Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Seoul and San Francisco - recap

After posting my entry with all my Oaxaca posts, I realized I never did the same for my Seoul trip! So, in preparation for Chinese new Year, and since I haven't finished editing the photos of my next posts, here's a long-overdue house-keeping post on that short but fantastic trip to Seoul and it's little but also meaningful side-hop to San Francisco! Just click on the titles to go to the blog posts.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Guidxi Binnizá – the people of the clouds

Last, and most definitely not least by any measure, the binnizá, the people of the clouds, the Zapotec. Our experience of Oaxaca, but rather specifically of Juchitán, cannot be understood without talking about the local culture and language. 

Though native languages are spoken by some 10 million people in Mexico, their real political and social weight varies immensely from place to place. Zapotec is spoken all over Oaxaca, and the differences between different geographical varieties is similar to the differences between Romance languages – like between Portuguese and Spanish, French and Italian, Spanish and French, Romanian and the others; sometimes it's small, sometimes it's huge, but there's always a relationship. And in this Zapotec-speaking universe, Juchitán is one very special place.

We heard Zapotec in the market. I was told Zapotec was used for a sarcastic comment at a wedding. The (Spanish) poems of a poetess who also writes in Zapotec had a markedly different quality from her not Zapotec-writing counterparts at a poetry event we attended... 

At the anniversary of a movie club at the main square, over half the songs were in Zapotec...

In a documentary shown at that same anniversary, Zapotec was spontaneously spoken by a number of interviewees.

Many places had Zapotec names. Youth that didn't learn Zapotec from their parents – due to a temporary perception of the language as a negative asset – are learning it on the street as a code language. People who want the slightest of chances at politics in Juchitán must speak Zapotec, at the very least for the openings of their speeches. Zapotec is written, spoken, broadcast. It's an essential and vital part of this region's culture, and I'm convinced our cultural experience would have been very different if the local language had succumbed to the massive onslaught of the omnipresent Spanish language.

I consider myself very privileged for having this experience, not long after our trip to Yucatán. This, the indigenous side to Mexico's fabric, is something I had barely had a chance to have a peek at. And this experience (and Yucatán's) has deeply enriched my understanding of Mexico. Like I said, I consider this a privilege. I'm honoured. And grateful.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Guidxi Binnizá - beach of crabs

We're almost there! These are the last two posts! I've saved the best for last, OK? First, Playa Cangrejo (I know I've translated it as Beach of Crabs, but Crab Beach just doesn't sound nice in my opinion). We visited on December 31st because traditionally, people in this area go to bodies of water on January 1st. Which means it can get incredibly crowded, and you might have to drive for hours in traffic. It being December 31st, we pretty much had the place to ourselves after a leisurely drive with beautiful views of the countryside....

Once we got there, the habibi and our friends got ready to just sit down and eat, or lie in a hammock and enjoy some peace. Me, I was itching to move! I had spent too many hours sitting down at meals, celebrations, cars... and the weather was perfect - the wind was blowing, it was early, and so it didn't feel too hot.

I grabbed my camera, and told everybody I'd be back, eventually, after a walk on the beach. With no mobile signal there, it was  nice to simply disconnect and enjoy a walk by myself in nature!

Parallel to the beach there was a lagoon system...

And the beach was full of surprises, like jutting tree trunks, the odd fishing net, lots of birds and even a big group of them feeding by the water!

About halfway through, I came across another lagoon, with gorgeous views of the hills, some cattle, birds...

Further on there were more nets, birds, fishermen...

At the end of my walk, the wind was blowing white sand across brown sand, creating beautiful moving patterns. Of course, I couldn't capture that with my camera. 

I jogged all the way back to my people - I felt so invigorated! In fact, after I explained what I had found, the habibi decided he wanted to go have a look too! But by then (I had been away some 3 hours?) the skies had cleared and the sun was shining really strong, so I actually had to put on my trousers and a t-shirt (my previous walk I had worn just a swimming trunk and nothing else), 'cause I was sure I'd toast myself to a crisp if I didn't, sunblock and all.

Anyhow, it was a lovely walk back to the last lagoon I had visited. 

And, once there - and after a very painful run on scorching sand - the habibi decided to explore one of the sides of the lagoon. So glad we did! The views changed completely! It was just so unbelievably pretty! And not a soul in sight!

And then, as on many occasions, inspiration struck and my habibi decided to do a Butoh improvisation, and asked me to take photos and film. As usual, here are a few images, since the video is not edited yet. I must say, what a perfect place for a Butoh performance!

