The Bagel Demand

2005

 

So many Americans come to Oaxaca that two things result.

      The first is the eruption of a bagel demand. The only downtown café that sells bagels charges 20 pesos, which is two dollars American, for one bagel. Then you pay for the coffee, too. I asked the café owner where she gets her bagels. She told me she goes to Puebla, four hours away by car. She travels eight hours to buy these bagels, and no wonder she charges 20 pesos each, she’s paying for gas plus wear and tear on her tires.

      For seven years we’ve gone to the local mercado to buy pan amarillo, made of the exact same ingredients (flour and water) and it costs four and a half pesos for three rolls. George eats all three in one day, so they’re always fresh, and who can begrudge the price? It never occurred to me that by living in Oaxaca I was in any way entitled to eat bagels.

      Things have changed.

      I went on line and searched Google for a bagel recipe. Easy. I down-loaded it and translated it into Spanish. Also easy. Then I went and roused Fernando out of bed. Not so easy.

      After I banged on the turquoise metal for several minutes he opened the door of the panadería and I gave him my trick gift of three bagels: one whole and plain, one toasted, and one toasted with cream cheese on it. Sixty pesos invested before I even began my pitch.

       We’re coming up on Day of the Dead (actually four days, what with the weekend) so Fernando replied, We have to wait, because right now we’re busy at the panadería day and night making pan para los muertos. Okay, I understand that. Then, we need a recipe. Done! I tell Fernando. He looks dismayed. Well, we know Mexicans eat Mexican bread and won’t buy bagels. Not to worry, I say, I guarantee the purchase of the whole first batch but not at 20 pesos each – let’s say ten, although I’m hoping for a permanent price of five. Finally Fernando agreed. So in a couple of weeks I will report back on the great bagel experiment.

 

      The second big change in Oaxaca is directly related to the bagel scene. To enjoy a bagel you need a toaster. And a place to keep it.   

      Here are the seven warning signs of gentrification by bagels in Oaxaca de Juarez:

1. toasters.

2. microwave ovens.

3. too many cars on the road

4. the daily calendas led by women dancing with pineapples on their heads.

5. the opening of Burger King on the pedestrian tourist street, to be patronized exclusively by Oaxaca teenagers.

6. middle-class Oaxacans wearing indigenous artisan blouses with their jeans and high heels.

7. high rents.

      While I was promoting bagels with Fernando, he was promoting the rental of a new apartment he and his mother built behind their house where the bakery and oven are located. I love their oven. I watched as it was constructed of bricks like an igloo, then covered with cement. It burns wood. Inside the bakery itself a silent man  mixes and kneads, he adds water and stirs. He always stands at  the table with his hands in some kind of dough and on his face an expression suitable for repetitive motion, like a circling burro. Explaining the bagel process to Fernando, I assume that whatever temperature his oven achieves, that’s the temperature we’ll use—no little dials with 400 Fahrenheit printed on them. And Fernando will explain to the burro.

      An apartment within odor range of a bakery appeals to me. Fernando showed me around the new apartment, promising that he would soon install a handrail along the stairs, to assist us old gringas. (I know Doña Estella, Fernando’s mother, is at least eighty and although she resembles a pan amarillo herself, she gets up those free-floating stairs.) The apartment, in addition to lovely odors, also has miscellaneous furniture in the bedroom and living-dining area, a new bathroom with hot water, a kitchen with a  refrigerator, cold water and no oven, just a stove top. I guess you might use the oven downstairs? Probably not.

      Anyway, this apartment rents for 3500 pesos per month. I could see by Fernando’s expression that he was watching me to see if this is an acceptable price. I said, Sure, it’s fine for tourists. He looked satisfied.

      So if I say five pesos is correct for a bagel, maybe he’ll believe me.