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Sunday in the Zocalo

Stan Gotlieb

Zocalo, 1996. "For the right to freely unionize under our government's patronage: hunger strike" A reminder that in the midst of all the tourist magic, regular life goes on. Photography by Diana Ricci

When you have lived in a place long enough, the magic gets lost. Things that used to stop you in your tracks, seen often enough, tend to blend in with the background; tend to become the background. Demonstrations in front of the government palace, once they become an every day occurrence, become the painted backdrop to "normal" life. Band concerts on a Sunday afternoon, once the newness wears off, are what happens while you are doing the New York Times Sunday crossword at a table in one of the portales (sidewalk cafes).

Whether because repetition is just naturally deadening or because we have room for just so many "wow!"s at any given time, the process of losing the sense of wonder that a particular event brings with it happens bit by bit. Now, here's some logic: if we don't notice something any more, then how do we know we have stopped noticing it? Hah! The answer is, we can't -- until some other event or person calls it to our attention. Today, for example, I got Sunday in the zocalo back from "old hat", with the magic restored.

Mornings this time of year (just before the rainy season, when it is still very hot in the afternoon) usually start out cloudy, overcast. The kind of sky that threatens rain but often fails to deliver. You don't notice the gradual clearing, often, until you start sweating. The sky, it turns out, is clear and blue. It brings a grin to my face and lightens my step every time I notice. (Most of the time, I act like I'm entitled to it.)

This morning, I took my daily stroll down to the newspaper stand by the zocalo and then to the market for a few vegies. As is my wont, I stopped at one of the sidewalk tables on my way home, to drink a capuccino and do the puzzle. The band was warming up.

A recently settled friend stopped by. She was gushing about what a wondrous place Oaxaca is and I was agreeing pleasantly, when the band struck up their first number. When they were done, a new and different band struck up. The tune was pure parade-song, and the band of the sort that you see in any village on a fiesta day, or heading up the funeral march: drums, brass, reeds, concertina. Behind them, came a parade of Tehuanas - women from the isthmus of Tehuantepec - dressed in their finest huipiles (overblouses). Celebrating the day of their saint, which occurred yesterday, at least three generations of women from Salina Cruz, the seaport town near Tehuantepec, put on their finest traje (TRA-hey: finery, costume, special clothing) and paraded for the benefit of their capitaleño cousins.

Hand embroidering in marvelous colors, Tehuanas make perhaps the finest huipiles in Mexico, an assertion which is bolstered by the high prices that their garments fetch. This parade, from a town less that half the size of Oaxaca, sporting the finest of traditional finery, was exquisite. Tehuana women are themselves beautiful, with satin complexions and glowing brown skin; confident and self-possessed, coming from an area where wealth is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. A symphony for the eyes.

Suddenly, I "woke up" and looked around me. The streets were full of strollers. The band respectfully waited while the parade passed (I wonder how the radio station that was broadcasting the concert live, filled in the time). The parade passed by and the band struck up a little Tchaikowski. I leaned back in my chair and turned my face to the sun. Ah, paradise. How could I possibly have forgotten?

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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