City and Salad

Salad Days

We have just spent a month in an apartment in the amazing city of Oaxaca. The rooms had super high ceilings, thick adobe walls and were an attachment to the spectacular church next door. The apartments surround a lovely little fountain and garden with massive banana plants, all giving an atmosphere of hushed monk-like serenity. This all changes as you pull open the heavy wooden doors to the street and experience a multi-sensory assault, the noise, brightness and smells of the city hit you like a thump. I’ve always said Mexico is a land of great contrasts!

Mostly we lived pretty quietly and cheaply, but had some excursions including:  Sunday jazz in a gorgeous tropical garden, visits into the centre where you never knew what might be happening, (a revolutionary film set, a literary festival, models wearing bridal gowns), a woozy visit to a mescal bar where we were persuaded against our better judgement to play/sing ‘summertime’ with the house jazz band, making food for our friends, cocktails on a rooftop terrace and weekly visits into the country to play with our buddies in San Pablo Etla. We have met so many interesting people here who have shown us great generosity in welcoming us into their community.

Ocotlan market

Our big trip was to Ocotlan, somewhere I remember putting a big tick next to it in the guidebook, but we never got around to going when we were here two and a half years ago. We were the only ones on the trip so had a personal car and escort.  We went first to the Ococtlan museum in the convent next to the church. It had been recommended by friends but we were very underwhelmed and slightly hysterical at first as we were shown yet another old empty wooden box from the 17th century. When we got upstairs however I understood why we had been advised to go. There was a large gallery full of  Rodolfo Morales paintings and painted pillars. We both became instant fans, his work is richly coloured and beautifully observant of Mexican life, with ethereal spiritual elements and a great confidence in imagination, think Chagall meets Matisse.  We then visited the market which is hard to describe but I’ll give it a go: vast, fun, bewildering, shocking, hilarious, tasty, colourful. Next we were taken out of town to a small market where the good ladies make textiles, the workmanship and skill that go into these crafts is humbling. Matt hit it off with a tiny woman who explained the symbolism of each design in a woven belt, which he just had to buy.

Beautifully alive wood-carving

Next was my favourite, a wonderland of inspiration and imagination, the Alibrije (al-ee-bree-hay) workshop in Jaleisca. These are carved totemic animals which are then painted in extraordinary colours and patterns. I was like a kid in a sweet shop and couldn’t get enough of watching this extended family at work. We were particularly impressed watching how they made the natural pigment, crushing different ingredients and mixing them on his hand, the brew included copal, lime juice, and pomegranate seeds.

We said goodbye to our place in the city, after a fond farewell with the caretakers who told us we were ‘gold star’ tenants(!) We got a cab to San Pablo Etla where we took up residence as home/dog/cats,/sheep/chicken/guinea fowl/rabbit sitters. The owners of the house who have a beautiful adobe home and run an organic lettuce farm were going back to Boston for 10 days and wanted someone to care for their place, enter Fran and Matt. That is one of the wonderful things about traveling without rigid plans, it means we can respond to some of the wonderful things life chucks at us.

Hello sheep!

So we have lived our salad days walking an ancient dog and her even more ancient father, being entertained by the chalk and cheese cat team, one very vocal, confident and demanding, one very sweet and shy, (they remind us very much of our cats Ernie and Mabel). Matt had to intervene in a battle to the death between Garibaldi (he’s the panther-like one) and a large snake.  Again, life is mostly quiet eating gorgeously fresh lettuce and eggs with occasional bursts of friends and music.  We had our first Thanskgiving and had a wonderful time, remembering how much we have to be grateful for and having a big old nosh up, featuring Matt’s pumpkin pie. We had our last (for a while) session at Bodega Boys and I made a bit of a fool of myself singing a thank you song and weeping through most of it. Still, as Winnie-the-Pooh, that wise and learned bear says:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A.Milne

Check out the gallery here and don’t forget to comment below!

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