Casual Restaurant Critic at Tony Roma’s

Adding to the already burgeoning list of franchises now open in Merida, Tony Roma’s (also known as Tommy Roman’s according to one dear friend) recently opened across from the City Center (Walmart) shopping center just off the periférico up in the northern half of the city, where the moneyed folks live.

The Critic loves himself some ribs, so when Better Half suggested dinner there, he was all over that idea like a hog on corn. If you have seen the Critic eat ribs, you know that to be a very accurate analogy.

The sparkling new restaurant is in yet another small plaza with the same ‘luxury’ theme so popular these days here in the formerly white city. It seems that everyone is after those big peso clients, the ones who make up the clase socioeconómica alta. What makes them alta of course is the fact that they don’t want to spend that money and so the niche is quite competitive.

A bubbly hostess who looks to be about 14 greets you at the second set of glass doors, the first of which no one will open for you but they aren’t that heavy so no big deal. She looks at the party and asks “para tres?” and since Better Half has invited LawyerCritic along, there are in fact three people and off they go, to a booth table in what is obviously the bar area of the restaurant. The music is loud, the TV screens dominate as do the varying shapes of the butts of the people sitting on bar stools at a raised table next to the booth.

The evening’s highlight is the clueless, almost Mr. Bean category waiter who shows up and asks if the table would like some drinks. LawyerCritic asks what’s the special drink of the house to which Mr Bean replies “the margaritas are good” pointing to a list of about 5 different margarita (called Romaritas – HA HA HA – clever). Upon further prompting he proceeds to haltingly describe one or two of them and finally the table orders a regular, a Cadillac and an habanero margarita.

When they arrive they come in shakers and a show is made of shaking and serving the drinks. The Cadillac is very sweet, the habanero is very sour with no spice to it and the regular one is… regular.

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After what seems an eternity, everyone’s friend Rowan comes back to see what they would like to order. Better Half orders the potato soup and a full rack of regular ribs.

“You want the full rack?” asks Mr. Bean, “or half”. Perhaps he didn’t hear Better Half so she repeated the order. He repeated it once again just to make Better Half feel like maybe she had a speech impediment or he was trying to send her a not very subliminal message about eating large portions late at night and then studiously made the annotation on his little order notepad. LawyerCritic wanted some pasta which didn’t cause too much consternation and the Critic ordered a rack with Makers Mark BBQ sauce.

“Bourbon?” asks Mr. Bean.

“Um, yes” replied the Critic, thinking up a witty retort to yet another seemingly pointless question.

Small side plates arrive which the Critic assumes are for depositing the lime garnishes from the drinks until sometime later, a little bit of bread arrives and some chilled butter. You haven’t experienced restaurant thrills until you are trying to alternately stab and spread some hard butter on your chunk of bread (warm) with a giant steak knife (see photo).

photo 1The ribs and pasta arrived a little while later, as the Critic, BetterHalf and LawyerCritic tried to make themselves heard over the noise.

Better Half asked “what about the soup?”

“Should I bring it?” replied Mr. Bean.

“NO I JUST ORDERED IT TO SCREW WITH YOUR MIND” and “NO, JUST KEEP IT IN THE KITCHEN AND SERVE IT TO ME FOR DESSERT” are what crossed the Critic’s mind but the always well-behaved Better Half being very polite simply said “yes please.”

Seeing that the glasses were empty, Mr. Bean reached and then leaned across the table presenting the better part of his upper torso to the Critic and Lawyer Critic as he vainly tried to grasp the glasses that were just beyond his reach. A simple ‘excuse me’ would have done the trick and Better Half would have handed him the empties. She asked him “would you like me to hand you these glasses?” and Mr. Bean replied “yes”, and lifted his semi-prostrate form off the table.

The simple request “Could we get some water?” was countered with “should I bring you a glass of water?” which begged a smart-ass reply like “NO DUDE, BRING ME ONE OF THOSE GARRAFONES OF WATER” but the Critic contained himself. Perhaps he was giving an option, but it wasn’t very clear.

