Well, we made it out here fairly easily. We forgot to prop the refrigerator door open, but can remedy that with an email to the couple who is watching our house. The plane was not full so I took advantage by finding a unoccupied row and taking a two hour nap. The Lyft ride was smooth because when the drivers see us old folks they just know that slow gentle rides bring the biggest tips. Wnen we arrived, we let ourselves in and waved to Amber was was talking in the back yard to a phone client, When she was d1one, hugs all around and we grabbed Gus, the wonder dog, and took him for a walk while Amber met her in person client in her office which will turn into our bedroom.
We were brought back into Amber's life as a mom of young children when she announced, "We're leaving in seven minutes to pick up Cole, right after I make Lily's dinner. Once we returned from school with Cole, they worked together finishing up his history project until the Alexa alarm went of to signal it was time to take Lily her dinner, (a fast eight block walk with Dawn and the dog) while I worked with Cole on his Iron Chef Cub Scout badge project after he did his Math homework. Amber and Dawn came back, (Lily went off to her Matilda rehearsal straight from school) and Amber jumped back and finished the project with Cole. Dawn took a nap. I started the Travelogue.
We have had unusually beautiful weather here this week: clear blue skies, sun, only one day of early morning fog. It is still nippy, especially in the shade and wind, but knowing how damp and gray this city can be, especially this neighborhood, we feel very lucky.
Two daffodils in Patrick's garden, making us feel very Spring-like.
We have had a couple of wild walks on the beach with Amber and Gus, fourteen-month old, large Golden Doodle, and another time with Cole, Patrick and Gus at Land's End.
Yesterday we went to see Lily perform with the San Francisco Players, an enthusiastic, hard-working group of 10-14 year-olds. They do a fabulous job, and Roald Dahl's Matilda
was a great vehicle for their talents.
Lily, on your left with glasses
The show was great. Lily danced and sang with great energy. The group, even though they are young, perform like a pre-professional group. Everyone is trying their hardest to win us over. The bow which is long and complex, with a small fund raiser in the middle, flows beautifully and naturally as if they have been doing it for a year rather our show being the third one.
Dawn and Cole with Gus on our last night.
We said good night and goodbye because very early the next morning we stole out of the house into our Lyft before anyone was awake, (except Amber who was up to let the dog out.
Below is another installment of thoughts on our Buddhist practice.
Endless Moments of Insight
After reading the chapter called Insight from the article in Lion's Roar linked above, we sat trying to be aware of our intention to do something in addition to the deed itself. For example, before taking an in breath, be aware that you are going to do so, or before you cough, be aware that you are about to do so. This helps become aware of impermanence, that things arise and then disappear throught existence.
The next day we read in the next chapter that we should become aware of the disappearance of the object before its appearance. Maybe the in breath could be divided into many segments all of which disappear before the next segment arises. Now this is really teaching impermanence, there is no continuity, things are just appearing and disappearing very quickly. We are very happy that our latest readings have us try to learn by experience rather than concept. Don't figure it out, just do it.
Getting here/First Impressions
We shared a collectivo from the airport with a couple of guys who were first-time visitors here. The cab ended up much cheaper than last year's ride. When we got to the address of the Airbnb that the men had rented, their first reaction was, "Oh this can't be right."
It was a metal door with some chipped paint and a bit of graffiti on it. I told them that often places here were much nicer inside than they appeared to be from the outside. They were calling their host as we left, and Stephen gave them our card in case things didn't work out and they needed some help. We have not heard from them so I trust all is well.
Oaxaca IS Mexico and sometimes an odd mix of beautiful buildings and gardens and places that may seem run-down at first glance. For the most part, people keep the city clean. There is wealth, there is poverty. There are more gringos than ever, including ourselves, of course! After we followed the elaborate directions of getting the key, unlocking one door, walking up stairs and turning right to use a code on a padlock with almost invisible numbers, we got in to our one-month Airbnb. At first glance, it was a little disappointing to me. It turns out that during the day, there is plenty of natural light that cheers it up. The kitchen has one hotplate only which encourages us to go out for more meals. Bathroom seemed tiny. The huge bed is very comfortable, and there is a hammock out back in a sort of courtyard of turquoise cement walls with a view only of the sky. So it is a bit claustrophobic for me, but certainly big enough, including another bedroom where I can fit my yoga mat for home practice. Although Oaxaca has noisy busses, barking dogs, shouting gas and water vendors, it never seems too noisy at night so we sleep well.
From the hammock - a view of the wall, but then look up - the sky!
On the left, the view from the front patio to our private patio in the back.
On the right, the view from our bed: geometrics of umbrella, hammock and wall.
I'm having a great time in Oaxaca this year. I seem totally relaxed. I loved knowing after arriving fairly late our first night, we could walk down to Don Juanito's for a good chicken posole before going to bed. Also, there is an amazing number of flavored waters available to drink and you can get them sin azucar, without sugar. I am allowing events to come to me, rather than searching them out, so I am answering in reality the question that was asked of me before we left.
"What are you going to do for a month in Oaxaca?
"As little as possible"
Sunday breakfast, after the electricity outage made us go out for coffee. Daniel, who had run the place the year before, is gone but his replacement, Alberto, is equally charming, handsome and efficient.
Center of the Arts of St. Augustin
We have spent some time here in Oaxaca with Luciana and David who have a son that lives in Tulle. Saturday, we shared a cab to Etla to see the home of Francisco Toledo, the artist/benefactor who was responsible for keeping the center of Oaxaca as it is and keeping OUT enterprises like MacDonald&srquo;s. We also went to see a contemporary dance performance in a lovely outdoor setting there. There was only one artist exhibited in a small space. Her work was beautiful pottery, reflecting her roots and a contemporary take on pre-Columbian indigenous pottery. Notice the folding chair.
Since the two huge galleries
were empty of exhibits, but beautiful in themselves, (one is above)
The four of us took the time to sit on some stone steps facing the mountains and meditate. Although we sat on our jackets, a half-hour later, our seats were pretty sore! The beautiful thing was that the minute our opening meditation bell sounded, we started hearing some ambient drone-like sounds, punctuated periodically by a bell. We realized later that this was the dance group doing sound tests before their performance. It was perfect for meditation.
Something like our view for meditating
Even though there was not too much art to see, the kiln itself was a work of beauty in its own.
The almost one-hour performance, danced by two young women, was called Mater (Mother in Latin...why Latin? I do not know.) They moved beautifully, using familiar devices of mirroring and contact-improv based choreography. There was a lovely use of the vast space, with curvilinear floor plans that swooped wide and narrow, sometimes intersecting into lifts and falls. It was all very familiar, and at the same time very well done. The last section turned out to be the most arresting for both Stephen and me: a kind of accelerando and diminution of a back and forth, swinging movement as the two women faced each other, linking arms.
At the end they shared weight at the hips, leaned back and descended to the ground. We could have watched that swinging movement for another five minutes as it got really fast, breaking the comfortable tempo of most of the piece and developed an interesting rhythm of its own.
Mauro had it all, virtuosity beyond my knowledge, musicality and a touching way of bowing. He mostly presented his guitar instead of himself. We have four more days of concerts. We will see what they bring.
Link to Mauro Zanatta on Guitar (youtube)
The next night brought another guitarist, Robbin Blanco, born in Mérida, Mexico. He also lived in Canada for ten years. The concert was in a different room and that made all the difference. The air conditioners didn't make it any cooler but did make it noisier. There were two speakers for the people in the back of the room but only one worked and the sound engineer sat in front of them so he didn't know or that they needed more volume. Robbin played beautifully a wide range of music, some of hs own composition, some of written for him, some on electric guitar, but the situation defeated him. The night before we were in the second row and could see and hear every nuance. Tonight, by leaning out into the aisle, I could glimpse him at a distance.
Another kind of Music
We skipped the third night because we didn't want to return to the small room. When we arrived at the Centro de San Pablo for the fourth night, we found out that the concert had been cancelled and the restaurant we planned on was closed for a private function. We jumped into the line at the Teatro Macedonia Alcala and found out it was for the Primavera Orchestra playing a concert of popular Mexican music from the 70's and 80's. We found this out speaking to a Mexican woman standing in line in front of us. The line moved and we got in with seats at the back of the orchestra. It was great to hear this music in crowd of mexicans who were singing along and really enjoying it. The woman in front of us rested her head on her husband's shoulder. I'm sure she was having some romantic memories about when they were young and listening to this music.
Click here if the video doesn't appear above
I am glad we stayed through the encore because we ran into the woman on the way out. She asked us how we liked it, and seemed pleased that we did. After the concert we jumped into Cabuche and had some tacos and Pozole along a perfectly sweetened limonada and the best margarita in Oaxaca for Dawn.
It was a little like a Mexican version of the Boston Pops meets Big Band, the brass mostly overwhelming the strings. We probably never would have chosen to go to a sentimental, 70's and 80's romantic Latino pop music performance where the audience knew all the tunes and did lots of sing-along. Yet it turned out to be another interesting aspect of Mexican culture. Plus the guy had a great set of lungs. He really could sing.
