On April 1st, I went for a short walk to watch some Florida marsh hens rustle through the reeds and cackle at the wind.

The date marked one month since I started walking again.

I sat there, awkward and sore on a tiny bench facing the water, fighting back tears. Despite a newfound infatuation with the local wildlife, this was not where I planned to be.

I was grateful to be walking, but April 1st also marked my 10-year anniversary of leaving New York. It was the date I set off for Chile, leaving behind a comfy law job and half a decade in a city I called home. In the years since, I planned to commemorate my 10-year travel anniversary with a giant party in a city I loved.

Once I moved to Oaxaca, it proved to be the perfect spot. The occasional idea would pop into my head during my long wanders around town. I’d plan for my favourite stalls to participate, giving hungry visitors a taste of Oaxaca’s rich culinary curiosities. Israel’s head tacos, Mateo and Sarai’s grasshopper pizza, mole, tamales, chilaquiles, pozole, and so much more.  Anyone who wanted to come could, and I’d put together an itinerary for the week where they could enjoy the city, stuff their faces, and revel in the joy of learning through food. We’d have a mezcal-soaked multi-day extravaganza, with bumpy collectivo rides into the valley and plenty of smiles.

In a field of marigolds during Day of the Dead preparations outside of Oaxaca. This picture was taken near Zaachila.

As I’ve said in prior annual reviews, I did not start this site aiming for a job as a full-time writer or public speaker. I did not leave the law with even an inkling of a new career. Plus, I wasn’t even particularly good at traveling. I got sick a lot. I hated packing, always and forever. And I didn’t even care how many countries I visited. I just wanted to keep learning and learning. In the course of soaking up everything I could, I found that travel and food were the perfect foils for my enduring need to write. Through writing and photography, I was able to keep my input levels high on a daily basis while arcing into a very unexpected life path.

In Mari Andrew’s wonderful, whimsical new book Am I There Yet, she writes of a shopkeeper in Berlin who changed Mari’s perception of art-as-craft. “She spoke about art as though she were talking about her best friend or a bubble bath,” Mari writes. “She wasn’t creating for accolades, but for the satisfaction of a new paintbrush dipped in fuchsia.”

That satisfaction, of stringing words together in new ways, of sharing a perspective that hopefully affected some change, was all I needed to feel creative. Writing was a tool that connected me to the world in ways I never contemplated. And in the seemingly endless stretch of these past seven months, when I’ve been unable to sit or walk or write, I felt like I lost the life I worked so hard to build.

It All Began With a Spinal Tap

For those of you just tuning in: sudden and very scary symptoms led me to the ER in New York, where they were concerned I had a brain bleed. To check, they performed a very unpleasant spinal tap with needles that were large for my frame. The local anesthetic did not do its job, and truthfully it was one of the most painful experiences of my life.

The night of my ER visit, I came back to the apartment I was cat-sitting at after midnight, only to find it burgled in my painful absence. Upon my sharing this detail with readers after the shock wore off, one thoughtlessly commented that I must have “angered the karma gods.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. We have a screenshot of the person as he came in through the window. His head is fully covered in a mask, he is wearing gloves, and he is carrying a white cloth in his hand. His description matched home invasion rapes in that borough, the white cloth likely soaked in chloroform.

Do we know what he planned that evening? No. Upon seeing the screenshot, friends agreed with my vile theory that burglary may actually have been the consolation prize. The whole thing made me sick to my stomach and messed with my mind. Already in acute pain following the spinal tap, I couldn’t bear to be alone in the apartment, even during the day. Friends stepped up and rotated day and night until my mum and stepdad could arrive from Montreal to take me back. Some brought food, others brought hugs. Most simply sat with me, soaking in the insanity of what I referred to as my “black swan night.”

I didn’t mention this part of the story in my October post because at that point my brain was a frozen video, buffering nonstop. But it is important now because many of you have asked why I am not more angry, which is a valid question. I don’t think anger serves me here, and it certainly won’t help my healing. But also, there is a clear line in the sand from that very traumatic night.

The divergence of fates — the Jodi that stayed home, versus the one that went to the ER — is very stark.

Through all of the subsequent treatments and uncertainty and pain, my belief remains that it would have been worse had I remained in the apartment that night.

A Winter of Extremes

As you know by now, the spinal tap (or lumbar puncture, since many people use that term instead) led to a rare and debilitating condition called a cerebrospinal fluid leak (CSF leak). Initially, I only had a post-lumbar puncture headache. The headache often resolves with an epidural blood patch, where your own blood is injected into your epidural space to help your body heal the hole(s) in your dura created by the spinal tap. I did return to the hospital in New York to try and get one, but was told that it had its own risks and that I ought to heal fine on my own.

Several weeks later, now in Montreal, it appeared that my body wasn’t cooperating with their healing plan. Terrified, and bleakly looking at the calendar toward my supposed departure for Oaxaca in October, I spent my hours in a state of half-shock, half-Nancy Drew. I read studies, forum posts, panicked write-ups and more from around the web for any help I could find. Unsurprisingly, the biggest step forward came from my own community.

A few months prior, I made a point of visiting a mini cow named Moochi, who I enjoyed following on Instagram. I may or may not have attended a conference in Los Angeles in part to facilitate this bovine meeting. At the time, he was co-owned by a guy named Tim, who runs a travel blog. It turns out that Tim’s wonderful girlfriend also had a CSF leak — except she had hers for years prior to diagnosis. Her leak was spontaneous, making it much harder to locate, and she ended up needing surgery to fix it. She was a beacon of sanity during these early months, and she added me to a CSF group on Facebook with several thousand leakers from around the world.

I see no reason why this cow shouldn’t contribute to my rationale for attending a conference.

In the Facebook group, I learned about people’s tips and tricks for trying to “self-heal” so I could allow my own body to seal up the holes from the lumbar puncture with enough rest and limited movement. With time, I realized that sealing wasn’t happening and I started to research next steps. The problem was, the CSF leak trapped me in bed. Any upright time resulted in my brain lacking sufficient cushion due to the leaking CSF fluid; upon standing it felt as though my brain was being sucked down into my spine. I spent hours and hours of reading, feeling less hopeful by the day.

As if a simple CSF leak wasn’t sufficient, I had connected issues that arose from the leak. Excruciating nerve pain, a new, sudden reactivity to foods I had no issues with before, muscle twitching, and a whole host of unpleasant other things that I won’t bore you with right now. Suffice it to say that CSF outside the dura mater, the membrane that protects the brain and spinal cord and keeps the CSF from coursing around willy-nilly, felt very toxic to the rest of the body. Other leakers I spoke with reported similar issues. The nervous system is deeply affected, and my body barely felt like my own.

Concurrently, there was a lot of shock and grief.  I was supposed to be hosting readers on food walks in Oaxaca, but instead I was in a lot of pain, more and more deconditioned by the day. From people I spoke with and case studies I read, several months of leaking meant sealing the hole(s) could be more complicated than a simple blood patch.

Leakers in Canada urged me to head to a specialty centre instead of attempting to pursue treatment domestically. American leakers even said they wished they had gone straight to one of the specialty centres instead of their local hospitals. And given that Canadian doctors had already claimed I had a migraine instead of a CSF leak, I didn’t need much convincing. The problem was, with ten years of nomadism, I had no residency or main doctor to refer me. I had to find the strength to get creative and find a way for the centre to take me on.

What followed was some of the most difficult months of my life.

I was lying down for 23 hours out of 24 in a day, waiting and hoping that Duke would agree to see me. The pain was excruciating moment to moment.

I felt waterlogged with sorrow.

I thought about how to share the sheer futility of what waking up felt like without sounding dramatic, but there truly is no way. Those beginning few months sapped any joy for life that I had out of me, and I would open my eyes in the morning wondering what the point of fighting was.

I couldn’t put on my socks for months, or bend, or twist, and my next steps were a swirling limbo of administrative papers and MRIs.

I saw life through a prism that only showed me extremes.

Sunset in Montreal during a cold autumn evening in November.

During those months, what kept me afloat was my parents, a wonderful neighbour and her fluffy white cat, support from all of you, and the constant stream of “just checking in!”texts from a handful of closest friends. These friends were a bridge to a state of sanity that felt far out of reach. They reminded me daily of all the (occasionally crazy) things I did fight for in my life. When I simply replied that I couldn’t formulate words anymore, they’d always hold space for my sadness.

North Carolina for the First Time

We all knew was that Duke seemed to be the best in the business for patching spinal leaks. So I tried to put what little energy I had toward fighting for the MRIs I needed from the Canadian side in order to be considered for treatment. Thankfully my stubbornness paid off, and they agreed to take me on in early December. My mum and stepdad, who had already fetched me in New York and then fed me and changed my socks for months, immediately volunteered to drive me down to North Carolina. Laying in the back seat and staring out the sunroof during several painful days gave me plenty of “what ifs” to think about. By the time I got to Duke, I was shaking with exhaustion.

I may write more about the patching process, as well as things I wished I knew ahead of time, as there are many.

The salient points are: the first and second round of patches did not work. The third did, and threw me into agonizing “rebound high pressure,” where the leak was sealed but I had excess CSF fluid since my body was so accustomed to leaking. Then, two weeks into being sealed, I sat a little too heavily and tore through my healing.

The rollercoaster of highs and lows from this experience was itself a foreign, polarizing spectrum of emotions. From not knowing if the patching worked, to navigating high pressure, then adjusting medication to try and stabilize pressure, followed by the crushing knowledge that I was back to leaking after I sat too heavily — it was all too much. I was so incredibly careful with every single movement I made, and a small slip was all it took to be thrown back to square one.