The table tent in English read ‘Become a rib expert!’ and to ‘ask your server’ and so the Critic did.

“What is this all about?”

“I’ll bring you a form to fill out.”

Very informative. Thank you.

The ribs were fine, the french fries were excellent and the cole-slaw, the cheapest salad in the western hemisphere to make, was minuscule. Desserts were just fine, nothing to write home about or mention further in this blog. OK, there were two: a blackberry peach cobbler with ice cream and a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich.

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Food verdict for this class of restaurant? Better (and more) ribs by far at Chili’s. Better margaritas by far at Chili’s. Better desserts by far at Chili’s or Friday’s.

Service? OMG clueless to the point of hilarity.

Room? A sports bar feel without the put-together feel of Boston’s or Fridays masquerading as an upscale dining joint for Merida’s wannabe’s.

The Critic foresees a dim future for the Tony Roma’s franchise in Merida if this keeps up.

For those of you wondering how much it is to dine at this fine establishment, the bill came to $950 pesos before a tip.

Casual Restaurant Critic at Scoozis – Vancouver, Canada

Scoozis

Scoozis

 

It’s 2014 and the Critic hasn’t written anything about Vancouver in a long time so here are some new great places to stop at if you have cruise ship reservations to go to Alaska which seems to be the main reason Mexicans at least get to Vancouver. That, and to study English for a few months and get out of the house and from under the thumb of the catholic household and cut loose. But the Critic digresses.

Here are some new favourite spots. Yes, that’s a Canadian spelling on ‘favourite’.  Once Stephen Harper – along with his army of evil Cheney-like minions – takes over the world you will all be spelling it this way.

Another digression: will be EVER get to the restaurants.

Yes.

Scoozis was recommended by the nice young man at the front desk (does this sound like an old lady talking or what) when Better Half and Señor Critic asked for someplace where they served real fruit juice for breakfast, not that crap from concentrate. By the way, the word ‘crap’ was not used in the query so no need to worry – in case you were – about offending the locals and besmirching the reputations of Mexicans abroad, as if that needed any more besmirching (think World Cup and “eeeeehhh puuuto!!”). Not only did they have fresh squeezed fruit juices, but also the best eggs benedict anywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Critic fell for this suggestion like over-ripe guayas and were at Scoozis in just under 2 minutes, as it was located right around the corner from the hotel.

Service was fantastically friendly, not a grumpy face in sight. The food was lovely and reasonably priced. The Critic had the ‘bennies’ but not in their ham version; it was the British Columbia version with smoked salmon. Unbelievably great and it is their justifiably famous hollandaise sauce that makes this signature breakfast dish pop. This was the first time that the Critic didn’t have to add salt to the baked breakfast potatoes to make the bland tuber taste like something – they were perfect just as they were.

Better Half, insistent on eating a healthy breakfast, opted for a fruit and yoghurt combination. This being Vancouver where ethnic authenticity, along with political correctness, is all the rage, the fruit was local and the yoghurt was Greek. Coffee was strong and fresh.

A great way to wake up the day. Or to wake up to the day. Or to wake up and then start the day. Whatever the phrase is, Scoozis is a great place for a real breakfast in downtown Vancouver.

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Spanish for Newbies – Helpful Hint No. 117

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Spanish for Newbies – Helpful Hint No. 117

The photo (above) is typical of one you would find in a public or semi-public parking lot in Merida and to the Merida newbie it might be a bit confusing.

If you have studied any Spanish at all, you might recognize the word – sort of – and think “Oh, I remember paloma, which means pigeon, so this might mean male paloma. A palomo!” Alas, you’d be wrong and besides, you’d still be wondering about the ‘lic’ part. I mean it’s not ‘lic’ as in ‘lick’ which could mean don’t lick the palomos, but no.

