Monday I decided to go downtown, because I am a mujer caprichosa.
;D Not really. I went in order to pay my electric bill and to visit the nearby library.
After paying the bill, I crossed El Llano park to get to the library, hearing all kinds of music, smelling food, and seeing lots of activity.
That's when I remembered that it was the official opening day of the Guelaguetza and that one of the auxillary festivals was the one celebrating mezcal.
I make my way in the rain past a wet band playing a dirge-y version of Zandunga and peer expectantly into the festival area.
Those are the hearts of the agave plant displayed in front. They're call piña -- pineapple for the way they look with all the leaves cut off. Those are baked in the ground, then the juice expressed to be be distilled into mezcal.
One of the glories of Mexico is that where there are crowds, there will be food vendors.
Go to the front of any bus station, or where there are lines waiting to get in some place and you'll find food vendors.
A quick trip to the library and I'm back, ready for fun. Too bad I forgot about this, as it's really fun to go with others. Oh well -- this means I'll take more pictures for you all.
A note about the gorgeous garb ~~ because the Guelaguetza celebrates the culture of Oaxaca, and because that culture is made of so many different cultural groups, the vivid dress of some of those groups will be on display.
All of these women are wearing the dress of the Isthmus of Tehuntepec. You'll see that over and over in these pictures, as it's easily the most splendid of all the colorful and different regional clothing. These beauties are decked in the headdresses, the fancy skirts with lacy slips, and the gold jewelry that are part of the festival dress of the region. But on any given day in Oaxaca, you can see women of the isthmus dressed in only slightly less elaborate versions as they go about their daily lives.
The purpose of the festival is for the various producers of mezcal to introduce their products to the public. Some of the brands have outlets downtown or, rarely, are available in stores. Others, equally good or at times greatly superior, are only available where they're made. All of the booths you see are temporary. Sips are freely given out in plastic eye-cups. The opaque colored liquors are "cremas" -- sweet, flavored mezcal frequently made with cream.
It's around 5:00 or so in the afternoon, and not crowded at all ~
It's amazing how friendly and welcoming all the people in the booths and the strolling sample-givers are, and how they remain so as the throng grows.
The girls know their clothing attracts attention and will strike a pose as soon as they discern a camera ~
But the outgoing air of all the kids (there were guys, too) sharing samples was as delightful as what they were wearing, including casual modern clothes, or the wonderful outfit of the attendee on the far right. The traditional dress on the left is from Huautla de Jimenez.
It's obvious that many of the booths are being run by the families who make that brand of mezcal ~
I first attended this festival in 1997. Then, it was a bunch of identically sized, cutely rustic booths -- actually more than there are now. It's amazing to see how sophisticated it's become.
And remember, all of this is temporary!
The crowd is getting bigger ~
Even the devil is here, or I guess you call this a variation on the "demon rum" theme -->
Boby is in attendance, although he yearns to be elsewhere.
These mezcal producers celebrated their lucha libre mania ~
The crowd keeps growing and moving, and the liquor keeps flowing.
Whew. I am enjoying myself, but need something to snack on. Buying peanuts at a stand, I fall into conversation with two brothers. We yak for almost an hour, before I move on.
Perhaps you all would like to take a similar break right now. Hope you like this, because there's lots more to come!
Yes ~~ people can be so attractive when they're drinking!
Drinking is an activity that appeals to all ages and social classes!
To give a serious answer to the last question in the post above, people are generally quite well behaved. They are here in family groups or bunches of friends in town for the Guelaguetza. The samples are tiny and even those people buying bottles are sharing them with a group. Also, there are so many food stands right outside the gate, so there was much wandering out and coming back in. (The girl at the top of this post appears to have been hitting the Sprite/mezcal mixed drinks pretty hard.)
Even though it was raining pretty hard while I was in the library, my time at this event has mostly been blessed with sun.
It's entertaining to be out in this rather urban crowd, since lately my life has been so rural.
But the Guelaguetza is all about honoring the culture, so there are definite reminders of mezcal's rural roots here.
All kinds of things catch the eye, from yet more colorful traditional clothing, to the displays of purveyors to the trade. Note the kid selling nuts, and cigarettes right on the other side of the festival's fence, hoping for business.
Okay, we're out here in the park now, surrounded by choices.
There are important decisions to be made, but be strong and don't panic.
Perhaps a stroll past what's on offer would be in order.
One of the first stands we encounter is all sweet stuff.
It has its place, but not in my mouth, not right now. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I believe the colored disks that look like paper are actually obleas.
These super-thin wafers exist to have cajeta smeared on them. Never claim you don't have an addictive personality until you've tried cajeta either straight out of the jar or stickily teamed with the wafers. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here is classic festival/fair food being wheeled around to an appreciative public.
Its compelling odor is definitely making me hungrier, but it's a bit too frivolous, too snack-like for what is needed right now.
