November 23 – 27
And so, we finally made it to the Museo Rufino Tamayo, recommended by Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, a collection of pre-Hispanic art donated by the city’s most famous artist, Rufino Tamayo. Born in 1899 in Oaxaca of Zapotec heritage, he was active in the mid-20th century in Mexico and New York, painting figurative abstraction with surrealist influences.
The Museo is housed in a building constructed in 1979 by the architects Teodoro González de León and Abraham Zabludovsky. One of the chief purposes of Tamayo and the museum was to collect historic pieces to protect them from entering the illegal artifact traders’ market. Tamayo left the museum to his native state of Oaxaca to enhance fellow Mexicans awareness of their rich cultural heritage.
One is impressed by the setting as soon as they enter, an open courtyard surrounded by the building and even more so once you enter the museo itself. To begin, each of the rooms is color-coded with back lit displays containing the pieces on exhibit. Tamayo selected them based on their artistic, rather than archaeological, value.
The exhibits are not grouped in chronological or geographical sequence but rather according to overarching themes. The collection contains around one thousand pieces, all of them interesting, but a few of them exquisite, such as ceramic models from the Mesoamerican ball game.
As we had found before during our stay in Mexico, the lack of English descriptors or guidebook meant we couldn’t fully engage with the displays, our loss as when you combine them with all of the other museums we’d been to already, we weren’t able to gain a full understanding of the 1,000 years or so of Mexico’s most impactful history. But that’s on us as well as it speaks to our hubris in thinking that wherever we go we should be able to interact in our native language.
What I appreciated the most was the use of the color coding in the rooms. The backlighting produced two distinct impressions; the first is as you enter each section one is bathed in a soft glow that pulls you in. The second was how the color enhanced the materials displayed, bringing a different detail or sharpness to each object, seemingly more so than your standard museum lighting.
We finished up and walked back up the hill to Azucenas and killed time until we could start our cooking class. This would take time and fill up the rest of the afternoon and early evening and would take care of our dinner that day. One option that would brighten the day was the purchase the day before of a liter of a local Mezcal from the front desk. I asked about it and they said they would prepare it and bring it to the room, which happened, and we enjoyed its quality.
At the appointed time we gathered in the kitchen on the roof and began the class. Our effort would take around three hours for the two kinds of tamales we’d prepare, both with a different type of mole, one red with vegetables and the other a negro with chicken.
We started by placing the chicken in boiling water and while it cooked, we broke down green beans, squash, tomatoes and onions.
The vegetable mixture went into a pot to cook together and once completed, set aside to cool along with the chicken, which was then shredded.
In the meantime, Joanna assisted with preparing the masa that would form the coating for the tamales, a process that took a lot of stirring and kneading.
While that was going on, I was tasked with separating and sizing out banana leaves which would be used to wrap the tamale mixture for cooking. Once all the ingredients were cooked, we started building the tamales, which involved nothing more than placing a banana leaf on the counter, scooping some masa onto it and spreading it out, then placing the ingredient (chicken or vegetable) on top and wrapping it somewhat like you would fold a burrito.
Once folded you tied it together with a thread from the banana leaves.
The entire batch was then placed in a big pot and steamed until done, leaving us some time to drink a beer and enjoy the setting sun. After some time, we popped open a couple of the tamales and enjoyed the fruit of our labor, eating a couple apiece (we’d been snacking while working) and enjoying the difference between the two moles.
Later, after cleaning up, when asking about arrangements for our travel to the bus station the next day, one of our hosts asked if we wanted to try some Mezcal. The liter I had been sampling was an Espadin, the most common agave in Oaxaca and it was smooth and flavorful. Tonight, we would sample a finer version, Tobala and it indeed was even better than what we’d been drinking. While sampling, our host poured the liquid from a large plastic bottle with not label, likely purchased from a local source. Thus, the need for the host the day before to “prepare” it for me.
We slept well that night, arose at our normal time for a good breakfast, and then convened at the counter to check out and get a taxi for the bus station. The same friendly staff member who offered us the Mezcal the night before had also assisted me in purchasing our bus tickets online, a great convenience for us. I settled up and confused about how the clerk was adding up the bill, thought I’d been overcharged, but I soon saw the logic in the method. All together, we paid 600 Pesos ($31.20) for our ten breakfasts, 1,000 Pesos for the cooking class ($52) and 900 Pesos ($46.80) per night for the room. In total, it ran us $6,575 Pesos ($341.90), roughly what two nights in a Marriott somewhere would run.
And so, we closed out our time in Oaxaca, one full of good food and drink, interesting sights to see and plenty of culture accessible by foot. Our stay at the Azucenas enhanced our visit, the comfort of its accommodations and the warmth of the staff magnifying our enjoyment. We could easily return to Oaxaca one day and if we do, it will be to stay here.
Museo Rufino Tamayo: http://www.rufinotamayo.org.mx/wp/tamayo/maprt-oaxaca/
Rufino Tamayo: http://www.artnet.com/artists/rufino-tamayo/