‘Lic’ is short for ‘Licenciado’ which is a title usually handed out once you have completed some sort of lawyerly career option. Once you have achieved Licenciado status, you can place it in front of your last name and often people will call you simply ‘Licenciado’ instead of using your name. Short version? Lic. Pronounced Lick. With that explanation under our belt, we can therefore deduce that the sign is referring to a Licenciado Palomo; Palomo being his last name.

And there’s that crossed out letter ‘E’ as well, which everyone who has traveled means no E’ing. Seriously though, you have studied some Spanish (maybe you’ve been to España!) and so you recognize the sign indicating no parking. Parking is estacionar in Spanish. So that crossed out ‘E’ means no parking.

Now you must put them together.

It might mean that there is no parking if you are the Lic. Palomo. So should he happen to show up, he most definitely can not park in that space as the sign is personally directed at him. It might also mean that ‘Ey, no licking palomos‘ in that space because that’s how you pronounce the letter ‘E’ en español -Ey. Third option – and this one’s a keeper – is that the space is reserved for a certain Licenciado Palomo, so don’t you go parking your damn car there.

Got it? Good.

Where to watch the World Cup in Merida – Round Two

To continue the reviewing of possible options for your FIFA World Cup viewing, here is the latest contender for your beer drinking pesos.

Merida Restaurants and Bars and other Venues

Stars are awarded in each category as follows:

* Horrible, stay away
** Not quite as bad as horrible, but not worth the drive. If you’re in the neighborhood…
*** Average – hit or miss, meh
**** Pretty darn good, make an effort.
***** Worth driving to and find parking for

HENNESSY’S

The game on the menu today was USA vs Germany, and, since the gringos were playing I thought it best to watch this at the popular expat hangout everyone knows and loves: Hennesseys.

1. Screen quality and location: ****
Hennessy’s screens are behind the bar so you will need to sit at the bar or thereabouts in order to get a view of the screen. There is one on each side and while these are great at night, the 11 AM game time was not an optimum moment as there was some glare from the sun outside and so one of the screens had a big white glare spot in the middle of it and I had to watch the one further away. A nice touch was a temporary third screen showing the simultaneous Portugal vs Ghana game, which, had things gone differently, would have affected the outcome of the main event today. Unfortunately the Portugal game was an internet feed that cut out every 2 seconds or so, making it impossible to watch. Thank you TelMex, for that excellent internet service.
2. Air conditioning: ****
Could have been a little cooler in my never humble opinion but perhaps there were enough older folks there with thin blood that need a little more heat than I. Boston’s wins this round as well.
3. Service: ****
With the friendly guys that Sean and Colm are, I am always surprised the wait staff is so serious. But you will get your drinks (or coffee) and Hennessy’s has prizes for every single match. So each time Portugal scored a goal, free shots of whisky all around. Can’t beat that!
4. Food: *****
We all know and love the Hennessy’s menu. Great pub food and the mussels are worth licking the bowl, Emily Post be damned.
5. Prices: *****
Hennessy’s is not cheap but you don’t feel like you are getting ripped off by any stretch of the imagination. You are paying for the food, the drinks and the place is gorgeous.
6. Ambience: Maybe it was the fact that the Germans (yawn) were playing the USA team coached by a German (snore). No yelling, no fist pumps, no hooting and hollering. Just a reflective kind of fandom that is probably not used to watching football. Real football I mean. I expect there would be more excitement if it was college American football or basketball or something. Or maybe a book reading. It was pretty quiet. I suspect things get more lively when Mexico is playing and the more enthusiastic Mexicans come to cheer on their team.

http://www.hennessysirishpub.com/

Where to watch the World Cup in Merida – Round One

Unless you live in a Yucatan cave (sacred or otherwise) – or the United States of America – you will probably have noticed that the World Cup is on and the world is watching.

There are many options to watch the matches (also called games) both at home and in the city of Merida itself. Here are some of those options, along with the pros and cons.

