack of tourists came into my home to marvel at the novelty of preparing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. So here are some photos (and a video!) of the gawking masses and although I don't appear in any of them, I assure you I was gawking with the best of them.

This tortilla is about to get flattened like a pancake.

J eats a tortilla con salsa.

V gets artistic with the tortilla dough.

Why the X?

Two "fun facts" about Mexico that you may have casually observed but never understood why:

1) Cinco de Mayo. It's ubiquitous in the States. If one's not careful, though, he might think the holiday celebrates Mexico's independence from Spain (1810). Nay. It celebrates Mexico's defeat of France when the latter sought debt collection, ca. 1862. However, after this battle in Puebla (state just north of Oaxaca), the French recouped and routed the Mexicans... then occupied central Mexico for some time.

2) The "X" in so many words. You'll be hard-pressed to come across so many of these letters outside of Mexican Spanish. Our professor here told us that, later in the 1800s, starting with "Mejico," the country's leadership changed "J" for "X" in many words as a way of flipping the bird to the Spanish; to establish an identity away from the conquitadores.

Repeat these two histories at your next dinner party and you're sure to impress all attentive spectators.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Does my moustache intimidate you?

Went to the movies last night to catch an educational film on the myth of the Porfiriato, the thirty-year period in which Porfirio Diaz ruled the country. When we arrived, we discovered the evening's entertainment consisted instead of this little gem, a film called "El Rayo de Sinaloa: II."

This movie had all the subtlety of a sucker punch, with considerably less clarity. But if you like incompetent villains, mustachioed heroes and a leading lady who can bat her eyelashes while coquettishly spearing a slab of beef on a meathook, then I can say with all sincerity that this is the film for you.

Our group got a bit giggly during a few scenes, my personal favorites being the man who, having been "shot" carefully located the stunt mattress before gracefully leaping from the roof, and a romantic scene that involved both a tuburcular coughing fit and horseback canoodling -- because evidently nothing says "romance" like hacking up a lung on the dusty trail.

So the film was a bit of a wash, but it was an interesting experience. Heraclio was evidently a Robin Hood-esque figure who believed in the redistribution of land and money--a major theme in the history of Mexico. After the film, some of us went out for ice-cream and others went for tacos, so clearly it was an evening of high culture all around.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Of Bread and Bimbos

Because I am incredibly immature, the name of this bread company amuses me. (This photo is from last week's ball game.)

There's a popular joke around here that goes something like this: The pope calls all his cardinals together and tells them, "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that our financial worries are over! Coca-Cola has agreed to pay us a massive sum of money if we, every week, change the words of the Lord's Prayer to say 'Give us this day our daily Coca-Cola.' The bad news is, we're going to have to lose the Bimbo contract."

I'd heard the same joke years ago, only with KFC and Wonder Bread. I guess some things are truly universal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Falling For Oaxaca Or "my most embarrassing moment ever"

"My life is a series of embarrassing incidents strung together by telling people about those embarrassing incidents" -Russell Brand

