Monday, March 09, 2015

36 Hours in Oaxaca Environs

Saint Jerome Church in Tlxoxhahuaya, Mexico.
It is still dark at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning in Oaxaca, Mexico. Apparently, I've just awakened Earl by innumerable tappings on my laptop keyboard, as I select photos for this post. I was awake at 4:00, stayed in bed until after 5:00 and then, felt that time was better spent writing about our first day in Oaxaca than staying in bed.
Yesterday was a wonderful day, filled with visits to churches (of which I am only writing about one), a Sunday Indian market and the ruins at Mitla. I was enchanted with St. Jerome in Tlxoxhahuaya, a 16th century Dominican painted church, with gold altarpiece and the most decorative, eccentric organ I've ever seen - note the golden faces on the pipes. The ornamentation in this church is both naive and sophisticated. So unlike the churches in Rome, Siena, Naples and Venice. Far less formal, maybe? A freer hand was given here, perhaps, so far away from Spain? Or was it the blending of Spanish and indigenous cultures?
Hard to believe that just 24 hours after we left for the airport on Saturday afternoon, we'd meandered through Oaxacan churches, an Indian market and ruins at Mitla. It took us two tries to leave home for the airport. Just beyond the Cullen/Lockwood exit, I remembered that my iPhone was still charging in the dining room, so we looped back to Idylwood where I experienced a moment of fortuitous serendipity.
"I'll get a swig of Pepto too," I said to Earl. Something I'd eaten earlier in the day? An unhappy gut even before arriving in Mexico?
Lucky for me that I needed a swallow of Pepto, because I found, on the bathroom cabinet shelf, my two hearing aids, forgotten after an afternoon shower. I'd not have been happy on this week long trip without these new hearing aids. I am in with love them. They make Earl happy too, as I make far fewer requests to repeat or enunciate. I recount this story about returning home for an iPhone, because it seemed as if the universe stepped in on my behalf. Intuition and synchroncity at work. I flew out of Houston with iPhone, hearing aids and a settled stomach.
Pool at Oaxaca Real. Dining patio above.
Now begins the telling of our first 36 hours in Oaxaca. We are staying at the Oaxaca Real, which is several blocks from El Zocalo. Earl was not happy with our assigned room, and so asked to see another. The second room had French doors with a minuscule balcony overlooking the pool and a queen bed, which to me looked more like a small old fashioned double bed. However, he was delighted with it all.
We settled in and then so did hunger and fatigue. Dinner was imperative, so we headed out to a restaurant he'd read about on-line.
Cathedral Restaurant, very red and somewhat pretentious.
What can I write about this restaurant that was pleasant, but pretentious. Never in my experience has wait staff proffered so many white plates of all sizes and shapes. As soon as one of us appeared to have taken a last bite, our plate was lifted away, with no thought that our dining partner may still have been eating. Wish I'd counted the number of plates that were given and then removed for yet another. We shared an appetizer of sliced scallops with cucumber and onions. Good choice. We also shared a platter of traditional Oaxaca fare. Disappointing, perhaps because we really needed a lighter meal or perhaps because the lighting was so dim and we could not see what we ate.
Or was I simply tired and overly conscious of the speed of the servers and the numbers of white plates set before me? Enough.
No electrical outlets near our bed so no sleep machine on Sunday night. When we opened the draperies early on Sunday morning to survey the pool, the left door hinges came undone, making the glass door list dangerously. Earl went to the front desk to ask both for an extension cord for the sleep machine and for a door hinge repair.
Then at breakfast, we indulged in hot chocolate and a buffet with papaya and melon slices, scalloped potatoes, spaghetti of sorts? and scrambled eggs.
Mexican hot chocolate for breakfast.
Earl has engaged a guide for three days of our week and Benito Hernandez did not disappoint. He is entertaining, filled with information and a comfortable companion throughout the day. In his van, we headed east toward Mitla, with stops at churches and the Tlacolula Centro market. I believe this was the 'big' market that I missed seeing 40 years ago when my former husband and I travelled to Oaxaca with the Hughes and I was laid low with tourista.
Our first stop was at Saint Jerome Church, at which I was transfixed. The painted walls and ceilings were so unexpected and the gold embellishments over the carved wood were over the top.
Painted urns/baskets of flowers covered the walls with geometric precision, bouquets and putti dotted the ceilings, all with with a looseness I do not remember seeing in Italy. Almost like fabric patterns, not at all like the grotesqueries in Roman churches and palazzos. Lovely to see, don't you think?
We may have lingered over long at the church. We even climbed the narrow spiral stairs that led to that wonderfully eccentric organ on which Benito gave Earl a short lecture while I took more photos of the ceiling. So what's new about this division of labor?
Loved seeing the market, though the Indian crafts that Earl remembers from the 1970s are gone. The baskets and black pots are there, but look more commercial. The more idiosyncratic black clay candlesticks and mermaids? We didn't see any. The food market is still filled with smoke and good cooking smells, fruit and vegetable stalls. Indian women wear the dress of their villages. We found a row of braziers on which women grilled meat, green onions and peppers. Other women stopped by with stacks of hot tortillas. We bought meat and onions, watched them being grilled and then wrapped in tortillas. What a lunch!
After lunch, we drove on to Mitla's three ruin sites. We visited two. I know I am giving Mitla short shrift because the hour is late. I have taken far too much time writing this. Suffice it to say that by 4:00 p.m. on our first day in the Oaxaca Valley, we and our guide were tired and we headed back to our hotel. We'll see Benito again on Tuesday morning and head out for Monte Alban.
No mortar used with this volcanic rock. Note how tightly it was placed hundreds of years ago.
Today is Monday, our second here, and I suspect we'll see another church or two and the Benitao Juarez Market. I noticed there is a store around the corner that looks like one of the old time government arts and crafts stores. Will that be our first stop after breakfast?
One last photo from Mitla. This one is for Isabella in Rome. That is your dress I am wearing.

P.S. After we returned to our hotel, weary and hungry, Earl opened the draperies to discover that the door he'd reported as having lost its hinges had been removed. There was NO door at all. So, another visit to the front desk where the response was "You've got to be kidding." They came, they saw NO door and we were moved to our third room in 36 hours. BTW, all is well.

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