Home Viewing

If you have Sky or Dish you are all set to watch the World Cup at home. But if you are like me, you don’t have the fantastic television offerings (sarcasm) of the aforementioned satellite networks and have to resort to watching games on the computer via some live streaming feed on the ‘net with sleep-inducing British announcers that give you the play-by-play from their sofa where they are lying in some sort of tea-and-scone-induced coma. It’s akin to watching a Golf Channel transmission; it’s that exciting. The video quality of these streaming feeds is so low that the players look like Lego pieces chip-chopping along a green background, like an old Nintendo game from the Pleistocene era. Then, when your team is about to score a goal, the screen freezes altogether and the sound cuts out as well.

If you are watching on the afore-mentioned television networks, you are going to have to make sure to avoid the pre and post game commentary which runs the gamut from childishly clownlike to Beavis and Butthead teen toilet humor to Dumb and Dumber a la mexicana. Soap opera commercials will leave you breathless with anticipation as you wonder how close the camera will get on that teardrop crawling down the poor (but pretty) servant girl’s only slightly brown face (she can’t be all that pretty if she is too obviously of indigenous descent – Mexican television rule number 18)

Merida Restaurants and Bars and other Venues

Stars are awarded in each category as follows:

* Horrible, stay away
** Not quite as bad as horrible, but not worth the drive. If you’re in the neighborhood…
*** Average – hit or miss, meh
**** Pretty darn good, make an effort.
***** Worth driving to and find parking for

BOSTON’S PIZZA

The first match I watched in a restaurant/bar was USA vs Portugal, at Boston’s Pizza’s Gran Plaza location, with Better Half. Boston’s Pizza so far leads in the unofficial survey of Great Places to Watch a Sports Event like the World Cup (GPTWASELTWC por sus siglas en inglés, as the Diario would say). 

1. Screen quality and location: *****
Boston’s has a lot of screens and you can be sitting anywhere and see the game. And hear it. They pipe the audio in to the restaurant’s sound system and so you won’t miss a thing. Video quality is clear and sharp and the screens are large. 
2. Air conditioning: *****
Excellent and you will be able to fist pump the air without the potential embarrassment of underarm sweat stains grossing out your date or fellow game watchers who might care about such things
3. Service: ****
Fast and more or less attentive. They will keep you plied with drinks and enough food if you are willing. Could have a sense of humor, but then again, these are all just kids barely out of high school.
4. Food: ****
Good, fatty bar food and pizza that is really excellent. Try the Mama Meata (lots of carne) and notice the wait person say Mama Miata as in the car.
5. Prices: *****
Excellent prices, for them. Boston’s is not cheap but it is probably worth it if an important game is on.
6. Ambience: Chill. No one is going nuts, unless a goal by the favorite team is scored, then there is a lot of yelling and shouting. But the mood is somewhat on the civilized side as the game progresses. The usual oohs and aaaahs as goalposts are struck by errant balls projected from unbelievable angles by various body parts.

http://www.bostons.com.mx/

ELADIOS

The second match was Mexico vs Croacia, at Eladio’s in Altabrisa again with Better Half but with an additional 13 people as well. We all sat at one long table in their small-ish salon con aire acondicionado. That’s right, Eladio’s doesn’t enjoy A/C in the main room, preferring to keep it more on the al fresco end of the temperature spectrum, an interesting choice since they are only open mid-day, the hottest time of the year. The World Cup is on in June this year and it is only somewhat warm (more sarcasm)

