Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16TH, 1999 – OAXACA (CONT.)

I don't feel well enough to move until 7:53, still feeling queasy. I take a taxi to my hotel. Rugs cover the seats again. Indian driver. Hanging from his rearview mirror dangles an amber jewelry. Affixed to the ceiling is an embroidered Virgin of Guadalupe mat thing with red fringe hanging down. There's a rug on the dashboard, too.

The porter makes a big deal of turning on the lights and showing me the room. He had a real patter going -- too bad for me it was all in Spanish! I guess he's doing that to get a big tip. There's an Indian on the sidewalk grilling corn over a very short cinderblock fire!! (And selling them of course). I book into the hotel and go for dinner at "El Fog/on de Jovel", which the guidebook says is a place to try local Chiapecan fare.

It's -- well, it's overwhelming. The ceiling is tall arched, a pyramid roof of glass and wood. There's a huge spanish moss diorama and potted plants all over. It's quite crowded but very nice. Stucco-tan columns with Spanish arches separate the main entrance from a raised area along the edges of the room.

The waiter asks me what menu I want: French, Italian, English, Spanish. I've ordered an appetizer of soft tortillas with all the fixings. "Parillada chiapaneca", a "chiapaneca BBQ -- appetizing local meats grilled over charcoal. Chicken, ham, beef, sausage, spare ribs, fondue, chunks of onion and pineapple." I've ordered "cheesy chicken", as least likely to kill me. It's chicken with BBQ sauce covered with cheese. They have "enchiladas de mole with onion tacos".

The place is empty except me. Flags hang here. Two Indians play the marimba. I tip them and they let me take a photo. The appetizer is good. I eat the feta cheese even though I probably shouldn't. The menu says "all green carefully washed & sanitized." Right! Washed in water I can't drink! Still, it's a somewhat upscale restaurant.

The marimba tune has a rolling bass like a polka. The guys hold two mallets in each hand, but he's only guiding mallets in pairs, not individually. They end with an upbeat flourish: bom BOM!

It's a large space but cluttered; gives the feeling of being very private. Would be romantic. Candlelight, lights all around, gives a soft ambient glow. The soft tacos have a great corn texture. The hot peppers are just right. The slight burning in my mouth is quite pleasant and not painful. I really can't smell anything here. Damn. I'm trying to collect smells for my book, but my nose isn't sensitive.

The pace of the music is a little too fast, it reminds me of music of Austria. The wood blocks and the music has a cheery, accordion-like sound. Mm... some kind of chunky cornmeal dish on the side. It was good, but I had to cut up the chicken and the cheese: it was huge and gloppy! I'm still hungry, so I order another dish. Cecina Chiapaneca: "dried beef, Chiapas style marinated in lime juice and then sun-dried. Served with boiled black beans."

The soft tacos from my appetizer cooled down pretty rapidly. Small circles. By themselves, they are somewhat bland. It melts into a paste in my mouth as I chew. Nice corn texture. "mole chiapeneco" = chocolate and poultry. Ugh! (Amy would like this.) "capeados" -- "battered vegetables: green beans, cabbage, cauliflower cooked with cheese and covered with egg batter" "Fogon" is a hearty "house salad" "alabanux tzotzil" = "a local specialty, combines pork rinds, radishes, tomatoes, onions, in style of local Tzotzils"

For dessert, they have "caite chamula", a specialty. "Prepared with the pulp of the chayotce(?) fruit (vegetable pear) served in its skin. "Jovel" is the name the native Tzotzils and Tzeltals gave this valley. "Coletto" = person or things related to San Cristobal. (?? I get a different definition later ??) (I think it's "coleto"?) They cook in coal stoves "the old fashioned way" and don't take credit cards.

I try to order the "pastel de la casa", a homemade cake, but they're out. I order the chamula fruit thing - I can't believe I'm doing this, after I saw in Merida how unhygienically the villagers handle their fruit. Ugh! Oh well, if I start choking I'll just swig more Sprite (I never order water here, only soda.) The table nearby is being served drinks in wood mugs and the waiter has placed lit sparklers in the drinks!

The waiter is dressed Indian style: a sleeveless wool sweater reaching to the knees and tied with a red bandana type "belt" and a pyramidal straw hat: reminds me of Vietnam. Fuck. I finished my Sprite without thinking. I was supposed to save it for this probably horrid delicacy.

Hmm... it smells like warm fruit cake. It looks like a melon that's been split open, green/brown with applesauce-like mush inside plus raisins. Hey! It's good. It tastes like hot sponge cake with heavy apples in it, or hot bread pudding, with a slightly pumpkin taste, but sweet. Sugar & cinnamon have obviously been added. The consistency is kind of like a pumpkin pie but not as finely ground up. Consistency of very boiled squash or baked butternut squash (but no strings). Tiny plate, tiny spoon.

For the marimba, any long notes use a rapid vibrato. I guess the wood blocks don't sustain a long note very long with just one plonk. They're playing a silly kid's tune now. Is this song the "Mexican hat dance"? The whole meal only comes to 131 pesos.

It's sprinkling lightly outside. It's a little windy and cold. 50 degrees?

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