Finally, with everybody in high spirits thanks to the beauty of the place and to the super fresh fish they had eaten, the habibi and one of our friends had a round of capoeira on the beach. 

Oaxaca gave me plenty of experiences, but this encounter with nature definitely ranks among the top ones!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Guidxi Binnizá – Saint Vincent's

Now it's Juchitáns turn! Well, I talked a lot about the city in my first post about this particular trip, but now it's time to talk about a lot of other interesting stuff about Juchitán that wasn't directly related to special celebrations. As for the city's name, Juchitán, it derives from a Nahuatl word meaning "place of white flowers" (Iztaxochitlán). But in Zapotec the place is called Xhavizende (spelled also Xabizende and Xavizende), which is simply the Zapotec rendering of San Vicente (Saint Vincent).

So, what's interesting about this place besides the rich celebratory culture? Well, for starters, the sense of humour! Like on this shop called "La gran J del istmo" (the isthmus's big J). Now, you could simply assume that the J stands for Juchitán. But given the importance of muxe culture (re-read my post on Juchitáns celebrations for an explanation of muxes), it's hard not to think of this as a play on words, jota (the name of the letter J in Spanish) being a derogatory slang word for "gay", and then the name becoming "the isthmus's great faggot" (pardon my French). 

And then there was an ad that read "Te bajamos todos los pantalones a solo 200 pesos" (we fix all your trousers' length - to make them longer - for just 200 pesos). Now, it simply means that it's an offer on fixing trousers' length. But the fact that they use the pronoun "te" (to you, for you) at the beginning allows for a couple of secondary, funnier readings: we pull down pants on your behalf / we pull down your pants (for just 200 pesos). Again, given the nature of jokes in this area (and of Mexican's in general), it's not far-fetched to think this was done on purpose...

...and, given the town's links to religion, an advertisement painted on a wall and "patrocinado por la sangre de Jesucristo" (sponsored by the blood of Jesus Christ). I mean, wow, that's quite some sponsorship, eh?

Then, the market area! Very alive, very colourful, and full of fantastic images! Crazy colourful fruit, veggie and sweets stands. Stands with cutely arranged totopos (hard, tortilla-like, with little holes) and chocolate paste; impossibly huge coconut tree pods with fragrant flower-like seeds; almost psychedelic hammocks...

...interesting food items like liza fish eggs or iguana soup; traditional dresses and hairstyles; hand-made wax candles, prepared especially for the town's celebrations during, of course, a special candle-making celebration; local tamales...

...and an impossibly big crowd enjoying tlayudas and local snacks right on the night of January 1st.

Then, there's things you can do at night, like enjoying the local version of tlayudas, essentially a ginormous tortilla with lard, meat, cheese, possibly with pickled onion and salsa, folded in half. Accompanied by horchata (because, you know, the place was owned by Protestants? so no alcohol?). And having the fleeting feeling of being back in Asia after catching glimpse of the street with mototaxis (motorbike taxis), the colours, the Asian-like features of people... And what about a dance to Latin music at one of two openly queer bars!

And since we mentioned religion before, and that the name of the town in Zapotec derives from Saint Vincent, there's also the church of San Vicente who, by the way, is a Valencian saint and part of the church's grounds was funded by the Valencian community! And with religion, there's also cemeteries, right? Colourful, city-like, flower-ful cemeteries...

And then so much more stuff, like the mural of a famous muxe on a street wall, the river dividing the town in two with a narrow bridge where the full force of the strong winds could be felt, the cute mototaxis with very socialist-sounding names, the goat skull on the street the day after NYE's dinner...

Then, there are these birds called "zanates" (Mexican grackle) that, mornings and evenings, gather at the main square and make such a loud noise! There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of these creatures! Really, what a spectacle! And to think you'd never know if you walked by in between their leaving and returning!

And the most interesting from a very personal point of view, this sign which was impossible for linguistically-inclined me to read! When I asked my friend, he had no trouble reading the shop's name. But even now, as I look at the photo, I can't for the life of me remember how it was read! You see, I read an "M", then either an "a" with an umlaut slipping off (ä) or an "a" with a Hungarian double acute accent that has been misplaced (a̋). Then? A Greek lambda (λ)? which could also be taken for a palatal "l" like in some Romance or Slavic languages, but with a diacritic for voicelessness (◌̥) that should appear not above, but underneath!? And anyhow, a voiceless palatal "l"? Finally, "d" and "a". At least those didn't look funny! However it was supposed to be read, it was really funny for me to find it so undescifferable!

So, there, that's Juchitán for you. Beautiful it is not. But neither is it forgettable!