Finding the Saint of Finding Things



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.

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.

A Good Show


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?

Mall of America


I went to the Mall of America on the third day of the writers’ conference. I needed to escape the noise of the conference and the skyscrapers of downtown. I needed the sunshine of the train ride and the experience of witnessing firsthand the monstrosity of this shopping beacon. A monument to capitalism and excess, this landmark was recently mentioned as an ISIS target. I had this in my mind as I touristed through the various levels.

This mall is unnerving. I know it wasn’t just me. I was in an elevator with five girls, about age ten. When the doors closed, one screamed, “We are going to die in here.” Another confirmed, “We are gonna die in here today.” I can remember being that age. I can’t imagine thinking about death, especially not in an elevator on a special trip to a great mall. But the amusement park located inside might be partly responsible for this sensation. People screaming as they are lifted from the ground, others flying wildly or being splashed as they sail down a waterfall in a log. Screaming and screaming in a mall.

All of us could hear this alarm, but was any of it real? (Back at the conference, the next workshop I attended was on the effect of sound in writing. Perhaps the rest of the attendees needed the field trip I had just taken.)












I could buy a pet fish (or mouse) in the market and earrings and socks and bags and bootleg music and videos and almost anything plastic and flowers (and plastic flowers), and Mary K cosmetics.

Some afternoons, I am about to bring home a fish or a plant or one of the rocking chairs with a horse carved into it or an antique iron or a basketball hoop or maybe just a soft blanket for the bed. But I don’t live here.

So I take photos.

Better Than HSN


The neighbor wants oil cloth in blues and yellows; one friend wants an embroidered blouse; a colleague requests some vague and flowery fabric; another—a large (I am not sure what large is) leather purse. I have a month to shop for these things, thirty-four days to be precise, but I start early.

I take pictures of the fabric, the leather, the blouse, and some other things (earrings, a dress) I find along the way. I try to explain how the fabric feels, the intensity of the colors, the earthy smell of the leather. I am making a small catalog of this place.

Benito Juarez Market


After two weeks, the silver nail polish I wore here was nearly gone. I removed the remaining cracked splats and realized I not only had no polish, but I was not sure about where I would obtain some.

The local grocery markets don’t carry things like makeup. The pharmacy has pharmaceuticals. But I forgot about the tables and tables of makeup I’d seen in Parque Llano at the weekly tianguis and the labryinth that is the Benito Juarez Market. It is full of rows and rows of goods, including fingernail polish, flower arrangements, candles, any seed or bean you can imagine, clothing, shoes, pet food, alcohol, stationery, paper goods, pinatas, jewelry, gift wrap, bags, ice cream, prepared foods, vegetables, cut
fruits, and, of course, chapulines.

I got so engrossed in trying to navigate the maze, I forgot the polish and only snapped a few photos.

bj2 bj3 bj4

Hula Dog


Outside the Costco on the Big Island of Hawaii, we saw a man strategically loading his motor scooter with his Costco booty. As he created a Jenga stack, his patient dog impatiently paced, anticipating her place in the pile of goods.

It was funny enough to try to imagine them motoring down the highway, but the pooch’s hula skirt and bikini top made the duo even more comical.