The most exotic thing I’ve ever done with a radish is roast it to make a chilled soup with crème fraiche, white wine, tarragon and shallots.
But here in Oaxaca, on December 23, the Oaxaquenos take radishes to another level.
It’s Noche de Rabanos, Night of the Radishes, in which radishes that have been left in the ground to grow to a massive state are carved into scene after scene of life and phantasmagoria, all for thousands of people from around the world to enjoy. It’s a temporal art … the artists have to regularly spray their creations with water just to keep them fresh for the night. After that, it’s compost.
The scene: all around the zocalo, under the big trees, are over a hundred tables, each with a radish tableau. The viewing line begins to form early, at 2:30 and at 4:00, we are allowed to begin walking past the displays, in small groups at a time, no shoving please, with plenty of time to stop and ponder the creativity, humor and occasionally, sheer madness, that drives someone to turn a pile of grossly distended radishes into a preying mantis, or with as much passion, Porfirio Dias, a 19-century Mexican president.
I took so many pictures, my little Canon PowerShot got hot. Which I will share in a moment, but first – Celebrity Alert! – Not too far behind us in line was a fine American chef, Rick Bayless, known for his Chicago Mexican restaurants and cookbooks, and when I saw him, I asked politely if I could take his picture, and he obliged, graciously (it must be hell to be famous, though no one else seemed to recognize him) so here he is:
And now for the radishes. Saints and virgins are popular themes, so here are just two:
I particularly loved the use of other materials, such as moss for hair and beards:
Another theme was ancient Mayan and Aztec history, as in these guys:
But perhaps my favorite was the animals:
And of course, you had to know that one wag would look at radishes and see boobs. Pointed Madonna boobs, at that:
Finally, the last quarter of the radish walk was devoted to sculpture of another kind, with corn husks and flowers:
Merry Christmas everyone!