The streets dark and dusty, our cab overflowing with people and luggage, traffic honking and stopped: we arrived to Oaxaca late in the night with only our accommodations planned. Sara and I were the last stop for the cab driver at a place with graffiti on the door and the house number posted on notebook paper written in black marker. The door was red and the street dimly lit. Laura, our host, had helped us since we booked our room in her apartment two weeks earlier, and she greeted us now at the door. We were tired, dirty, and hungry. The house smelled like dinner, albeit a late one, and the shower was vacant waiting for us to wash off the day's airplane grime. Laura's Argentinian boyfriend, Gonzalo, shared some Baja Californian red wine. This place would be home for the next month and everything started off in the right way.
Still, the next morning, I struggled out of bed and had that same familiar feeling of butterflies and emptiness in my stomach, reminiscent of every long term trip or move (especially to a foreign country). It never gets easier and feels unnatural as the first time: the only difference being that each time I'm more prepared for the illusion of depression and hopelessness. It's there every time, but, like rucking (backpacking for you civilian types), it never gets easier, just more predictable.
Stepping out into the Mexican sun on the inauguration of Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, rebounded my spirits. Marigolds framed doorways and windows with their distinctive sweet, vegetal aroma filling the air; skeletal scenes painted walls along the street like Italian frescoes in Gothic cathedrals; and trees, often bearing colorful citrus fruit, bloomed red, orange, and yellow petals spiraling out to the size of softballs. I took pictures like a reloader making bullets, but capturing images and color rather than ending them. The colors were truly fascinating and will forever paint my memory in summer. Every building was detailed as if the owner knew their reputation and creativity was on the line. The yellows and blues and oranges were so bold! And then, adding to the cojones, they painted incredible murals of their lost spirits upon the concrete walls for everyone to see. It was beautiful and respectful and made me envy their ability to empathize with the past.
Later, after lunch, Sara and I walked into an art studio on display for Dia de los Muertos. The man who owned the house approached us with shining eyes and a smile, speaking Spanish slowly because he could see we needed it, and asked us what we thought of everything. Sara responded that everything was beautiful, and it was. The entry opened into an atrium surrounded by vegetation and minutely tiled walls. A large, warping tree grew from the ground in the middle. To our front, a dog sat atop one of the walls asleep, hardly noticing the Gringos with wide eyes and cameras trampling through his home. He never moved his body and barely his eyes.
The main display was presented in a room directly to the right as you walked in. The ceiling hid nothing of the roof which was made of old, weathered logs, dark and stained with the years. The concrete walls were painted white and upon them were various works of art. As we were observing them, the owner approached again informing us that many of the paintings were done by family members no longer with us. He took one of the paintings off the wall and showed us an inscription on the back dedicated to him from a brother whose spirit would be visiting two days later in the cemetery across town. It was humbling to hear him speak with love in his voice as he told us - two foreigners - about something so personal and real. Reading the cursive handwriting staining the canvas in black strokes made me wonder about something I'm still not sure; and I stare now into the black at night in bed, like we all do, trying to figure out what it's about.
During our wandering we stumbled into a bar - or two, or three. We have a habit of drinking during the daytime, which I happen to think makes us more interesting people. So much so, that we tend to approach bars as the doors are opening or notice on Google that we're early and should show up fashionably late as to not appear too eager. We had two breweries on the the docket for the week. The first, a brewpub that rotated beers weekly and had a mouthwatering lunch menu (of which, we still have not sunk our teeth into!).
It's called La Santisima Flor de Lupulo - the most holy flower of hops. It is my favorite brewery name and, so far, has my favorite beer in Oaxaca. They had an American Pale Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, and Mint Chocolate Stout on tap. Sara and I sampled all three in a flight and preferred the Belgian. The American Pale had an unusual syrupy consistency found in malt extract beers, but the Belgian and Stout were very enjoyable.
The Belgian had all the delicious fruity ester qualities of Belgian yeast with the sharp, piny finish of American hops. I found it to be a beer you could session and still find exceptional flavor in. The Stout reminded me of "Girl Scout Cookie Season" - aka legalized and sugared heroin season. I'm fairly certain that the Girl Scouts of America (GSA) have a contract with the Federal Government keeping Thin Mints and Samoas off the Schedule 1 Drug list...maybe lobbyists should start wearing vests full of badges and knot their thinning hair in pig tails (I'm also fairly certain that some GSA members may fly down to Oaxaca to can my ass before the next post. If you don't hear from me by November 11 contact the GSA and inquire a statement on my whereabouts).