I ended up needing four rounds of blood and glue patching at Duke. This involved injecting the blood and glue into my epidural space, spread along twenty-two targeted patches total. The jaw dropping part of this entire CSF leak experience is that it’s very difficult to know exactly where to inject. For iatrogenic leakers like me, who got a lumbar puncture or epidural or injection, they have a general idea. Yet it still took several rounds to get me sealed. The initial spinal tap was not done with fluoroscopic guidance, and there were multiple attempts. In some cases, the needles go through to the anterior side and the patient requires a 360 degree patch — something Duke pioneered, and I received.

(I won’t go on because I realize this is already fairly technical, but there are also spontaneous leakers where they blow a leak in their dura simply living life. These patients often have an underlying connective tissue disorder that makes their tissue particularly weak. Because MRI and CT imaging is not yet sensitive enough to easily show smaller leaks, it remains very difficult to diagnose these leakers and/or know where to patch. It often takes them years and years of misdiagnoses before they are able to get treatment for a CSF leak. These spontaneous leaking patients are a big percentage of Duke’s CSF practice.)

Me, in my llama rainbow shirt — a gift from my friend Honza — right before my first patch at Duke

The entire CSF leak team at Duke Radiology was extraordinary, and often work together for challenging cases. I tipped into that category following patching round two, and was impressed with how they each consulted each other and were transparent about the process of how they’d do the next round of patches. I absolutely cannot speak highly enough of my doctor. He was compassionate and kind, but also willing to answer my many questions. He still checks in once a month to see how I am doing. He gave me more faith in the medical profession after feeling so disillusioned by my treatment in Montreal.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

After the fourth round of patching, it wasn’t clear whether I was sealed. I was in a cycle of having leak symptoms and laying flat, then propped up with higher pressure symptoms, feeling like my head was going to pop off my neck. Rising above the snarled periphery of very difficult facts proved to be a challenge. I knew I could not do fibrin patching again, since it almost killed me. Blood patching alone, the doctors said, often took multiple attempts — and I had already tried four with fibrin. Without an exact leak location, surgery would prove a difficult sell to a surgeon; they’d have to figure out where to cut in. All I knew was that my body was very tired and very sore, so I tried my best to shelve future treatment thoughts and assure it that I was paying attention. My friend Shannon patiently talked me down from my ledge of fear several times during the post-patching weeks in early February.

It wasn’t until early March that my symptoms evened out. I decided that I would start walking on March 1 regardless of how I felt, but in late February I still wasn’t sure what was going on. After patching, I spent most of my days meditating, visualizing my body’s healing, and reading. Vipassana meditation proved very valuable, as did other meditations I’ve tried over the years. Throughout, the focus is on a ‘moment to moment’ scale. When all of your moments are strung together with a tightrope of pain, however, seconds feel like hours. It took constant vigilance to tirelessly reroute my thoughts and stay in a place of possibility. I fought myself on the facts that augured failure, and the hum of dread that sucked me back into a spiral of ‘what ifs’.

By early March, my dad and stepmum were taking care of me in Florida. On March 1, I walked from their house to the end of their street, a few houses away. I came back exhausted. Every day, I forced myself a house further. By the end of the week, I made it to the stop sign. And by mid-March, in what felt like a miracle, I was walking an hour a day. The walks came with a lot of pain, but without the “brain sag” feeling that I felt for five months when leaking.

In my determination to quiet my mind, I’ve been able to listen to my body. In the past, I’ve pushed my body past exhaustion. Now, when it says to stop, I stop. There is a difference between adding an extra house on my walk and tipping into a deep weariness. I struggled to differentiate between the two over the years, but the high stakes during this journey have proven an excellent motivator to get better at listening. This means taking things very slowly, much more slowly than a Jodi would have done during the magnetic, vivid intensity of these last ten years.

I can’t complain with views like these.

The Gift of Surrender

When I checked into Duke for my 4th round of patching, I was no longer nervous for the procedures. I thought I knew exactly what to expect. The blood patches were painful but straightforward. I even knew the nurses by name! But round four veered far off-script when I had an allergic reaction to the fibrin glue and went into anaphylaxis. Fuchsia from head to toe, my heart racing, eyes swollen shut and throat beginning to constrict, I received IV steroids and then an epinephrine jab in the leg.

I’ve never needed to carry an EpiPen or had allergies before. The experience of anaphylaxis was both surreal and scary, but I am sharing for one main reason: in the midst of all the commotion, I felt complete calm. Though my body was shaking wildly from the epinephrine, my mind was steady.

Later that day, my doctor asked me if I was calm due to shock. But it wasn’t that at all. I felt deeply at peace with the prospect of dying.

I felt no big regrets, only the small nagging ache of specific time wasted that I wished I could undo. I pursued a life that excited me, and I built a business I loved. I stuck to my standards and wrote pieces I was proud of. Somehow, these things brought in an incredible community of readers who supported my work and found value in it. Of course I preferred to live, but if this was the end, I was ok with that.

At the end of last year’s post, I wrote that the lesson for that year was one of acceptance. After almost a decade of being a digital nomad, I settled down in Oaxaca and put down some roots in a delicious city I loved.

As with almost everything else in this tale of unwitting transformation, acceptance teed me up for this year’s fundamental message: surrender. When everything that makes sense distorts into a haze of senseless confusion, all you can do is let go.

It took many months for me to get here.

First, the disbelief. Then, as I understood more of what had happened to my body and the limitations many have, even when healed from a CSF leak, more grief. “Ultimately there’s no escape from living with uncertainty, for anyone,” says The Atlantic. There’s no rocket science there. But what happens when the not-knowing involves every aspect of your movement and life?

Many of the CSF leakers who had a hard time getting sealed, or re-leaked months or years later doing something seemingly innocuous. They blew a leak in their dura doing downward-facing dog during yoga, or when the plane re-pressurized upon landing. Or leaning down to pick up some laundry. Some never get sealed at all.

For now, there is no bending, lifting, or twisting. “Maybe forever!” jokes a fellow leaker, and as with any morbid humour, there is some truth. Who knows. None of us knows much. After all, life is essentially chaos and our personalities dictate where on the “exhilarated to terrifying” line we fall to handle the disarray.

My current not-knowing is so disproportionate, so definitive. Regardless of what happens, I will never be able to move without consciously thinking of potential damage. I can’t risk it. And I will never be able to live the life I led before. That’s not to say I can’t build a different, good, life with what I have now. I’m working toward building a different version that can bring me joy in new ways.

But there remains a great deal to process and grieve within the very eventful last seven months, as things have irrevocably changed.


I reread Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning during these difficult months. Frankl’s time in Auschwitz led to his development of logotherapy in his psychiatry practice, but the book delves into his theories of why certain people managed to survive the Nazi camps. Frankl saw life as a quest for meaning, found in work, in love, and in courage during difficult times. Among his beliefs was that suffering itself is meaningless, but we give suffering meaning by the way we respond to it. Or, as Harold S. Kushner writes in the introduction to the latest version, that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you respond to the situation.”

Instead of thrashing around in grief, I’ve chosen to focus on the gifts that have come out of this very complicated year. With these facts, things could have been a lot worse. Instead of being confined to isolation, I have you to walk this path with me. My community around the world raised their voices and opened their pocketbooks to keep me afloat when I couldn’t manage it. You respond to my progress walks on Instagram, you cheerlead every update, and your birding skills helped me identify the beloved marsh hens that I fell for during this recovery.

Several of you have said you will be pursuing a diagnosis for CSF leaks based on the symptoms I shared. Others wrote to say you..

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Well, it’s been one hell of a summer. I’m writing this on my phone, from Canada, where my family is caring for me. Those of you on Facebook or Instagram may have seen my limited updates during the last few months, but if you haven’t: the short version is that I ended up in the ER in New York for some debilitating symptoms, only to be discharged at midnight. I returned to the apartment I was house-sitting for only to find it had been burgled while I was at the ER. They took my friends’ laptops and valuables, as well as my own laptop, camera, hard drives, and my prescription glasses.

The good news is that I have my photos backed up online, as well as the documents folder from my laptop. The bad news – well, there’s a lot of bad news.

While many people do seem to heal from a lumbar puncture, I have a few problems that prevent it. For starters, the whole “running around with the police until your back spasms” after two lumbar punctures? Not recommended. And certainly not conducive to healing. The punctures were to confirm that I had no haemorrhage in my brain, or meningitis causing the headaches I was getting for the last two years. Happily neither of those are the case, but unhappily my spine is still leaking cerebrospinal fluid. CSF leaks are not very well known, nor are they very commonly diagnosed – people I’ve spoken to have basically said they were told “you have migraines.” A recent BBC piece featured a gentleman in Scotland who is still trying to fix his leak.

The fix for this is usually to start with an epidural blood patch. This was something I went back for in New York, at the same hospital that performed the lumbar puncture. They cautioned me against getting one for reasons I’ll get into eventually — but suffice it to say they also told me I ought to heal up alone just fine.

It’s been 6 weeks of lying on my back pretty much all day. Still not healed. My uptime is pretty limited. And when I do lie down it’s not that painful. But the minute I stand up, the pain comes crashing down. Literally. It feels like my brain is being pushed down into my spinal cord. They call this “brain sag,” and friends it is no joke. It also makes you nauseous enough that the smell of food is not a fun experience. This is how you know how dire it is for me: I am not excited about food.