Back to the Guitars
The last attempt will be in the courtyard of the museum with the Francisco Toledo exhibition. We got there early enough to find two seats on either side of the light stand. By the time the concert started, the placed was packed. It was the KAO ensembe of four guitaists, and the brought a woman guitarist to play to lead guitar for a piece in the first half. They are a faculty ensemble of the local Colege de las Artes. There was no program and although there were guitar mics they had no vocal mic so we could not hear the ids of the things they were playing. They could play and play together. We had different opinions about the total effect which we will not describe unless Dawn jumps in later.
Vegetables and Fruit, the Richness of Mexico
We are eating out more this trip, but we still like to prepare simple meals at home. We purify some water with drops of something and then soak them. Pretty enough to eat.
We found the store with the sourdough bread. It is very good. At first we thought having only one burner was going to be a problem, but it turns out that it forced us to make simpler, smaller meals which is more fun.
Jude and Adriana Come for Drinks
Jude is the owner or manager of our apartment. She and her friend Adriana stopped by for a visit with beers and a bottle of mescal in hand! I should note here that Stephen continues to do brilliantly at not drinking any alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, I enjoyed sharing a beer with these young women. The conversation was very open-hearted about all of our lives, families, histories, and what matters to each of us. As I suspected, Jude is the photographer of the arresting photos in this apartment that feature a stunning woman whom she met in Africa. All the art in this apartment is black and white, some quite mysterious and provocative.
The caption in the triangle on the left is "This is also going to change". On the right is Jude's photo of the woman in Africa.
The neighborhood is a real one, with the market and Jicara, bread store, tortiia maker, a small club, dress shops that serve meals, restaurants that have two tables, a flower market, pretty trees. I am trying to have things that within a two or three minute walk of our apartment.
Where we get our tortilla and tostadas. They are not made by hand over a fire but it is close by. Some visitors to our neighborhood.
Stephen's Take on Oaxaca
I am going to start on the downside to make the other side clear. Recently I got myself in a cranky state. The details aren't necessary. Something wasn't going the way I wanted it to and nothing I did corrected it. Everthing seemed to conspire against me. I felt myself go very rigid and I spiralled into more and more anger even though I had a faint suspicion that the other way might work better. In fact it did and I was left with all this adrenaline and no place to go. It slowly faded and I returned to normal. Maybe a half hour for the whole episode. I watched the whole thing.
Why I bring this up is that we have been on the road for more than three weeks and I have been floating in another world. Everything seems to be exactly what it is supposed to be. The temperature here in Oaxaca has felt perfect. The air is carressing me. (Okay, maybe twice on the way home it has been a little chilly, but that is just the mountain location of the town expressing itself.) Everything seems beautiful. The walls, freshly painted or not, seem all kinds of beautiful. The gringos seem Ok. Last year I think I tried to avoid them, to pretend I wasn't one of them. I am, and so what. The appartment has become a home. It is comfortable to come back to, to relax or write in. We see big gaps in our calendar and remember that is when we napped or wrote. I will keep exploring our immediate surroundings. On occasion we are out early and we see another world of school children being walked to school by their mothers, shopkeepers opening stores, a guy running down the street with a bag of ice in his hands. Myself, I would have kept throwing it into the air and catching it to keep my hands from freezing. But he is just doing it his way. I see Dawn squatting down next to the street child that she gives food to, not even sure whether he gets to eat all of it, but Dawn's act of kindness may change this boy's life. We should just throw our compassion out there with abandon. The results may never be known. Who cares?
We don't have to cross the highway to walk into town this year. dawn made it clear that she wanted to be closer to the centro this year. She was right, it has made all the difference his year. We are closer, the walk to events is much shorter. The neighborhood is a real one, with the market and Jicara, bread store, tortiia maker, a small club, dress shops that serve meals, restaurants that have two tables, a flower market, pretty trees. This sentence is duplicated in the section with the picutes of the neighborhood.
At the beginning of the trip, Dawn and I visited Cole's self-defense class on Saturday morning. We learned about an assignment they had been given to introduce themselves to someone they had dealings with but did not know the id of. A shopkeeper, a janitor at school, maybe the school crossing guard. We decided to do the same thing at the covered market. We returned to the same stalls as last year, but this time, asked them their ids and told them ours. Dawn is difficult for a Spanish speaker to pronounce, so it always starts a conversation. So now we buy our nuts, coffee, granola, prune from Vicky and she torn off 10 plastic bags from her roll so Dawn could make packets to give away. Nancy and Felix sell us fruits and vegetable, Nancy refusing a red pepper that was defective in a small way, reminding me of Hope back at the Roslindale Fish Market who is always corrects my selections. Alesia sells us butter, milk and cheese.
The video below is from Friday and we were heading for a concert. When on Saturday we came back to watch we ended up on a wall between the parade and awedding that was comong out of Santo Domingo with its own band and dancer. We were caught between and loved every minute of it. The energy of Mexico in a big happy party. We have clips from Saturday and I will try to something from those up here to replace this clip.
Click here if the video doesn't appear above
A New Friend
Saturday mornings, I go to the library for Intercambio. Mexicans who want to work on English and Gringos who want to work on Spanish are paired with each other. The first Saturday, I was very lucky to be paired with Betty, a woman probably in her early sixties, who particularly likes to make friends from other countries. The formula for this Interchange is to speak for an hour in English, then an hour in Spanish. The topics of discussion are decided by each pair or group of participants.
We discussed everything from family to travel to politics and immediately hit it off. She had a business in Monterrey, Mexico for 35 years. Eventually it became so dangerous with the drug gangs and shootings that she was forced to close down. Apparently she was one of the last to call it quits in what sounds like a big, modern mall. So she returned to Oaxaca where she was born and has been here about seven years. We met for coffee a few days ago and continued communicating, she mostly in pretty good English, me mostly in pretty mediocre Spanish. Although Stephen does not go to these library conversations, he and I have invited her out to lunch next Friday. Although we have some American friends here and have interacted with many English speakers from the US and Canada, it is nice to have a friendship with a Mexican woman.
El Chico y Dawn
I keep seeing his little face. He couldn't be more than four years old. Last year we encountered many children begging on the main pedestrian walkway. I had given them some change, but then learned that most of them have been forced into service by an adult on the sidelines. Often they come from Chiapas to Oaxaca, and often the adults are not even their parents. The kids have to give the money to the adult. So last year, near the end of our stay, i gave a little girl a small treat to eat, and she was so appreciative....for so little. So this year we are buying packets of candied nuts. Yesterday I asked the little boy, "tienes hambre?" (are you hungry?) He shook his head yes, so I gave him a wrapped packet. I said, "para ti, no para el adulto." (For you, not for the adult.) But when I looked back, I think he was not able to open and eat it quickly enough so maybe the adult got that too. So now we get the loose nuts and put them in smaller packets that i can open directly into the chico's hands.
I deliberately walked on the opposite side of the street from his "adult." So when the chico approached me today, I asked him to put out his hand. That hand was so small I could only pour a couple of nuts into his palm. So I said "Here, take it." Since the small bag was already open, i think he could eat them before returning to "him." I asked his id which I didn't quite understand, but he said "gracias," and looked at me so sweetly. It is heartbreaking. I said maybe I would see him tomorrow.
There do seem to be fewer chicos and chicas in the street this year, perhaps in part because of the good work being done by Oaxaca Street Children. Check out oaxacastreetchildren.org
We are contributing annually to the education of a little girl through this organization and are going to meet her and her mother soon. I had written a letter to the little girl, in my mediocre Spanish, and her mother wrote a wonderful letter back, calling me her daughter's madrina, or godmother. They live in one of the indigenous communities outside of town, but they come to the center to volunteer on Saturdays. It is part of the ethos of many Mixtec and Zapotec communities that everyone volunteers to help the community in some way. So this organization
picks up on that ethos by asking the mothers of the beneficiary children to help out in some way. Unfortunately, the parents of these kids are almost always single moms with no help from the fathers.
The Art of the Lock
I think I also titled a section from an earlier travelogue "The Art of the Lock." That was about how to maneuver down the canal du Midi. This one is how to fix something without your toolbox.
While it is the downstairs door that provides most of the security for our apartment, we have a key lock that works on our front door. After it was replaced, The new one fell apart and I wanted to fix it. What I needed to do was to remove a small pin so that I could put back the U-bolt and then create a way to keep the pin in. The security part of the lock is the other side which is opened with the key. The apartment had a #2 phillips head screw driver.
I got the pin out with my nail clipper and held it in with a rubber band that I got from my collection that I carry in my miscellaneous ziplock bag. The deep satisfaction that I got from this whole operation was the perfect accidental match of the project to what I had, plus the beautiful color combination of the end product.
Don Juanito, our standby restaurant for pozole, a corn soup with either chicken or pork.
Casa de Barro, a new rooftop place on a small shopping mall. The staff was new and a little overwhelmed . The food was ok.
Jicara, a couple of doors down, a vegetarian place that is well-known. The food was good. They have live music.
