Blog 13 Etla [3]

This and that                                                         27 Jan 2013

One joy about living in Mexico is that we learn something new every day, or we find something new to admire, or marvel at.

Some cities, and Oaxaca is one, take very seriously their cultural, historical, and even botanical patrimony. One of the categories of notable things on the tourist map of Oaxaca, handed out free at a half dozen kiosks scattered around town, is “Notable Trees.” They list 16 of them, mark them with little green numbers on the map, and identify them by species, date planted, and the name of the planter. The fig tree on the Calle de Libres (#83) was planted by General Miguel Bravo in 1813. Go, Oaxaca!

While we’re on patrimony: the city wants people to notice what is falling apart, or being wasted, or is in danger of disappearing. The hope is that (1) someone will do something about it, and that (2) it will shame people into taking better care of what they still have. So the city posts signs on crumbling buildings saying “Building in Bad Condition.” Strangely, they post the same signs on decrepit trees: “Árbol in Mal Estado.”

The Ayuntamiento (City Office Building) in Tlacolula, a town 25 km southeast of Oaxaca, posts a price list for all of the services and certificates and permits that one can obtain there. Like, for example, to get married in Tlaocula (and in Mexico all marriages are civil: church ceremony is optional), it will cost

you as follows (remember, 12.5 pesos currently = $1).

          To get married at the registry office:                                                879 pesos

          To get married at home on workdays from 9:00-3:00           1919 pesos

          To get married at home on workdays after 3:00                             2118 pesos

          To get married at home on non-workdays                                      2719 pesos

          For foreigners to get married at the registry office:                        1637 pesos

          For foreigners t.g.m. at home on work days during business hours      3838 pesos

          For foreigners t.g.m. at home on work days in non-business hours          4235 pesos

          For foreigners t.g.m. at home on non-work days                            5426 pesos

[“Note: the fees for foreigners apply even when only one of the partners is foreign.’]

So in case you were thinking of tying the knot hereabouts, now you can budget ahead.


          Mexico uses a progressive rate system for electricity. The first 100 kwh you use costs you X pesos. The next 100 kwh costs you 1.5X pesos. The third 100 kwh costs you 2X pesos. And so forth. And, I’ve been told, as a kicker, the highest rate you qualify for is applied to all that you use. T

he purpose, supposedly, is to encourage conservation, to make certain that poor folks who are minimal users get their electricity at a rate they can afford, and to discourage people from illegally tapping into the electric line of their cousin who lives next door, because it would raise the cousin’s rate. So the strategy for the wily user is to finagle as many electric meters as possible, since each one registers as a separate account. Oh, the infinite capacity of humankind to game the system!

Most Mexican drivers tend to speed. Most Mexican roads are pocked with holes. Most drivers speed less on hole-pocked roads. It’s expensive to fix roads. Lots of people find employment fixing automobile suspension systems. There are ambiguous incentives to quickly repair roads. QED.

          Linda drove into an unmarked hole today in front of a florist’s shop and it took four bystanders to pull the car out. The florist’s comment: “Hunh, there used to be a box marking that hole.”

And then there are the topes.

For some reason we got to thinking about Mexican toponyms (urbonyms? loconyms?). Most towns have two names, one dating to the good old days before the Spanish conquest, and another imposed by the victors. The pre-Columbian names refer to gods or their attributes, and/or salient geographic features. The Spanish names also index revered deities, either saints and members of the Holy Family, or 19th-century heroes of Mexican independence (Juárez, Morelos, Allende), or 20th century heroes of the Mexican Revolution (Villa, Zapata). Thus Ocotlán de Juárez, San Martín Tilcajete, Santo Tomás Jalieza, and so forth. In the state of Oaxaca alone there are seven San Pedros: San Pedro Amusgos, San Pedro Huamelela, San Pedro Ixcatlán, San Pedro Pochutla, San Pedro Tututepec, and San Pedro Zanatepec. Well, six. We escaped: we live in San Pablo Etla, not San Pedro. Newly founded colonial cities with no pre-Columbian antecedents got Spanish religious names that usage over the centuries sometimes shortens. The southern Puebla de los Angeles became Puebla; the northern one became Los Angeles. Hometown names from Spain that were reutilized in colonial city-foundations sometimes stuck and sometimes slid. Antequera eventually morphed into Oaxaca (of course, it’s really Oaxaca de Juárez, though nobody refers to it t

hat way: sorry, Benito). Valladolid lost out to another Independence hero and became Morelia, named for Morelos.

Linda and I have moved down the hill from our little cubby-house with its outside windswept living room, to Karen and Tammy’s manse down the hill. Huge rooms (living, study, two bed, dining, kitchen); two porches (front for the morning sun, back for the late afternoon); a very large back yard filled with fruiting and flowering trees and the birds and butterflies that graze on them. The wall on the south side of the yard borders a paved road, no less, with four speed-bump topes and two killer vados, dips for the water to run off. The walk up from here to bird the dawn fields with Bill takes about ten minutes.


Last night the paved road below our house was filled with dancing giants, processional banners, torches, and a calenda, a little platform on which to carry the image of Saint Paul, whose day is this coming Tuesday, and for whom our particular Etla is named: San Pablo de Etla. For a full week the streets in this patch of foothills will be hung with cut-paper banners, the church will be decked out with fresh flowers, the air night and day will be shattered with fireworks, there will be sports contests at the school, and brass band music will rise into the air from various parts of the valley (anyone who lives in Mexico can tell you that tubas carry the farthest). Wherever two or more are gathered in St. Paul’s name, liters, gallons, and jeroboams of mescal (the local potent, fermented cactus squeezings) will be consumed. The festivals of the other Etlas in the valley (San Agustín Etla, San Sebastián Etla, San Pedro Etla, etc.) will follow in due course.


In case you are worried, Mexico will never run out of saints. There are thousands, each with his or her own particular physical attribute so that you can recognize them on the church altar: Saint Lawrence carries the grill on which he was roasted; Saint Catherine the wheel on which she was martyred; San Martín de Porres a broom. Each saint special sphere of guardianship. San Rafael looks out for the sick; Saint Agatha for people suffering toothache; Saint Lucy for the near- and far-sighted; and so forth. Some of our personal favorites: San Día, the steward of summer afternoon picnics; San Gijuela, who protects you from people who are hard to get rid of; and San Ovagán, who is invoked when you see someone doing something extraordinary.

(Begging your pardon for the Spanish puns) . . . that’s all for now . . .

Linda & David