The upside to having both done a Vipassana course and also faced significant chronic pain over the last years is that I have learned tools that have helped me navigate this deep uncertainty. But the dark panic of not knowing if you can get better, and also knowing that doctors that can help you get better are far away is a bad combo. (CSF specialists are at Duke in North Carolina and Cedars-Sinai in LA.) My poor parents have dealt quite a bit with a puddle of a Jodi, and have tried to keep positive the times that I am not.

However, what can you do but try to take each day as it comes and focus on the silver linings? I do have quite a lot of bright spots within the tight knots of pain. For me that means the absolutely incredible outpouring of support from friends, readers, family, and strangers. The CSF leak group I joined on Facebook, suggested by a friend, where this lesser-known issue is discussed and many resources are available to learn from. The care packages mailed to me from far-away friends, full of owls and alpacas. And the advocacy of stubborn travel bloggers (see below), who blew me away with a sneakily organized Go Fund Me campaign that they then blasted all over the internet.

How You Can Help

I appreciate all the help as I won’t be able to work for quite some time.

Typographic Maps of Food

Order an early Christmas gift from my shop — Japan maps are in, and they’re just gorgeous.

Celiac Translation Cards

Know a celiac? Grab them a translation card for the country of their choice.

The Most Insane Go Fund Me Ever

Readers kept asking how to donate money and I said I didn’t feel comfortable setting up a GFM as it felt icky and I’m not dying after all (let’s keep it that way, ok?). Friends basically ignored me anyhow and made their own. Not only did they write the most incredibly moving tribute, but they fully funded the campaign OVER TWO DAYS. I don’t know what to say except I am honoured and don’t know what I did to deserve this outpouring of love. The campaign is here.


I am updating more on Facebook than here, and this site will be on hold for the time being.

I appreciate all the support, love, and prayers from afar – thank you so much. I will claw my way out of this as I have everything else that’s come my way: with as much knowledge as I can muster, trying to be true to myself, and hopefully saving some room to help others with similar issues in the future.

With love from Montreal,


The post Spinal Taps, a Burglary, and a Legal Nomads Hiatus appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative jobs for lawyers

I first met Karen during the World Domination Summit, in 2011. We sat next to each other by accident, quickly figuring out that we were both former lawyers, sarcastic, and speaking at the event. Whereas Karen was already a nationally-recognized speaker, photographer, and author, I was about to do my first ever keynote and was shaking in my boots.

Karen put her hand on my forearm and looked me in the eyes. “Jodi,” she said, “Come on. You GOT this.” I felt nothing of the sort at the time, but her confidence in my ability to get up and talk to 500 people helped me as I staggered onstage.

In the years since we met, Karen has continued to inspire people with her lyrical storytelling and incredible photos. She also published The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit, and in November her next book, Make Light: Stories of Bright Sparks, Slow Burns & Thriving Out Loud comes out. Make Light tells the stories of people who change the world through their drive to create something different.

If all of that weren’t enough, Karen also runs the award-winning site Chookooloonks, has continued to speak around the world, receiving due recognition for her work.

Karen’s vivacious spirit is a force to be reckoned with. Her answers about jobs for lawyers, leaving the law, and advice for those who want to do the same, all below.


For more interviews, as well as advice about career change, facing fear, and resources for lawyers seeing new careers, please see my newly updated Thrillable Hours / life after law landing page.

* * *

Alternative Jobs for Lawyers: Q&A with Karen Walrond

(c) Karen Walrond 2017

What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

Honestly, I didn’t follow a less conventional path — I had a long career (15 years!) as in-house counsel in the oil & gas industry, specifically related to software. And to be honest, my time in law was priceless. Not only did I learn a lot about the substantive practice of law, it taught a lot about myself: specifically, I learned that I really love public speaking, and I really love writing. When I left my practice, I knew that whatever I did would involve a lot of both.

What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?

There are so many things that I love! I love the creativity: I love that everything I do involves a combination of communication and imagery, whether I’m writing a book or giving a keynote. And because I talk a lot about self-determination and the power of inclusivity and diversity, I love that many of my clients are lawyers, particularly leadership conferences for women attorneys. Since I’m still enamoured with the power of the legal field to change the world, I’m thrilled that I still get to be a part of that.


Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice in North America but concerned about what life after law looks like?

I’ve found that the beauty of having a law degree and law experiences is that it’s so broad, and that allows you to create a career for yourself that perhaps hasn’t ever been thought of before. It requires some creativity and innovative thinking sometimes, but the possibility of crafting a career that is tailored to your gifts and your skills is limitless if you have a legal background.

I think taking some time to be really introspective, and literally identifying (a) what it is you love about the legal profession, and (b) what your gifts are, and becoming really clear on both of those things are a great starting point for determining how to market what you can give to the world.

How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?

I absolutely still identify myself as a lawyer — why wouldn’t I? The law is an honourable profession: I’d argue that almost every civil right you hold dear was won for you, in part, by a lawyer.

I worked hard for my degree and my license, and continue to work hard to keep my license active. I recently signed up to volunteer with the ACLU. I’m committed to helping lawyers — currently the most depressed, over-medicated profession in the US, by the way — take control of their careers, remember why they became lawyers in the first place, and do enough self-care that they can continue to change the world in the best ways they can.

I love being a lawyer. I just don’t practice traditional law.

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

I’d say they have a pretty narrow definition of what it means to be a lawyer. ;)

* * *

You can find Karen on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or on her blog Chookooloonks.

The post Thrillable Hours:
Karen Walrond, Speaker, Photographer & Bestselling Author
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It’s Wednesday and I realize with a start that I’m late again. I have a conference call in a few minutes, and I’m wandering deep in thought on the other side of town. More importantly, I completely forgot to eat. For a woman who writes about food for a living, this oversight is a counterintuitive but consistent affliction. Everything is blotted out when I am deep in a writing project or speech. Yes, even food. I walk around in a daze thinking wordy thoughts.

Pressed for time, I veer to the right hoping that my favorite cow head taco vendor has not packed up for the day. I arrive breathless, smiling, sweaty in the desert heat. Israel, my cabeza expert, smiles widely. “Hola Yeni,” he drawls with all the time in the world. He swings the heavy lid off a huge metal pot, shifting onto his right foot to absorb its weight as steam billows into the air. “¿Qué puedo servirle?” (What can I serve you?)

Israel’s taco restaurant consists of a tiny mobile stand with two stools facing a makeshift bar, propped up against the wheels. In addition to his metal pot, divided into quarters to separate the types of meat and the tortillas, he has a cooler filled with drinks and sauces. When he’s not parked, you wouldn’t know he was coming. The don’t call it tacos ambulantes (wandering tacos) for nothing.

As I half lean on a stool, blood sugar crashing, I catch an older man smiling at me from the corner of my eye. “Where are you from? And are you married?” he asks. “And where is your family? Are they here?” I open my mouth to try to answer his stream of questions but Israel cuts me off with a smile.

“Tranquilo,” he interjects. “Let her eat first.”

I wolf down the first of my tacos as both men eye me warily, perhaps wondering if I can breathe while eating that quickly. Once I wipe off the salsa with a paper napkin, I turn to the other diner and answer his questions.

Israel presides over our talk like a proud papa, looking from one of us to the other.

“Isn’t life grand?” he asks no one and everyone. We smile, then dip our heads to take another bite of our tacos.

Tacos de cabeza, surtidos style.

A Little About Those Cow Head Tacos

Much like dumplings in Asia, many different meats and cuts go into tacos in Mexico. In his book Planet Taco, Jeffrey Pilcher notes:

“People have been eating corn tortillas with bits of meat or beans rolled up inside of them for more than a millenium, but the taco achieved national hegemony only in the twentieth century. Traditionally, every region in Mexico had its own distinctive snack foods, collectively known as antojitos (little whimsies), formed in countless ingenious shapes and given a wide variety of local names.”

The now ubiquitous taco is a more modern usage for one of those antojitos. In the 1831 book El Cocinero Mexicano, a list of corn snacks like quesadillas and chilaquiles, also did not mention tacos. Per Pilcher, tacos-as-descriptor only became popular following the publication of Los banditos de Rio Frio (The Bandits of the Cold River) in 1891, which makes reference to children “skipping, with tacos of tortillas and avocado in their hand.” Though the expression was obviously used prior to publication, it was with this new book that it “quickly received official recognition,” says Pilcher, with attribution officially given to Mexico City.

In the case of cow head tacos a new world fusion: both beef and pork were Spanish imports. Jose Iturriaga notes in Las Cocinas de Mexico that cow head tacos originate from Bajio, in central Mexico. These days, they are quite popular there, in Sonora, and in the capital of Mexico City. But they’re also found elsewhere in Mexico, cooked with whatever local ingredients fit the bill.

For cow or pork head tacos, this means all of the parts of the head. When ordering, meats are usually split into maciza, which translates into “solid” meat, and can be anything from cheek, to lips, mouth, or neck of the cow. The second grouping is the offal, including eye, tongue, brains, sweetbreads, or machitos (beef intestines). I’m partial to both the maciza and the lengua, tongue tacos. A catch-all for a first foray into tacos de cabeza is surtido, a medley of meats mixed together.

Head meat tacos may sound extreme but they are gourmet-tasting cuts of meat. The tacos are richly textured, tender, and extraordinarily flavourful without being oily. Regardless of style, head tacos usually involve steaming the head overnight, then shredding the meat and adding it back to the pot in its own juice (called consommé).

