Oaxaca, like all large cities, is one of contrasts. Two days ago, when passing by the unique "plastic bottle recycling receptacle" (made from plastic bottles), I saw a man reach into the center and pull out an almost empty coke bottle, then drink what was left. He was one of the many desperately poor in this city. There are so many people selling trinkets, woven goods, toys, jewelry, etc. in the streets near the Zocalo that you find yourself saying "No, gracias" time and time again. There are also those who play musical instruments on the sidewalks, hoping those passing by will drop in a peso or two.
On the other extreme, it is a city of architectural beauty and houses several state-of-the-art museums. Yesterday I entered the newest of these attractions, the San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center. San Pablo is the site of the city's first Dominican monastery, established in 1529. In 1608 the Dominicans began construction of a new site, and little by little, the first structures became hemmed in by stores and residences, forgotten until the Harp Helu Foundation recently purchased eight parcels of the original complex. The foundation is currently rebuilding and restoring the site to serve as a cultural and academic center dedicated to the preservation, study, and celebration of Oaxaca's indigenous heritage. Admission is free and there is already a lot to appreciate. My favorite section is a reading area for children. In a glass-sided, modern building, there are two low bookshelves filled with children's books. On the floor there are comfortable red bean bag cushions for sitting (or reclining, as one parent was doing while her children were reading). I've included some photos of this people-friendly site. I especially love the red foot prints on the floor near the reading area where children can leave their shoes!