July 13, 2012
Before I get to Oaxaca, which is lovely, stupendously lovely in fact, I want to dwell for a moment on the most abhorrent place on the planet: LaGuardia Airport (some of the superlatives in the following text border on hyperbole, I assure you this assertion does not).
Flying, always an exercise in frustration, has become an act of mind-numbing absurdity for me since the FBI investigated my work for al-Jazeera in 2008. LaGuardia compounds this aggravating set of extra security checks with the fact that in 17 years of using the airport, I have yet to experience an on-time flight coming or going (it has 2 runways that can’t be used simultaneously to serve the largest metro area in the US). The bathrooms are the most sanitary part of the building, but still fall far short of rural latrines in cleanliness. The thing, however, that sets LaGuardia apart from other awful American airports (like George H.W. Bush Intercontinental in Houston–which we’ll get to in a moment– or say, General Mitchell “International” in Milwaukee) is the vortex of asinineness (I’m aware that this isn’t a word, armchair grammarians and Google spell-check) that envelopes the place. Gate C9 is in terminal B (of course it is). Then there’s this exchange, CH: We’d like to check in with a person. Agent A: You can only self check-in with an open computer station. CH and LP wait in line to use a computer. CH and LP use a computer. Computer: Please see an available agent. CH & LP (while standing in front of an open computer station to the nearest unoccupied agent): Can you help us? Agent B: You need to be at an open computer station. CH & LP: I’m sorry, we did that, it’s telling us we need to speak with an agent. Agent C: You need to wait in line for an available computer station.
Somehow, we escaped this wretched circular conversation and after the old 2 hour LGA delay and another delay that ended abruptly with us dashing through at the aforementioned George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport (capital of neckfatland) after missing an announcement that our connecting flight was not as late as previously suggested by the departures board, we landed in Oaxaca at 10:32p local time. And everything changed.
We found a cab without haggling, our hostel without getting lost and a night’s sleep without interruption. Check-in procedures amounted to a gentlemen opening the door, handing us our keys and saying three words: “ocho,” our room number and “hasta manana,” see you tomorrow.
This trip has two unique characteristics for us. First, it is the first trip that we have undertaken without either one of us speaking the language. My Spanish consists of four years of not paying attention in high school and one year of learning the language’s more descriptive phases from the uncouth Puerto Ricans who worked the E-6 machine at Flatiron Color Lab on 17th Street. After passing the highest fluency test for Chinese, Linda spent her 10 minutes of free time this semester studying Spanish. We’re at about the same level.
This has led to a lot of gestures and remarkably patient waitresses, museum clerks, and shopkeepers helping us to make the right change. We are tourists here, in a way we’ve never quite been before.
The second unique aspect of this trip, is that it is the first one during which we have the Internet at our full disposal. It is difficult to believe that in the US in 2008, free wifi was enough of a rarity, that we spent countless hours searching for truck stops where we could connect to an ethernet port. Then in China in 2010, our access was limited to a series of very stinky Internet cafes. Having a regular connection from the privacy of our room has three tangible effects. 1) This entry is already longer than anything I wrote in China (are you still with me?) 2) it is that much easier to check work e-mail, Twitter, and all that other stuff we review constantly at home (I’m hoping this diminishes over the course of the trip– I really don’t need daily updates on Cole Hamels’ impending departure) and perhaps most interestingly 3) we’ve lost some of the aimless wandering that can turn a search for coffee into either a merry adventure or a harrowing experience. Given that we have the combined Spanish skills of a foul-mouthed, but well-meaning three-year-old, we are hopefully preventing more of the latter than the former.
Today we launched full on into Oaxaca. We grounded ourselves with mole tamales from a street vendor, visits to the Museo de Arte Contemporåneo and the Museo de Pintores Oaxaqueños, and the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (this is one of those phases that borders on hyperbole, but it was a damn fine cup of coffee worthy of Agent Cooper). In our short time here, we’ve realized that the single greatest contribution to residential housing is the interior open-air courtyard. When you have weather like Oaxaca’s, there is little more relaxing that resting in an open space cut-off from the street with vegetation and sky and breezes and wondrous acoustics. We’ve lingered in four already today, just to linger.
Now we’ve made it back to our hotel just as the–what we’re told is–daily thunderstorm has rolled in. Although we figure the siesta is no longer a part of modern Mexican life, Linda being a professional napper, is fast asleep as the rain patters the tin roof outside our window.