Marco Polo, a big place with competing waiters. Many expensive things, but the shrimp tacos and totados were very good and reasonable.
Mezquite, the shrimp tacos were very good. The mojito was different. We've been three times.
Capuche, the food is ok, the drinks are very good.
Biznaga, a nice place, but can be odd.
More Buddhist Thoughts
Listening to Music and the "Monkey Mind"
We went to a concert of Afro-Cuban music one night. From a certain perspective, it wasn't very good. In the middle of the show they had to unplug one of the speakers because it was misbehaving which left us with one which wasn't that good to start with. Rhytmically, they kind of bashed at the music. It didn't make me want to dance. They played a couple of tunes made popular by the Buena Vista Social Club who I heard when they came to Boston which brings us to the crux.
I really liked the way the BVSC played the tunes, better than I liked these guys, but when I tried to listen to these live musicians as each note came into existence and then disappeared, remembering what what just came before, I had no room left to also remember the BVSC. In other words, if I really listened, I had no time for judgment. I only had time for what was happening at the moment. I suppose evaluation could come later, but trying to judge two concerts more than a decade apart in time seemed to be mostly a fictious activity and not worth the time. This seems so far away from what I learned in my education where everything, and I mean everything, is being judged. One could walk down the street and be making more than one judgment every second. Examples: the weather, how my shoes fit, a woman's shapely calves, the nice butt on a guy wearing running shorts, somebody's hat, the cleanliness of the street, the TV show you watched last night, the driving skills of the person who nearly killed you running a red light. It would go on. And I might, but won't. I will end here with a compromise, saying that sometimes one needs to evaluate, but not as much as we do. We could be simply aware of our surrounding neutrally and save judgment for when we are buying a new car.
Looking back on what I just wrote, I would say that when i was really trying to listen, the experience was more intense, but it was easier to return to a kind of remote state figuring out whether I liked it. It was all kind of odd and I could really feel the conflict between the two approaches. More work on this is needed.
At one of the later guitar concerts, I learned that the constant returning to the breathe that one does in meditation is the exact exercise that one needs to keep returning from thinking about the music to actually listening to it.
Any one who meditates knows about "monkey mind." In fact, everyone, meditator or not, is undoubtedly familiar with that little, inner voice that seems to chat at you almost all the time. For me, unless I am strongly focused, say on yoga, dancing, writing, reading, singing, or teaching, that voice is usually there. When we sit, we watch that voice, acknowledge it, and try not to get caught up in its content. A meditation technique that is used by almost all traditions is to focus on the breath, acknowledge monkey mind's activity, but "let it go," and bring focus back to the breath. Perhaps some enlightened monks or nuns who have meditated for their lifetimes get to a place where monkey mind never enters their sitting practice...but not me!
The funny thing is that now the monkey is chattering at me in (mediocre) Spanish! When I am in France, the monkey yaks at me in (pretty good) French. Even in Italy, that monkey follows me around in elementary Italian. I guess that I want so much to be able to speak the language of the country I am staying in, that even that unconscious voice switches gears. When I get home, that monkey will likely revert to English. Here's a funny aside: one of the first dances I choreographed and presented in Boston in the early 70's was called, "The Mind Is A Wild Monkey." Laura Shapiro reviewed it in the Boston Globe, saying "with a title like that, I expected the worst and I got it." Nice, eh? Well, the good news is that she wrote excellent reviews to the next two pieces that I presented, Haiku and Notion. But the mind is still a wild monkey.
Biosphere Side Trip with Luciana and David
Biosphere on Trip Advisor
We stayed two nights in a hotel in Zapotitlàn Salinas rather than in the rustic cabins that we tried to get. We arranged a guide to show us the park. We got there by a 3 hour bus ride and then a taxi.
We left Oaxaca on the 9:30 AM ADO bus for a 1:00 PM arrival in Tehuacan. From there the four of us squeezed into a very fast taxi ride to Zapotitlán Salinas and the El Calvario hotel. Our hosts, Pedro and Josephina, were very warm and friendly. The room was nice, bathroom efficient and the mirror, sink and night stand, made of onyx, were spectacular. It turned out to be a perfect center for our adventures.
We took a short cab ride to the restaurant "Itandehui" where we had lunch. Afterwards, we met Maurino, and with his somewhat red, Dodge pickup truck took us to the Botanical Garden for a tour and explanation of the ecosystem and how it survives on a maximum of five days of rain per year.
The menu for both the restaurants we ate at had plenty of pictures and good labelling, like a page with the word "Insectos" across the top. They also had plates with plenty of different kinds of cacti. We found things we liked and enjoyed our meals. Dawn and I enjoyed riding around in the bed of the pickup and learned quickly to stand up and grab the bar once we were off the paved road. Maurino drove gently all the time, so it was no worse than a sailboat in some choppy water.
Tuesday afternoon we went to the Jardin Botanicó. Our guide, Maurino, descends from an indigenous community called Popoloca and knows everything about the flora and fauna, medicinal and nutritional uses of various plants, as well as local history pre and post the Spanish. He is not only knowledgeable but is also a lovely human being.
On our Walk Back to the Hotel
The blue flags swag under the branches and then go up to attach to the top of the beautiful church.
One morning after breakfast in Zapotitlàn Salinas, Stephen and I were taking an alternate route back to our little hotel to see more of the old pueblo that is so different from the main highway with its trucks and busses. We were in the habit of saying, "Hola, buenos dias, señor or señora." A very old, small abuelita, grandma, stopped and asked us a question. I had no idea what she was saying, but her son and daughter were with her, and he was able to translate. Apparently she wanted to know if we needed directions to something. Obviously we were strangers, and she thought we might need help. It was so kind of her. At least I was able to thank her and reassure her in Spanish that everything was all right.
When we went to Zapotitlàn Salinas, it seemed at first to be a dusty town that was clustered around the highway at the edge of it. Our hotel was located in a zone filled with half built houses. It just seemed to be another example of poor Mexico. But the next day we walked down to our restaurant through the middle of the town. We found clean streets, watered gardens, school children in uniforms, men sweeping the streets with long branches and this beautiful square in front of the church. People were friendly, returning our good mornings with their own and adding a smile. All this surprised me and reminded me to look for the Mexico that is here, not the one the one that sits unexamined in my mind.
Wednesday in the Cacti
The round cacti with lots of spiky needles are called biznaga (also the id of a restaurant in Oaxaca.) Maurino says they are colloquially referred to as "siento de suegra" (mother-in-law's seat!) We related this to our Oaxacan friend Betty at lunch Friday, and she pointed out that there are so many jokes about mothers-in-law, but none about fathers-in-law. This is true in our culture too...a cautionary tale for those of us who are suegras.
We took a little, bumpy detour in the pickup to visit the oldest cactus in the biosphere, maybe the oldest one known anywhere, 2500 years. The indigenous people hug this tree. It is said to give them energy. Luciana and I did not hesitate to wrap our arms around the abuela of all the elephant foot cacti. As Stephen mentioned, this tree has such a feminine presence, compared to all those tall, erect spiky cacti so prevalent in the region.
We did not buy a drone. I was standing in the bed of the pickup as we drove on the dirt road. As long as I did not hold onto truck I could get a smooth shot. When we turned, I had to grab the bar. I slowed the video down and added some music from a Boston Arts Academy jazz CD.
Making Salt in MesoAmerica
After some communication from Jude, our host, about when we were returning to the apartment, we opened the door to find her on a step ladder rearranging the art on the walls. The plants had been moved also. We went shopping after she left and just stayed home for the evening instead of going to the gallery opening.
Kelsang Tsogtor (Kadampa)
We went to a group meditation with the monk we had chatted with last year in the organic market/lunch place. He spent a decade or two at the San Francisco Zen Center and is now part of the Kadampa tradition. He has a lovely space for meditation, and the small group of practitioners was a strong and welcoming presence. The session included some group readings and a recorded, guided meditation using the mantra "Om Ah Hum." These syllables refer to pure body, pure speech, pure mind. This approach is different from the way we usually sit, but it is useful to open to other traditions and approaches to what is essentially the same path.
Ruth and Damaris
We had an appointment Saturday to meet the little girl whose education we are supporting. We met her and her mom, Ruth, at the center of Oaxaca Street Children (Centro Esperanza Infantil). We had hoped that Peppo who administers much of the program and is trilingual, would join us for lunch. He had to work. So the four of us went off to a little restaurant that we know for its great prix fixe specials. It turns out that the place didn't have a menu del dia on Saturdays. After we ordered, it was quite a long wait. Poor little Demaris was very tired, and probably hungry. After our meal, they brought us a nice piece of chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream and four spoons "on the house" as an apology for the long wait. Demaris definitely perked up for dessert!
