Our apartment in Oaxaca has a name. Behind a large metal door, down a covered path, past planters and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on the upper level of a courtyard, you’ll see it. Ejutla. It’s small, with chunky wood beam ceilings. It was not the picture of rustic comfort I imagined when exchanging emails with the director of our language school, in which she promised a kitchen and a terrace. The terra cotta tile floor turns the bottoms of our feet black, much less so since I frantically scrubbed on our first day here, but I don’t really mind anymore. There is a kitchen, technically. There is a lovely terrace, as promised. I like to step barefoot outside the apartment door after the sun has dipped below the eaves of the building and feel how long the concrete holds the heat from the midday sun. I’m sure all of our neighbors have seen me in my short shorts doing this, or crouching awkwardly in said shorts taking pictures of the roof/clouds/courtyard. They must think I’m obsessed with the water tanks on the roof. Everyday at 5:00 clouds roll in and on at least one of those afternoons they brought rain. We have two sets of narrow doors that double as our only windows. They both face the same direction and spread tall, glowing columns of light into the space. One serves as the front door to our unit, the other opens onto a Lilliputian terrace large enough to hold exactly one thorny potted plant.
There is a very well used bus stop in front of our apartment building and I often accidentally bump someone who is unknowingly leaning on our front gate when it is opened outward onto the sidewalk. The gelatina vendor plies his daily flavors here too, but I've resisted them so far. Sometimes when I walk by the window I get a whiff of bus exhaust, and the voices of the bus line announcers echo into the courtyard from the street out front. I don't think all the Spanish classes in the world would ever help me understand what they are shouting. Many nights, we hear waves of boisterous live music from some celebration or another. It often sounds so close, I have to fight the urge to run downstairs through the building and into the street to see what’s going on. What are we celebrating on a Tuesday night? And why does it require fireworks that sound like mortar shells? At 10 PM?
We have been in Mexico eleven days. I have been sick for eight of those days. Not that kind of sick (thankfully, though I was prepared in a fashion nearing digestive paranoia), but instead sidelined with a doozy of a head cold I must’ve picked up from our flight into Mexico on our very first day of travel. Beginners luck. Despite being thrown a germy wildcard, we managed to make great use of our days in Mexico City before my cold really kicked in. I had high hopes, and the city lived up to them. On the afternoon we arrived I noticed that the city smog turns the sunshine an especially golden color. It reminded me of the Los Angeles of my childhood circa 1987.
Each evening we strolled our Roma Norte neighborhood and became smitten with the candle-lit, hip-but-comfortable restaurants we visited. Besides our usual avocation of eating, we checked off three bucket list experiences in just as many days: visiting the historic canals of Xochimilco, seeing the overwhelming collection of artifacts at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, and walking through Casa Azul at the Museo de Frida Kahlo. I’m so grateful to have finally visited all those places. Despite my attempts, pictures just won’t do them justice. Though it provided fulfillment of lifelong travel goals, Mexico City was exhausting. This was the type of travel we usually avoid - intense tourist days back to back, with hard stops in our schedule on either side. We navigated public transit (three kinds), argued with boat operators about prices in Xochimilco, waited in long lines at museums, and by the fourth day, I was sick as I’ve ever been and wanting a quiet place settle in.
My first introduction with Ejulta did not leave me enamoured (see mention of dust blackened feet above). It’s taken a few days, a roll of paper towels, a few new pots and pillows picked up at the local store, but we got here. And bacon helped. A black bean baptism of sorts. I made soup in my own (temporary) kitchen and the stress of settling into an apartment I had no knowledge of before occupying was extinguished. It’s the closest thing to a reset button in my emotional existence and bacon was, as always, up to the challenge. So was the stove, I was happy to find out - a little two burner insert on one side of our only counter. Maybe she’ll get a name, too.