Of course this is Mexico, so the beef isn’t simply steamed in a flavorless vat. Israel’s steamer includes achiote (annatto), avocado leaves, peppercorns, a variety of different chiles, bay leaves, and some other secret ingredients that he steadfastly keeps to himself. Once ordered, Israel dips into his giant metal steamer and doles out the beef tortillas, which he serves with cilantro, raw onions, a dollop of avocado paste, spicy salsa, and a lime wedge.

The finished product.

My Favourite Taco Philosopher in Oaxaca

When I first got to Oaxaca, I wandered the streets in wonder. After so many years in Asia, curiosity dictated that I eat at every single taco and quesadilla stand I could find that met my rules of eating street food safely. It is during this wander that I stumbled onto Israel’s stall. Originally from Puebla, he has lived in Oaxaca for 15 years, including part of his schooling. He studied both accounting and law — another Thrillable Hours contender? — and worked in accounting for several years following his graduation.

Why did this accountant start making tacos? In 2006, Oaxaca was engulfed in protests, and his entire office was temporarily suspended from work. Needing to feed his family, Israel learned how to make tacos and sell them in a wandering cart. He didn’t sell head tacos in those days. Instead, he focused on what he called “tacos de canasta ambulantes,” greasy chorizo and chicharrones tacos sold out of a basket. These are fried, rolled tacos that he made ahead of time and roamed the streets, selling to protesters who were camped out in the main square and elsewhere.

To his surprise, he made more as a taco vendor than as an accountant. So when the protests cleared and the situation in the city stabilized, he decided to keep selling tacos instead. “No way was I going back to an office,” he says, head thrown back with laughter.  He pauses, thoughtful. “But I had to change my tacos.”

It is this thoughtful pondering that makes Israel such a delight. When people come to his cart, he engages in small talk but often they come to him for advice and questions about their choices in life. In the case of his tacos, he switched to steamed head tacos, Sonora-style, because while slightly more expensive they are quite a bit healthier. “It just seemed wrong to make greasy tacos when I could make healthy tacos,” he adds with a shrug.

That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Tacos incoming! <3

I’m still eating tacos and chatting with my fellow diner on that rushed Wednesday when a woman comes running out of a building next to Israel’s cart. Impatient, she calls his name several times before he realizes that during tacos he missed his them calling his number at the government building next door. He scurries off quickly.

Israel turns to me with a sheepish grin and shrugs as if to say, “what can you do? There are tacos to be eaten.” I realize that I, too, ate my tacos and completely forgot about my own obligations.

I wolf down my head tacos, give Israel a quick hug, and rush home for my conference call.

A few days later, my stomach is in the mood for more tacos surtidos and I wander down to Israel’s stall. “Yeni!” he calls out from afar “I see you!”.

Giggling, I push myself onto one of his high stools and order some tacos. A man looking to be in his mid-40s stops in, eyeing me with curiosity. He gives Israel a shrug and slides onto one of the plastic stools in front of the cart.

“Isn’t life grand?” Israel says.

“I am pretty angry today,” the new arrival admits. He glances over at me quickly, unsure if I understand Spanish.

“Oh that’s Yeni,” Israel quickly interjects. “She lives here too.”

The man nods slowly.

“Well,” Isreal continues. “Life is great when your heart is calm. Otherwise life is not great.”

We eat our tacos in silence, thinking about Israel’s words. Almost every time I’ve found him on the streets of Oaxaca, his clients have come by with their life’s troubles, waiting for a word from this head taco philosopher that will put it all in perspective.

We finish our tacos together and Israel takes the other customer’s money first, looking him in the eye. “Remember. You will be in trouble because anger will corrupt your view of the world. The good things in life will become reasons to be angry too. You need to be calm and happy in your heart. The rest will follow.”

The man leaves and Israel turns my way, face cracking into a huge smile.

“You too, Yeni! Don’t worry, though, with tacos in your stomach, it is much easier to be calm and happy in your heart.”

Israel, holding chia water and wearing a ch-ch-ch-Chia shirt — having no idea that it was an ad in North America. Oaxaca grows a lot of chia seeds, and they’re used in lemon water, chocolate, and more.

Part of my joy in getting to know my new home of Oaxaca has been to learn the stories of the people behind the foods I love. I hope you enjoyed this bit about Israel!

More to come soon.


The post The Cow Head Taco Philosopher King of Oaxaca appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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Ever since I left my job as a lawyer on April 1, 2008, I’ve shared my plans and my thoughts about the prior 12 months at the beginning of April. These annual review posts serve the same purpose as a new year self-reflection, tracing my sabbatical that eventually and accidentally turned into a new career.

During the last 9 years, I learned how to sail. I climbed a volcano while it was erupting. I sat with spiders for 10 days. I figured out how to speak in front of crowds, at first following a vomit session spurred by nervousness, and eventually a keynote without barfing. I stumbled into a lot of stupid mistakes and shared some of the more embarrassing ones.  I made friends, the kind of friends where you pick up after months and months of not seeing each other as if it were yesterday. I feel grateful for these experiences and people, and for the ability to earn a living by being as curious as I can.

Last April, I wrote about the most frequently asked question I received: when will I settle down? My reply dismissively suggested that the question itself was faulty. That what I’ve chosen to do is not temporary, but simply a lifestyle change. “My roots are there,” I wrote, “they just splay out sideways, reaching farther but not quite as deep.”

The joke’s on me, because this year marked the end of my nomadic wanderings – at least for now.

The lesson for Year 8? Acceptance.

At Least There are Tacos

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”

― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

In October I took a deep breath and poured out a piece about my struggles with chronic pain during the last few years. Having a public site is difficult in this respect, because there’s always a line between sharing-to-help, and over sharing. I’ve had no problems writing about the challenges of my life choices, mostly to counterbalance the many “it’s all ponies and rainbows” pieces out there. But I didn’t want to complain.

Eventually, my pain levels and shitty immune system interfered with my ability to live the life I had built. Friends and family had not realized the extent of what had changed until I wrote the post. The Guardian picked up the piece, and the hundreds of emails from readers sharing their own stories with invisible illness were remarkable. Some people chastised me for “giving up,” but there is a distinction between passivity and acceptance. The latter involves more wallowing; the former channels Murakami’s decision to keep standing up to your present.

I’ve written about how travel helps us keep perspective, but it’s more than that. Travel doesn’t change you by itself; it shows you how un-special you are by giving you a spectrum of living to go by. Writing about my experiences with invisible illness did the same thing. Out of the woodwork came men and women who made me feel less alone in the experience of pain, and less invisible.

I knew I wasn’t unique in what I was going through. No one is. But it was very comforting to share with a few people who have similar issues, where we are each other’s sounding boards from afar.

To be clear, my day-to-day is not miserable. The problem is that in addition to the joint pain, my immune system is not very strong. I wrote about some coping mechanisms in the pain piece — yoga, eating healthily, probiotics, meditation, etc — but they haven’t stopped me from getting sick often. If there’s a bug going around, it’s bound to find me. I seem to have developed seasonal allergies that I never had before. I’ve been really frustrated by starting to feel ok, only to find myself felled by something totally different.

I had a very long, low-grade temper tantrum earlier this year about what felt like a loss of identity. And then I sat down and wrote that piece on chronic pain. The acceptance of Year 8 came in the form of stopping – literally and figuratively – and saying it’s enough.

I told my landlord I’d be renewing my lease in Oaxaca, bought a few rugs, and settled in for the winter. I still do get sick often here, but at least there are tacos.

Goat tacos at the Friday tanguis in Llano park.

A More Stable Life of In Betweens

In March of 2012, I wrote a piece about my “life of in betweens” and homesickness while traveling. I was 3 years into my wanderings, starting to realize that I might not head ‘home,’ and a bit concerned about what the constant movement would do.

“On my end, I certainly do think we leave a part of us in each of the places we visit. There are repercussions to doing this with frequency, too – if you keep leaving parts of yourself around the world, what’s left to leave? And is there a way to go back eventually and collect all the pieces?”

As anyone who has moved then not moved knows, I was over thinking things. But then again, I still have a lawyer brain, and I always over think things.

The truth is far more straightforward. You are the aggregate of your experiences and the people who teach you to live in this world. What your personality absorbs as you travel, what you “leave” of yourself in the places you love isn’t a lacuna. It’s an exchange. It makes room for all of the new wonder and recipes and memories. That’s simply life.

It’s also simply life to undergo big shifts in who you are, often because of circumstances that are out of your control. What this year taught me was that fighting my state of being was making things worse. Wanting to feel healthy again and being able to move around whenever I wanted to was not possible. Pushing myself to the point of exhaustion simply made me more exhausted.

And what made me exhausted was a lot less than most of my friends or family. That was probably the hardest part, because I felt anxious and foolish for being so tired or in pain. Ultimately, anxiety can lead to self-absorption because you fixate on what you’re experiencing instead of the wider picture.

In situations of traditional grief and loss, professionals recommend shifting from a more passive process of suffering to one of actively constructing new meaning from what now is. The advice remains sound, even if my preoccupations the last few months aren’t grief per se. Once I swallowed the dissonance and got over feeling sorry for myself, I looked at my business and started to build something new.

Business Projects for the Coming Year

In the fall, my 6-year partnership with G Adventures came to an end when they shuttered their Wanderers in Residence programme with the bloggers that served as brand ambassadors. I will still be writing for them once per month, mostly about food. In addition, as any of you with affiliates on Amazon know, Amazon halved their affiliate percentage payouts for many categories.

I wanted to work on my own projects, but I worried about focusing on them when my income came primarily off-site. These changes spurred me to turn back to Legal Nomads and redirect my energy to the projects below that excite me.

