30 October 2007

Notes on Oaxaca

Tapetas de arenas. Carpets of sand. That's what a friend told me today. In reference to the sand images photographed for my previous post. And el Dia de Muertos is this week, Friday (Thursday too, but less so), not "next weekend" as the post casually mentioned. When I was writing Monday night the holiday still seemed a little ways away, but not anymore. The streets are busy as vendors near the mercado 20 de Noviembre, several blocks from our house, crowd the sidewalks with stalls selling marigolds and a deep red velvety flower which name I do not know (perhaps somebody will tell me tomorrow) and skulls made of sugar, pan dulces (sweet breads) with faces of sugar baked into the crusts, and all manner of garish plastic trinket or toy featuring skeletons or ghouls practicing their arts.


If the city is in turmoil--and I don't presume that quiet is the same as resolution--it is less obvious to me now than it was this summer. While there are military patrols there is not the same presence of force observed during the Guelaguetza or the August 5 election. While there is still the tug of war between political graffiti artists and the city crews whose job it is to follow with whitewash and rollers, especially in the zocalo and other central points, there does not appear to be, in the past two weeks since our return, the protests, demonstrations, ad hoc public kiosks demanding the release of political prisoners or the further investigation of human rights abuses or the removal from power of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. I'm not saying these things aren't happening, I'm just saying that, for me, they are not as visible as they were in the peak of the summer.

The tone right now to the casual eye is much more neutral, except for all the empty tables in all the restaurants that rely on tourism for so much of their business, which is very nearly all the restaurants in the centro historico. For these owners and employees I can only wonder how much the emptiness is costing in lost profits and wages. I wondered out loud the other day how many empresarios have gone or are going deep into debt in order to keep their businesses running throughout the tourist drought of the past 18 months. And who are the few creditors bankrolling much of the city as the lull endures? The way things work in Oaxaca, I think, there will be three or four very powerful people with their thumbs on all the commerce of the city. Of course when I read about Mexico in general I get the sense it is the same ten families who, when you cut through the smoke and paperwork, appear to run everything, so maybe nothing is so unusual after all.

I haven't been keeping up with the papers since we returned but intend to start reading again soon, now that we're settled. This week marks the year anniversary of the murder of American independent journalist Brad Will, and that's generated its own bit of attention, though moreso outside Oaxaca and Mexico, as far as I can tell, than here in the city where he died (see here to scroll through various posts on the subject). Outwardly things are calm. I am not informed enough at present to suggest what may be going on under the surface.