The five of us at the Center, then Dawn and Demaris at Lunch
Demaris and her mom speak no English, and my Spanish is still quite labored. So it was kind of tricky, but we all managed. Demaris is adorable and very well-mannered. She just turned seven, and her mom has two younger boys at home, with no father present. Demaris works very hard in school, does well, and loves to draw and color. Her mom has several jobs. Now she is making and selling costume jewelry some of which she kindly gave me as a gift. As we were saying good-bye, I mentioned that I noticed that Ruth had a cell phone. So now we can stay in touch via Whatsapp instead of going through the center via email and snail mail, so communication can be more direct and timely.
We plan to support Demaris's education through high school and the university, if she pursues higher education. Although the city of Oaxaca has some beautiful sections, there is evident poverty. The state of Oaxaca, like much of Mexico, is still poor. At $250 American per year, investing In Demaris's education is a gift easily given. Of course the rate may change as she gets older, and the state-is clearly paying a large part of children's schooling. She needs the shoes, backpacks, uniforms, etc. that our contribution provides. More information can be found at the American part of the organization: Oaxacastreetchildren.org
Going Out for Venezuelan
We left the Centro and walked to a coffe shop with Venezuelan Music
One thing that happens as you walk from the tourist center of Oaxaca out into the neighborhoods is that the streets get darker and the sidewalks get narrower. But another thing that happens is that it becomes difficult to distinguish between a restaurant and a family dinner. Both have people sitting around tables with colorful table cloths and cooking devices and bright lights. I'm sure if we asked to sit down and eat they would invite us in.
One guy played the bass and the other one guitar and tuba although not at the same time. He did have a boomerang and was able to lay down a guitar track before playing over it with the tuba. They played music from all over Venezuela, sometimes from the mountains, sometime from the plains and coast. At the end, they passed the hat.
The Orchestra and Our Little Conductor
The Archive Library
Touted as contemporary inventive cuisine by indigenous cooks, using local , organic ingredients, Teocintle Cocina Indigena was a wonderful experience. There are only four tables in an unpretentious setting, with an additional table around the corner, near the kitchen. Two young couples were already seated when we arrived. The server explained each of the five courses in detail, only about a third of which I understood. Never mind, the combinations of flavors, colors, textures and shapes of the ingredients were subtle, unusual, and delicious. See the pictures!
This was a prix fixe menu without the price stated before the meal.. We drank no alcohol but enjoyed a couple of different waters, flavored with herbs, cucumber, lime, mint, and fruit. Our bill was 600 pesos, 720 including tip. At less than forty American dollars for us both, it was the most "expensive" meal we have had in Oaxaca this year! Do you still wonder why so many Americans, Canadians and Europeans come to Mexico?
Sharing a Table at La Popular with Two Couples and a Street Dog
Does she look like Dawn?
The popular restaurant is well popular. When we looked in all the tables were full, but there were a few empty tables. The waitress outfront directed us toward two of these chairs. The man sitting in one of the chairs had to get up so I could slide in to the corner. The young woman sitting across from him said watch out for the dog sleeping on the floor. The young woman said she had been in the Zicatelaa and the way she described it made us hope that she was talking about a slightly different place, perhaps up the beach. she thought it was mostly a lively club scene.
After they left, they were replaced by a British couple more our age. After a while the woman asked Dawn did she know that she looked like that actress. Dawn said yes she had heard there's a number of times. Her husband was very disappointed when he found out he wasn't sitting next to this address. There were lots of things I might have said, but I said none of them.
After the ordered drinks I noticed a symmetry between us and them. Both the women had cocktails and the men had fruit juices.
toward the end of the meal, the woman asked, did I mind if she smoked. I said yes. I had not seen anyone in oaxaca smoking inside a restaurant and I didn't think it was really allowed. In a few minutes, she got up and took a cigarette break outside the restaurant. I asked the guy about his non-drinking And he said it was the only way he could maintain any self-respect. He had not been drinking for decades.
A Visit to the Dentist
Dawn partially dislodged a fiiling the other day and after contacting Jude about an English speaking and then getting one who didn't, we cancelled that appointment, got another dentist, Dr. Angel Gomez Reyes, trained at the University of Michigan. I am now sitting in his waiting room while Dawn, in the the first of three sessions, gets a temporary crown and is on her way to being the proud owner a of new porcelain crown. This is not the outcome we were hoping for. Instead of a partially broken filling we got a lost filling and a cracked tooth.
Dr. Gomez and his staff
Actually, the filling remained, but they took a picture to show me that part of the tooth was not just cracked, but gone! So I opted for the whole crown procedure. Lots of Americans and Canadians come to Mexico for dental work because it is much less expensive. I will spare the reader the details of drilling today, now that the Novocain has worn off, my tooth, jaw and head ache a bit, but I think that is normal.
So one more appointment this week and then one next week before we fly to Puerto Escondido. Wish me good luck.
I met Ellis while in the dentist's office waiting for Dawn. He came in with the same kind of problem that Dawn had and we got to talking, mostly about his attendance at a week long mask carving workshop at a studio famous for alebrijes. He mentioned that he had been in the same Carnivale Parade that we had watched and made a short video of. When we went back and looked at my video, there he was, dancing away. It seemed like an amazing intersection of two lives. He was shooting video also, but I was not in his. I will ask him to send me a clip so I can Insert it in mine.
He is from Puerto Rico but mostly works for a company in Oregon, running crews that paint student apartmentsp. We talked for a long time so that after he left it was just a few minutes until Dawn appeared. We found out later that since he was leaving the next day, the dentist could only do something temporary.
Are We Speaking Spanish Yet?
We have just gotten through two evenings where first I took us to what I thought would be an evening of archival videos showing the way of life of the indigenous Oaxacans. it turned out to be mostly talk with not so much video because they were having trouble with the sound in the videos. Trying to cover the time where the technicians were trying to make the sound system work they repeated themselves so often that Dawn began to understand what they were saying. The videos themselves were old VHS cassettes and pretty much looked like home movies although the homes, consisting of strange weddings and animal sacrifices in caves, were fairly unusual. I was hoping to learn something about sticking cameras in people's faces but all I learned was, just do it.
The next night, confusing the Thursday and Fridays shows, Dawn lead us to a book publishing event at the restaurant in our neighborhood. Here the audio visuals we're better, these running of slides in the background was done effortlessly.The two authors of the book "Drinks in Oaxaca" spoke passionately about the subject. After we ate our meal, we crept out quietly so that someone who could understand more could take our place.
In the end we skipped the Friday show. He was a singer-sonwriter, but still it would have been all in Spnanish.
This is the one we meant to go to, but didn't in the end.
Here is the back story. We went to see this piece two weeks ago and it was cancelled. Most of the publicity was still out there, but their FB page had cancelled. At that point, the choreographer, Rolando Beattie, was listed as the performer. This time is was César Castellanos. The piece was called Lost Luggage, A Self Portrait
The space: small, a table behind a sofa at one end, then out about three body lengths to a metal window frame, it is about one body length wide, everything white. Two projectors, one overhead and one behind the frame. No other lighting fixtures.
César Castellanos is a beautiful mover. A large man dancing in a small space, he was very impressive. We first encountered him dancing behind a scrim at the entry to the small studio. Then the audience entered and sat on two sides of the performance space. We were never more than a couple of feet away from the performer, who was lit by projections of simple shapes suggesting windows and sometimes bars crisscrossed or askew. He moved from languid fluidity to fast, articulate, detailed choreography, with turns that flowed inevitably rather than being prepared, as in ballet turns. He tumbled, rolled, dove and draped himself into the small sofa countless times, as if he could never quite completely get away from it. The piece was abstract, yet very evocative of feeling. There were no light, projection, set or music credits which is too bad be cause those elements supported the performance in just the right way.
The solo was about 45 minutes long, quite a tour de force for an individual performer. Just when I thought that maybe there was a bit too much repetition, César flowed his way over the back of the sofa and seemed to drip over the table behind it into disappearance.
Last Sunday was International Women's Day. As I said to a few women here, "We get one day out of the year?" The following Monday was publicized as a day that women would strike in Mexico. Women were advised not to go to work, not to do any commerce either actual or online, not to go to restaurants, etc. Stephen and I abided by this guideline until I had to get to my 4:30 dentist appointment for the final fitting of the permanent crown. When I asked, my dentist said that his staff would be coming to work on Monday. The idea was like the "Day Without Art" that protested the AIDS epidemic.
Perhaps it was more visible in other cities like Mexico City. The country was meant to see and feel what it would be like without the support of female labor that drives much of the economy here. Unfortunately the strike was not that widespread in Oaxaca. There was a large group of mostly indigenous women on the sidewalk outside a government building. They were sitting and mostly working on the hand embroidery that adorns so much of the clothing here. The primary reason for the demonstration is the grotesque occurrence of brutal femicides that have been happening in Mexico. You may have read about some of them in the NYTimes or other publications. I will spare you the appalling, grisly details. In a traditionally macho culture, women are finally beginning to speak up.
