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Mix-a-Lot's in trouble

While at the museum, Mirshod explained something of the anthropology of his country, or the lack there of. It seems that when Islam came to Uzbekistan, all traces of the former culture were destroyed. I expect this is true, as if much did exist, the Soviets would have found it.

Because time in Oaxaca was limited, rather than indulging in self-congratulatory independence at the expense of mobility, we took advantage of a guide who collected people from their hotels in a minibus and then headed out to sights near Oaxaca City. The two main ethnic groups native to Oaxaca are the Mixtec and the Zapotec, and out guide was a Zapotec. He explained that there are 6 communities in Oaxaca, the exact details of which escape me this late on, but they were basically Mestizos in Oaxaca City, some different settlements of the native groups, and a small community of Africans, descended from slaves brought by the Spanish. He was very particular in stressing that these groups do not marry amongst each other, that there had been no mixing since the colonial period, and that he was in agreement with this policy. He went so far as to express that he found women outside of his group unappealing, and implied that marrying outside would be treachery to his language and people. Nae and I searched for some hint of judgement in this, but couldn't find any; it seemed there was, to him at least, a very rigid wall separating his universe of Oaxaca from that outside, and as we were from outside there was no logic in judging us by the standards of his domain. In any case, he also stressed that the groups lives harmoniously, and was very friendly with fellow tour guides who were Mixtec, where these two groups were bitter enemies in pre-Hispanic times.

The first tour we took went initially off the normal tourist route to the church of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya. It was built in the 1500s by natives, under the direction of Dominicans, and they used traditional paints to decorate it, the resulting frescos being still vividly white, blue and brown-red today. The angels painted on the walls were just faces, and our guide suggested that this was because the natives didn't get whether angels are dudes or chicks, so opted to leave off the bodies. The church had a charming, close little cloister, which has monks buried under it, and was being nicely restored while we were there. We were also allowed up a tight spiral staircase to the split-level-above-the-door bit (the proper name of which I do not know – anyone brai... raised in the church?), where there was an organ built in what is now Germany, as I recall, in the early 1700s. There were also flowers made by hand from bees' wax, given as gifts to the ladies, and mother was delighted until she remembered the ban on bees' wax items coming into Australia.

The next stop was Teotitlán del Valle, where Zapotecs still spin wool and dye it with traditional dyes, including cochineal, which is a squished-up bug from a nopal cactus, and a blue dye from the acid-base reaction of limestone and pomegranate. We watched a demonstration on how the dyes are made, and then went into the workshop for the mandatory hard sell on the demonstrator's families tapestries, and a hard sell it was. Mother caved, and I don't know if she's even looked at her tapestry since, but the prices being as high as they were they slotted into the 'major purchase' category, and I would not budge, though I was hassled to the bus.

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