Terrestrial Visitation to the Contemporary Zapotec Underworld
Words, images and general impressions by Derek White and Jessica Fanzo
(Leg 1 Guatemala)
(Leg 2 Chiapas, Mexico)
>> Leg 3 Oaxaca, Mexico
220.127.116.11.0 1 Ahaw 18 Tzek (July 11, 2005) — San Augustinillo
Had our last meal in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, a tamale sampler platter. I'm tamaled out. Sat through more torrential rain. Walked in the rain to the bus station at 9 P.M. Took the overnight bus to the Oaxacan coast. An 11 hours affair. All the other gringos in the bus station or on the bus were hippy trustafarians. Smelly and unkempt. Some were doing yoga in the bus station to prepare themselves. Some looked deathly ill, guzzling peptol bismo, wrapped in indigenous ponchos striving for the sickly Rickie Lee Jones look. Some smelled so bad we almost gagged. We prayed they were sitting no where near us on the bus. Based on these travelers, Mexicans must think we are disgusting freaks. They are so clean and wear such nice clothes. Gringo travelers look homeless and are miserly with their money though they probably have rich parents or trust funds that allows them to travel for so long like bums. We tried to sleep on the bus. In front, the jungle in the headlights wrapping around us, winding down and down out of the highlands, though can’t tell temperature since its like an icebox in the bus. So cold it condenses like frost on the inner windows and melts.
Arrived in Potchula at sunrise. Shared a cab with a wandering Chinese guy from Queens, to San Augustinillo. Its between the more popular destinations of Mazunte and Zipolite. What more could you want? Pounding surf, beach, warm air. Drank beer and put our feet in the sand. Boogie-boarded for an hour, got pummeled a few times, heinous waves. Nasal cavities filled with salt water. Regressing. Lazing. Watching surfers. Playing with dogs in sand and water. Eating fresh fish. In a hammock right now.
Rottweiler Preparing to Feast on my Head
18.104.22.168.1 2 Imix 19 Tzek (July 12, 2005) — Zipolite
Ocean. Waves. Surge. Sand. Walked over a small mountain to Zipolite. More built up than San Augustinillo. Naked hippies. Of course mostly guys with long dreads and beards. Doing their part to stereotype gringos as caveman. Walking around naked eating their fucking granola. Signs everywhere say “no nudismo” and “no drogas” but obviously they didn't bother to learn Spanish before they decided to squat here for 2 years to avoid having to do anything else.
The ocean in Zipolite is too dangerous to swim. Everyone just hangs out in thatched-roof palapas doing nothing. Had some papaya and mango licuados, got bored and took a collectivo back. Some ravenous freaky guy emerged from the swamps and was following some tourist woman off the beach and up this trail back to Zipolite. We tried to stall him and make our presence known, but what else can you do besides run after him and follow him all the way back? The owner of our hotel said gringos come to Zipolite for two reasons, sex and drugs, so this sends mixed messages to the locals and sometimes they have a hard time understanding that this is not all gringos are after.
Lazed away the rest of the day bodysurfing. Boogie boarding. Letting waves thrash me around. Playing with this Rottweiler who was obsessed with a particular piece of pumice. Got eaten alive last night. Sleepless. Mosquitoes feasting on us despite the mosquito nets.
I started to read Sam Lipsyte’s Home Land. But I got bored. Good writing, in the vein of Mark Leyner, but it's like he is trying to hard or something. So I left it behind in the small library at this hotel. I also left behind Michael Kimball’s book that I finished and loved. I hung on to that for a bit as it was hard to part with. But would rather someone else read it. I also left behind an old holey V-neck T-shirt, the one I used to wear to work at Napster and a certain VP there used to say I looked more like I was going to the gym than to work. I wore it boogie-boarding to keep from getting sun-burnt and nipple-chafed. Then I left it, as well as an old pair of boxers with the elastic stretched out.
22.214.171.124.2 3 Ik' 0 Xul (July 13, 2005) — Mazunte/Potchutla
Fucking hippies. Rows of hungover dreadlocks in beach chairs. Crawling out of tents to drink 40 OZers of Carta Blanca. Like they are too poor to afford a real Mexican beer like Negra Modelo. Or too poor for soap. I hate hippies. In NYC we are somewhat sheltered from their existence, but obviously its becoming a plague even though the 60s are now 40 years behind us. Granted, they have evolved a little bit, incorporating elements of a grungy Mad Max look, going for that trustafarian look like you bathed in piss and shit and laid out in the sun to cake it on.
