Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

Mercado de Abastos: Supply Market

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It is Saturday before 8AM, and Miguel is knocking at my door. I am only half-dressed and reading The New York Times to get my daily dose of English before I head to the intercambio at the library.

When I finally emerge from my room, Mari and Miguel laugh at me, how tired and disheveled I look.  Then, Miguel says we are going to the Mercado de Abastos, a place tourists are warned not go, a place known for pick-pockets and surprised stares.

I ask for five minutes to pull on a pair of jeans and brush my teeth. I don’t want to carry anything, so I stuff a coin purse, keys, and my phone into my pockets. I am so out of it, I unintentionally tuck my back-up phone into my bra.

I jump into Miguel’s tiny black car with his decal of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on the passenger-side window and we are off to the market.

Because it is early for most of Oaxaca, we find a parking space with ease and begin to search for a taxi driver who can deliver me to San Juan Teitipac in the afternoon.

We talk with Pedro, someone from Miguel’s town, and he suggests I meet him outside of a chocolate mill on a street off of the zocalo at 3:30PM. Miguel does not like this plan; he thinks too much can go wrong. Pedro is not going to convince him otherwise, so we skip the line of taxis (though I promise I know where it is now), and we ask around for an area called el cajon where the afternoon taxis meet.

We roam through the aisles of the market through the various sections: clothing, beans and seeds, vegetables, flowers, and so forth. The engine of of commerce is still warming up.

Miguel tells me where to buy the best empanadas. We are both getting hungry.

Before I see it, I smell it.  Still walking, I pull my shirt up to my nose. I put a hand over my mouth. I look down and see an entire discarded crab at my feet and other garbage. We round a corner, and their is a garbage heap reminiscent of the dump.

I start to double over, a quiet gag. Miguel who has been leading the way, turns around. He can’t believe what he sees. He asks: “Seriously?” Then he seems to catch what I have and has to smother his own inclination to retch.

We walk faster. Once the air is clear, Miguel laughingly reports that he’s no longer hungry. We also still don’t have any sort of a plan.

He shows me how to take a bus back to the posada, and I smile all of the way home for all of the adventure one can have before 9:30AM.

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out
–Shel Silverstein

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out!
She’d scour the pots and scrape the pans,
Candy the yams and spice the hams,
And though her daddy would scream and shout,
She simply would not take the garbage out.
And so it piled up to the ceilings:
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
Brown bananas, rotten peas,
Chunks of sour cottage cheese.
It filled the can, it covered the floor,
It cracked the window and blocked the door
With bacon rinds and chicken bones,
Drippy ends of ice cream cones,
Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal,
Pizza crusts and withered greens,
Soggy beans and tangerines,
Crusts of black burned buttered toast,
Gristly bits of beefy roasts. . .
The garbage rolled on down the hall,
It raised the roof, it broke the wall. . .
Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
Globs of gooey bubble gum,
Cellophane from green baloney,
Rubbery blubbery macaroni,
Peanut butter, caked and dry,
Curdled milk and crusts of pie,
Moldy melons, dried-up mustard,
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
Cold french fried and rancid meat,
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat.
At last the garbage reached so high
That it finally touched the sky.
And all the neighbors moved away,
And none of her friends would come to play.
And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said,
“OK, I’ll take the garbage out!”
But then, of course, it was too late. . .
The garbage reached across the state,
From New York to the Golden Gate.
And there, in the garbage she did hate,
Poor Sarah met an awful fate,
That I cannot now relate
Because the hour is much too late.
But children, remember Sarah Stout
And always take the garbage out!

  • The impromptu dump in the market is due to the protests in the streets and the lack of transportation for sanitation; the whole city has been affected in similar ways (just not at the same magnitude of this monstrous market). What are some other side effects (great and small) of conflicts? Use this to add depth to plot.

A Good Show

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The taxi driver tells us we have bad information. He is as blunt as a DMV employee, but for 60 pesos (fewer than $4) he agrees to the adventure. The address we have, he shows us on his iPhone, features no tianguis, no organic market. He stops at a tire shop to ask directions, mostly to appease us, to show he has tried. He’s not sure what to do with us, but he wants his fare, so he takes us to another market, knowing it is not our desired destination.

We walk though the crowds, people audibly noting our light hair and skin. They’re half aware that we have no idea of where we’ve landed.

I shyly ask a woman selling silver, “What is the name of this market? Where are we?” And she answers as if she knows us and understands how it might happen that we are part lost and happily wandering.

She says: “5 Senores,” and I know instantly the bus we can take home, how home is 40 cents away.

So we stop and have tacos at a table with two families.

The people all around us watch us as if we are television.

We make a good show.

This incident reminds me of Naomi Shihab Nye’s lovely poem “Famous.” Here is an excerpt:

 

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.