I've been in a committed relationship with the United States for the last 21 years. Although we went through an 8 year rough patch, me and America have worked our hardest to work hard for each other. Even though our relationship has been mostly long distance this past year, I really feel like we've made some progress. I pay taxes and vote, and it is sort of offering possibly free medical care- and this time it isn't just sweet sweet love. That's why I'm a bit ashamed to admit that recently I've been feeling butterflies for another place, namely Oaxaca.
I had so much fun this past week and really felt like me and Oax might have something special together. I didn't want to rush into things too quick but I thought it might be good if me and Oax had a mutual interest So it was with great excitement that i attended my first Mexican baseball game between triple-A teams the Guerreros (Oaxaca) and the Yucatan. So far our group has traveled in packs and Saturday's game was no exception. This may come as a surprise, but traveling in a large group of light skinned Americans is not really the best way to retain anonymity. Thus it didn't come as too much of a surprise when the Guerrero's scantily clad cheerleaders asked if 8 of us gringos would participate in some sort of 7th inning stretch.
I should begin by saying that I knew humiliation was imminent from the moment the cheerleaders asked for us to volunteer. However the depths of said humiliation were extremely unclear at the time of consent. I should say here that while I firmly believe any relationship should involve mutual respect, I also believe it should involve some role play to keep things spicy. Read: public embarrassment is part of being a foreigner. As long as you don't disrespect another culture and don't cross your own boundaries of self-respect, the least you can do is offer a laugh for the people who's country you're inhabiting. So it was with this mentality that obliged when a woman in fish nets gave me a bat, walked me out onto the field and told me to bend over and spin around the bat several times and then run 10 yards.
What can I say? I was majorly crushing on Oaxaca...I had a huge case of puppy love. In short, I was falling for Oaxaca and I wanted to prove my love with a grand gesture of humility and maybe, just maybe, with a little bit of luck, some grace and bravo.
I went onto the field well aware of my lack of coordination and less than glorious athletic past. If ever there was time for a miracle it was now. If a cupid of international relations exists, believe you me I was praying to it. Sadly, what happened next only confirmed my lack of dignity and poise in the face of love.
At first I thought...this isn't so bad. 5 spins later things began to change. At one point while spinning around I actually lifted the bat from the field in an effort to regain a bit of my balance (I hoped this action was discreet but apparently was not). When they finally told us to run my response was less than stellar. I admit I was kind of hoping to get to first base with Oaxaca in the stadium that night. In a characteristic show of over-excitement and nerves, I ran about one foot and promptly fell onto my back, legs splayed high in the air. The irony is not lost on me that they had us run towards home plate, not first base. I was eventually able to get back up and run to the designated location where a Guerreros hat awaited me. Despite this small token of appreciation, I pretty much ruined any chance of playing hard to get with Oaxaca then and there, on the 1st base line of Guerreros stadium between the 7th and 8th inning. My man Will Shakespeare once said "The course of true love never did run smooth" and how right he was. Regardless, I still can't shake this feeling of love for Oaxaca and will continue to do my best to make it love me back, one laugh at a time. Just don't tell America.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Buy me some tacos and cracker jacks...

Having spent a larger portion of my high school years in stirrup pants than I'd like to admit, I'm not really accustomed to attracting the attention of cheerleaders, and am generally a little nervous when I do. But the part of my brain that recognizes potential public disgrace was, tragically, silent today.

So when a Guerrerita (a cheerleader for the local triple A team -- Go Guerreros!) approached us at the stadium today and asked if eight of us would be willing to accompany her for a special task, I was more than happy to oblige. We were all aware that our selection may have had something to do with racial profiling. The stadium wasn't exactly packed, and we were definitely the largest (if not the only) group of gringos in the joint.

The potential for being subjected to humiliating behavior was clear, but what's life without adventure? Not only did I agree to complete some anonymous task, I actually strong-armed some of my friends into coming along.

"What's the worst that could happen?" I asked. "We face catastrophic humiliation and make asses of ourselves in front of dozens. So what's the big deal?"

And so eight of us left our seats and happily followed the friendly stranger into the unknown.

I'm not going to tell you what happened next. I really think Holly had the best on-the-ground perspective of the whole scene, so I'll leave that to her. Suffice it to say that the stadium seemed a lot fuller on the walk back to our seats. The interminable walk back to our very, very distant seats.

On the bright side, the Guerreros trounced the Yucatan Leones, 7-1, and everybody got a free hat. Holler!

I'm not going to accuse the cheerleaders of applying a double standard, but it is worth noting that the two chicos who volunteered got a completely different assignment, which was fairly incomprehensible. I believe it involved carrying a heavy sack for some distance, but in the video below (which I can post confidently, since Mike still hasn't figured out how to log in and cannot remove it) shows the action.

It kind of looks like he's taking out the garbage, but I assure you it was much more dramatic at the time.