1. Screen quality and location: **
The screens at Eladio’s seem improvised and were installed specifically for this, it would seem. They are smallish and the color is off on a few of them, rendering them fluorescent and difficult to watch if you are epileptic. Sounds is muddled and piped in through a KBR sound system. You’ve seen the KBR speakers: they are the cheap, Asian version of JBL speakers complete with the same style of red letter logo on the front. It’s the audio equivalent of trying to get a throaty 427 V8 hemi sound out of your six-cylinder 1974 Dodge Dart. Uh uh; ain’t gonna happen.
2. Air conditioning: **
No fist-pumping the air hear – your underarms will show that the A/C in this room is not keeping up with the amount of warm bodies inside. Plus the giant sliding glass doors that open and close constantly as waiters and busboys enter and leave, more or less negate what those poor compressors are trying to do. Think sticky.
3. Service: *****
Fast and furious. As in right on it. They are super fast with both drinks and botana and if the game sucks, the highlight of the visit might be seeing those waiters and busboys carry in a tray-load of botana plates for a large table of 15, stacked impossibly on top of one another. Waiters are fun and have a great sense of humor
4. Food: ****
It’s all Yucatecan and for the most part pretty good. To me, it’s a little on the bland side, but it is rich and heavy the way Yucatecan food should be and you will leave with a solid distension of abdomen that will go away in about 24 hours. Added bonus: no pickled pig ears. No worries.
5. Prices: ****
Stick to beer and botana and you won’t be spending that much. You will get to sample most of the menu without even looking at it. Just keep drinking.
6. Ambience: *****
It’s raucous. Here you will enjoy live renditions of the Mexican “PUTOOO” chant, in all it’s expletive glory. Don’t even think about complaining; you’ll be the object of that chant faster than you can grind some pepita seeds on your dzotobichay. When there is a goal from the favorite team, the place will go batshit. Chairs will fall over, drinks will be spilled and much fist pumping, clapping, yelling and back slapping will ensue. Go batshit with everyone else and enjoy a true Mexican moment. Also, when Mexico plays and the pre-game national anthem comes on and people in the restaurant stand, go ahead and stand with them. Don’t be sitting there like a puu… You get the idea.

 http://www.eladios.com.mx/18-1-La+ciudad+de+Merida.html

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more reviews as the World Cup continues!

FIFA WEBSITE

 

6 Places to Get Out of the Rain

It seems, for some strange reason, that the rains this June here in Merida and the Yucatan in general, are never-ending and the humidity is threatening the paint and stucco on your restored colonial in el centro. And there is the mould that is sprouting on belts, shoes, handbags and the gear in your dungeon playroom; ugh.

Here is a short list of six things to do or places to go while this west coast (of Canada) weather continues to hamper your tanning,  organic tomato-drying and other sun-related activities.

1. Trámites. If you don’t know what a trámite is, you are missing out. Trámites can be loosely translated as paperwork (usually) involving something to do with the government. The rainy season can be used as an excuse to visit some government agency and do some paperwork: perhaps you need a license renewed, which you can do at the Siglo XXI convention center and movie theater complex across from what used to be Carrefour. You can easily spend a half day there, asking questions, filling out a form or two, getting some photocopies made and generally enjoying the dry, somewhat air conditioned space. Reward yourself with some popcorn from the movie theater concession stand afterwards.  OR, perhaps something to do with Hacienda? Hacienda has a modern office on 60 street near Sam’s and is fully air conditioned, has plenty of seating and there are lot of other people in there as well, so you can practice your Spanish and perhaps make new friends. I would not recommend doing anything related to immigration as their waiting room is tiny and you may end up waiting outside under a tarp in the humidity waiting for a spot in the air conditioned waiting room. There’s a lot of waiting in that last sentence.

2. Movies. Rainy season is a great time to catch up on movies. Go to a decent movie theater like the Cinepolis complex at Altabrisa, which will afford you the opportunity to also spend time in the mall. Head out early in the morning and spend the day watching all the movies, back to back. Barring any power outages, you will have a great day, seated in air conditioned comfort and watching potentially decent movies and overdosing on candy corn which is quite good at Cinepolis. TIP: Avoid the movie Maléfica, with Angelina Jolie. It is truly hideous and you will feel your toes curl in pena ajena embarrassment for her. What was she thinking? She actually produced as well as starred in this drivel.

3. Mall time. Great time to go to a mall! The best mall is Altabrisa, where you can spend the better part of the day, especially when combined with a visit to the Cinepolis movie theaters (mentioned in the previous paragraph if you’re just skipping through this). Figure for an hour or two at Starbucks, people watching and drinking expensive but great coffee. Visit the Haagen Dazs shop and eat an ice cream that will cost as much as a dinner for seven at any panuchería downtown. Another hour or two can be spent at the Sanborns magazine rack, reading through anything of interest there. A movie will kill an hour and a half as well. There is a grocery store if you are so inclined as well as several restaurants upstairs such PF Chiangs, IHOP, California Pizza Kitchen, among others.

