A Travellerspoint blog

From the ridiculous to the sublime:

Oaxacan food and art on every corner

sunny 30 °C

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It would be easy to feel weighed down in a city that is almost 500 years old. All that stone, all those churches - it calls for a little levity, and Oaxaca knows how to play. Right in the heart of the city is a small perfect park, with containers of succulents attached to every tree. It is not until you get a little closer that you realize this garden is a masterpiece of cheeky recycling - every planter is a plastic pop bottle, a fuel can, an old bleach bottle.

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By contrast, the city is filled with the most beautiful, intricate doors and signs above restaurants and shops. They are hand-crafted works of art - of wood, ceramic, metal and copper. I've shown just a few - the city is filled with hundreds.

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The fleur de lis is found in many parts of Mexico

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While on the subject of street art, the markets in Oaxaca offer up so many entertaining vignettes. Stand after stand will display indigenous crafts brought in from the surrounding villages. Baskets, wooden toys, jewellery and woven and embroidered linens and garments, similar as the one modeled by Stephen.

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Then perhaps two stalls down, there will be a jaunty display of undies.

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Right next door to that, all the fake nails a girl could possibly want. Also Mary Kay cosmetics. I'm not sure if MK is still around in North America, but they are doing a flourishing business in the Mexican mercados.

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The quantity of used clothing in this, and most markets, is staggering. I have 40 years of thrift shopping under my belt, and I could not cope with the piles and racks on offer. I searched in vain for a light, simple dress - the closest I came was a dated-looking mid-length sleeveless dress for $20!

We found plenty of art in all the usual places - museums, galleries, studios. The biggest museum - the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, is attached to the church of Santa Domingo, and presents the history of Oaxaca in several ornate stone halls. It was extremely interesting, and as we made our way through, the views from the museum courtyards and patios were almost as enjoyable.

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I was keen to discover present-day artists in Oaxaca. There are several commercial and private art galleries, and the biggest and most impressive one was the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. It is housed in a gorgeous old stone building, with lofty interior courtyards, and two floors of very interesting exhibits.

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In the end hall, this huge courtyard was filled with clay vessels, accompanied by a light and sound show. The trees against the far wall are the enormous and magnificent higuero trees - I could not fit them all in the photo.

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We also went to a photographic gallery - such wrenching portrayals of gang members, murder victims and heroin addicts that we could barely look at them. Many of the photos were taken a few years ago in Ciudad Juarez, at the height of the violence there, and they are very graphic. The photographer is German Canseco, if you want to look him up. I'm curious about his access to this world, which is neither ridiculous nor sublime.

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And what blog posting is worth its salt without mentioning food? We ate very well in Oaxaca, for very little money. Oaxaca is considered one of Mexico's most inventive gastronomic centres, and one of their delightful food customs is Comida Corrida. This is a prix-fixed meal (usually 3 courses and a drink) offered in many restaurants between 1:00 or 1:30 - 3:00. Prices vary between 40 - 120 pesos ( $3.00 - $10) and is a very affordable way to try out fancy restaurants. We met old friends Jan and Dave for comida one day, and enjoyed 3 courses for less than $5.00 each. Jan and Dave live in Oaxaca for a number of months each year, and they eat comida several times a week, often meeting friends. Oaxaca is an extremely friendly city for ex-pats, and the community calendar is crammed with things to do in and out of the city.

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Another day, Steve and I splurged on the comida at La Olla. By splurged, I mean we paid 115 pesos (about $10 each) for 4 exquisite courses - handmade tortilla chips with salsa, a warm spinach salad, pumpkin soup and creamy lasagna. Dessert was apple torte. We were also served a shot of mezcal, accompanied by slices of chili-ringed oranges. Apparently there are mezcals that go down like fine scotches, but this one tasted like gasoline. La Olla is a restaurant/cooking school/ art gallery that is owned by chef Pilar Cabrera, and like many chefs, her artistic sensibilities extend beyond the kitchen. Her entrance is welcoming, the dining rooms are lovely, the dishes are sweet - every touch is well thought-out. The city is filled with restaurants like this.

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The markets are another fantastic source for eating well. Rows of taquerias, chocolate stalls, fresh juice stands - pick one and grab a seat at the communal picnic tables. Many of the food vendors wear masks - both in markets and restaurants.

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If you are shopping for raw product, the displays of meat, chicken and fish take a little getting used to, by our North American standards. Food safety, handling and storage are not what we might expect.

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The fruit and veggie displays are always so inviting.

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I'll leave you with images of our favourite coffee shop in Oaxaca - El Brujera. It covered all the elements - art ( on the walls, the graphic design and the lamps), great coffee (grown locally in Oaxaca state), perfect pastries and sandwiches, and a fantastic outdoor patio, ringed with tables, plants, and people with many, many laptops and devices. We stopped there to get out of the sun and regroup, and it will be a lasting memory of the old and new of Oaxaca.

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We are now in Puerto Escondido, after driving the mountain road they describe as "serpentine", and arriving 9 hours later (ETA 4 1/2 hrs). More to come in a couple of days.

Posted by millerburr 07:02 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

I loved your Blog, right on target when it Comes to Oaxaca !!

by Jan Rooney

HI I will be in Mexico city from 19Feb thru 11Mar If you happen to be in the neighborhood my ctc nbr is 308 4442 I must say I think you two are pretty brave or !!!! Hope to hear from you.
Thankyou ever so much for all the interesting travelpoints, seems to me it could be a new career for Ginny.

Love Joan

by Joan W

Hi Ginny and Steve, I'm loving following along on your travels. You paint such vivid pictures with your words, Ginny, that it almost feels like being there.

Travel well, what's next?

xo Margy

by Margy

we really missed you at The Losers last night....the 4 of us had a completely different take on the book and if you'd been on Skype we would have had an amazing discussion. I'm still loving foollowing you two adventurerers.....happy trails to you!

by Lesley Harris

ehhh, Ginny! thank you so much, I love the pictures and what you write is very fine! I feel like I'm there from my couch, xomc.

by Mary Charlotte

Love the photos. Someone is very skilled. Thanks for sharing, it's the closest I'll come to a warm vacation this year. Heading to frozen Prince George next week!

by Jonelle Knowles

WHAT A LOVELY VISIT WE ARE HAVING IN MEXICO. yOU ARE VERY TALENTED YOUNG LADY. lOVED STEVE'S OUTFIT. hAVE FUN. Shirley and George Robertson.

by shirley robertson

That's it ... You've sold us on Oaxaca!! What an intriguing (not to mention beautiful) city!

by Heather

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