It wasn’t just the income levels that felt a bit scary, but also confidence. I didn’t believe I had the authority to offer a class on storytelling. I was not a formally trained writer, and while I could draft a mean indemnity clause, that didn’t make me an expert on narrative structure. I didn’t think I had the right to share my tips for public speaking, because I landed my first keynote by accident – and then threw up for an entire year before each of my talks.

It’s thanks to readers that I feel more comfortable putting out these projects. You were the ones to ask me for the storytelling course, for the speaking post, for more food maps. You’ve sent me your own stories, your soups, your tacos, and most recently – and a bit jarringly – your pictures of dogs wearing raincoats. (For the record, I’ll accept all animal photos, no questions asked.)

My focus for the 9th year of Legal Nomads is to offer products and services that are different, hopefully valuable, and boosted by the cumulative output of this site.

1. Gluten Free Translation Cards for Celiacs

As I mentioned last year, I’m building out what I’ve called the Gluten Free Cards Project, a database of celiac translation cards for purchase alongside free guides listing foods that are safe and unsafe to eat. Yes, there are translation cards out there, both for free and for purchase. The problem is I still get sick when I use them.

Why? Because they don’t account for things like cross-contamination, or use local dish names, or list ingredients that may have hidden wheat. I’ve found that in many countries, especially developing countries, saying you can’t eat wheat or gluten isn’t sufficient. You need to use local names, as well as listing out the sauces or additives that contain wheat.

An example from this week: I wrote a draft of this post from San Cristobal de las Casas. I went to a taco spot and made sure the tortillas were pure corn. The meat wasn’t marinated. There was no flour in the sauces on the table. Despite this, and communicating in Spanish that I can’t eat anything with wheat, I saw the chef add “salsa Ingles” to the meat she was cooking. Salsa Ingles is basically Worcestershire Sauce – which has wheat. It’s barely used in Oaxaca, but is common in other parts of Mexico. And as most people don’t realize it’s unsafe, of course the waiter didn’t think to check or mention it. This is also why I try to eat in food stalls or places with open kitchens, so I can pay attention.

All this to say: the cards are different because people like me get very sick and need something to make sure they don’t.

You may recall that last year I was planning to offer these gluten free translation cards for free, hoping readers bought from the shop.

I’ve learned that no one buys from the shop. (Sigh.)

So now these cards sell for $10, with the longer guides still offered for free.

Japan card!

I’ve completed Italy, Japan, Portugal, Vietnam, and Greece. Next up is Spain, with cards for Spanish, Catalan, and Galician. And then Germany.

I’ve redirected a chunk of the earnings from this project to hire another food-obsessed celiac who is helping research future cards. Once these go through two translators for accuracy, I convert them into branded versions (below) using Canva.

The project has felt overwhelming at times, but it is all worthwhile when I get an email thanking me for a reader not getting sick. A celiac acquaintance in Oaxaca was planning a trip to Japan and her tour company suggested she buy the “Legal Nomads Japan Card” – it’s taken on a life of its own! I’m excited to get more of these guides and cards out in the coming year.

2. Public Speaking.

I plan to write a piece about how I got over my fear of public speaking. For the last talk I gave, for example, I read that overclocking my brain may help me memorize my speech – so I practiced reciting it from memory whilst listening to heavy metal music.

It’s all about experimenting with what your brain needs and wants, and then remembering that you are there for a reason, and the audience wants you to succeed. Usually. I mean there are certainly times where they want you to fail miserably and epically, but thankfully I’ve never had to face that kind of crowd.

Me at my first talk, WDS 2011.

My public speaking goals are to focus on opportunities outside the travels sphere, and as with last year I will aim for education and food.

3. Typographic Food Maps.

Portugal is complete, new and cheaper black tote bags are in the store, and I’ve sent out the Japan list of foods for approval so we can get that one inked too. These did very well around Christmastime, and I have so appreciated the photos of my maps on your apartment or home walls, and in restaurants.

After Japan, readers have asked for Spain, France, and Canada. Since you guys vote on the next country, I’m all ears for what you’d like to see.

4. Writing Course.

I quietly put up a link in my monthly newsletter about a course I planned to lead that focused on storytelling in a digital world. I have yet to put the full outline and costs online, but the gist of it is to learn how to tell better stories in a crowded digital world.

Instead of a massive online class, I wanted a more intimate group that could benefit from each other’s energy. I also wanted to personally edit each assignment, so I will limit the class to 10 people each time it runs.

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned issues I’ve not been able to focus on this as much as I want – sitting and writing has not done wonders for my nerve pain. But I will build out the workbook this season and hope to start the inaugural class later this year.

You can learn more here.

5. Oaxaca Street Food Walks.

1st Oaxaca food walk! This stall isn’t on the food walk itself, but loved this family so much we just kept going.

THESE HAVE BEEN SO FUN. While Oaxaca city does not have a density of street food like Saigon or Bangkok, I’ve formed relationships with vendors who make incredible food. It’s been great to share them with readers who pass through.

The family above was my 1st food walk in town, and they were happy to beta test all of my delicious eats. Alexandra is a reader who, like me, can’t have gluten — so all the better that my first walk was a celiac-friendly one. Her family was so lovely that we kept on going and ended with mezcal and long conversations.

I’ve been asked to scale these out further and partner with other companies, but I want to keep them for readers as combo meetup plus eat-up.

Readers coming through Oaxaca can learn more here.

6. More Writing on Legal Nomads.

As these other projects have taken shape I haven’t had the time to write on the blog as much as I would like. More histories of food ingredients and herbs and spices, more profiles of local vendors, and more photoessays. I also have a food guide to Oaxaca coming up, as well as what to do and see in the surrounding area.

* * *

That’s a wrap for my 9th anniversary of Legal Nomads.

Thank you for reading, sharing, and following along. Here’s to another year of stories, tacos, and learning through food.

Comments to this post are closed, but if you’d like to comment please do via my post on the LN Facebook page.


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Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative jobs for lawyers

I first came across Matt Levine’s writing over at Dealbreaker in 2012, as I was traveling and eating. While I wasn’t wistful for my former corporate law career, I still wanted to keep up with financial news. Matt’s writing style — funny, intelligent, and thoroughly able to see the forest through the trees — was why I started reading Dealbreaker. It’s also why I moved with him to Bloomberg when he started blogging for them in 2013.

His pieces are approachable and interesting while tackling extremely complex topics. A former lawyer and finance guy, he is able to provide important background to the current news. He delights in sarcastic footnotes. And he’s even got his own Twitter bot that someone created, who is learning to talk by reading everything Matt Levine writes. You know you’ve made it when…?

I realize that not all my readers enjoy reading about credit-default swaps or Argentina’s sovereign debt saga, but I think anyone can learn from the skill of taking complex problems and dissecting them to make them less opaque. This is what Matt Taibbi is known for with US politics and the financial crisis, and why I enjoy Matt Levine’s writing regardless of where he’s employed.

His answers about jobs for lawyers, leaving the law, and advice for those who want to do the same, all below.


* * *

Alternative Jobs for Lawyers: Q&A with Matt Levine

Matt Levin on Bloomberg TV

What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

It was all pretty path-dependent for me. I went to work as a corporate lawyer in 2005, and at the time corporate lawyers all wanted to be investment bankers. (Do they still?) So after about a year and a half, a former colleague who had left to be an investment banker called and asked if I wanted a job. And I said “is it better than this job?,” and he said “it’s a little better than that job,” so I took it. And I was an investment banker for four years. I guess that is actually a pretty typical path for a law school graduate, or was in 2007.

But then I got sick of investment banking too. I had always vaguely imagined myself as a writer, without doing anything about it. And a random combination of factors — I was trying to quit banking, the financial blog Dealbreaker had a job opening, and I knew some people there — led me to fall into financial blogging. And I turned out to be okay at it, and after about two years I was hired at Bloomberg View and have been here ever since.

So I am sort of a terrible story: A lot of luck was involved in each of my career moves, and honestly the “particular moment that catalyzed the decision for me” probably occurred months after I started at Dealbreaker. I went into that job thinking “well this will be a weird experiment and maybe it will work!” And my first weeks there were just abjectly terrifying. And then after a while I was like “oh wait this kind of does work,” and it became unbelievably fun.

What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?

I get to think and write about things that I think are fun! That’s the main thing. Unlike in law and banking, I don’t really get assignments or have tasks or whatever. I just wake up and try to find things that interest me, and that I think will interest my readers. In a weird way that feels more high-pressure than my law and banking jobs: I can never fall back on just checking off a list of tasks; I have to come up with something new every day. But it’s definitely the most fulfilling part of the job.

Also having readers — knowing that strangers are interested in what I have to say — is very fulfilling. I am constantly amazed when I write something that I think will amuse only me, that appeals only to my narrow weird combination of interests, and someone will email me to say “I loved that part.” I love when I find out that important financial-industry people read my column, but I also love when random people email to say “I don’t work in finance but I read your column every day because it’s fun.” It’s always incredibly gratifying to hear.

Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice but concerned about what is out there?

Honestly my first piece of advice is that if you want to leave law for something weird and risky, you should save a lot of money first. That’s what a law degree is (often) good for. I don’t really have regrets about working at a big corporate law firm and a big investment bank, in part because I learned a lot, but also because they provided some financial cushion that allowed me to take risks later on. I think that, for instance, if I had started in journalism in a more conventional way, I would have had a less fun and interesting career, because I’d have to be more conservative in my journalism career choices.