We walked to Mazunte after checking out, toting our bags through the out of control hippie scene. We did see the turtle museum in Mazunte, though. All sorts of penned up turtles, land and sea, all from Mexico. Mazunte used to be the center of their turtle industry, where they slaughtered turtles for hand-creams and whatnot. Thankfully they have given that up and replaced the slaughterhouses with this museum. Though I'd still rather watch turtles on Discovery channel than in some tank.
Along with the trustafarians were many mangy flea-bitten dogs on the beach. Sometimes it was hard to make the distinction. It was a veritable tent city of squatters, lounging free and nude and recovering from the effects of a night of reefer and mosquito bites. We sat up on a hill as far away as possible, out of the rain, reading. Then I thought I heard distant drums. I gasped, no. Could it be? First a distant cowbell. Then, no, could that really be drums? No, please tell me I don’t hear chanting too? The wind shifted. Sure enough. A fucking drum scrum right there on the beach. From where we were it was a bobbing tribe of mangy dreadlocks, with hyena-dogs feasting on the periphery for scraps of free love and peace gone sour. There was no mistaking that sound, the hippies were drumming and chanting! Call me a grinch, but the bile started rising up my throat. We had to get out of this town.
Perhaps what inspired this anti-hippie sentiment (besides being the offspring of a hippie mom that lived in Mexico) is that I started to read a book that Jess brought along, Please Kill Me : The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, a series of interviews that were ingenuously spliced together (edited by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain) that tell the history of early punk as it developed in NYC, Detroit, England and elsewhere. The interviews are by pretty much everybody who’s anybody, from the musicians to their groupies and scenesters, starting with the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s clan and MC5 and Iggy,.. and well I have an idea where it's going, and if you are into punk you probably do to, but its just brilliant how it's all put together, and how it has taken this much time to make sense of what was happening. Of course it’s just a big drama about sex and drugs, with very little about the actual music, but that’s what was important to them. It's in their words.
But there is something more intriguing about
punker drug use. With hippies its like they are seeking
faux enlightenment, a false construction. Whereas with punks it's self-destructive,
a real and true deconstruction. Hippies are worthless and don’t do much of
anything except try to escape to a warm, happy place. Punks brave reality, go to
an inner hell and back to create art. Dee Dee Ramone might seem and act
worthless and stupid, but what he left behind was genius. Sure, hippies travel, and you don’t usually see punks
traveling, except maybe to Jamaica or Thailand where they know they can cop. They are too busy self-destructing themselves in the process of
creating art. The only hippies that were true artists—Hendrix, Joplin,
etc.—were really punks who happened to be living in hippie times.
Killed time in Pochutla, eating mole, checking our email and waiting for our bus. We saw rehearsals of locals dancing practicing for next week’s festivities in Oaxaca (Guelaguetza), which we will unfortunately miss most of. It's raining again as we speak.
126.96.36.199.3 4 Ak'bal 1 Xul (July 14, 2005) — Oaxaca
Last night was the bus ride from hell. Had to close my eyes, shut down my bodily functions to keep from puking, purging. To keep sane. Closed my eyes and listened to Fela Kuti, or Interpol—something to carry me somewhere else. Or Curtis Mayfield or Arcade Fire. You can close your eyes, but not your nose. Why haven’t humans evolved to have a valve in your nose that you can open or close at your discretion? That would be a fine adaptation. Instead you try to hold your breath— try to breath during wafts of freshness and not inhale the cigarette smoke, the smell of baby pooh, barf, that awful smell emanating from the bathroom whenever the door opens makes you pray you don’t have to use that thing. And this is first class! In many ways worse because you can’t open the windows in first class but you can in second class. And it was so cold we had to take all the clothes out of our backpacks and either wear them or pile them on us. Anything to try to keep warm even though it was very hot outside. And in between the music or over the music in my headphones, the snoring, the farting, the grunting. People are pigs. And the gringos are the worst. The woman behind us just threw up right in the middle of the aisle. Repeatedly. Didn't even bother to find a bag, or the bathroom. Or put something over it when she was done. She just got up and went to the front and found another seat, leaving us to contemplate her puke. I don’t know how I kept my own puke from rising during the night. It took some serious meditation. Maybe know and I can understand why that guy was doing yoga before the trip.
