Time Warp in Oaxaca
True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories. ~ Florence King
I’ve been in Oaxaca for over a week now and being here is starting to take on a certain sort of familiarity as I fall into certain patterns. My days here are pretty nice right now. I get up in the morning and make my bed, yeah, I make my bed, no idea why, I certainly don’t do it at home, ever. But then I do a morning walk, maybe I walk a couple of miles to the grocery store or down around the zocalo or go exploring to a part of town I haven’t been in yet. I come back, relax, eat, work on photos, my Instagram account (@reverendmichaelkane) or on a writing project. I then nap or watch a video and then do my afternoon/evening walk a few miles typically down around the zocalo to see what music/art is showing up there on this day.
The change that has been happening in my head over the week has been my brain getting familiar with the place. I’ve gone from noticing every little thing, to noticing the subtle to starting to overlook the subtle, to overlooking the obvious because it has become so familiar. Now this is all about to change this week as I start language school on Monday and move to a new place to stay on Tuesday and then I’m sure the entire process will start all over again.
What our brains, or at least what my brain does, is to look for the familiar in the new so that it feels more comfortable. Over the last couple of days I’ve really consciously started to notice this process in my brain. So tonight I thought I’d take you through some of those pathways in my brain, basically show you how my brain tries to keep me happy, because the familiar is generally something that makes us feel, comfortable and good, happy.
One of the first things that my brain has done has been to connect my impressions of Oaxaca to another Spanish speaking town, Oviedo in Spain. I wrote a lot about Oviedo, so you can follow the link and I won’t rehash all of my thoughts here. But it was a walkable, social city that seemed very focused on art. I have a similar feel for Oaxaca although Oaxaca is a bit less modern (I’ll talk more about that in a minute) and four times as large as Oviedo.
The second big thing my brain has been doing, in a very odd association is connecting me emotionally to what America was like in the early 70’s. You see there are a lot of similarities between Oaxaca in 2018 and Hudson, NY in the 1970’s. The first is the prevalence of VW Bugs, there are a lot of them around. Now of course there are mostly modern cars and the bugs are even recently produced, but they look just like they did in the 1970’s. The second is packs of dogs. As those who know me well know, I’m not great with unfamiliar dogs, I’m leery and usually give them a wide berth. And something I wonder about from time to time in America is what happened to packs of dogs. As a kid in the 1970’s, I remember from time to time running into packs of stray dogs. It’s something you just don’t see anymore. I don’t know if it’s because people are better about their pets, or the rise of animal control, but they just don’t seem to exist anymore. I see at least one pack a day in Oaxaca, mostly strays but everyday I also see one on a roof near where I’m staying this pack obviously owned by someone.
The third thing that takes me back to the America of the 1970’s is litter. Yeah, Oaxaca is a city with a good bit of litter on the streets. For those who don’t remember the America of the 60’s and 70’s it was a place with lots of litter. Happily no longer the case. And this brings me to the interesting thing about Mexico. It’s both a country in some ways every bit as modern as the United States. I mean there is an airport here with huge jumbo jets, I’m typing on a home wifi setup and was even on a 5G connection at my language school today. There is food from all over the world, almost everyone has a cell phone. Yet, on the other hand there aren’t big giant stores everywhere, but small specialized stores and services. People have LP gas delivered, there are water trucks and food trucks that roll through the streets much like there used to be in the US. There are some advantages to this decentralized approach that we’ve abandoned in the US. Here in Oaxaca, unlike almost everywhere I’ve lived in America in the last 10 years, I know exactly where I can get a button sewn on, and can get it done it like 10 minutes. There is a laundry service on the corner, and one a block later and another a block later. Tiny neighborhood businesses mean that the businesses get replicated a lot.
So my brain is using nostalgia to make me feel comfortable and happy in a new situation. Our brains are really cool. I don’t see this as a good thing, or a bad thing it’s just what are brains do and it helps us all have happier days. ~ Rev Kane