Category Archives: restaurant

Helen Hine 1


Helen at our common table, telling about her life, septiembre 2013

This is not a cheery story even when it starts out, so maybe don’t read it. I just saw her about every day so want to note it.  (I moved out of the house described yesterday, as planned.)

Helen Hines was the first person to officially meet us here in Oaxaca.  Her house shares the courtyard with ours, the whole compound owed by her partner Agustino’s daughter, Cathy.  Agostino appeared earlier in these postings, sunning himself outside in a nice hat and a shawl.


Helen at Mercado Sánchez Pascuas, septiembre 2013

She met us when we arrived in early September, gave us keys and a tour of the whole two-room house.

We have gotten small bits out of her, mostly practical information.  She informs where to hide the small plastic-wrapped 5-peso coin for the collector when putting out trash, which restaurants she likes (very similar menus at each of  a consommé, spaghetti, and one kind of meat or another, with a special fondness for fish, conclude with “and for only 40 pesos!”), and where I might find some special thing I have asked about, though maddeningly she can’t recall street names, and “it’s right past that other place” that I have never heard of either.  You know the type.

Helen is apparently quite old, but won’t talk numbers. (She said she once fired a lawyer who disclosed her age to someone.)  Also, every conversation starts with a lot of “What? What?” and a moment or two of firing up the hearing aid before proceeding.

Once in September, I asked her over to the table in the shared patio space, and offered a bit of the wine I had opened.

“Why not?” she said.  And in that quiet one-on-one I heard a bit of her life.  She has been in Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, a long time, more than twenty years, but other versions have put it much longer than that.

She must have been a bit of a seeker — after growing up in New York, there was time in San Francisco, then Guatemala, where she was asked to use her background as a librarian to start a library.  There was a marriage, which ended badly, and Helen has a son in New York City.  “But that was with another guy,” she said, waving her hand loosely at some dismissed relationship.

At some point, she met? fell in love with? hung on to? Agostino, Mexican, once an accomplished archaeologist in Mexico City.  He went to study in the United States, and somehow his career went awry.

So there’s searching, finding, scholarship, romance in the past, now making way for aging, immobility, dementia, deafness and other troubles. Who knows what else.  And you can see from the picture that she was beautiful, with fine features and gestures.

They live in the house behind the gate we share and now owned by Agostino’s daughter in New York.  Helen tries admirably to be the on-site caretaker, but the daily skills don’t come so easily any more.  To use the washing machine, we follow fairly straight-forward instructions, read to us over and over, with the warnings of the bad things that will ensue if we do it wrong.  When the water pump to our house suddenly went out, she yelled increasingly loudly to turn off the pump, ignoring William’s yelling back that it was never on.  And more like that.  Frustration and fear.  Shouting at Agostino and his shouting back.

Her joy remains the Oaxaca Lending Library, a part of her life for all these years.  Through the original and long-time librarian there, Ruth Gonzalez, came her attachment to this house.  Everyone at the OLL has great esteem for Helen, invariably grateful for her volunteer time there and praising her intelligence.  Until recent weeks, she has performed her job there organizing all the periodicals.

Sadly, in the short time we have been here, we cannot help but notice a huge decline.  Daily trips to market, just around the corner, are harder and she needs help with the small package and with clearing the obstructing stairway that’s always been here.

More later.


Café Royal

Cafe Royal

A beautiful exception to the painted-on signage, at the corner of calles Garcia Vigil and M. Bravo. Drinks and snacks here with friend Jeremy.

O lucky mishap!

ImageFull moon over Oaxaca, as seen from a front row seat at the Victoria Hotel bar.*

I don’t know whether your little e-device alerts you to the phases of the moon, but each year when I buy my spiral-bound paper-page version of a calendar, I immediately note the dates of the full moons.  I think the full moon is such a wonderful event to share with friends, as you can easily find full moons by simply looking up and no special snack foods or costumes are required.

So, when this year’s October “hunter’s moon” or “harvest moon” was coming around, I thought a party would be in order. I gave William notice of Thursday night’s event.  I told a couple others too and up we trooped to the spectacular vantage point of the bar of the Victoria Hotel on Fortin Hill at about 5,300 feet above sea level (1,600 m), a couple hundred feet above where I usually sit.  The vigorous climb justifies the beer and peanuts with garlic and chilis at the top.

But I screwed up somewhere; luna llena was actually two nights off, Saturday. I confessed my error, though Thursday night was clear and we wondered at a a gorgeous imperceptibly not-quite-full moon.

Then Saturday night brought clouds and another heavy rain.  No moon was visible.  Looking up would have given only a faceful of water.  My mistake was a beneficence.

At this full moon, I calculated how many have occurred in my lifetime, when I did notice and when I did not.  So many.  Next month, there will be another, I’ll have the date right; I’ll look up again in wonder.


*This photo is an aberration.  Years ago I pledged never to take a picture of a full moon, a sunset or a butterfly, since I found myself dozing off looking at such in other people’s vacation slides.


brilliant invention with carbon footprint of zero

brilliant invention with carbon footprint of zero

Dear Every Restaurant in the World:

Please start using these little purse/umbrella/hat stands that waiters in Oaxaca bring over to the table to keep all your crap off the floor and pretty much in your face so you won’t forget it when you go.