Archive for December, 2008



Saturday, December 27, 2008

So, it has taken me most of my first day back in the US to get used to being in the US again.  There are various habits that I picked up in Mexico and it’s taking some time to get used to American ways again.

It started on the flight out of Oaxaca.   We had an English speaking crew, and although my Spanish isn’t where I would like it to be, I still had the feeling that I should be attempting to speak to everyone in Spanish.  I can start to see how we develop these habits (I should speak language X to this group Y, I should speak language X while I am in location Z, etc.) which might affect language vitality.  So, I have seen repeatedly here how people speak Spanish to younger people, because that is simply what you do, even though small children could acquire Zapotec and there is some desire for them to do so.  And Margarita actually had been in the habit of speaking of English to Benjamin before we came down here.

Another habit I had to consciously relearn was to put toilet paper down the toilet.  In much of Oaxaca, the plumbing isn’t good enough to allow toilet paper to be flushed, so you have to put in a trash can.  I kept doubting whether I was really supposed to flush it here in the US.

A final habit I’ve had to relearn is seatbelts.  As I was surprised to learn last summer, Oaxaca does in fact have seatbelt laws.  Apparently, those in the front seat are in fact supposed to buckle up, but like many traffic laws here it seems more like a suggestion than something rigorously enforced and followed.  Most of the time, I don’t see people putting on seatbelts and oftentimes they are hidden away in the seats, clearly unused.  So, when my stepson Edgar picked me up at the airport and let me drive, I can’t remember for the life of me if I actually used my seatbelt, though I have the uneasy suspicion that I didn’t.  Unless of course the LAPD reads this, and then I probably did, or at least don’t remember.


Around Oaxaca in 80 Seconds

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I’m back in the US today. I’m going to hang out a while in LA, collect some things (such as books) I’ve been needing in Oaxaca, run some errands, and then attend the annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of America up in San Francisco.

I caught the Continental Express flight that goes directly from Oaxaca to Houston, which I like, because it means I get to avoid the Mexico City airport. We had a spectacular flight out this morning. When flying out of Oaxaca, you should try to grab a window seat on the port side of the plane, which for the Continental Express flights is the side with a column of single seats. I had one at it afforded spectacular views of the city.

After sitting in the plane for a while to burn fuel–the captain said we were near our weight limit–we took off and circled the city (perhaps to slowly gain (because of our weight?) enough altitude to clear the mountains north of Oaxaca?). I never recall being on a flight that did this before. I had seen Monte Alban from the plane before, but this time , we circled all the way around it. It was great seeing it from every side. I could easily make out Building J, which is set at an angle from all the other buildings, see the jutting arm of the site on the north side, and the terraced mountainside. It was great.

Then we essentially came back over the top of the airport and headed north. Coming back over the city, I spotted the Guelaguetza amphitheater, the baseball stadium, and the Zócalo.

A wonderful way to start a trip.


A China-Mesoamerica Connection?

Friday, December 19, 2008

While getting dressed this morning, I was watching an episode of Iron Chef–the joys of YouTube!–and discovered that the Chinese likely have similar kinds of beliefs about hot and cold as Mesoamericans seem to have. In the episode–the Horsehair Crab Battle–Iron Chef Chen Kenichi prepares gyoza stuffed with boiled crab meat, crab liver, and ginger; you can see them preparing them here (starting around 1:25):

At 1:50, the color commentator, Dr. Yukio Hattori (“always a pleasure”), mentions that he can tell us why Chen has included ginger in the dish. He notes that the Chinese have a belief that crab meat takes heat away from the body, while ginger has a thermal effect on the body, warming it up. So, many Chinese places, he notes, serve tea with ginger to warm people up. Combining ginger with the crab balances out the heat transfer, I suppose.

This actually sounds very similar to the beliefs people have here. Certain items are cold (“taking heat away from the body”), which is the case for fish here, even though they may be cooked and served warm. Other items, by contrast, are warm–chilis for example–bringing warmth to the body, regardless of the temperature they are served at.

Now, I don’t expect there may be any direct connection between the Chinese and Mesoamerican beliefs (one borrowed from the other, or handed down from common ancestry), but I do wonder if this might be a fairly common belief around the world, independently invented and developed. It will be interesting to find out. I need an ethnomedicology course.



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This evening, las posadas will begin in Macuil and presumably throughout much of Mexico.  And based on past experience, the US Macuil community and other Mexican immigrant communities will likely be hosting posadas in the US as well.

The posadas (re-)enact the attempts by Mary and Joseph to find lodging prior to the birth of Jesus.  In Macuil, representations of Joseph and Mary will be carried in a procession from the church to someone’s home who will be hosting the first posada tonight.  There, the processioners will request in song housing for Joseph and Mary which will be denied as there is no room at the inn (posada being the Spanish word for ‘inn’).  After this ritual is complete, a party will be held at the house.  The next day, the procession will proceed from there to the next house hosting a posada, repeating the process until reaching the final house on the 24th, where the biggest celebration, heralding the birth of Jesus, will be held.

This Wikipedia article seems to generally get the broad outline of the event, although I’m doubtful that all of the particulars it includes (such as the number of homes visited per night, the exact use of candles) are as universal as presented and probably don’t hold in Macuil.  While I have attended posadas both in Macuil and the US, I have not taken note of all of these fine details, and it will be interesting to pay close attention the next time I attend one, although that probably won’t be until this weekend when we are planning on visiting Macuil again.

Thinking about the posadas, though, has reminded me that my advisor, Pam Munro, worked with my friend and collaborator, Ignacio Cano, on a translation of the Christmas story (from Luke, Chapter 2) into Macuiltianguis Zapotec, which I put up on the web.  I hadn’t looked at the page in quite some time (I can’t believe it was 10 years ago that we did that), and while other things need to be scrapped, revised, or expanded, the Christmas story is still there and fully functional, though perhaps a bit slow.  The Zapotec is written in an older version of the orthography we use, and the English is a translation of the Zapotec rather than a published Bible version.  But most interestingly, I think, there are sound files of both the whole story and individual lines so you can actually hear MacZ.  Enjoy!


Moon over Oaxaca

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tonight, there was a conjunction of the crescent moon, Venus, and Jupiter.  I had read about it earlier in the day, but then forget all about it, until I stepped outside around 8pm or so.  There was the crescent of the moon lying on its side, with two bright dots underneath.  (Here is a picture pretty close to how it looked here, though I would say the moon seemed a little further away.  We got the upside-down frown instead of the smiley face that apparently was only viewable in Australia.)  My initial view was obscured by trees so I went out with Margarita’s sister, her husband and son to find a better view.  It was a nice sight to behold and I was glad to share it with others.

On the way back inside, Margarita’s sister told me that here there is a belief that when the crescent moon [biu’] appears to be lying on its side as it did tonight, that there would be no rain for the month [biu’] (the concept of month comes from phases of the moon, hence the relationship between the words in English and other languages, including being the same word in MacZ).  The bowl of the crescent holds water back from the sky.  But when the crescent is tilted, the water can pour out and there will be rain.  You can learn neat things by going outside and looking at the stars.