Before we move on, you may want to take note of the tricycle arrangement. These big trikes are used for all kinds of vending, mostly of foods, but you can see guys pedaling (peddling) the 5-gallon water jugs as well.
I know a whole family of atole and tamal vendors, each with a three-wheeler to hold the buckets of gruel and steaming cylinders of tamales.
This popcorn contraption is a particularly fine adaptation. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Something smells kinda good over here. Why, it's ............................... oh, the horror! The horror!
Gaaack. Let's walk over towards Avenida Juarez. I'm with this guy -- scurry past those overly blonde pizzas!
This man is enjoying a tostada topped with Oaxacan salchicha, a sad product laughably called "sausage". It's bright red, full of soy extender, almost devoid of taste, and perennially popular. Go figure. Note the bin behind the customer. It's full of fresh vegetables to be chopped for garnishing the tostadas.
What's all that noise over there? Let's rest from our quest with a little musical interlude ~
Now we're back towards the middle of the park, surely nearing something good to eat by now.
I would say this pizza, although nicely presented and with what seems to be a real pizza oven on site, is not "it".
There are stands selling other things, many of them closed, though, because of the rain.
This stall featuring Tehuana outfits has a steady stream of people stopping by.
But wait ~~ what's this?! Yes, yes, I think we've got it!
These women are the real thing. One girl is cleaning squash flowers and epazote. Another is putting ingredients on the tortillas and cooking them, and the older lady is pressing out the tortillas and putting them on the comal. Let's watch her in action. If you've never tried making a tortilla, you may not realize what deftness she displays. Having dropped and torn more tortilla dough than I've ever managed to cook, I'm in awe as she actually walks around with the damned thing. And that motion as she finally lays it on the hot griddle -- poetry!
Whoops! Oh yeah, the done thing is to photograph our food for posting before we gnaw on it. Oh well.
It's excellent -- the classic quesadilla de flor de calabaza: string cheese with epazote and squash flower, served with a choice of salsas on the side.
This was good, but I wanted a little something to finish off, so went for something I only have once in a blue moon -- a pedrazo. These are halves of dried small round breads, soaked in hot sauce and the oniony pickling liquid from vegetable. Mmmm. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, it's been great, but it's time to cross the road and hop a bus for the rainy ride home. Bye!
Obviously there is a selection effect to what you post, but I get the impression that there are an awful lot of markets, social activities, music etc in Mexico -- at least where you live. Is that the case? It looks like fun and a good way for people to meet friends and family.
And I'm glad your music was a brass band. For years I didn't even consider going to Mexico because I thought it would be mariachi music.
There is also contemporary music, "tuna", orchestral (free Sunday concerts in Oaxaca's square), and more.
Bjd, it would be possible to do something every single day here, more than one thing a day, really. Your impression is correct. At certain times of the year, you could easily go to a couple of parties a week.
As far as I know, all regions of Mexico maintain the custom of having an expanded market on designated days of the week. That link only covers four days and you still get an idea of the cultural variety among the markets. It doesn't cover Thursday (Zaachila) or Friday (Ocotlán), which I've covered here in anyport.
Many people claim Oaxaca has the best public square, although I've been to some other awfully pleasant ones. It's the ideal place to meet people.
There are pre-columbian ruins all around here, in various states of excavation. Of course ruins from different cultures can be found in different parts of Mexico.
Also, for a small city, we have quite a few good museums, specialty (stamps, textiles, etc.) and otherwise (art, history). The Cultural Center of Santo Domingo really can't be fully "done" in one day. But every place I've been in Mexico seems to have at least one museum, large or small, that's worth visiting. The anthropological museum in Mexico City is absolutely fabulous, for instance.
Bjd, I've looked at your pictures and accounts of South America over and over again and easily conclude that you would love Mexico!
Lots of fond memories looking at this. I have always adored the costumes,textiles. Yes,of all the cities in Mexico,Oaxaca is right up there with fabulous zocalos. Having tasted the real dealhome brewed, during a Los Dias de Mueros festival,which was in a plastic water bottle,unlabeled as mezcal,and chugging it thinking it was H2O,well,we won't go there.... Great photos Bixa. Thank you for this.
In spite of a lot of similarities to Cambodia, this is not one of them. There seems to be no real drinking culture here and even their rice wine (it's distilled though but that's what they call it here) is not very good. Otherwise there's only palm toddy which is only good when fresh.
I'd spend all day there then get you to take me home, Bix. ;D
There are a fair number of jocular but affectionate references to "cheap red wine" in The Galley section of this forum. I think that points to the bottom line of judging wines and spirits -- how they taste when stripped of snob appeal and the hoodoo of "special knowledge". Just as many people were introduced to wine by trying a no-name vintage with a meal, I think tasting bar-brand mezcal or something a friend has brought back from vacation will give you an solid idea of what the stuff is and could be. Or you can fork over 72 bucks and spout foolishness about "a briny, vegetal burst, with Tabasco-like hints of vinegar, salt, oily smoke and earth". Sheesh!