The past few days have seen a bit of cultural activity, including a trip to an art exhibition, not one but two prehispanic ruin sights, and a market boasting the largest range of products I have ever seen in my life. I figured this would be a good time to update about all the goings-on of the past couple of days.
Friday and Saturday were full of art of different kinds. Friday evening, we went to an art opening of three artists and met two of them, one of whom was only fifteen years old. Nearly all of the pieces were portraits, and I was really impressed by how well the artists had captured the unique humanity of each subject, much like a well-done photograph, but they were all drawn, sketched or painted. Below are two of my favorite pieces from the evening, each from a different artist. We met the artist of the top image, and he explained to us that this was based on a photograph of a man from the street, but he also had several other portraits displaying people he knew, including his niece, mother, uncle, and a self-portrait.
Sunday was a busy day in many aspects, as we went to the east of the city this time to the archaeological sites of Dainzú and Mitla, as well as the market of Tlacolula. Dainzú and Mitla are kind of on either end of the tourist spectrum, as far as ruins go. We arrived at Dainzú, and for about twenty minutes, there was absolutely no one else there, not even a person sitting at the entrance, which our archaeology-professor-guide said happens sometimes there. So we followed our guide around the ruins, as he explained various legends, including one about a pot of gold hidden in a hollow hill, and the importance of the ball court that shows such a similarity to the one at Monte Alban. It just shows that the prehispanic societies were not isolated by any means, but highly interactive with the communities around them, with various social levels and classes.
At Dainzú, we weren’t quite as high up as Monte Albán, but we had a pretty decent view of the valley.
Later in the day, we visited Mitla, which was quite the opposite on the “tourist” spectrum, presumably because there is a small town of the same name built just next to the ruins. Although we didn’t spend much time in the town, the parts we did see seemed quite touristy, with lots of small shops and a small market area outside of the ruins. There were also more people this time, including several fellow “gringas,” which I haven’t seen many of in the city of Oaxaca. Anyway, Mitla was different from the other two ruins we have visited in the designs that can be seen everywhere. In the walkways, halls, tombs, and walls, varying designs of swirls, zig-zags, spikes and other such geometrically pleasing patterns can be seen and may have differing meanings. For example, in one of the hallways, there are three bands of different patterns, to represent three worlds: an underworld, a terrestrial world, and a heaven or world of gods. But in the tomb, there is only one band, because it only pertains to one world- that of the dead. But the designs could be seen everywhere, and though many of them looked similar, they all seemed slightly different in one aspect or another.
Our other stop during the day was the market in Tlacolula, which was a multi-sensory experience, to say the least. We had a little over an hour and a half to explore, but we could probably spend a few hours there, even despite the fact that many of the vendors have similar items. Still, it was the largest array of items I have ever seen in one “conjunto” (because we just don’t have a good enough word for that in English). There was everything from typical market crafts like jewelry, clothing, and toys to more traditional crafts like alebrijes (brightly painted carved animals traditional to Oaxaca) or embroidered shirts and textiles, to more commercial objects like laundry detergent, nail polish, and underwear. Even the food showed quite a large range: sweet breads, fresh meat, fruits- some familiar some not, chapulines (cooked grasshoppers very traditional to Oaxaca), mezcal, horchata, and pretty much everything else, too. There were people everywhere, walking at various speeds, browsing the booths, or calling out, “Oye, amiga, ¿qué te gusta?” At one point, I stopped to wait for a friend who had paused at a booth, and suddenly realized what a bad idea that was, as I found myself taking steps involuntarily with the large amount of people moving around me.
I learned a bit about haggling today by completely unintentionally bartering with a man over alebrijes. For instance, if you look unsure about buying something, they just might lower the price about 10-20 pesos. Nevertheless, if you DO plan to barter, bring exact change, because otherwise things just get awkward when you ask for change from a bill of the original price of the thing (like I said, it was all an accident anyway). And the third takeaway, if you do start bartering, be prepared to buy whatever it is your bartering for. Or better yet, just don’t take bartering advice from a gringa.
Below is a picture of just a fraction of the market from today. It was quite colorful and overall very fun to walk through, if a bit of a sensory-overload.