Finally arrived to Oaxaca. Still dark. Of course the taxi tried to charge us 4 times the going rate. And our room smells like mildew, not in a good way like Antigua, but in a gross prior human occupation way. Took a shower and the gray water puddled all over the bathroom, nowhere to drain. And to top it off, the most beautiful aspect of Oaxaca is under construction. The Zocalo. Completely torn up, surrounded by scaffolding and makeshift tin walls. Bummed. But damn, some seriously advanced graffiti, stencils and general memeology. More advanced than NYC.
Saw the usual sights, the Basilica, cathedrals galore, so many you lose count. Old worn and distressed buildings. Just walked around taking it all in. Went to the museo, saw artifiacts from Monte Alban, B+W photos at the Alvarez Bravo gallery (but none by Alvarez Bravo much to our disappointment). Ate an excellent meal and Café El Naranjo, mole verde. Jess had steak Tampiqueña. Spicy chilies, washed down with mescal.
Procession for the Virgen del Carmen
Happened upon these giant-headed dolls and civilians dancing in a drunken procession, to kick-off some holiday for the Virgen Carmen (patron saint of Oaxaca), or for Guelaguetza. Always an excuse for a party. Mescal flowing. Ladies dancing with flowers on their heads. Crazy guy in green satin dressed like a court-jesting elf, dancing with a machete and singing some crazy story. Giant papier-mâché heads bobbing, slapping people with there giant sausagey fingers. What does it all mean? Couldn't get a straight answer from anybody, which makes it all the better. They took to the streets, blocking traffic, new giant heads emerged out of doorways. Where are they coming from? Who organized this? It's all spontaneous good clean fun.
188.8.131.52.4 5 K'an 2 Xul (July 15, 2005) — Oaxaca
Switched rooms to huge honeymoon suite with high ceilings that is same price as our mildewy cell block with a tiny window. Hotel Gondoleria or something like that on Porifero Diaz (if you are looking for a good hotel in Oaxaca, ask me and I'll find the name of it). Took the typical Oaxaca outskirts tour. Kids kicking our seats and talking non-stop. First stop, the infamous Tule Tree. Fully annoyed at the other tourists. Yes, other, we are one of them so what we can say? Contributing to this. It's just a fucking tree. A pretty big one though. But they try to hype it up to be more than just a tree. Something otherworldly. Some little weed that sucked primal energy from the center of the world and became ... The Tule Tree. It's up there with Trees of Mystery in Oregon, or The Thing in Arizona.
Then on to Teotitlán del Valle where they make these cool blankets that are way too expensive for anyone to actually buy (for good reason considering how much work goes into one). Got an interesting demo of how they make the textiles using natural dyes from stuff like these bugs that live on nopales, and how they process the wool, and work the loom and all that.
Blanket design from Teotitlán del Valle
Then on to Mitla. At this point we are technically outside the realm of the old Mayan kingdom, and into Zapotec territory. Mitla was their "place of the dead." The ruins stand smack in the middle of the modern town of Mitla, which looks like it was literally rebuilt out of the rubble, including the church which sits in the heart of it, and of course a hawker circus surrounding the entry to the ruins. The most striking thing about Mitla are the well-preserved geometric designs engraved in the walls. And they have a few claustrophobic tombs that you can go into.
We had Nopal cactus sorbet and then had lunch, chili rellenos stuffed with salty Oaxacan cheese. After lunch, we took a tour of some mescal factory that smelled like oakey donkey shit, in a good organic way. Very distinctive smell. Definitely not hygienic or anything. Dirty good shit. We sampled all the different varieties. All the fruity ones were pretty disgusting, but the plain stuff was pretty damn good. Despite being weaned on the tequila from the state of Jalisco, I have to admit that I think I like it's bastard cousin better. They seem to resent tequila here, evidently they are not allowed to call mescal from Oaxaca "tequila" because the distilleries in Jalisco have a trademark on the name.
After filling up on mescal, we went to these waterfalls, hot springs that weren’t hot. Terraced textures destroyed since they let people walk all over them. People swimming and pissing in the water. Had dinner at Los Danzantes, noveau Mexican/Italian. Coming from NY we weren't surprised that it sucked. I don't know what we were thinking. Saw some rock n’ roll band playing in the streets that was still imitating Pearl jam. Bought a bottle of Oro de Oaxaca mescal for our Super back in NY.
