No Papel (Paper)

No Pone Papel

Mexico has a poor sewer system. Nothing can be flushed beyond excrement (and water). There are warnings and reminders about this in nearly every bathroom — even in the airports.

As I was about to leave the Italian Coffee Company, my mesero (waiter) asks, in Spanish, “You speak English, right?” I said yes. He asked if I would write out how to say: It doesn’t work in English. I was puzzled at first and asked a couple more questions.

It turned out that the bathroom was out of service, and he wanted to know how to: create a note to inform English-speaking patrons and how to tell them. I wrote: The bathroom is out of service on the receipt he handed me. Then he had me repeat the phrase three times as he echoed, carefully pronouncing each syllable.

Viva Mexico

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Viva Mexico

The city is festooned with patriotic symbols. Even the churches have flags flying from their rooftops. For a small fee, one can have red, white, and green noisemakers, whistles, headbands, earrings, barrettes, sombreros, flags and so much more.

Tonight, I will head to the Zocalo with a crowd of revelers to be part of “El Grito” or call for independence (from Spain).

Canasta de Galletas

I arrived in Oaxaca on Thursday evening and have settled into my digs for the next four months. I am staying at the comfortable Posada de los Angeles. It is an eight-bedroom inn near the Zocalo and close to the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca (ICO), where I’ll be taking classes.

The ICO recommends that visitors take it easy the first few days in adjusting to the altitude (5000 feet) and food–among the overall cultural differences. This is the reason why I elected to have a canasta de galletas (basket of cookies, though it was on a plate and not in a basket) and a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) for dinner on Friday night.

Sitting at the Italian Coffee Company (the equivalent of Starbucks and nearly as ubiquitous), I was watching (and listening) as an old caballero (cowboy) played saxophone under the trees decked out for the Independence Day celebrations that will really start on Saturday night. People selling necklaces, bookmarks, artwork, and a variety of other commodities approached my table. I was able to send off most of them with a head shake, meaning no. However, one woman, with a sack and her hands full of a variety of dolls (munecas), was not going to be dissuaded. She was going to sell me something and went off on a tirade that I, probably even if my Spanish speaking skills were excellent, could not understand.

I did understand when she rested her cane and then packed up her dolls, placing them on the seat next to me, that she wanted me to guard her things as she used the cafe’s bathroom. I agreed.

While she was in the restroom, two guitarists arrived. One began introducing the duo as though we had been waiting for them to arrive all evening. They played two songs before asking for whatever small amount we could contribute to their efforts.

The woman finally emerged from the bathroom. I offered her a cookie. She obliged. In fact, she also took my napkin to pack up two more cookies for the road. We exchanged no more words. However, she raised the cookie she was eating at me in a sort of toast and headed off to the next table to offer her dolls.

French Hospitality

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French Hospitality

Really, I am not complaining, but this adventure has made me realize it is sometimes grinding to be a tourist, to be on the road and unable to ask for directions with ease. Even more, we occasionally have met impatience and frustration (our own and others’) with our lack of language and knowledge of what is couth. After being cut in line, receiving poor service at a cafe, and being struck by thoughtless, clumsy youths while in line at the supermarket, going into tonight, I was feeling sort of roughed up by the hectic city.

Then, a man let me use his transit card when mine malfunctioned. He jumped the turnstile behind me as (teamwork) I held the next gate open for him. We parted ways quickly, but then we saw him waving au revoir to us from the opposite side of the tracks.

This evening, our last in Paris, we returned to our favorite Paris restaurant, Bistro des Gastronomes, in the Latin Quarter, the one featured in the previous dessert photos. The place was packed, but we pleaded to sit at the bar for just dessert and a coffee. The owner permitted this and was amused by our delight at my: Figues, dates et pruneaux rotis en bonbon, glace rhum raisins and M’s: Poelee de mirabelles deglacees au Muscat et crème legere de marscarpone. Incredible. Both had texture times ten. M’s even had the sensation of pop rocks!

If this wasn’t enough, the restauranteur chatted with us, giving us a small plate of madelines, two flaming (ignited tableside) crème brulees, and some prune wine that was strong and smooth.

In the course of the conversation, the owner shared how he met the gifted chef in a bar, saying, “You can meet good people in the bar.” We agreed, grateful to meet such a friendly and generous host. And, when we insisted on paying, he told us to stay in contact, giving us his information in Paris and in Augusta, Georgia. It is a small, surprising (and sometimes delicious) world.

Last Night

Last Night

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We had a few things left to see on our checklist. We headed to Les Galleries Lafayette (The Lafayette is a luxury department store. It has a colorful dome and smells as sweet as a thick fashion magazine. Imagine their logo with the “tt” forming an Eiffel Tower). The Lafayette’s rooftop is recommended in several guidebooks as a location from which to look out over the city.

Decked out with artificial turf and modern chairs and love seats, this summit offered a supreme view of the Opera and Eiffel Tower, among other sights. After running all over to see sights, it was nice to see Paris from this quiet terrace.

Additionally, in these fancy parts, the street performers are equally refined; there are no breakdancers or jugglers or mimes. Instead, we listen to expertise from a gleaming piano. The Lancome ad featuring Julia Roberts (that we see all over town) that declares: “La vie est belle” seems indisputable as we listen to this music.

Paris from the Seine

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Paris from the Seine With fifteen minutes between each of the eight stops, the Batobus is for the tourist for sure. Seeing the sights from the Seine offers something the Metro, RER, and pedestrian routes typically do not: scantily clad (if at all) sunbathers dotting the banks. The crowded capsule seemed overfull at times, even from our vantage point, in the open air at the back of the boat, on this, the warmest afternoon of our stay. While people marveled at the architecture, a dog wandering on a barge caused audible delight.