Otherwise, I don’t know. I talk to a lot of young people about questions like “should I go to law school” or “how can I transition from law to finance,” and the impossible question I always want to ask them is: well, what are you good at?

I think, for instance, that in the transition from law to finance, people who are good salespeople and people who are good confident analytical decision-makers, and people who are good creative issue-spotters, can all be very successful — but those are very different skills, and they should all be looking for very different roles in finance.

And you ask a 23-year-old “which one are you,” and they have no idea.

They’re good at school, and socialized into some standardized career paths, and trained to assume they can do anything they set their mind to. It is so hard to know this central fact about yourself until you have worked for a while and just gotten a sense of where your real skills are and what you are bad at and don’t want to do any more. That self-knowledge is also very easy to avoid: You have a job, and you just try to get good at the things that the job requires.

But — in my experience, having done both — it is much more fun to find a job that requires the things you are good at.

How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?

I try to avoid “identifying myself as a lawyer,” in part because that was a weird and stigmatized thing in banking. People would introduce me to clients as “this is Matt, he’s a lawyer,” and I’d bristle: No, I was a banker with a law degree! Very, very different.

But deep down I’m a pretty lawyery lawyer. My work is very legally driven; I spend a lot of time writing about legal issues and reading legal documents, and I’m well aware that my legal training is part of what makes me able to do my job the way I do. Also my wife is a real lawyer so I get to talk to her about legal stuff sometimes.

One pet theory that I have is that law school tends to turn people into legal realists — that is, to make their thinking in some ways less legalistic. Investment bankers are always asking lawyers “can I do ____,” and the lawyers are always answering “well that’s a nuanced question.”

My old colleague Bess Levin, who is not a lawyer, would sometimes see weird lawsuits and ask me “wait, can you really sue someone for ___?” And I’d say “you can sue anyone for anything! But you might not win.” That is an obvious point, but that general sense of the law as a nuanced and human a system for handicapping the potential decisions of government officials, rather than a list of black-and-white rules, seems really useful in a lot of contexts, certainly in writing about finance. Also it still strikes me as accurate. And it’s a mindset you develop in law school, and in legal practice.

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

That strikes me as mostly accurate, yeah.

More on Matt Levine in this Billfold interview about how he handles money as a financial columnist, and in this Business Journalism interview about his transition from finance work to finance journalism

Matt Levine is a Bloomberg View columnist writing about Wall Street and the financial world. He is a former investment banker, mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and high school Latin teacher. Levine was previously an editor of Dealbreaker. He has worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. He spent a year clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and taught high school Latin. Levine has a bachelor’s degree in classics from Harvard University and a law degree from Yale Law School. He lives in New York. You can find his columns on Bloomberg View here, and he is also very active on Twitter.

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I took a short weekday trip to the coastal town of Puerto Escondido, surrounded by sandy beaches and pipeline waves. My skin was happy to get some respite from the dry desert heat of Oaxaca, and the seafood was a welcome change from a diet of tacos and tlayudas. This piece is a short Puerto Escondido guide, sharing where I ate, where I stayed, and the best beaches to surf and swim.

While I assumed the name “the hidden port” came from the camouflaged bays around the town, there is a more interesting story. According to Marc of Mexican Corrido,

Legend has it that a pirate named Andrés Drake kidnapped a young Mixtec woman from the village of Santa María Huatulco. While the pirates were camped out in the bay of what is now Puerto Escondido, she escaped and hid from her evil kidnappers. The pirates referred to her as “La Escondida” and every time they returned to the bay they looked for her. Afterwards the bay became known as Bahía de la Escondida.

The port was established in the early 1900s to ship coffee, but a town (and potable water) was only established in the 1930s and onward. The first airport, on what is now Zicatela beach, was completed in 1939. In the 1960s, Highway 200 (the Coastal Highway) was built, connecting Acapulco with the towns on the Oaxaca coast. Today, Puerto Escondido belongs to two municipalities, Santa María Colotepec and San Pedro Mixtepec — and they don’t see eye to eye on about which of them should govern the town.

Compared to nearby Huatulco, full of high-end resorts, Puerto Escondido is still relatively quiet and low key — though the New York Times did just include it on their 2017 “where to go” list. It is popular with travelers from Oaxaca and tourist from elsewhere in Mexico, but there are also charter flights directly from North America. I met more French Canadians during four days on Zicatela than I did in my many months of living in Oaxaca de Juarez.

For my purposes, Puerto Escondido was lovely few days away from Oaxaca City, with some great food along the way.

Plus, bonus SHARK HOTEL.

Puerto Escondido: Where to Swim, Where to Eat, and Where to Stay Overview of Puerto Escondido

There are three main beaches in Puerto Escondido town: Playa Marinero, Playa Principal, and Zicatela. In addition, you can visit the smaller coves mentioned below, better for swimming. As its name would suggest, Playa Principal is the most central. Parallel to that beach is Avenida Perez Gasga, a walking street known locally as the Adoquín. The Andador, a long scenic boardwalk, also begins at Playa Principal and loops west along the rocky cliffs.

West of Playa Principal are the smaller beaches that make for great swimming: Puerto Angelito, Manzanillo, and Carrizalillo. East of Playa Principal is Playa Marinero, and then the beach where I stayed, Playa Zicatela, followed by La Punta. The strongest waves are at Zicatela, which is why surfers knew about this town long before the snowbirds and tourists settled in.

Note: several friends have been robbed at gunpoint and knifepoint in Puerto Escondido, some off Playa Principal and some in La Punta. I recommend that you stay off the beach at nighttime, or very early in the morning. I had no trouble myself, but I only wandered around when there were quite a few people around.

On the descent into Puerto Escondido

Where to Swim and Surf near Puerto Escondido

If beach time is what you seek, you have a few beaches to choose from.

Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito:

The same bay houses these two beaches, which are separated by rocks. Both beaches are calm, without the strong undertow of Zicatela. That said, they do get a bit crowded as the bay isn’t that big. Lots of palapas to rest under, beers to drink, and places to stake out with a comfortable mat or towel. Good spot for snorkeling. You can rent a lounge chair with plastic pillows and the shade of a big umbrella.

Playa Carrizalillo:

With 167 steps from the cliff down to the sea, you’ll need to work to get to and from this tiny beach — but the effort is worth it. I want a super cut of the taxi driver making me repeat the name Carrizalillo until I got it right (it took 6 times). Soft waves, beautiful inlet, palapas with margaritas and more. And a sunset drink overlooking the shore if you so desire.

Playa Carrizalillo

Playa Zicatela:

Zicatela for the surfers, with far too strong an undertow for swimming in safety. The beach is famous for its giant Pacific waves that crash to shore. Surfing events like the World Surfing League’s Puerto Escondido Challenge are held in Puerto, and waves come in at 6-15 feet during peak season.

The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes it better than I can:

“[A] savage Mexican beachbreak tube located on the northern tip of the Gulf of Tehuantepec, in the state of Oaxaca; often called the “Mexican Pipeline,” and universally agreed to be the world’s gnarliest sand-bottom wave. “Some people love it,” local ace Coco Nogales said of Puerto in 2011. “Some people get pounded, turn around, head for home and never come back.”

Also in Zicatela, you’ll find heaps of food, beachside bars, fish tacos and beer joints, and late night parties on the weekend.

La Punta de Zicatela:

Walk east at the water’s edge past Playa Zicatela and you will eventually hit La Punta, the main backpacker area and with a lot younger crowd than Zicatela on a given day. Also far less Mexican tourists, and more hostels. With thatched roofs and dirt roads, I forgot I was not on the Perhentian islands for a minute or two.

With costs in Zicatela rising, La Punta is still more budget in both accommodation and food. You can swim there, but it’s also known for surfing and features both bigger waves and smaller ones, ideal for learning if you’re looking to take a lesson or two.

While I’ve focused on swimming, I would also recommend a trip to the bioluminescent lagoon at the Laguna de Manialtepec, not far from Puerto Escondido. Many tour operators offer this as an evening trip, and having been elsewhere in the region, it’s a magical thing to see.

In addition to Puerto’s beaches, there is plenty of swimming and exploring to be had in Mazunte, Agua Blanca, Tierra Blanca, Zipolite, La Ventanilla, Puerto Angel, and San Agustinillo. With only 4 days, I didn’t have the time — but I plan to return and explore a little more!

Where I Ate in Puerto Escondido For a Seafood Medley

The seafood cazuela appetizer at Fresh Restaurant and Lounge was so good I returned a second time. Their other offerings are also delicious, although the crowd skewed 100% expat/tourist. Good wine options, and main courses were generous. Their guacamole also very tasty.


For Great Grilled Fish

While the name suggests ceviche, it was the fish that I loved most at newcomer Costeñito Cevichería. The restaurant does have delicious ceviches on offer, but the 400 peso grilled fish, which came with potatoes, salad, and other sides, was one of the best things I ate in town. We were two, but the meal was easily enough to fill four people.

You can choose between oregano and butter, or parsley, garlic and lime. Or do as we did and go half and half.

This was a nighttime shot with my phone, but it shows just how big a fish you get. Fish is whatever catch of the day was hauled in, super fresh.

Butterflied fish, two ways, grilled on an open fire.

For a Filling, Cheap Breakfast or Brunch

I loved eating my first meal of the day at El Cafecito, both for the people watching and the food. Their half portions were so generous I often couldn’t finish the plate, and of all the options I stand by the huevos Oaxaqueños, eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and topped with quesillo. They are served with refried beans, some totopo chips, and a side of tortillas. For those who eat bread, the restaurant has an on-site bakery that friends swear is worth the trip.