Not Sure Blogging is for Me

Mexico has been a wonderful trip so far. The rain has been coming down with the intent to save us from sunburns but today it has made a grand appearance. It's absolutely lovely. It also makes things a little bit warmer but that's okay because I'm tired of wearing a jacket. I went to Telcel today and successfully purchased a chip for my cell phone. The problem is that my phone is not unlocked to be used and it would cost even more money to pay for the phone call to get it done. Luckily, I have pushed that task onto my brother and hope to have cell phone use by the end of the day. You would never believe how much we depend on our cell phones until using one is not an option. The internet has also caused me pain. I just didn't realize that my life depended on the internet so intensely. I started working my schedule around where and when I could use the internet. I still have to work on internship applications for the fall while doing my homework for my classes here and experiencing the culture of Oaxaca. I've always been a multi-tasker, but I feel that my blogs on here will be few and far between because there is just so much else to do. The Oaxaca program is amazing and I intend to fully enjoy everything that is planned for us to do!

Drop (Salsa) Beats Not Bombs

Thus far I have been very impressed with all the cultural happenings Oaxaca has to offer. Wednesday night a few of us attended a book talk focusing on the Uruguayan leftist author Raul Zibechi and a Mexican author, Raquel GutiƩrrez Aguilar. We went in hopes of hearing the famed Zibechi speak on leftist politics in Latin America. He was rather unsuccessfully skyped in- a cool idea in theory but perhaps not in practice. The surprise of the night was Ms. Aguilar, who spoke a lot about the feminist struggle within revolutionary social movements. I bought her book, Desandar El Labarinto and am quite excited to read it!
On Thursday the group visited the ruins of Monte Alban (see previous posts on this blog) and the market in Zaachila. The market lacked the regular number of tourists, save for a few people who ate next to us at lunch. It turned out those people were visiting artists from San Francisco showing some of their works for this weekend only. A few of us decided to go and enjoyed some wonderful works by artists like Art Hazelwood, Juan R Fuentes, and Calixto Robles. Among my favorite pieces was "Made in the USA" (shown above) depicted a women working in the field while small bombs rain down around her. I also recognized several of the locals in attendance from the book talk a few days earlier. We are now on a mission to crack the art scene and get in with the locals, one event at a time.
After the show we met the rest of our abroad group at the salsa club Candelera. After a week of studying the people and politics of Oaxaca, it was a real treat to study the beautiful art of salsa dance. Unfortunately the 50 peso entry free was not such a treat (props to Brent for getting it down to 40 a head). Regardless, we all enjoyed dancing the night away and watching the locals do the same...only more gracefully. I look forward to attending more art shows and salsa clubs in the future!

First Blog of Oaxaca

I suppose there is a first time for everything, and this includes blogging too! I´ve never been prone to blogging or my thoughts on things but this is a great way to share our study abroad experience(s) and really document what's been going on in Oaxaca this summer!

I arrived in Mexico a week before most of the other students, to visit family that I have living in Guadalajara. It isn´t frequent that I take a trip down to Mexico, although I´ve now been down here a good amount, so my Mom and I decided to visit them before I started the program in Oaxaca. First of all, if anyone gets a chance to visit Guadalajara, I highly recommend it. It is akin to Mexico City in that it is one of Mexico´s biggest and most popular/populous cities, as well as the capital of the state of Jalisco, but it is also the cleanest and safest large city in Mexico today. My aunt and uncle (technically my Mom´s cousin and her husband, but I was informed that in Mexico, most family members of that nature can be referred to as aunts and uncles, just as I would be regarded as their niece) live in an amazingly beautiful "family compound" that has been in the family for years and includes multiple houses all inhabited by brothers/sisters and their families. My uncle's father, who passed away a few years ago, was essentially the patriarch of the property and almost all of the 8 brothers and sisters now live in the various houses with their families. Once I am able to upload pictures without too much hassle, I will put the pictures here.

Like most cities in Mexico, Guadalajara also has a rich history and great parts of town to experience true Mexican art and culture. My mom and I visited Tlaquepaque, a beautiful place to find truly amazing pieces of art and souvenirs by many different artesanias. Once I have a house of my own to decorate and style, I will definitely be making a trip back down to Guadalajara to buy furnishings and artwork there!

There are many more things to share about Guadalajara, but for now I just wanted to say that 1) I recommend it if you have a chance to visit and 2) It was great to spend some time in Mexico before the start of our program to get accustomed to speaking the language again (after many years) and easing into a completely different enviroment from our own in the United States.