It’s the small things that I'll remember—not the tourist sights, but the baby burro staying near his tied up mother. Or the guy plowing the field. Or the doors made of recycled tin cans, Warholesque without trying to be. Or just the color of the soil.
184.108.40.206.5 6 Chik'chan 3 Xul (July 16, 2005)
Final day. We walked all the streets, criss-crossing. Meme-spotting. Hit the markets. Ate crickets (chapulín). Raw, dried out with lemon and salt. Brilliant. Why doesn’t everyone eat crickets? Or locusts? Or ants? Its not like there’s a shortage of insects. They taste like potato chips or a zesty snack food. They had a distinct hibiscus taste, like eating a plant. Maybe that’s what the crickets were eating to make them taste that way. They were red, naturally so. Your fingers turn red eating them, like eating pistachios back when they used to dye them.
They temporarily opened the zocalo just in time for Guelaguetza. All the laborers frantically trying to clean it up. They basically ruined all that was good about the Zocalo, most of the shady trees are gone, replaced with barkdust and sterile concrete benches. I bought a new wallet and some day of the dead figurines. In the later afternoon we saw the parade that initiated Guelaguetza. All the dancers in a procession—an abbreviated precursor of what’s to come, and for our attention spans, the perfect alternative to watching a whole week of boring folk dancing. So our timing couldn’t have been better. And we had a perfect balcony spot overlooking the parade. There was also a big bicycle race going on in the direction perpendicular. The last bikes went by minutes before the parade did. They don’t even need traffic cops or permits or anything—everything just kind of happens. Someone even decided to have their wedding in a church on the same street, at the same time. It all worked out.
The parade had all the dancers, from all the surrounding villages of Oaxaca, with their different outfits and doing their different dances. From simple peasant dances, to elaborate getups, guys dressed as bulls with fireworks spitting off. And of course more surreal giant dolls.
Afterwards we walked around and there were spontaneous dances and performances and music everywhere. We are not bummed we are missing Guelaguetza as this was a fractal piece that encapsulated the whole. We even came upon the special Olympics stage—a dance of the Downs syndrome Oaxacans. And they are treated with respect here like special people, a heritage perhaps stemming back to the Olmecs when those with Downs syndrome were revered as kings—god-like, jaguar people.
Fur-faced Mischief Makers
Ate more mole and empanadas (more like quesadillas with squash blossoms and yerba santa and salty Oaxacan cheese). I can't believe I would ever live to say this, but I was officially burning out on Mexican food. We weaned ourselves off by having a Caesar salad, though technically a Caesar salad is a Mexican invention. Yearning for sushi. Ready to go home.
220.127.116.11.6 7 Kimi 4 Xul (July 17, 2005) – en route Oaxaca back to NYC
From here you can see the shadows of clouds. But you can’t see individual waves in the Gulf, just a texture. A bright texture.
I picked up a copy of
Cesar Vallejo's Trilce in
Spanish on my last day. Reading it now on the plane. My Spanish is not good enough to fully comprehend,
at least the poeticness of it, but in a sense this makes it more interesting, reading into it. I can
appreciate James Wagner’s obsession with his
parasitic and “homophonic” translation of Trilce (some of which are going to
be in the forthcoming SleepingFish). You can read it for the sound
or pure language of it, more than
for the content, and from the sounds alone create something entirely new of your
own invention. It's like viewing Mayan hieroglyphics without a codice, without
fully understanding the original intent. Appreciating it just for the
superficial look or sound. Or like appreciating mole without knowing what goes
into making it. The meaning surfaces on its own and hits the sense organs
directly without any cerebral processing from the brain.
From Trilce I:
el guano, la simple calabrina tesórea
que brinda sin querer
en el insular corazón
salobre alcatraz, a cada hialoidea grupada.
Y la península párasre
por la espalda, abozaleada, impertérrita
en la línea mortal del equilibrio.
From Trilce XXXII:
Aire, aire! Aire Hielo!
Si al menos el calor ( ………. Mejor
no digas nada.
Y hasta la misma pluma
con que escribo por último se troncha.
For more abstract Mexican meme and wall pictures, check out these other galleries:
Residual Meme Adhesion
Jessica also posted some additional photos on her site.
(c) 2005 by Derek White and Jessica Fanzo