4. Serious grocery shopping. If you are used to the hustle and bustle, the grime and the crowds of the markets downtown, a rainy day is a good opportunity to visit a big grocery store in the norte of the city. Perhaps Comercial Mexicana or Chedraui or, what the hell, Walmart. Please note that Walmart here is not the same as trashy Walmart in the US; it is a more upscale experience and you will not find the g-string-clad and balding 65 year old with his gym pants around his knees shopper here. You can also enjoy the interesting concept at La Comer, for example, of laying out raw meat on giant tables with a little ice underneath, the carne exposed in all it’s raw nakedness, edges curling, to the supermarket air and people sneezing, coughing and poking with fingers. Nevermind the science that has evolved over several hundred years regarding temperature requirements for the storage of raw meat. The store is air conditioned so that is enough, apparently. And while the meat is placidly rotting, notice the ham and cheese ladies who are obliged to wear disposable masks. Does anyone else think this is somewhat incongruous or is it just me? Hmm. Cruise the aisles and look for interesting items you may have previously thought were not available here, like the Spam, located near the Paté du Canard. A gourmet item, surely.

5. Museum time. You might spend a day at the new Mayan museum, built to honor all things Mayan with money that could have been better spent on actual Mayans still living in abject poverty to this day. But who am I to know about these things and the deci$ion$ made by the powers that be. It’s all about promotion. Keep in mind that a visit to the museum might be thwarted if some dignitary is visiting the convention center nearby and the entire area is sealed off by the state police and men in white guayaberas, khaki pants and earpieces. These guys are the estado mayor and take care of presidential level security, so don’t expect any sympathy from them when you try to explain that you came all the way from Santiago by bus and were really wanting to see the how the meteor killed the dinosaurs at the museum.

6. Stay home. A great time to read, clear up your email inbox, file and label those papers you have been stacking in a pile near the door. Of course if the CFE doesn’t cooperate you will need candles and reading glasses as the power will flicker out and you sit in the damp, warm darkness listening to the lovers quarrel, cats mating, dogs barking or the roosters crowing just below your window. At that point you might consider renting a room at the Hyatt, which is what the well-to-do locals are prone to do during a hurricane.

I hope this list comes in time for you, dear reader, to take advantage of it and enjoy the rest of your mouldy day.

The Coliseo Experience – Marc Anthony Comes to Merida

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From the poster, we should all have known that the temperature inside the Coliseo was going to be heat-stroke inducing.

I drive by the new (as of this writing) Coliseo every day. I marvel at it’s size and the potential of having world-class entertainment come to Merida at last, and not have to play on a baseball field or a sports stadium. Until last night, however, I had not been inside the building. Marc Anthony came to town and of course the Better Half wanted to go so we got some decent tickets in the tiered section, three rows up right in the middle. Fantastic seats with a perfect view of the stage.

But let’s step back for a moment and start at the beginning of the experience, from when you approach the Coliseo on the highway. If you are coming from Progreso, you must take the Dzibilchaltun exit on your right, but of course that is not marked so you will unwittingly reach the Maseca exit only to find it blocked off – at which point you will have to continue on to the Xcanatun exit and come back and find yourself in the same predicament as the people coming from Merida! From Merida, you need to be in your left lane practically from Liverpool on as the process of getting to the Coliseo is not exactly a streamlined process, to say the least. On the highway to Progreso, in your left lane with your emergency flashers a-flashing like a good Mexican driver, you advance slowly but hopefully patiently.

Bring an audiobook for this part of your trip as it may take a while. I suggest something calming as your nerves are about to be tested. You notice that many people pass on the lane to your right but pay them little heed until you come to a point where you notice that all these people, who had far less patience than you and were NOT going to wait in line, are now trying to force their way into your lane. You will notice cars behind you and in front of you closing in on their neighbors, moving to literal bumper-to-bumper status so as not to let ANYONE in.