Now on to OAXACA!

I arrived in Oaxaca in the afternoon of June 12, just in time for a torrential downpour that left me and my bags soaked and the streets a little flooded. I was greeted somewhat hesistantly by Laura and our program leader, Oliver, who weren't exactly sure who they were looking for, but we spotted each other pretty quickly. Laura and I also spotted Oliver´s personal safety device, a.k.a. the ninja machete sword that he keeps in a sheef (sp?) in his car and immediately took a liking to our new teacher! So badass.

Casa Arnel (our hotel) was such a sweet looking and quaint place, with a courtyard filled with plants and animals and is just one example of why I just LOVE Mexican architecture. Love the courtyards, and the tiles, and the stucco, and all of that. (Will insert pictures here soon to explain what I mean). Oh, and they had hammocks. Love those too.

We spent the weekend getting to know each other and exploring the city a little bit. A brief rundown of what we got to see/experience on our first weekend: lots of rain, new food (tacos pastor, mole, etc.), 15 parrots and one scary looking dog, bathrooms with showers in between the sink and toilet, el Zocalo and tent city filled with los maestros protesting/staking claim to their territory, pirated DVDs galore, and some more rain. But all in all...a great first weekend and on Monday, we met our host families and started class!

Blogging is kind of exhausting and I will continue the story of Oaxaca Summer 2010 soon!!

The Adventure Begins...

This is the first time I have signed onto the blog since I joined some weeks ago after our Oaxaca orientation at American and I see that Laura has pretty much held down the fort for us American students. Nonetheless, I will try to add my two cents of the Oaxacan experience thus far.

Our trip started out at Hotel Arnel where were greeted by a host of local animals: approximately 10 very vocal parrots and one hairless beast resembling a dog, named Rex. I am ashamed to admit that I never captured this beast on film, however, the birds did not escape me. It was from this hotel we got our first taste of Oaxaca.

We walked to streets to the Zocolo where we encountered tent covered streets which we would later learn were from the teacher's protests. We had our first meals during which we all ordered food that left us unsure of what we would actually be consuming that night. My favorite meal was tacos de pastor, an old favorite of mine from when I lived in Merida, Mexico. I saw the spinning pork glowing from a mile away and my mouth began to salivate; I was all too happy to satisfy the craving.

We arrived at our home-stays on Monday and Jamie and I met our Oaxacan mother, Guillermina, also known as "Mi Mi." So far she has been wonderful. She often shares stories with us of past students and tells us about her family who are constantly in and our of her house. Oddly enough, most of her grandchildren are boys in their early teens who want nothing to do with two girls in their twenties. Perhaps they will warm up to us soon.

School at the Universidad de la tierra has started off great as well. Oliver, our fearless leader, has given us a great introduction to the city of Oaxaca and a general overview of Mexico as well. We had our first field trip on Thursday to Monte Alban. The views were breathtaking and the history of the ancient civilization was mind boggling. During the field trip we also stopped by a local market and ate lunch in the small city of Zaachila. Below are photos from the field trip which I hope capture a small part of the experience.

More posts and pictures are sure to come as we continue our Oaxacan adventure. Next week's blog is sure to tell what this weekend will hold.

In search of pie

So earlier this week, J and I were chatting with our host mom about food, which is one of our favorite subjects. Our host sister had just served us some insanely delicious crepes with dulce de leche, and we were discussing baking projects. In Spanish, I explained that I preferred to make cakes and cookies, but that I had a little trouble with ... and here I paused.

The word I wanted was "pie." And in high school, the word I'd learned for that was torta. But in Oaxaca, a torta is a delicious sandwich (like the one pictured above) which we happened to be eating at the time. Clearly I needed a different word, so I tried to describe it.

It is like a cake, but it is not a cake, I explained. It has the dough at the bottom, and sometimes at the top, but sometimes no. And in the interior there is fruit or sometimes cream or something sweet. In high school, we said torta, but it is not torta like this (gesturing toward the sandwich).

