Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Street Scenes

Most of downtown Oaxaca is a named World Heritage Site ( UNESCO World Heritage Centre - World Heritage List). With good reason: large segments of the downtown area - many, many square blocks - are original sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century buildings, laid out on the original streets. Downtown Oaxaca is a testament to the durability of adobe as a building material, and also to the beauty of the fusion of Spanish and Indigenous architecture. 

As in Rome, Marrakech, Jerusalem, and scores of other very old cities, it is evident that the streets are wholly inadequate to accommodating modern vehicle traffic. What the following pictures cannot portray is the horrific din that results from squeezing twenty-first century lifestyles into sixteenth century spaces. My camera, like my eye, seeks tranquility, but in fact the backdrop for all of these scenes is truck horns, jackhammers, peddlers' yodeling, loudspeakers announcing sales, music blasting from storefronts and automobiles, and the infernal echo of all that noise off of the unbroken two-story stone walls. 

A wall downtown near my sister-in-law's house. As far as I can tell there is no reason to plant these columnar cacti here except for the striking visual they provide. In the countryside, these cacti are often used as fences. 

A door in the wall of Santo Domingo, sixteenth century Dominican monastery. The lovely greenish stone is called "cantera" which I believe means limestone, and is locally quarried. Most of the oldest buildings in Oaxaca, and even the oldest sidewalks and street surfaces, are made of cantera.

Soon, I will post a whole series of saints and icons. One sees them everywhere downtown - exquisitely carved in limestone and rendered in spray paint. Or, as here, painted even on the trees! This is a downtown park, and presumably this lovely little virgin was left here by someone who didn't want the lovers who frequent the benches to be totally unsupervised.

This is what an ancient adobe wall looks like. Today, on my walk, I observed two little boys, about four or five years old, gleefully breaking off hunks of plaster and throwing it down on the street to explode in puffs of dust. I wanted, simultaneously, to laugh and to spank their little heinies.

You can never tell what is behind a wall in Mexico. A wall like the one above might easily hide a heartbreakingly lovely little courtyard like this one. I will write more about this in my book, but Mexicans are obsessed with privacy - walls are incredibly important in Mexican life. It's very odd, because it's an entirely different species of privacy than the American kind. Mexicans hide from strangers, from the street. They build fourteen foot walls and top them with razor wire so that nobody can look in - but inside of those walls they have no privacy from family at all. Mexican lovers have no place to kiss inside those walls because Grandma is always watching them. That's why they have to smooch in the parks.

I am writing too much - I've been told not to write on this blog things I might want to include in the book because publishers won't look at a manuscript if any of it has already been exposed to evil internet rays (or something like that). Therefore I am keeping this blog restricted to mostly photos and quick descriptions.

Goodnight all.

1 comment:

  1. What a great lot of history there, buildings centuries old, if only they could tell their stories. Here in Oz we do not have anything at all like that, Oz.being only 200 and a few years old, our buildings are somewhat younger.
    The row of cacti looks much like a row of wooden posts painted green, a good idea, no one would dare to try and climb over that "fence" :)