A Love Letter to Oaxaca
In full disclosure, I am not a religious person, but I very sincerely found some kind of g** in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca (Valles Centrales). This trip had a profound impact on me, not dissimilar to some of the life-changing experiences I had when I was much younger, working and studying in Cameroon.
On this last Sunday of my trip, I woke up in the darkness of the early morning, only minutes before a small but building-rattling earthquake also woke up all the street dogs. At first I thought a bull dozer hit the building, but my California girl senses quickly helped me understand what was happening. Dogs barking, I was unable to get back to sleep. I decided to get ready and go for a sunrise walk through the old city center of Oaxaca and thought I’d drop off some long overdue laundry while I was at it. As a side note, if you ever make it to Oaxaca City, I highly recommend early morning walks. The light is incredible, the skies impossibly blue, and the streets are mostly empty but for a few vendors setting up shop. Pure peace. In my sleepless and nonsensical quest for a laundromat at dawn, I instead found a flower market (pictured below). In yet another moment of passion over reason (battles I lost more frequently as New York wore off and Oaxaca wore on over the course of this trip) I bought a bouquet of my favorite flowers—white calla lilies (alcatraces in Spanish, which I think is a beautiful word)—knowing full well I had no vase in which to put them. Lilies in hand, I made my way down to the church of Santo Domingo.
There were a few indigenous Zapotec women sitting out front, braids woven with ribbons down to their waists, eating some sort of sweet bread. Other than them the place was deserted. The doors to the church were open, and no one was inside, so I went in (pictures below).
I usually feel some hesitation or awkwardness inside churches, but this was such an inviting church scene. My grandmother is Catholic, and she, along with my mother and the others who must care for her, is experiencing the unfortunate rapid changes of aging. So I figured what the hell (sorry, big J), couldn’t hurt to light a candle and say a little prayer to whomever or whatever might be listening.
On my way out of the church I sat on the steps and took in the square. The pair of Zapotec women was still there. I watched as a flock of pigeons took off into the bright blue sky. The pigeons put me over the edge: seemingly out of nowhere, I started crying. The spirit of this place just overwhelmed me. Even the stupid pigeons were magical.
Just so you know that I’m not a total, regular sap, I can assure you that I’m not alone in my experience. On my last afternoon in the city today, I treated myself to a gorgeous lunch at La Origen paired with pretty decent wine from Mexico. My fellow dining compatriot at the table next to me was an Iranian art history professor of Mexican art, who lived in Santa Monica. He had traveled all over Mexico. Oaxaca was one of his favorite places he had ever been. A self-professed atheist, he confided in me that he also found some sort of god or deep spiritual connection at the ruins of Monte Alban. He told me he got on the phone while he was there to call—and cry to—a friend in an attempt to convey the feelings he was experiencing. I also had a similar experience there (see previous post on the Valles Centrales). The thing is, it’s hard not to get emotional about a place as rich as Oaxaca.
This trip to Oaxaca is the kind of voyage I always hope for, but never expect. You just can’t build experiences like this into an itinerary. It’s rare when a place speaks to you, and perhaps even more rare when you’re able to really able to listen to it. I feel so grateful that Oaxaca marked my first—but certainly not the last—trip for Le Mondeur. A very high bar has been set for future LM destinations. Thank you, Oaxaca. Be back soon.
--Jess, Founder & Principal Shopper, Le Mondeur