Years ago, as an English teacher, I'd had a similar conversation in the Czech Republic and was crushed to learn that my students had only a dim understanding of pie. It was near Thanksgiving, and in a fit of nostalgia, I'd ended up drawing three-dimensional diagrams on the board, to no avail. I was beginning to fear that Oaxacans would be equally unfamiliar with the fabulousness of pie, but my fears were baseless. My host mom nodded in comprehension. Clearly she knew the word I was looking for.

"Es como pie?" she asked. Is it like pie? Um, yes, as it happens. It is very much like pie...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Monte Alban

This perturbed-looking individual is not contemplating the folly of a rapidly consumed street taco. He is (as the sign suggests) credited with discovering Monte Alban, an archeological site outside of Oaxaca. It's the largest I've ever visited, and it's absolutely mind-boggling to imagine the work that went into constructing it without modern tools.

I'm including more photos below, including the remains of a warrior whose post-battle edema was treated by trepanning (thanks to a sharp piece of obsidian and a doctor with very steady hands) and a victory dance atop one of the many platforms we scaled today.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oaxaca: Lapidarium Edition

No deep thoughts to share today, so I'm posting photos from our bus tour of the city and foot tour of the neighborhood, which will be really exciting if you're into Mexican statuary. For reasons I don't totally understand, you also have to scroll way down to reach it.

A fountain in downtown Oaxaca.
Seven women (representing seven communities of Oaxaca) surround a man on a pedastal.
Please feel free to apply your own feminist interpretation here.
Evidently this is the only thing I took any pictures of all day.
I apologize. I thought this was going to be a more varied and interesting display. I hope you like statues.
Just to switch it up, I'm including this, which may be the first time in history that a professor and student have been photographed pointing emphatically at a map -- in a completely candid and unposed moment.
And because I evidently have an obsession with rooftop dogs, here's another shot from the neighborhood.

I call this one Wiggles the Wonder Mutt, because you can just tell he's ready for action.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Learning Spanish is different from learning French

This might seem obvious seeing as the two, while similar in many respects, are very distinct languages. However, as someone who has only ever studied a language in a classroom setting, the marked difference I feel, even after only a few days, between learning French in school and learning Spanish in Mexico, comes as a big surprise.

I'm a book learner. It's how I've defined myself over the years (and probably why I am currently in grad school rather than a professional something-or-other... although I eventually want to be a professional something-or-other). While my grandfather, mother, and sister have all at various times learned a language simply by listening and speaking and interacting, I've always maintained that I need to study the language to learn it -- that is, I need to know the verbs, study the conjugations, the tenses, understand where to place adjectives, etc.

Yet here I find myself in Mexico with some basic vocab thanks to a brief introduction to Spanish back in sixth grade, but no real understanding of the underlying principles of the language structure and... whaddya know, I'm kind of speaking Spanish!

Of course, my Spanish is nothing that a real Spanish-speaker would be impressed with, nothing that could even really get me through a day of exploring Oaxaca on my own. But this whole new way of learning is what excites me, realizing that I know what "como" means, not because I read it in a book or looked it up in a dictionary, but because I've heard it in context several times now, and figured it out for myself. To be fair, I picked up a "Spanish Step-by-Step" book at the used bookstore before I left, and it's actually been very helpful so far, but even that book takes a fairly loose approach to teaching grammar and structure, relying more on example conversations to teach basic vocabulary and sentence constructions. And Spanish classes started today, which is actually a bit of a relief, to think that I *will* learn those grammar rules and practices that I'm currently missing in my rudimentary attempts to put together a comprehensible sentence from the ad hoc terms I've picked up here and there. But as I listen more and more to the Spanish that surrounds me here in Oaxaca, I realize how much I am picking up just from being here and wanting to understand what is going on around me. It also makes me realize that it's not as simple as just going to a country and listening in -- you really have to have these conversations and interactions constantly going on around you to pick up on what's going on.

At the risk of sounding narcissistic and self-centered, I'm really enjoying seeing my personal process of learning Spanish unfold. And, though I am enjoying Mexico and am excited by this introduction to a new language, it also makes me wonder where a similar immersion experience in a French-speaking country could take me.

