Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oaxaca Preview

Alas, it is time to embark on a quest to absorb the Oaxacan culture, food, drink, and celebration. It is time to dance with the dead, cook with the legendary cooks of Oaxaca, and of course, eat grasshoppers.

But first, here is an overview of the land and the trip.

The state of Oaxaca is Mexico's fifth largest state by area, tenth by population, and provides 16 percent of the countries GDP.

The Valley of Oaxaca sits in a temperate highland valley with year-round balmy, springlike climate. Three fertile valleys stretch out of the city providing a vast assortment of produce and tropical fruits. Over half the population are involved with agriculture, typically on a small family farm. Once a week, a family member bundles up produce, fruit, and poultry from the farm to take to the area's native market and barter for other family essentials.

This land has long been sought after for its bounty and beauty. Hernan Cortes took over the valley in the 1520s for his personal domain, but its settlers kept coming back. Cortes pleaded his case to the Queen of Spain who anointed him the royal title of Marques del Valle de Oaxaca and gave him hundreds of thousands of acres and the rights to the labor of its people. In desperation, the townspeople petitioned the Queen of Spain for land to grow and sell vegetables and were granted one-league square in 1532. This area is now the state capital, Oaxaca Ciudad (Oaxaca City).

Oaxaca City is a colonial town who's streets still run along the same grid the city fathers laid out in 1529. In the heart of the city, resides the zocalo, the tree encrusted Plaza de Armas lined with sidewalk cafes, street vendors, musicians, dancers, and more. On the next block lies the Catedral de Oaxaca (Cathedral of Oaxaca). Originally built in 1550, it was rebuilt in 1733 because of a devestating earthquake. On the other side of the zocalo, lies Mercado Juarez (Juarez Market) to bargain for just about anything that the area provides.

Alright, enough about the area. This trip was planned to coincide with the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration that occurs annually on November 1st (All Saints Day) and 2nd (All Souls Day). Instead of mourning the dead, Mexicans celebrate their memory during this ancient tradition. The holiday amounts to a joyous reunion of all family members, living and dead. Cemeteries are polished and decorated with flowers and candles. Alters are built with pictures, mementos, favorite foods, and drinks of the deceased.

Last, but certainly not least, are the cooking classes. I have signed up for 5 so far and hope to bribe my way into a 6th. Here is the agenda:
  • 10/30 La Casa de los Sabores - mole negro with Reyna Mendoza
  • 10/31 La Cocina Mexicana - TBD with Socorro Pinelo
  • 11/03 La Casa de los Sabores - tamales with Pilar Cabrera
  • 11/04 Seasons of My Heart - guisado with Susana Trilling
  • 11/05 Alma Mi Tierra - TBD with Nora Valencia
  • 11/06 Casa Crespo - TBD with Sanchez Pascuas
I'll be covering these items and more once I get immersed into the area and can supplement them with pictures.

Para todo mal, mezcal, para toda bien, tambien.

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