My friend Bardo is from Teotitlan del Camino near the Puebla border and his parents, three brothers and a sister still live there. Bardo’s father, Don Bardo, a furniture maker, and Dona Mari raised six children in their big open-air three story house in this town of 6000 so there was plenty of room for all of us who made the four-hour trip: me, Ana and Oscar from next door, Bardo’s wife Mica and her two children, Pavel and Angelita and Bardo’s sister Pilar. At the last minute Bardo didn’t go and missed the trip entirely.
We took the four lane Mexico City toll highway NE to Tehuacan and then through Puebla back down into Oaxaca again to Teotitlan del Camino (or de Flores Magon) and Pilar drove ahead with Pavel so that we could follow – which did us no good as I drove faster than she did. When it was time to leave the carretera Mica directed us to Miahuatlan instead of the road to Teotitlan so we ended up detouring slowly on pot-holed dirt roads through a couple tiny scenic villages…San Sebastian and Coxcatlan, the birthplace of corn…which was fine with me.
Bardo had said that the food in and near Puebla was much different than in Oaxaca and upon arrival, famished, we were served a delicious comida: pasta soup, Pollo con Almendras, slowly braised chicken with almonds, tomatoes, raisins, olives and cinnamon (reflecting, I think, a strong Moorish influence) and of course tortillas. Later, to our delight, Doña Mari gave us some of her recipes.
On the downside, Oscar, 3, and Angeles, 9, fought in the car during the whole trip and it didn’t get any better once we arrived…leaving me fatigued and stressed. If I was going to be able to stay awake during an evening wedding, a sit-down dinner and a dance afterward I knew I had to take a nap…to no avail however because another family was celebrating a wedding in a rental hall about 20 yards from Dona Mari’s house and from the moment we arrived at noon until our own wedding a cranked-up band played so loud we could feel the bass rumble under our feet.
I had been asked by Bardo at least twice to videotape the 7pm wedding but pretty quickly Pilar decided that she didnt’ want to go to the church as it would be boring and began to wash her car! So no video of the wedding…my mission aborted! We arrived at the church in time to watch the carnation petals being thrown at the novia.
The party was at the emptied municipal market and it was pretty boring to wait another hour and a half on uncomfortable metal chairs until the music started and the food was served but no one seemed to mind. Patience is a virtue here in Mexico. The food was less than stellar and Ana, who prides herself on her cooking, declared she is going to make her millions here in Mexico catering middle class weddings. The tequila and brandy on the tables I guess was supposed to ameliorate the boredom. Interestingly, I noticed a row of people, some with babes in arms, standing on the sidewalk outside the open-air wedding site…listening to the music…watching the more than 500 guests inside…
The traditional Mexican wedding festivities after dinner, however, made all the waiting worthwhile. The groom carried the bride (the train carried by the young bridesmaids) into the center of the cavernous but decorated building while the band played…the guests seated at tables all around. The cutting of the cake (actually many cakes placed high at different levels on a heartshaped stand over one large cake) was sedately brief with no cake in the face.
Then the principal guests gathered around the couple, held hands, and started “el vibora de la mar” (viper of the sea) or slow swaying back and forth to rhythmic music toward and away from the couple which went on for several minutes. A very moving show of community support. Then the couple stood on chairs while first the women and then the men formed a train and snaked under the train and around the couple again and again to racing music. Then the groom took off his shoes and socks and his male friends lifted and threw him, prone, into the air several times. The significance of this I didn’t get but it delighted the guests. Then the bride knelt at the feet of the seated groom and put his shoes back on…with a pair of brand new socks. Hmmm. Then the throwing of the bouquet to the single women and the tie to a very few waiting single men. Then to very suggestive music the groom was supposed to perform a lap dance on the bride…but she…a pretty sedate lady…demured. Then her turn…but again she only shly brushed the side of his face with hers. The groom then lifted the gown of the seated bride…searching enticingly for the garter which was then thrown to the men. Then the first dance. Then we could dance. By this time Oscar and Angelita was asleep and Pavel had his head on the table. At 1am we went home and crashed…leaving the others to dance on until three. Don Bardo, however, would have been happy to keep the party going even though Dona Mari and Pilar were keeping the tequilla well away from him.