Dog on a Hot Tin Roof

This is Samurai. Like most dogs in Oaxaca, he lives on the roof, Snoopy-style, and seems fairly content to do so. We met Samurai yesterday when we received our house assignments and met our host families. I'm in a house with Jackie just a few blocks from the school. We have a host mother as well as two host siblings who live in the house. They have three brothers, two of whom live in town and occasionally stop by.

I can't even begin to express how much Jackie and I love our host family, and not just because they ply us with delicious food at regular intervals. Our room looks out over the rooftop garden. Beyond that is Samurai's turf, and beyond that is the city and then the mountains.

A lot of families in Oaxaca have dogs and, as I said before, a lot of them live on the roof, where there's more space for them to move around. My favorite is the golden retriever down the block, whom I call "El Rey" because he is downright regal. I tried tosnap a picture this morning as he surveyed his realm, but the lighting was pretty poor. Nonetheless, I think the picture below captures some of his majesty. You can tell by the way he holds that tennis ball that he rules the neighborhood with an iron paw.
I'm not entirely sure why I love this dog, but there's something about his face that appeals to me. He disappears from time to time, so I suspect he may have access to the indoors as well--another indication of his privileged position. I hope Rey's exercising it now, as the afternoon rains have just picked up and it's pouring buckets. But all is warm and dry indoors and it looks like another relaxed afternoon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Settling In

June 13: We left the hotel this morning and headed north. Or possibly west. I've never had much of a head for directions and I was perfectly content to follow the crowd, which consisted of me, Jackie, Kelly, Amelia and Brent, one of the students from the Arizona program. At any rate, we wound our way through the grid of Oaxaca's streets for two hours, so I'm sure we were facing both north and west at some point on the journey.

The avenues are wide, lined on either side by the concrete faces of houses, hotels, restaurants and other local businesses. We made our way to the main plaza, ducking to avoid the white and blue tarps that cut across many of the streets, providing protection from the sun and the afternoon rains (above). The plaza was full of busy tents where vendors sold fruit and scarves and wallets and DVDs—everything bright and loud. Some of the tents were festooned with political slogans, and we decided that they probably belonged to activists, arriving early in the city to claim space for the upcoming teachers' protests.

We wandered out of the market onto streets that were pale and hot in the late morning sun. Brent ducked into a covered market and the rest of us followed, happy to be in the shade again. Several stalls in front of us, somebody was killing a rat on the floor. This was about twenty yards beyond the entrance we'd just come in, and we were surrounded on either side by meat vendors. Flies buzzed around the yellow bodies of plucked chickens and slack-jawed fish gaped at us in bemusement. I can't really do justice to the smell, but there are very few things in this world that could make me wish I were closer to a rodent assassination—and the aroma of the meat stalls was propelling me forward at a rapid pace.

Fortunately, we soon found ourselves in happier territory, surrounded by fruits and jewelry and eerie Disney-inspired piƱatas. We also found ourselves by a friendly chocolate vendor who insisted we sample the organic chocolate-almond bites, which I was more than happy to do.

After a long break for the afternoon siesta, I set out with a smaller group in search of chocolate. The square was still bustling. This time of year is always big for teacher protests, and June 14 is the anniversary of the protests that turned violent in 2006, so there was a lot of activity. All in all, it was a pretty busy day. (At right, K & J enjoy some chocolate sin churros.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hasta luego, DC!

Three days before I fly to Mexico, my friends and I meet at a bar in D.C. for a farewell bash. Half the crowd is from grad school, so there's a lot of academic talk mixed in with the typical D.C. wonkery, which is fine by me. I grew up here, but even I get tired of the standard D.C. conversations after a while. Fortunately, the other half of the crowd is non-academic, so I get some practice explaining my research without using jargon and then the conversation drifts naturally to other topics.

We're there maybe six hours, talking about international communication and diplomacy and online dating and Strasburg's debut, and the evening is complete when Michaele Salahi herself teeters through the crowd in a pair of strappy sandals, her hair a color and texture rarely observed in nature. Sure, she looks as if she's heading toward the bathroom, but I know why she's really here: to crash my party, of course.

I am definitely going to miss D.C.