In Oaxaca, A Place For Friends

oaxaca

Sundays in Oaxaca are quiet. The stores are closed; the streets empty.

There is buzz around the churches, as families mill in and out dressed in their Sunday best. Near the Zocalo, children play with oversized balloons, pushing them high into the sky.

But otherwise, the city is silent.

On a recent Sunday, I decided to embrace the calm and seek a quiet resting place where I could sit with a healthy meal, an iced coffee and the words of Carlos Fuentes. The spots I had in mind were closed, so I wandered the streets until I caught sight of an entryway leading into a courtyard shaded in bougainvillea. “Yoga, vegetarian food,” the chalkboard sign read. I had found my place.

I entered and asked for a table. The kind-eyed host explained to me that here, they do things differently, that this is a place for friends. She asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a table, and she gestured toward my new seatmate: an elderly gringo in khakis and a Panama hat.Inwardly, I groaned. The last thing I wanted was forced conversation with a senior citizen. I wanted to feel Mexico, not be reminded of home.

Outwardly, I smiled and sat down.

De donde es?” he asked.

De los Estados Unidos,” I replied.

“Oh, you’re American,” he laughed. “Could’ve fooled me.”

Uh-huh. I pulled out my book and set it on the table.

“Where in the States are you from?”

“New York.”

“Oh, I lived in New York. In Manhattan?”

“Yes, the East Village.”

He laughed. “I used to live right near you, on 4th between B and C. But this was a long time ago, in the 1960s.”

Now he had my attention. You had to be a certain kind of person to live in the East Village in the 1960s.

“Do you know Allen Ginsberg? The poet?”

I nodded. I only idolized him.

“He was my neighbor.”

From there, the conversation flowed: from his life as an art student in the ’60s, to my writing ambitions in the ’10s, to his sons, my sister, his newly remodeled home, my newly redecorated apartment. Mitch was a man in transition, having just retired after decades of working as a museum exhibit designer for the federal government. I too was in transition, on the cusp of returning to graduate school and charting a new career path. He had come to Oaxaca to draw; I had come to write.

I didn’t expect Mitch and I to have much in common, but we did. I was reminded of a basic travel lesson: the necessity of being open to new people and new experiences.

Throughout our nearly three-hour conversation, the host, whose name I discovered was Rosaura, kept us fed and refreshed with a three-course vegetarian meal: crunchy jicama salad, hearty chickpea soup and a yogurt-oatmeal dessert, complemented by hibiscus tea. At the end, she only asked for $35 pesos (about US$3) to cover the cost of the ingredients. Every Sunday, Rosaura hosts this special gathering in the courtyard of the Comala restaurant on Calle Allende in downtown Oaxaca. The morning starts with a yoga session, followed by a meal. All are welcome – so long as they are open to new friends.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

A Travel Guide to Oaxaca, Mexico

New York City can make you deaf: new study links city noise to hearing loss

The locals hate midtown, and we just got another reason why.

It turns out that visiting the most heavily trafficked neighborhood in Manhattan could be hazardous to your health. Noise is the problem. Of course, it comes as no shock that parts of Manhattan can be quite loud. People, taxi horns and construction represent just part of the list that can rattle your ears and, eventually, cost you your hearing.

According to a study being released today at the International Conference on Urban Health at The New York Academy of Medicine, there are several neighborhoods where the risk to your hearing is substantial, especially for residents who become accustomed to it over time.

My Fox New York reports:

Most readings – even in several small parks meant to be oases of green and calm – were above 70 decibels. People whose daily noise exposure tops an average of 70 decibels can lose some of their hearing over time, said Richard Neitzel, a University of Washington research scientist and another of the study’s authors.


The result, of course, is that people have nowhere to go for a little peace and quiet.

Some of the noisiest spots in the city aren’t where you’d think to find them. Of course, midtown is noisy, but First Avenue above 14th Street? Broadway in Inwood? Well, these are the city’s trucking routes, which kicks up the decibels a bit. The Lower East Side, East Village and West Village, it seems, have fewer buffers and the added complication of nightlife – not a problem on the Upper West Side (I can assure you), which is fairly quiet.

[photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

Crif Dogs: The Top Hotdogs in New York City

The various hotdog-and-papaya joints scattered across Manhattan are great for a quick fix, but if you want to truly experience a hotdog’s potential, you have to schlep down to the East Village. Tucked away on St. Mark’s Place, just in from Avenue A, you’ll find Crif Dogs, an establishment that redefines what many consider to be the worst form of meat.

The small, dark restaurant has committed itself to the hotdog in a way like no place I’ve ever been. A few old arcade games greet you at the door, and the décor will not strike you as carefully planned. Linger at the cash register for a moment, and you’ll see a “Wicked Girl” action figure (if you don’t know that that is, leave a comment, and I’ll help you out). And, there are even a few secrets to be found around Crif … if you know where to look.

An expansive menu hangs above the counter, and it is littered with creations that even my lust for unhealthy eating didn’t equip me to fathom. The “Good Morning,” for example, is festooned with cheese, bacon and a fried egg. Bacon, in fact, features prominently on several Crif hotdogs, including the Chihuahua, which comes with guacamole and sour cream (these two are my favorites by far – the bacon is a big part of the reason why). There are other menu items, such as French fries and burgers, but I tend to skip them, preferring to order an extra dog rather than fill the limited space in my stomach with something else.

What Crif Dogs serves is among the best I’ve ever had, with the only competition coming from Popo’s in Swmascott, Massachusetts and a small stand just off Camp Casey in Tong Du Chon, South Korea (which may not even exist anymore – it’s been a dozen years since I last “dined” there). The dogs are hot, they snap and they are packed with flavor in a way that keeps the toppings from masking it. To call a Crif Dog a superior hotdog would be an understatement. And you won’t have any problems with the bun. Though it isn’t toasted (take this as a suggestion, Crif), it’s firm and dry.

Crif Dogs is a bit out of the way if you’re sticking to the usual tourist spots when visiting New York City, but it’s worth a subway hike (and then a walk) to sink your teeth into one of Crif’s creations. The experience is worth it.

[Thanks to @welshwonder for putting a few dogs back with me on my last trip to Crif]

Flickr’s New York: A tale of two cities

Tourists photograph Midtown and Lower Manhattan, while locals click their cameras in the East Village and Chinatown. So, it’s clear: tourists and locals don’t mix in New York.

Eric Fischer, a computer program, used geotagging data from Flickr and Picasa to plot maps of New York and 71 other cities, using a system he created for determining which shutterbugs are locals and which are from out of town.

Using this system, we can divine the following:

  • Tourists shoot Yankee games, while there are more locals snapping away when the Mets are playing at home
  • Locals prefer the Manhattan Bridge, and tourists flock to the Brooklyn Bridge … yet Brooklyn itself is packed with local photogs
  • Nobody goes to the Upper West Side (unless he or she lives there)
  • Governors Island is about as tourist-free a place as you’ll find in New York

What German McDonald’s thinks of New York City

Apparently Germans really like to visit New York City. How else to explain a new Big Apple-inspired menu of cupcakes, now appearing at McDonald’s restaurants across Germany? According to food website Eater, the new German cupcake campaign features sweet desserts named after New York’s “tourist hot-spots,” including Chelsea, Central Park, SoHo and the East Village. The campaign appears to be a tribute to the New York’s never-ending cupcake craze, inspired by famous bakeries like the perpetually crowded Magnolia Bakery.

Each cupcake also comes complete with a trendy description and suitable New York-style “hipster” mascot. Did you know for instance that the East Village is home to all of the city’s most famous artists? Maybe 30 years ago. Even if it’s slightly off the mark, it’s always interesting to catch a glimpse of another culture’s take on your own. In a way, famous cities like New York have become global brands, exporting their cupcakes, t-shirts and grocery stores around the world.

Anybody seen these on the menu on a recent trip to Germany? Share your thoughts in the comments.