Oaxaca Journal, V.12

By    Friday May 9, 2008

I may be suffering from PDN (Pre-Departure Nostalgia) as we get closer to our stateside return from Mexico this July. Whatever the diagnosis, all my senses seem to be strangely heightened. My eyes constantly watch for new subjects, and drawing in my sketchbook has become a daily obsession. My ears are sharply attuned to the daily parade of sounds, from the ravens that wake me up each morning to the tree frogs that lull me to sleep each night. Yet it's my sense of smell that's been really off the charts.

Experts say that the olfactory sense can trigger long-forgotten memories. The smell of cut grass or the perfume your mother once wore can instantly transport you back to your childhood. There are so many smells to choose from here in Oaxaca, I expect I'll have flashbacks long after we're gone.

Peter Kuper visualizes the smells of Oaxaca that will haunt him back in the U.S.A.

It begins when I awake to the scent of wood smoke as our neighbors warm their tortillas over a fire. Heading up our gravel driveway for my daily constitutional, I inhale the delicious fragrance of jacaranda blossoms in the trees above. This is mingled with the stink of deposits made by every local street dog; apparently our driveway is the perfect toilet a safe distance from the traffic. Continuing down a bumpy cobblestone street I detect a hint of bougainville, but this is cancelled out by the stomach-wrenching stench of dead possum. The smell envelops me and hangs on my clothes until the aroma of pineapple, orange, papaya, and mango at the corner fruit stand brings blessed relief.

Farther down the street, a light whiff of Mescal emanates from an hombre passed out in a doorway. Then, over a corrugated metal wall, comes the comforting smell of slightly burnt corn tacos and charcoal - mixed in with a distressing odor. It's Menudo. And I don't mean the 90's boy band, but a traditional Mexican soup made of boiled intestines and stomach. I can almost hear the goat's dying bleat, which makes me retreat to the vegetarian side of my brain. Fortunately the delicious smell of roasting chicken floats by and my true carnivorous nature resumes.

I temporarily shift senses on hearing distant marimba music overlaid with what seems like a thousand barking dogs. To my right there's the sound of a sputtering fuse followed by a rising whistle. There's a brief pause, then a thundering explosion. The acrid smell of fireworks snaps me back to my sense of smell as I return to my driveway. I carefully negotiate the piles left by the street dogs, relieved to inhale a restorative breath of jacaranda carried on the warm breeze.

If there is a pill that cures PDN, I won't be taking it.

This is the twelfth installment in a series from Peter Kuper, a cartoonist and illustrator who moved with his wife and daughter to Oaxaca in 2006. Peter's coming-of-middle-age graphic novel, Stop Forgetting to Remember, as well as a collection of his first decade of Spy vs Spy strips have been recently published. His work is included in LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel, on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through May 26, 2008.