Dawn's brother Andrew and his partner Linda are beginning to feel vulnerable to the Coronavirus, so after some discussion on email, our visit with them has been cancelled. This effectively cancels our visit with Jamie also, which is a good thing because they are having a hard winter with colds and flu. So as of April first, our planning and then replanning has been for naught. I have decided to do nothing and wait to see how the situation develops. I am certain that I don't want to be involved in any quarantines. Depending on the world changes in the next three weeks, we may take our already booked flight to Las Vegas and then fly home the next day. But if things go bad, then maybe we just stay in Mexico until there is an opportunity to fly home.
We are working on our attitude. We need to remember that no matter what plans go awry, we can always hug each other and say, "We are here"
More Buddhist Thoughts
First Find Out What It Is
The great thing about Oaxaca is that we can walk out every day to a concert, a dance performance, a talk, a museum or a gallery. In the past, the first thing I have asked myself is, "Do I like it"? Now, I just give the occasion my full attention. I try to ask, "What is it?", and keep asking that question until the event is over. Then I can describe it, perhaps a symphony with children crying, cellphones lifted to take videos, people whispering loudly to each other, applauding between movemnts. Afterwards walking home, I can chose to "correct" the faults of the show or choose to take some other path of discussion. I find it all much gentler to separate the two things. It is good practice in living in the present moment.
How I Used Uncertainty
When I sat down to sit, I made up a meditation exercise. Before I took each breath I readied myself to be aware of the unpredictable thoughts or feelings that might flood into my mind. This made the meditation easy, There was no tension about not staying with the breath only a realization that everything is unpredictable. Thoughts and feelings came, or not. Looking for the unpredictability of somehing was easier than looking for the thing itslf. That might be obvious. There will be more about his subject as our journey progresses.
First our review of Jude's place
We are an American couple from Boston in our seventies. This is our second AirBnB in Oaxaca. We stayed in the apartment for a month. The apartment is a hideaway that is full of light and shade. There are three fans now and were only necessary a few evenings while we were here. It gets cold here at night. This is a mountain town.
-If we are fortunate enough to return to Oaxaca, I would definitely stay here again.
-It is in a great neighborhood near Mercado Sanchez Pascua with restaurants, bars, bakery with sourdough bread, tortillaria, a tiny pulqueria, two chocolate makers, a clothing store and a convenience store. The neighborhood is mostly Mexican and the stores cater to them.
-The apartment is quiet. It is not directly on the street so the truck and bus noise is low. You can hear the gas guy and the water guy, but they are not loud. We were just two so we had plenty of space, but it did not seem crowded when Jude and her friend came over for drinks. It is nice to have art on the walls.
-We liked it being on the edge of the Centro. In a month, we never took a taxi. All the music, museums, galleries were within a 10 to 20 minute walk. Sometimes we splurged on a 16 peso bus (for two) on Tinico y Palacio to take us down near the Zocalo.
-I think you will be happy with this place.
Brisas de Zicatela near Puerto Escondido
The Deck Has Changed
A building has gone up next door. It makes less view, more shade.The left photo is before, the right, after.
You go to the beach, you watch sunsets, and we all just keep taking pictures.
Sunsets are still here
The top floor is ours. The terrace in the shade, the second covered bedroom (behind the Palm Trees), the new building on the left. Out bedroom with A/C is hidden under the black water tank. The garbage on the street has been re-bagged and is waiting to be picked up.
Clean sheets on the line. The end of our terrace is up on the right, with our stairs coming down the wall. The picture is taken from this second outdoor bedroom.
Our walk down to the beach
Our lives are somewhat the same. We go for walks on the beach in the morning and wash our hands when we get back. We shop for fruit and vegetables in the market then wash them to kill the bacteria. Is the virus being washed away? Probably not. Don't touch your face! We don't shake hands with cab drivers anymore. We wash our hands. We eat right after sunset and find the restaurants are nearly empty. We think, not from social distancing but because most of the young surfers that populate Brisas are in the bars. We overhear conversations about what's happening in the US and Canada from tourists, but locals don't seem to understand the word virus.
So we operate in a vacuum, trying to make behavioral changes that will save us and all the people around us in a place that has no fear. It has beaches and sun and muscular surf, coffee shops and restaurants. Downstairs in our AirBnB, there are seven to nine, we can't quite count them, bachelorettes celebrating an upcoming wedding. Who knows where they come from, none speak Italian.
Thank you, those who have sent us info and advice. We have considered all of it. What we have decided is to wait as long as possible before making travel plans so we are dealing with the situation as it is, not as we think it might be sometime in the future.
We are all deeply connected. In spite of the current public health need for "social distancing" we can maintain our human connections in so many ways.
Here we are on the southern Pacific coast of Mexico where no one seems to give the virus a thought, except all of us visitors from other countries. There is no apparent illness here, but who knows if there has been any testing. The virus does not like the sun, and we have lots of sun! After consulting with my brother in Utah and Stephen's nephew in Denver, we have canceled those April visits. So we are here at least until April 1, and then we will see. Living with uncertainty is a good exercise for us.
We would like the travelogue to remain somewhat entertaining for our readers. So henceforth, this is the last mention of Corona, except maybe for the beer!
Real Buddhists Keep Walking Up to Us and Saying Hello
The first time was International Women's Day. In its honor we had read about Sister Chan Khong, who is the force behind Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk whose simple and powerful writing about Buddhism has helped us so much. So we are having lunch in the organic market (Oaxaca) sitting at one of the picnic benches set up in the middle of the food stalls, when a younger couple walks by looking for a place to sit. We gesture to the bench across from us and they sit down. It turns out that they were married by Tai and are close friends of the buddhists at Plum Village. They are slowly traveling because they are between homes.
Our first evening here in Brisas de Zicatela, we found an old log to sit on while awaiting the sunset over the Pacific. A couple of our generation (rare in this surfer town) approached and asked if they could share the log. Well, of course! They are Canadian and come to this part of the world often. After much conversation about yoga, meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc., we found out that he is a meditation teacher and writer. He recently published Touching the Earth, 21st Century Buddhism
. His name is Bern Callahan, also known as Brian. I think his lovely wife is named Margaret. After our recent encounter with Joe and Paz from Plum Village, we are starting to feel like Buddhist magnets.
Casa de Luz - Gallery
Dawn got to speak French with a painter and then we got an offer to show videos next year. Next Year?! What does that even mean?
Thai Lychee Restaurant
Dawn at the Thai Lychee Restaurant
We sat at the bar that surrounds the kitchen and watched them cook. No measuring, no timers and the flame always on full blast. We shared a tuna in peanut sauce. Pretty good. Margarita was smallish and expensive.
Birds and Iguana
We have a couple of resident iguanas that come out from between our wall and the new building's wall to sun themselves in the morning. Including their long tails, they are about three feet in length. We also have some exceptionally talkative birds that hang out in the palm trees and chatter away. Although we usually plan to get out early for a beach walk, before it gets so hot, it is so pleasant here in our open, third floor aerie, that often we just hang out with the birds and Iguanas, drinking coffee, writing, reading all your lovely emails (and doing the NYTimes crossword puzzle to which I am addicted.)
We will tell about the Iguana's visit later, and we will add some video.
Beach Exploration - No Devices
We took a little walk per encouragement of the guys at the Gallery. At low tide which was around noon, (we won't do that again), we went down past the surfers to the rocky point where there was a tunnel through the rock that allowed us to wade a little bit to get around to a rocky beach which led to a long uninhabited expanse of sandy beach. We were deviceless for the first time in months so we have no pictures. We found a little cavelette that was just big enough for the two of us to get out of the sun and we took a little rest before going in the water to cool off. We didn't linger because Dawn was worried that the tide would come in quickly and make our return more difficult.
I have to say that life is easy for me because not only do I let Dawn do my drinking, I let her do my worrying. So I tag along with her to nice bars with nice views I drink my liminadas and watch the sunsets or whatever. I don't have to worry but can make better decisions based on what Dawn is worrying about. I used to tell her not to worry, now I am learning to appreciate it.
Today we left all our devices at home and explored at low tide, clambering over rocks around the punta through some low water to find a beautiful, completely empty beach. After returning to our beach we got into the water, Stephen finally getting into the waves themselves where other people were doing so and under the watchful eye of a life guard up on his stand. After our swim, we stopped for a beachside smoothie and a couple of tacos.
A Real Beach Day
Although I said I wouldn't mention "the situation" again in the travelogue, we are as aware, and perhaps obsessed with it, as any of you. In order to avoid thinking about it for awhile, we decided to walk, or rather hike, to Playa Manzanilla which sits in a little cove and is safer for swimming. We are a bit wary of taxis, thinking that they could be germ carriers since so many different people ride in them.
We got started at about 8:00 a.m. and took a combination of mostly dirt roads into Zicatela which has a main, paved road and is a much bigger tourist mecca than Brisas. After an hour and twenty minutes, we stopped for a couple of fruit smoothies. Here was the first place that we noticed had hand sanitizer on the counter. The smoothies were very reviving, and we walked another good twenty minutes, across a beach with many moored boats-then up a long, hot, steep hill through town.. After wending our way through a dusty parking lot, we walked a bunch of steps and found a lovely couple of small coves with fairly calm water. It felt SO GOOD to get into that ocean!
