tkitching (tkitching) wrote,

Icons of Oaxaca

The church of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca is where my best friend will be married in three days time. We all need to see it now, ahead of the event. We don't want to be lost in this cool infinite space when rings are exchanged and concentration is required.

It is a vast church, ornate and colourful. The altar is set before five stories of icons built around the word 'veritas' (truth). The bible stories here are familiar, and the many saints are Western and pale, standing on ledges like every hour has struck at once. Closer inspection reveals a few skulls in the ceiling, and occasional saints are holding bloody organs rather than crucifixes. There are two stories here, the bible, and the conquest of Mexico.

Place a coin in the machine, and you can light a virtual candle. The sun comes round to the stained glass window, and the floor is washed clean again by soft yellow light. The pulpit is completely covered in gold, the top a singing shower head, raining jewels and money upon the church. It is a pointed display of wealth. To me, it is a very earthly place.

On the street again, the temperature seems unreal. A yard full of rusted VW beetles encircle a man who has melted slowly into his deckchair. A dog tries to pee on a wall, but he's got nothing. I sympathise. 'It's much warmer in summer' I'm told.

Outside the coffee shop, there's a large and heartfelt nativity scene. Two of the three wise men are baseball players, and one of the shepherds is Winston Churchill in a sombrero. 

The evening sees us eating at a rooftop restaurant in view of Santo Domingo. The menu specialises in pre Columbian food, and is a delight from start to finish. We all try a bit of everyone else's starter and main. The wine is good. Everything is soft and red and warm.

The mezcal bar is next door. Mezcal is a strong spirit made from the Agave cactus that grows wild in the scrub. The bar itself is simply four bottles to be ordered from. 'Mezcal drunk isn't like normal drunk' my friend explains, 'mezcal drunk is waking up in a playground naked except for football socks you don't own in a different city drunk'. He hands me a large glass. His fiancée says 'you will drink until you see God'. A pot of salted grasshoppers is put out for us, and a man strikes up on his guitar.

It is not a big room, yet every space is awash with interest. The walls are shelved to the high ceiling, each level unique, with a variety of empty mezcal jugs. Over the door hangs a goat's head. The mezcal is definitely taking effect as I face the bar again. On the back wall, behind the altar of drink are new and alarming icons. A pottery pig head, leering, a broken mannequin with no heart, a tray with a skeletal baby painted on. There are bottles filled with dried bat husks, and a lucky hoof dangles and slowly turns to face me.

The old eyes of the bar are on me. The wicker baskets that gild the empty jugs are each a story be to seen and understood. Each one a lesson and a truth and a chaos.

On the bar, the pot of grasshoppers are the thousand bodies of the Saviour, and His blood is surely pumped by the heart of a cactus. I look into my empty glass and see a cross in the bottom. I have drunk until I saw a God.

My friends intervene before I can fall too far. 'Time to go home, you pissed up dickhead'

The man with the guitar smiles. He is used to seeing epiphanies like this.
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