 

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

  • To whom and what are you famous and why? How does this fame make you feel? Like a stranger?

We Sell Goat Cheese!

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In case you don’t understand queso de cabra: goat cheese, the kind people at the Pochote Market cheese stand, are here to help you know what you are getting.

Pochote Market is an organic farmers market that draws a lot of wealthy folks and tourists (who speak English and other languages).

Who needs words to make an effective sign?  Plus, who can resist an adorable constellation of miniature goats? I can’t!

Sanchez Pasquez Market

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The thing I dislike most about traveling alone is that it is harder to get snapshots of the unsuspecting.

In addition to learning to cook in the Casa Crespo class, I reaped several other unanticipated benefits:

1. I learned the names of some of the fruits and vegetables I was not familiar with.  More importantly, I learned how one might break into some of these foods because the chef offered us samples of some of them.

2. I learned where the healers are in the market and recognized some of the herbal remedies enough to be able to find the healers again in the future.  I had no idea these services would be available in a mostly food focused market

3. I got some pictures of the locals at work.

I recommend, at a minimum, a guided tour of a market as a key to understanding more about all of the products and services available in one bustling space.

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Casa Crespo

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I decided to take a cooking class at Casa Crespo.  After watching a video of Chef Oscar Carrizosa on his website: http://casacrespo.com/redescubre-mexico-buick-mexico/, I decided I could probably make it through four hours of cooking class–if there were more people.

When I went to sign up, I was the only person on the books for the day.

I arrived, and there were two other students, and then two more arrived.  I was relieved.

We started off with a mug of hot chocolate (or coffee, but they make their own chocolate) and bread with jamaica jam.  Delicious!

Then, we made our menu together:

  • Mole fiesta/bueno, a mole with seventeen ingredients, including chocolate (we would have this with chicken and in our tamales)
  • Avocado gazpacho
  • Regular and squash blossom and cheese tortillas
  • Guacamole: avocados and garlic pulverized in a molcajete and topped with diced mango
  • Four salsas: regular (tomatoes, onions, garlic), regular with toasted avocado leaves, regular with crushed worms, and regular with cumin
  • Quesadillas with epazote and squash blossom or with grasshoppers
  • Empanadas with cheese or with spinach and mushroom
  • Chiles relleno with chicken and mole sauce tamales
  • Sorbet with mezcal and orange juice

 

After planning our menu, we headed to the market and to the corn mill.  We picked up some ingredients, had a fresh juice break, and got corn milled for masa for tortillas and a different mixture for tamales.

Then, with the help of a couple of sous chefs, we were off and running.  I was happy to see that my classmates were about as adept as I am with kitchen utensils.  We all expressed a mix of enthusiasm and intimidation.  We did a good job of sharing the tasks and letting everyone have a try.

In the middle of the afternoon, as our mole and chicken were stewing and our tamales were steaming, we headed up to Casa Crespo’s terrace and had a beer.

We ended the meal with a shot of mezcal and some chocolate samples.

The eating went on and on.  We had to sample everything, and when we did it was so delicious, we could not help ourselves.

At one break in the symphony of yumming, I asked the others which course was everyone’s favorite.  After tremendous deliberation and much admiration for the mole recipe, we unanimously agreed that the chili stuffed with tamale stuffed with our mole and chicken was probably our masterpiece.  At the same time, the dish we all agreed we would likely replicate is the silky avocado gazpacho.

This multi-sensory adventure as so many of my experiences here made me feel uncomfortable and ignorant, but, in the end, I cannot help but be happy with what I learned.

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Ocotlan de Morelos

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The first time I went to Ocotlan, I missed the show. Look a this empty plaza, the few people hardly bustling around town.

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I was determined to return to capture the colors and energy of a market day, and it was worth the 20 peso, hour bus ride each way — even on a Taco Friday when Oaxaca City already has two excellent farmers’ markets: Pochote in Xochimilco and the tianguis in Llano Park.

I couldn’t help comparing my experience against those I have had in other markets.  Initially, I noted people don’t seem to commune in the church grounds as they do in Tlacolula.

It is a non-stop exchange where it is, at times, difficult to tell who is selling what to whom. Sometimes it appeared that the people at the stands were buying more from the people hauling items through the crowded aisles.

Ocotlan’s offering is nearly as sprawling as Tlacolula’s, but it is not as well-organized. In Tlacolula, the differnt types of products seem to be coralled together.  There are aisles (which are really streets) as one might find in the supermarket.

However, in Ocotlan, one quite literally runs into roosters in the middle of the mounds and mounds of roma tomatoes or among the bedspreads and again among the shoes. It is a delightfully disorganized scramble that means both more search and more serendipity.

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