We have probably never before rented two chaise lounge with an umbrella, but yesterday shade was essential. The deal is that you agree to spend at least 300 pesos, about $15, on food and drink, and you can sit or lie in those chairs as long as you like. We were in the front row, with an ocean breeze so felt that whatever airborne germs might be there were blowing away from us. Taking several ocean dips was wonderful. Stephen tried our special snorkel mask, but even though relatively calm, the water was turbulent and sandy so visibility wasn't great.
We needed to get some cash. Since there are no ATMs in Brisas, we stopped at one in Puerto Escondido. It's a good thing we left our little haven around 4:00 p.m. or we may not have made it home before dark. We did most of the return walk on the beach, but we were a lot slower. I was dragging, and my feet were complaining.By then the temperature may have been down to 87 or so. It hits 90 degrees here with some regularity. Still, it was wonderful to enjoy what felt like a real beach day and let go some of the anxiety and confusion about family, home, and about returning home.
More Buddhist Thoughts
We are on the Path now - Hold on
Boy, hard to write about our Buddhist life when everything is our Path. Life and Death are dancing partners. We are dancing with everyone at a six foot arm's length. We need a phrase or a gesture that means I love you even though we circle around each other. Connecting is what we do when we travel and now we social distant.
We Are Doing a Bug Out
From the MASH TV show, an emergency evacuation. Yesterday, we were threatened with being stranded in Mexico, perhaps for a long time, so we cancelled things and got new flights and a new hotel room and will start home tomorrow on Dawn's Birthday. All of it will be more comfortable and safer because, Adam, Dawn's son, upgraded us where he could. Thank you Adam!
Germ passing also known as Beach Volleyball on the Beach in Brisas
Next time, if there is one, I will paint smiles on our masks.
Deciding and Planning
On Thursday, we got an email from the State Department that said that the whole world was under a level #4 advisory and if we didn't return now, they didn't know when we would be able to. They said we should be ready to stay abroad indefinitely. This broke the dam that was holding back our fears.
Mexico wasn't taking the virus seriously.
The Mexican people, especially the young, were behaving as if nothing was happening.
We weren't getting any support from the community in our efforts to social distance.
I didn't want to get sick where I couldn't communicate in the language.
We weren't ready to be "Nomads".
Other the other hand, we felt that there would be a community of family and friends in Boston with whom we could get through this crisis, even though we would put ourselves at risk by going through four airports and three airplanes to get home. To me, I did have the feeling that we were scurrying home with our tails between our legs, but I just let this feeling be as I began to make preparations to return.
The first idea was to move the two interjet flight forward in time. This would get us to Las Vegas and then we could fly non stop to Boston the next day. That failed when Interjet wouldn't take my credit card on their website. Last summer, we had the same issue which led to a four month battle to find the reservation and then get them to correct the spelling of our names to match our Passports.
After that, I looked at flying back to Oaxaca and then flying to Mexico City and then Atlanta. That didn't pan out. Then I tried a sketchier airline that flew earlier to Mexico city. I couldn't get into their website. Nothing was working too well. It felt like a slow disintegration was happening in the travel industry.
Then I looked to see who was code sharing with Interjet and found American Airlines. I could book the same interjet plane with American and connect to Dallas/Fort Worth. It worked except that we received no seat assignment on the flight out of Puerto Escondido. I didn't even look for a late flight to Boston because I had no way of knowing how long getting back into the country would take at Dallas/Fort Worth. Instead I made a hotel reservation which was easy, except I made it near the Atlanta airport, a left over from some earlier plan. Dawn caught the error, so I cancelled that and made one at the Hawthorne Suites Wyndham Hotel north of the DFW airport with free breakfast and free airport shuttle. Now to find a plane home. DFW is the major hub for American so they were the only choice in our morning time period. We picked a late morning flight so we could sleep in. The transaction went through but did not finalize. It was past midnight by now, so we just went to sleep, leaving the morning to reveal our status.
Morning found our flight finalized, and assigned seats together on the Interjet flight. Later we found that there was no online check-in, but we would have time at the airport. Over the two days, we were making meals, (mostly Dawn), going downstairs for pool breaks, talking to the Wisconsin/San Diego group (The two guys were chefs, so I had a long conversation with one, each of us standing at opposite sides of the pool) about the various ways to cook steak, use of salt and non-use of pepper. Also, We were on Whatsapp with Monica explaining what we were doing. At sunset of our last day we went down to Piyoli and Dawn had her last margarita in Mexico. Our waiter was from France, so he was worried. There was one other couple there because most of them were on the beach watching the sunset.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
11:45 AM to 1:15 PM. Puerto Escondido to Mexico City. - Interjet/American Air
5:10 PM to 9:04 PM. Mexico City to Dallas/Fort Worth - American Air
Shuttle to the hotel
Hawthorne Suites Hotel for the night
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Shuttle to Airport
10:55 AM to 3:42 PM. DFW to Boston - American Air
Then home. Not exactly safe, but home. We will continue to write and finish up the Travelogue, and write to talk about our time in self-isolation.
Step by Step
An 11:45 AM start is an amazing luxery opposed to the 7 AM flights that Iusually have to schedule. We had time for all the preparations. We even had time to sit. Monica, our host, had arranged a taxi and he was early so he was there when we came out the door with our N95 masks on.(Bought last summer when Dawn was flying with a cold). There were plenty of red lights, but we got to the airport in plenty of time. The driver was sure that the virus would never reach Puerto Escondido. Who knows, maybe he will be right. At the airport, we filled out health forms which we are not sure that anyone looked at. After we got through security and washed our hands, a young couple with guitars sang John Lennon's "Imagine". A tear came to my eye. Dawn's the same.
The Interjet plane is one class but has an entrance at the front and rear so loading the plane goes very quickly even though we have to climb stairs to get in. I think one place where social distancing is difficult is where a line is called for. They called our loading group and we left our place against the wall away from everyone and jumped into line. Weird. Well it went fast and the walk to the plane is outside. The flight went well. No one seemed to open their tray tables, The drink cart went up and down the aisle but they didn't asked anyone if they wanted a drink so they continued silently on. The plane did also and soon we were landing in Mexico City.
Terminal 1 is large and long. After hand washing, we got outside and walked from one end of the building to the other. The American check in counter was the last before security. The guy there was very helpful and kind. Earlier, we were given boarding passes by Interjet but were told to check in with American. He led us through the kiosk procedure and it spit out two new passes. The Security lines were empty so we went through into the giant maw of airport consumerism. Our path to the gates was a maze through over-lit, over-colored stores of international repute.
After hand washing, lunch. We ate in a French Bakery, Maison Kayser, and it was pretty good. I drank a coke and had a chicken Caesar, Dawn had a salad with beets. We ate slowly because the place was calm and had no place to go quickly.
There are less tables now and people sat at every other table. What you do with your mask when you are eating.
We found some seats in an empty waiting area for Air Canada. I left Dawn there and went to look for the rest rooms. I found them right around the corner, so one at a time, we went for more hand washing. Then I went to see where are gate was. I finally found a flatscreen with our Gate number and using my compass app on my phone realized that I was turned around and we needed to go back to security and start down another hallway. As we went down moving walkway after moving walkway things began to look familiar from last year and Gate G36 appeared. We found seats near a charging station but away from other people. We wrote and checked emails and such.
At what turned out to be more at the last minute than I thought, I changed my mind about changing the pesos that we had just gotten the day before we decided to return. I grabbed about 6000 pesos from our storage spots and went to the booth. The touch screens were turned off so it took longer than I thought it would. I filled out forms, added 20 pesos to make it come out even and finally got my dollars. I took a big hit, but thought I would anywhere. When I got back to the Gate, Dawn was standing there and very distraught, sure that we would miss the flight. We did get on the plane and got our bags up into the bin and sat down our seats A and C with a symbolic empty seat in between. But Dawn totally relaxed and we held hands, as we always do for the takeoff.
I couldn't believe that Stephen went to the money exchange at just about the time they were starting to board our flight to Dallas. We both almost ripped the charging cords out of the outlets as he asked me to find my pesos that were "hidden" in more than one place. In the rush, I could only find one stash. He disappeared with the cash while I went to the gate. Because Adam had upgraded us, we were in an early boarding group. I watched that group board, and then another. A Mexican official asked to see my boarding pass and passport. I told him "Espero mi marido." I am waiting for my husband. Another group boarded, then another. My heart was racing, and I lost my last shred of Buddhist equanimity. Finally I see Stephen returning to the gate, after the standbys have boarded. The same Mexican official checked his documents, looked at me and said, Oh, your husband. So we boarded and had to stow our carryons in a bin behind our seat. As I am lifting my heavy roller-bag over my head, a nice young man said, “Can I help?” I barked NO at him, then apologized as my anger was misdirected. I don't feel this way often anymore and was surprised at the intensity of that emotion. Once settled in our economy plus seats, I relaxed, let it go, and held Stephen”s hand for takeoff.