Sunday morning Mica, Ana and I walked with the kids down to the market…freshest fruits and vegetables I’ve seen in Oaxaca…to pick up some chivo sopa (goat soup) for breakfast. Back at the breakfast table…ahhh, finally cafe de olla (sweetened coffee)! Mexicans make it like my father did in sheep camp…sheepherders coffee he called it…only here they add sugar before it is served! Or you could call it backpacker’s coffee. Boil the water and drop the coffee in until it settles to the bottom and then pour. Better than the most expensive coffee maker!
We scarfed down Almuerzo Chivo, tortillas a la mano (made by hand) 1/4″ thick, cheese, pan dulce (sweet bread), buñuelos (thin crunchy pastry with syrup made with canela…sugar browned darkly near a wood fire. During breakfast the family discussed their child-rearing experiences. Mica said that Bardo doesn’t know what he is doing…and favors Angelita. Then Don Bardo asked Ana if she wanted to pick limones from his trees on the roof. They climbed up the iron stairs and then scooted across a rough slippery slope up to the limoneros. Teotitlan is a major fruit growing area and along with limes they also grow mandarinas, papaya, mango, coco, pina, and bananas…sweet strawberries coming from high in the mountains.
Oscar had just been disciplined sharply by Dona Mari for not obeying her when we heard a rattling crash. From downstairs we could see a big dent and a hole threatening to open up in the corregated tin roof of the car park, and we heard Pilar scream “se cayo mi papa!” Don Bardo, who needs a new pair of glasses, got dizzy being out in the sun and missed a step coming back down. From below, we didn’t know who fell and Angelita started crying. After don Bardo was helped back down the narrow metal stairs he was sat onto a chair for the cleaning up. He was lucky. He had only a scrape on the top of his head but head wounds bleed profusely and his shirt was covered in blood…scaring the kids. Wincing, don Bardo endured the alcohol and coffee grounds that Dona Mari pressed into his wound. I guess coffee is thought here to be an anticeptic. Then Dona Mari took a drink of water and spit it on the back of his shoulders…hitting him with a towel at the same time…a curandera practice. Pilar was hysterical, so Ana sat her down and let her cry for a few minutes with Angeles. Tequila was in order for don Bardo. Everyone laughed when I said that Don Bardo was strong (muy fuerte) and that since he got tequilla he might go up and do it again!
After everyone calmed down, Doña Mari told us about her dog. She had had an English Sheep dog that was stolen. So she told her daughter to bring her the ugliest dog that she could find so that it wouldn’t get stolen. One day her grandson came with a little puppy, and Dona Mari said that “it looks like a little canut (a flacid roll of string).” Her grandson said, “well you wanted an ugly dog”. So his name is Canutito.
Then Mica, Ana and I took the kids off to nearby San Martin Toxpalan to see an Alebrije maker. Alebrijas are animals and fanciful figures carved out of copal wood and brightly painted…a local art form. I was encouraged to buy a piece, but am just not into buying more “stuff” much of which is stacked high in the house in Salem. Then we went to Bardo’s sister’s (Susana’s) house who piled a box full of Zapotes (sickenly sweet fruit) for us to take home, and then to Bardo’s brother’s (Osmin’s) home to say goodbye and to cure our mareada (hangovers) with some sweet mescal. Most of the siblings were well educated at nearby University of Puebla and Osmin is a mechanical engineer who has built many of the buildings in Teotitlan. Bardo majored in Economics…the others I don’t know about.
As we headed back to Oaxaca on the “free” road through picturesque high needle cacti in the Sierra Norte mountains, Angeles went with her aunt so that there would be no fighting on the ride home. On the top of a ridge, after about three hours of “S” curves, and famished again, we stopped at a tiny pueblo called Santiago Nacaltepec (all I could see of it was the small “Restaurante El Rosario”) to eat. We got out of the car wearing t-shirts and sandals to discover that it was freezing…the locals well wrapped in shawls and parkas. Ah, sweet cafe de olla (coffee)! We greedily gobbled hot black beans, hot tortillas, grilled tasajo (thin slices of grilled beef) and salsa. We used the outhouse, washed our hands in a concrete tank full of frigid water and then scuttled back to the car to turn on the heater. The car had been in storage most of the six years of my travel and this was the first time I welcomed a heater in all that time…at least in Mexico!
We flew down the mountain toward the city lights in the distance. As we approached Telixtlahuaca we could see it’s church lit up in the dark. Nothing like the cohetes (stars) in the sky as well as la luna creciente, the tiny sliver that appears the night before the dark moon, hanging in the sky below a single star.
Arrived in Huayapam 8:30pm – making the trip back around 5 hours. My thanks to Ana for translating the critical parts and for making my stay there more enjoyable.