For a Seafood Fry Up

My friend Ian recommended the fiery octopus and shrimp at Coco Fish Zicatela, a bit further down the beach. The meal comes cooked in a spicy ‘diablo’ sauce, with rice, salad, and fruit. For 200 pesos, it’s more costly than the usual meal in Oaxaca or on Playa Principal but it was extremely tasty.

Spicy fish and octopus stir-fry with rice, at Coco Fish

For Sunset Margaritas and Guac

Highly, highly recommended to grab a sunset drink at Espadin Restaurant on Playa Carrizalillo after your swimming is done. Wonderful views, delicious guacamole and a really beautiful space. If you’re hungry still and fancy a splurge, get the grilled octopus.

Sunset at Carrizalillo beach

For Seafood Paella

I really enjoyed the paella at Bungalows Zicatela, with a huge portion of rice, octopus, fish, mussels, and more. And chicken, lots and lots of chicken.

Bonus: daily 2×1 margaritas between 6pm and 11pm.

Seafood paella, with chicken. Tastier than expected!

For a Seared Tuna Salad

If you go to La Punta for a sunset — which you should — stop in for a seared tuna salad at Lychee Thai Restaurant. There’s often live music in the evenings. To get there from Zicatela you can grab a taxi. If a daytime visit, you can walk back along the beach but I would not recommend it during the evening.

For Middle Eastern Food

El Sultan on Zicatela. The restaurant is cheap, offers falafal, hummous, salads, and for those who can eat bread lots of pan arabe (pita) for sopping up any leftovers on your plate.

Where to Stay in Puerto Escondido

I stayed at Bungalows Zicatela, which I booked via an online site. They’re available on quite a few of them. The place has two pools, a restaurant, and really lovely staff with a dog named Pancho. Price was very reasonable, $40 USD per night for double room with fan.

Pancho, the loveable mascot of Bungalows Zicatela

If you are sensitive to noise, don’t book the seaview rooms during the weekend, as the bars boom music fairly late.

For other options, check out Casa Dakiri (dorms and 2 or 3-bed suites), Casa Losodeli (3 different room options) for private rooms or dorms near Zicatela beach. For a laid back barefoot vibe, Hostal Frutas y Verduras was recommended by readers.

Getting There and Away

From Oaxaca City, you can take a small bus (6-8 hours) over the mountains, or take a short flight on Aerotucán. The mountainous stretch from the city to the coast includes the continental divide, meaning that rivers flow both toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Though the drive is fairly short, the road’s path includes a lot of nauseous curves. If you get carsick, you might want to fly.

I opened for the flight for that reason. The flights take place at dawn and offer an incredible scenic view of the rolling mountains in Oaxaca State, as well as that smile-inducing time when the plane curves back over the ocean to gain height for the return. What is a 6-8 drive is a 26 minute scenic flight.

Your chariot.

Cost was 180$ USD return from Oaxaca.

From Mexico CityAeromar, Interjet, and the budget airline VivaAerobus fly to and from Mexico City frequently.

From elsewhere in North America, you can fly to Huatulco, 1.5 hours from Puerto Escondido. Aeromexico, WestJet, Air Canada, and United all fly from points in the USA and Canada to Huatulco, including Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal in Canada, and Houston, LA, San Francisco, New York, and Boston in the United States.

Thus concludes my short Puerto Escondido guide! I’m still working on the guide to Oaxaca City, but that will be a bit longer yet.

Further Reading about Oaxaca and Mexico

Oaxaca Journal, by Oliver Sacks. Oliver Sacks’ fern obsession brought him to Oaxaca and Southern Mexico, fellow ethnobotanists in tow. This book is his journal from the trip, about the culture he comes into contact with, about chocolate and history and Zapotec ruins. In his characteristic, entertaining style, he combines natural curiosity with fascinating exploration. Really loved this book.

The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, by Dianne Kennedy. Dianne’s Oaxaca cookbook is one of my favourites, but also comes in at 10 pounds (!) and is a very difficult read to carry around! Instead, start with her Essential Cuisines, covering the different foods of this culinarily complex country, recipes and history built into one book.

The People’s Guide to Mexico: by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens (Author). Instead of a classic guidebook, opt for this thorough cultural guide to Mexico, now in its 14th edition. From planning trips, bargaining, cultural fiestas and taboos, and a lot more, this book is a thorough resource for even the more experiences wanderers.


The post The Legal Nomads Guide to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers

Lebawit and I crossed paths virtually years ago, but it wasn’t until this month that I picked up our email chain to feature her on Legal Nomads. Like fellow lawyers turned writers Katie (who now works at National Geographic) and Erin (a journalist in New York), Lebawit has made a living with the elegance of her words. As alternative careers for lawyers goes, writing is a natural pivot.

Originally from Ethiopia, and raised on the Ivory Coast, Lebawit speaks four languages and is at home while exploring. Her name means a woman with heart, and given her background it’s no surprise the corporate office wasn’t sufficient to quench her thirst for life.

I hope you enjoy her interview!


* * *

Alternative Careers for Lawyers: Q&A with Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit on Saona Island, in the Dominican Republic

What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?

I knew as early as my second year of law school that I was meant to take an unconventional path. I had thoughts of practicing public international law and blending travel that way. I’ve always loved to travel and I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps in terms of working in international development. That was the reason I went to law school. But there was little guidance on careers that were different from the traditional law firm path, and I had to think about my finances.

So in the beginning, I took the conventional path. I accepted an associate position at a prestigious corporate firm. I was thrilled for the opportunity to learn, and hoped for the best.

A couple of years in, I was unhappy. I had joined the firm right after September 11, and the development, transactional work I wanted to do had become nonexistent. I ended up having to work on what was available: regulatory energy.

I was good at it, but I hated the subject — it was difficult and dull, and it was also a non-diverse practice group. I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out. What else would I do? Where would I go, another firm? On the weekends, I would dig for books on alternative legal careers; there were so few of them. I’d brainstorm but I would just end up exhausted… and right back to my desk on Monday.

At work, I took up immigration pro bono cases, which were thankfully billable, and gave me a sense that I was making a difference in someone’s life. And then on vacation days or long weekends, I would travel overseas with friends. To Rome for Thanksgiving, Barcelona for New Year’s, and so on. At least I could afford those trips.

Eventually, at the start of my fifth year of practice, it hit me. I was sitting in my office one morning in January, looked out the window and stared at the pedestrian traffic, and the surrounding concrete buildings. I thought, “In 10 years, you’re still going to be sitting in this chair, miserable with work, and your life will pass you by.”

That was such an overwhelming feeling.

I decided right then and there that I would start preparing for my exit. Even if I didn’t know what I’d do next… I had to get out. I started paying off my debts faster, and saved even more aggressively. The moment I made the decision and took small actions towards it, the next steps came one after the other.

It took me a long time to honor myself as an individual, rather than please my family. That was also because I was helping my parents. But I also think part of it was living up to cultural and societal expectations.

What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?

There are so many fulfilling elements to my work as a travel writer and guidebook author.

I love that I am have the power to help promote local entrepreneurs through my books and photography. I receive messages from local businesses thanking me for the visitors they’re receiving, and that’s gratifying.

I’ve been on the ground long term in my various destinations doing research for my books about Belize, Dominican Republic and Jamaica. And I’m constantly learning and growing as a person.

It’s also fulfilling to meet or hear from readers that they had a memorable trip thanks to my guidebooks. Some of the emails are so emotional, they leave me floored.

I get to travel slow and have access to some incredible places as a travel guidebook writer; that’s a privilege.

Inspiring people to travel is another fulfilling aspect. That folks read my work and view my photos, then actually book and go to a place they’d never thought of visiting before–that’s huge to me.

No two days are the same, and I manage my own time — that’s priceless.

And of course, living in the Caribbean region for work and avoiding Washington DC winters is a major bonus.

Lebawit in Guadeloupe

Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving conventional private practice but concerned about what is out there?

Be brave, because it can be done.

The first steps are self-analysis, researching and talking to others. Dig deep to figure out what you enjoy doing and what your skills are. Maybe what you want to do doesn’t even exist yet. And if so, that’s OK. Research, talk to other professionals, friends, contacts; ask them what they think you’re good at. Join networks, read, and start putting your work out there (whatever that may be).

You don’t have to figure everything out at once, and you can’t. I used to get stuck thinking I had to come up with that one magic answer or word on what I would do next. It didn’t happen that way. The answer comes after a series of steps. So what’s important is to take one step, one small action at a time. The next step will then unfold until you are steered in the right direction. Sitting and clogging your mind with worry and speculation will make you feel worse.

I started out by deciding I needed a break from seven years of law practice, and took a few months to travel and clear my head. I decided to teach myself photography (because I loved it) while I explored. I read up a lot on what gear to purchase before I left, and how to shoot. That was just step one. The rest followed, bit by bit. It didn’t happen overnight and it took a lot of faith.

So I say go for it, because you only have one life to live. And if you came this far by getting through law school and the bar, then you have the brains to make it happen.

How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?

Once a lawyer, always a lawyer I think! Yes, I’m still proud to identify myself as a licensed attorney; there’s an incredible value to a legal education. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I use my legal background all the time, even as a travel writer, whether to review my publishing contracts, freelance writing contracts, photo licensing, or knowing how to handle certain environments and people abroad.