During the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, I watched "Ford vs Ferrari", Dawn watched "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." We didn't finish either film and had some cranberry and soda water drinks. We continued to wear our masks and wash our hands, but the flight was pretty uneventful and the pilot made a smooth landing. We were in the United States. I didn't feel any big sense of relief, but I did feel that we could manage our crisis even as I wasn't sure that our country could.
I just want to say here that the next time you have a chance to vote for the governor of your state, especially in a primary, make sure that you look for brains, balls (or whatever), integrity, strength at the same time as you look for political positions and beliefs. Has she or he had to stand up and lead? Can they really lead?
We have been traveling for twenty-three years since we took our first "Trip". This was our easiest re-entry in the United Sates that we have ever had. We got out of the plane early, but we stopped to wash our hands and pee. Then we got to the kiosks; there were some people but no wait. After that we were directed down a lane. There were no people, but no passport control people. There were many booths, but no officials. We started walking to the right and eventually we found one officer who was ready for business. He asked us if we had been to China or Italy, maybe Iran and that was all the virus questions. He asked about food and I remembered my peanuts. He said no problem. (That was good, see below). We chatted. We asked how to find the bus to our hotel. He told us how.
No thermometers, No medical questions, no nothing. He said welcome back, we said thanks, and walked into the airport.
I am not a big-oil fan, I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan, nor a Jerry Jones fan, nor a Texas fan, BUT I have to admit that everyone that we met for the thirteen hours that we were there was extremely nice. The shuttle drivers, the hotel people. I will have to re-think my attitude toward this part of the world and any other part of the world that I think badly of.
Stephen knew I was looking forward to a glass of wine to celebrate my birthday at the end of that long travel day. He asked the shuttle driver if there was a bar at the hotel. The driver said that if there were one, it would be closed. Duh, of course. We had just gotten accustomed to business as usual at the beach in Mexico. So of course no restaurant either.
When we checked in with the night clerk, I mentioned that today was my big birthday, (Friends and family know which big one it was), and I had been looking forward to a glass of wine. She said, "We have wine. We do wine tastings on Wednesdays. Do you want white or red?"" She went in a back room and came out with two plastic cups of ordinary, but much appreciated, white wine. I had told her that Stephen didn't drink, but she said the cups were small so she brought two. Very unexpected and very kind of her. So my birthday dinner consisted of two cups of wine and a bag of peanuts we had brought with us. Life is full of surprises. Of course, I woke-up at 3:00 a.m. with a headache, but it was worth it.
I got up in the morning and made coffee in our little living room/kitchen. It wasn't bad. Dawn showered. We went down to pick up our "bag of breakfast." The area was closed, so we took our bags upstairs and ate our oranges and sweet things. We packed and it was time to go back down and wait for our shuttle. It came on time and we rode through the fog back to the airport. I got the terminal wrong so we were at D instead of B. A very nice ticket person told us to go right through security and up to the Sky train, take three stops to lower B. Security took a while, mostly because some travelers had a lot of stuff in their bags they shouldn't have. Here was another place where we didn't maintain social distance. We had new masks on, but felt uncomfortable.
We got through and for the rest of the trip to the gate there weren't really any people.
Mid morning at the airport. It was quiet.
We got to the gate with enough time to meditate. There weren't a lot of people so we found ourselves a corner. The gate agent was working quietly at her desk and later we found out that she was reseating as many people as she could, not using the middle seats and putting people in every other row. We got on, this time first class, with our group, but all the bins were full. I think because there were a lot of American Airline employees getting home and they got on first and filled the bins. I got the bags up in the main cabins and it wasn't much of a problem to get them out later.
Thanks Adam for the first class seat. My Southwest salad was very good. Our stewardess was incredibly cute. I used my phone so that we could watch the ends of the movies from the flight before. I loved the comfort and room of the seats. I watched Frozen II. Hey, what can I say, I'm a fan.
An easy flight home.
The walk to the central parking shared ride area is longer from Terminal B than from Terminal A, where we started in early February. And it took longer for the Lyft car to arrive. But she did come and gave us a nice ride home. She had to wait a long time to get us. We were the first of the day for her. And suddenly, we were home and another trip ws about to begin.
Sunday, March 22
Thank you, Luciana for offering to pick us up at the airport even though we all realized almost simultaneously that that would not be a good idea. Thank you, Martha for dropping food off on our back porch, especially the bottle of wine (for Dawn).
It is very odd to be home. We are starting a fourteen day isolation to protect our friends and neighbors. In a way it is another trip. We are taking a voyage in our own home. In order to make our home as "clean" as possible we left everything in our foyer which is unheated and not part of the forced air heating system. I even left the clothes I was wearing there and went upstairs to take a shower. After that, I went around finding the laptop and disk drives and plugging things back in. We responded to texts and emails to tell people that we are home. A dinner of curried pasta with broccoli that I made was pretty terrible. Then a little PBS Sunday night TV. We are still hand washing.
Monday, March 23
I am feeling very raw and exposed in my meditations. The sitting and breathing is to help you become aware of what is really happening in the present moment. I helps you deal with fear, but in order to do that you have to allow yourself to become really aware of it. Like sandpaper to your soul. A calmness follows, but for me it feels a little manufactured. Oh well, back to the cushion.
We did a load of laundry and took the bags and other things from the foyer that we wouldn't need for a while to the attic to allow any viruses that they are carrying to die a slow death. We called the Roslindale Village Market to see whether we could order food. They gave us a slot and told me to call back at 1 PM. When I called back someone took my order (I think it was the guy in the vegetable department). He said he would shop and call me back. He did so and called me back with the price and took my credit card over the phone and said it would be about fifteen minutes. The front door bell rang and there was the six bags of food and as we took it in, we waved at the store manger, Jimmy, as he drove away in his pickup truck. No toilet paper. We are all going to learn to use less toilet paper. There were a few other things not available but it was enough.
More clothes for sure, but it is nice to be out in the air. We are very gratefull for our back yard and our easy access to it. People around the world are stuck in apartments, by themselves, or with too many of the family, with no place to go.
Gardening will be our outing. For now, raking. We are trying to expose all our growing things to the sun before the tree leaves come out and shade everything. We are also trying to make everything look pretty. Gardening for me has always been a process, but now, more than ever, the doing is more important than the result. I am trying to slow down and let everything I due about process. As Thich Naht Hanh says,"When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes."
At night we watched what we call the Dreadful People on PBS. The show is called "Midsomer Murders", so why are we surprised. They find at least two ways of killing people every show and with the exception of the four protagonists, everyone has an ugly, hidden agenda. I guess nice people are boring. Next Monday I think I'll read.
Tuesday, March 24
More laundry. More raking. More sitting. Signing up for the Thich Naht Hanh Foundation's 5 day course. Reading at night.
Wednesday, March 25
Today is our first day of a five day program put on by the Thich Naht Hanh Foundation and Shambala.
Two Dharma talks and two guided meditations per day. Today was about sitting and breathing. It was good to go over the basics again. We watched a Hoopla movie about a dysfunctional couple in Paris in the eighties. Their issues are no longer our issues. But there would have been a time for us when this movie would have been core.
Thursday, March 26
On the second day, we learned about Buddhist psychology. We have been taught parts of it before, but today in two Dharma talks we got a much broader and deeper view of it. What I realize is that what makes one a Buddhist is not what one believes but how one behaves.
Friday, March 27
Today, my brother John in Vermont goes in for lung surgery. He and his doctors are counter-balancing two issues, lung cancer and COVID-19. To the doctors, delaying the surgery must be difficult because they have no idea when they could do it in the future. To John, being anywhere near a hospital right now cannot feel very good. Now we wait for results.
On the meditation front, Loving Kindness. We saw a talk made in Oaxaca this last January. We didn't recognize her but her dog looked familiar. For me, there are times when being in the present moment can be a little dull. I deal with this by gathering in other people and making them more important than I. Life gets interesting again. Talk becomes listen. (We never say,"Let's have a listen".)
Saturday, March 28
Today I meditated as a person who is not smart, not clever, not inquisitive, actually kind of dumb. Kind of like the kid who doen't raise his hand in class. I'm not sure that it was too successful but I could see that kid who was me, anxiously raising my hand, ready to show off, ready with an answer or an idea. I'll try it tomorrow. Maybe I'll tell myself to be happy too.
My brother has gotten through his operation. I hadn't talked to him but we have exchanged phone messages. He said call next week when I'm home.
Sunday, March 29
(An email that she sent to our meditation type friends)
I sent you a link for “In the Footsteps of Thich Nhat Hanh”. I hope you have found some of it useful, inspiring or comforting. Perhaps some of the talks were less compelling for you than others.
For me, I found that the message was similar, even repetitious, among the presenters, but that some people”s talks resonated more deeply than others”. Stephen and I found that Brother Phap Luu seemed to embody the dharma and speak from a place of transformation. Others seemed to speak more from the intellect or from recall of personal trauma.
There is a tradition of repeating the concepts in any given talk as you would see in the archival recordings of Thay himself. If you can relax into that pace, it can be very useful. He takes his time and pauses just as he does when walking on the earth. It was a memorable day in 2013 when we walked in a meditation with Thay at Plum Village in southern France.
Please do watch Jack Kornfield”s tribute to Thay on Day Four of this summit. Very moving.
Wishing you to be safe, healthy, fearless and happy.
I worked on getting another food order into the Village Market, but tried to get too fancy by sending a text to the cell phone of the guy who was going to shop for us. It didn't go through. Nor did the message I sent as a follow up. Oh well, I'll call tomorrow.
Here is What I Think Will Happen
The economy will have to open again. How and when? I think it will be a local decision based on the number of critical care hospital beds that are available, and how many masks. At a certain point some businesses will be allowed to open with social distancing still in effect. I don't do how restaurants will open; they will need to be very clever. Then as virus cases go up, controls will go back in place. This is flattening the curve. It will go on until a vaccine is discovered and distributed through the population. The cycle of loosening and tightening could go on 5 or 6 times.
But the solution will leave out one segment of the population, the old and others with diseases that make them vulnerable. The restriction may not be lifted for them, or they might be required to wear masks. If immunity slowly spreads through the younger population, older people will not be in that population. They will still need to be quarantined, still dangerous to be with each other. The 6:30 to 7:30 AM shopping times for elders will not go away. The economy will recover but we older folk will be left outside. People will still die but at a lower rate.
This is a sacrifice, but I think it is one that will have to be made. There are other possibilities. Concerts where masks are mandatory at the door. Coughing may not be allowed. A little benefit there. Will the Opera still be closed?
When we look back, I think we will see that is was the shortage of masks that prevented a effective response to the virus, We are should have worn masks, combined with Public Service Ads every half hour on how to put them off and on. The lack of masks forced the CDC to not recommend them for general use when I think they knew different. Good PSAs about hand washing and social distancing should have blanketed the air and cable ways. Maybe more of the economy could have kept open. The authorities were afraid and their slow response killed the economies that they were trying to preserve. And for us citizens, I have no idea why we looked at Wuhan and behaved as if it wouldn't be our problem, (Or Italy or New York.) It took Dawn and I a long time to start changing our behavior.
Tuesday, March 31
I talked to my brother in Vermont. He is home and recuperating. He is by himself with the exception of the visiting nurse who comes to check and change his dressings and makes sure he is doing his lung exercises. Janet is dropping off food for him at his front door. So far, the decision not to delay seems to be working out.
Washed fruits and veggies. Not as nice as Oaxaca, but we are thankful for the food.
I called the market again, and talked to the manager. He took the order over the phone, actually wrote it on the inside of a cigarette carton and later delivered it. It was quite expensive, (Dawn and I like to buy things on sale), so he didn't charge us any fees. The bumpiness of the operation was a great opportunity for me to practice equanimity. I just didn't worry, which has been a life time habit. And the very act of not worrying freed up a lot of energy to be happy.
Wednesday, April 1
Today, I got a notice from Interjet that they were giving me a voucher for our flights from Puerto Escondido to Las Vegas. I guess they cancelled at least one of the flights. We feel vindicated about our decision to leave earlier and they were right about it being harder to fly. Interjet didn't say what dates the vouchers are valid for, but that will come.
We got Netflix on a 30 day free trial. I can't imagine that we will renew. Hard to find anything I want to watch right now. Last night, we watch Kon-Tiki. A buddy road trip movie if there ever was one. Dawn and I were surprised that there was no reunion with his wife whom he just abandoned for this trip. His big time ego trip.
Thursday, April 2
We are doing a half day silent retreat with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Very nice and gentle. I had a confusing idea during the walking meditation. Was I walking carefully, feeling the shift of weight, pressing my feet into the ground, etc? Or was I being aware of those things? What was more important, the carefully doing of it, or the careful awareness of what was happening? I went back and forth between the two and still don't know any more than when I started. Tomorrow.
Friday, April 3
Nearing the end of our post-travel 14-day quarantine, we decided to celebrate our anniversary by getting takeout from our favorite local restaurant. I also decided to honor the day by wearing something other than sweatpants and hoodie or bathrobe, blow dry my hair, and even wear a bit of makeup. We ordered the meal about 4:20 p.m. because we were forewarned that they would get busy. Some new regulation, or deregulation, even allowed them to include a bottle of wine with the takeout.
I added a nice tip for the folks who are working there under these difficult circumstances and for the delivery person. They took my phone number, but about fifteen minutes later, I realized that I had not given them our address. So I called back, and it was busy. I called five more times in the next hour. No one answered, and the mailbox was full. We thought they would call us when ready to deliver to ask for our address. Meanwhile Stephen made a nice fire in our dining room fireplace. At 7:00 p.m., I texted, then called the owner of the resto who may not even have been working that evening. Finally we figured that the person who took our order thought we would pick it up. Because we are still quarantined, we cannot do that.
Because of the rain, the fire was getting smoky. I know that wood smoke is toxic, and my chest started feeling tight, and I was coughing which of course caused another layer of tension. I opened the back door for fresh air, but it was too cold to leave it open for long. At 8:00 p.m., Stephen reheated some stew we had made, and we watched a couple of short, odd animations on YouTube. At 8:30, someone called from the resto, wondering if we were going to pickup our meal! I explained the situation. Obviously there was a misunderstanding. She said they would "run it right up there." Having expressed some concern about the food sitting at room temperature for maybe four hours, she said they would "take care of that." So maybe they cooked two new meals? I don”t know. Stephen said the food was hot when he got it from the porch, and he promptly refrigerated it for tomorrow.
So it was not exactly the romantic anniversary we had anticipated. Perhaps I was craving this special evening more than usual because of my birthday experience. Of course I was blaming myself for not giving them our address in the first place, and trying not to blame them for never answering their phone subsequently. They were undoubtedly very busy and understaffed and doing the best they could. I have a little mantra, "No expectation, No disappointment." Here was a clear example of too much expectation.
Finally I think about my daughter in San Francisco who told me they have just lost three acquaintances to COVID-19, two in their 30”s and 40”s. She expressed such an attitude of gratitude for her own family”s health, having food to eat, a roof over their heads and family love.
Such tragedy puts everything in perspective. In the end, it was a happy anniversary for the most important reason: we still have each other.
Saturday, April 4
We sat this morning, after doing the NY Times crossword puzzle. Dawn wrote about last night, I might chime in, but right now the SUN IS OUT, so I hear her upstairs getting ready and I must join her. Today is a weeding day, I must remember to limit my time to save my back.
I started to do research to prepare for our leaving the house to shop and walk. A couple of things shocked me. The diluted mixture of Clorox and water that I made will only last for twenty four hours, and the bleach itself was unstable and was only full strengthen for six months and after that it declined in effectiveness 20% a year. Our bleach was five years old. So one of the big defensive tools wasn't available to us. (There still isn't bleach, surface cleaners or hand disinfectants in the stores near us). So we are washing our hands, using masks and using time to clean much of the food we bring in. We load it into the basement and just let it sit there until we need it.
Palm Sunday, April 5
We talked to Kenny today, as our quarantine expired, miles from each other in our back yards.
In the evening, we had a tele-drink with Martha and Jerry. It was fun
Monday, April 6
All of us seem to be finding new ways to connect, albeit virtually. Today my California granddaughter and I improvised a little dance together via Zoom (new technology for me.) It is quite wonderful to see all the possibilities for viewing and participating and creating that the arts, music and dance worlds are making available. Plus doing online fitness classes with my gym obviously works as my abs were sore for a couple of days after an intense core class.
We took a walk in the Arboretum and enjoyed the just budding fruit trees in pale pinks and white and the new green of young leaves.
Our first trip out was to Walgreen's to get two prescriptions and a chocolate bar for Dawn, and deodorant for me. It was totally nerve wracking. There was, of course, the myriad of places that you touch when you drive your car. Our hand sanitizer is years old. Does it work?
Tuesday, April 7
It is our second day after our fourteen-day post travel quarantine has ended. Like many of you in our generation, we were at our market at 6:30 this morning for “seniors only” shopping hour.
I spent the afternoon editing the Zoom recording that Dawn and Lily made yesterday. It was amazingly successful mostly because of the obvious joy that the two of them had dancing with each other.
Dawn and Lily in a final pose.
The afternoon working on the video made me realize that I need to bring this Travelogue to an end.
The time at home has enabled us to do some good Buddhist study sessions, meditate regularly and rake our steep, back garden like it has never been raked before. We are looking for ways to be useful to those who could use a hand during this time without unduly risking our own health. The meditation practice has really helped with anxiety during this time of masks, hand-washing, disinfecting and not being able to physically see friends and family.
This writing goes out to people around the world. We hope that everyone in your various countries are doing okay. We think of you often in Italy, France, Guadaloupe, Mexico, England, Morocco, Germany, Belgium, and Ireland. It goes also to a lot of states of our own country. You are all our family.
Wishing you love, light, health and happiness,
Dawn and Stephen
P.S. A quote from Emily Dickinson, sent by dear friends with their holiday card:
"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all