It has also given me an ability to observe, be detailed and precise. That’s so important in travel. Engaging in the world around you, knowing how to interview people, and understanding their culture and struggles. Being a lawyer never goes away. It’s a set of skills that make you very sharp minded and analytical. And that’s an incredible thing to have when you’re on the road.

As far as informing the way I see the world today–that comes from my diverse upbringing. I was born in Ethiopia and with Ethiopian parents, but we moved when I was barely one year old to Cote d’Ivoire, a former French colony. I grew up around multiple cultures between home and school, and spoke four languages by the time I was 14, including Spanish. That all came in handy when I had to live in other countries, including Belize, or the Dominican Republic for my guidebook work. Being an expat and going to school in Africa, Europe, and the US–that’s getting a real worldview. Adapting to the Caribbean and Central America for work came easy after that.

Getting a ride home in the Dominican Republic

What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?

I’d say they’re wrong! Lawyers work hard, but they know how to enjoy life as well (to balance the stress), and they have a great sense of humor. When I was at the law firm, I found the time to enjoy myself and travel. And in the last five years as a full time travel writer, I’ve had more fun and adventure with my work than I can handle — in Belize, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Guadeloupe Islands, Cuba, Haiti, New Zealand… I can’t remember ever being bored. Last year, a reader emailed me and said I was “the fun maximizer.” :)

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, editor, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. Lily is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Lebawit Lily Girma, Author and Photographer
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When La Matatena Pizzeria’s chef Mateo was growing up in Mexico City, his family would earmark one day a week for pizza. His mother, an Argentinean with Italian heritage, taught the whole family how to make their own pies. Taking a break from Mexican fare, they would put a show on the television and start rolling the dough, sharing a quiet evening together.

These days, Mateo spends most evenings at his pizzeria in Oaxaca with his wife Sarai. While they met both working at a museum, him as an architect and her as a designer and exhibit curator, he quietly aspired to be an entrepreneur.

“When I was hired at the museum, I told my boss that I would quit to travel,” Mateo told me with a smile. But he was patient about his business goals. During his years as an architect, Mateo kept an eye toward an eventual restaurant. He took time away from work to try his hand in New York, learning the trade at a tiny Brooklyn eatery. Always learning, filing information away, Mateo waited for the right point in his life to take the risk of starting his own place. As with anyone taking the leap into the unknown, what was familiar played into his timing. There was little entrepreneurship in his family, and he worried about abandoning his career and prior training. For over a decade, his dream percolated under the surface.

In 2016, Sarai and Mateo decided to inhale deeply and put their energy toward a new restaurant. His family kicked in to help fund the endeavour. They wanted to make Italian pizza and Argentine-style empanadas with Mexican flavours, a testament to the family background from all three countries. Lucky for me, they chose Oaxaca as the spot to open La Matatena.

The Best Pizza in Oaxaca: Thin Crust & Local Ingredients

La Matatena’s bar space, very Oaxacan in feel with skeletons and mezcal!

This is their regular crust, which friends confirm is also the best in town. Pepperoni and mozzarella, in the small (25cm) size.

La Matatena is the Spanish word for the game of Jacks, echoing Mateo’s nostalgia for the pizza of his youth. The restaurant is in a gorgeous old mansion with detailed blue and grey tiles and an intricate wooden wall frame that gives the place an intimate feel.  With a second seating area in a loft area above the bar, the space never feels crowded even when it’s full.

Before I was diagnosed as celiac, I lived for thin-crust pizza. No other crusts would do. While I know that there are plenty of people passionate for a deep dish pie, I wanted my pizza crispy, crunchy, and with leftovers for breakfast the next day. La Matatena’s pizzas, available in 25cm or 30cm sizes, are exactly what I loved to eat. They’re also served with wonderful Oaxacan ingredients that you can find in the traditional cuisine around town. Chapulines (grasshoppers), chorizo (spicy sausage), jamaica (hibiscus flower) and more, paired with herbs and vegetables and cooked to order.

Celiacs Rejoice

How do I know that this is the tastiest pizza in town? For starters, non-celiac friends have hopped about trying them all, and agree with the label. But for my own taste buds, La Matatena offers a gluten free crust. Various of Mateo and Sarai’s family members deal with celiac disease or choose to avoid dairy and meat. When Mateo opened his pizzeria, he not only wanted to build a spot with authentic thin-crust pizza, but also a restaurant where his whole family could eat. His dad is the one who is unable to enjoy a regular wheat pizza, and Mateo certainly wanted him to enjoy the fruits of the new restaurant’s labor. My best friend is Italian, and her father told me my diagnosis of celiac was “a fate worse than death” – no more hand pulled pasta or pizza!? He was appalled. I can only imagine how Mateo’s dad was devastated to learn he couldn’t eat pizza any longer.

Personally, though not Italian, I am beyond excited to have thin, crispy, crunchy gluten free pizza in Oaxaca. THAT I CAN EAT FOR BREAKFAST THE NEXT DAY.

With a serious amount of corn in the Oaxacan diet, Mateo wanted to create a crust that celiacs and his dad could eat but without maíz. When I sat down to interview him for this piece, he shook his head thinking back to the initial failed crust attempts. “It was awful,” he said, laughing ruefully. “But finally we found a recipe that worked.”

His present dough is made from quinoa and rice flour, among other ingredients. And he succeeded in creating a corn-free crust.

For those as sensitive as me, you should know that he cooks the gluten free crust on parchment paper, so there is no risk for cross contamination. He also builds these crusts ahead of time, as you can see in the photo below, thereby ensuring that wheat flour does not get into the process.

I have found that many restaurants don’t understand the difference between people who say they’re gluten intolerant versus diagnosed celiacs, likely because many are electing to avoid gluten as a lifestyle choice. As Joe Beef chef Fred Morin recently said in an interview, “The thing is, I can’t eat it. It’s not a fashion choice; it’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s not because I want to be smooth-skinned or anything. For me this is binary: it’s zero or one, not zero point five. Either you’re celiac or you’re not celiac. And I am celiac.”

While I realize I am imposing my needs on a restaurant, I also have to make very sure that I am not going to get sick. I really appreciated that Mateo not only cooked his pies on separate paper, but understood why that was necessary for people with the disease.

The gluten free pizza base, delicate but flavourful!

Gluten free crunchy crust, mozzarella, local basil, mushrooms, and tomatoes. A “pick your own toppings” Jodi pizza-stravaganza.

If you are vegan, La Matatena also offers vegan, dairy-free options.

Italians in Mexico

Though Mateo’s mother’s family came from Italy via Argentina, his father’s family came directly from Italy to Mexico in 1908. I’ve received a few reader questions about why there are so many Italian restaurants in Mexico. There are quite a few Italians who immigrated directly to Mexico, Mateo’s family among them. About 13,000 made their way to the country during the 1900s.

Per MexConnect’s Karen Hursh Graber, they came from agricultural areas in Italy, and relocated to similarly land-based areas in Mexico. During the Porfiriato (1877 to 1911), President Porfirio Díaz recruited immigrants who could introduce new techniques of agriculture to Mexico. They brought with them their home-style cooking and dishes from their countries, including Italy. Karen writes the following, about the Italians of Chipilo, in Puebla:

The diet of the northern Italian region, based on corn, rice, beans and vegetables, was very similar to that of Mexico, although there was a difference in the ways these ingredients were prepared. Corn was made into the porridge-like polenta rather than into masa for tortillas and other corn dough-based foods. Rice was prepared as risotto, with a creamier consistency than traditional Mexican style rice. Beans were combined with other foods, such as vegetables to make minestras, or soups, and pasta to make pasta e fagioli. And vegetables played an important role in all of it, especially the hearty winter varieties like cabbage and radicchio. Cippolini, or onions, were used to flavor a great many of these dishes.

And of course, dairy and cheese, including the fresh, pressed cheese sold in Chipilo, recognized as a patrimonial product.

More Than Just Pizza

For Mateo, the pizzeria represents family and togetherness. He grabs his veggies from the market, his mozzarella from just outside of town, and makes his dough himself from scratch. He offers local mezcals and red wine, as well as aguas (water with chia seed and lemon, or other fruit flavours). For those with a sweet tooth, they also have great desserts. Chocolate mousse with fruit and nut ‘crust’ for the celiacs and vegans, and what my friends claim is a “to die for” red velvet flan cake for those who are neither.

Beautiful courtyard, to more enjoyably stuff your face.

I’ve been to La Matatena more times than I can count since I returned to Oaxaca in October. Mateo and Sarai have become friends. Oliver, a gentle giant and their full-time waiter, spent years in Chicago and adds to the family feel of the pizzeria.

This profile is the first of several from Oaxaca. I want to share with you some of the spots I love to eat, and the stories of the people behind the dishes that make me smile. I am writing a longer guide to Oaxaca as well, but it’s not complete.

First, the story of Mateo, Sarai, and La Matatena. Not simply because they’re warm, wonderful people, but because they are warm, wonderful people who happen to make a kick-ass pizza in a gorgeous space.

Sarai and Mateo outside their pizza place.

Go visit, stuff your faces, and enjoy.

La Matatena Pizzeria, Oaxaca

García Vigil 212
Oaxaca City
Tel: 01 951 351 8107

Facebook Page

What to Order: Bacon and caramelized onions (Toribio pizza), Oaxacan chorizo and poblano chilies (the Francisco pizza), hibiscus and caramelized onions (the Rogelia pizza) — or build your own!

Comments are closed but you can join the discussion on Facebook here.

The post Treat Yourself to The Best Pizza in Oaxaca At La Matatena Pizzeria appeared first on Legal Nomads.

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