When you come to the Dzibilchaltun roundabout, you will notice that there are other cars, probably from the Ceiba or Country golf residential areas, trying to merge into the roundabout which is now a solid line of vehicles with only a henequen fiber’s space between the front of one car and the back of the other. Then suddenly someone from the the golf lineup will just drive into the line of cars and force someone in your line to apply the brakes, causing much horn-honking and high beam flashing, but nothing more serious. (Yes, that was me) If this were Los Angeles…

Now you have come around the roundabout and are going again in a Progreso to Merida direction. You will notice that there are two lanes to choose from, so you pick the right lane, which is moving slower than the left, but it is the one that will take you into the Coliseo, you figure. A third lane appears as impatient drivers move to take over any available asphalt in their quest to reach the Coliseo.

The show starts at 9 and it is 8:30 when you finally reach the entrance to the Coliseo and that one lane that became two and then three? They are all turning into the Coliseo parking lot. You are merging almost bumper car style from three to two lanes and then are met with – surprise – a guy that tells you you need to pay $30 pesos for parking. Never mind that you already forked over $100 – $400 USD or more for your ticket, this is extra*. And it’s not like you have a choice either, the highway across the street and any available parking in the area has been blocked off by the state police.

So you pay and get a very official looking little ticket (insert chuckle or snort here) and proceed along the 3 yards of pavement to what is now a Xmatkuil parking lot, complete with a few rocks lining the route and plenty of dusty dirt. In fact, the Xmatkuil parking lot may be better, as they at least left some trees in the parking lot as a nod to Mother Nature; but in the modern Coliseo world, Mother Nature probably didn’t pay her 30 pesos ticket and so was kicked to the curb by a bulldozer. Note to self – don’t wash car to impress anyone if coming to the Coliseo. It will be covered in dust (as will you) at the end of the night.

After parking almost in Sisal, you then embark on a leisurely 15 minute stroll to the building, breathing in the gritty dust of the hot night air and enjoying the blinding bright white glaring in your face as you stumble behind the people in front of you.

At the door your ticket is checked and you are relieved of your cigarettes. Not your lighter, but your cigarettes. What the hell? I save two for later in a shirt pocket and hand over my pack and this seems satisfactory to the person doing the cigarette collecting.

At last, we are inside.

The place looks like it is not yet finished, but the spaces for concessions and so on are full; it appears many companies have paid big pesos to be there and have even brought their sound systems and skimpily clad edecanes (models whose purpose it is to draw your attention to whatever the company that hired them is trying to promote, which they do by flaunting skin tight lycra clothing, as much cleavage as they can push up and exposed navels) The sound systems create the kind of cacophony that would rival Xmatkuil on opening day, which seems to be what the Coliseo is all about.

There is a lineup for the elevator (yes, elevator) to take us to the seats and section where we are supposed to be, but I don’t want to stand in line and also want to see the place, so I suggest we take the stairs. The semi-open building is still pretty hot as we hike up several flights of concrete stairs in a never-ending spiral.

Somewhat out of breath, we arrive at our level and a random young lady takes the tickets out of my hands and starts walking so we follow. If she had had a uniform it would have been a little less adrenaline-producing to have those tickets snatched out of my hand like that. But, it turns out she is one of many ushers, none of whom are wearing anything remotely resembling a uniform and we are shown to our seat, such as it is. The seats are the plastic kind you would find at a sports arena and quite close together both on the sides and in front and back. Walking out from your seat to the stairs to say, go to the bathroom, would require some care and in the high heels some of these ladies were wearing, it would be downright dangerous and the chance of falling into the seats and onto the heads of those seated directly in front would be pretty high.

Immediately we notice the heat. It is unbearably hot and everyone of the female persuasion and the occasional male is fanning themselves. We all acquire a healthy “glow” as we wait for the show to begin.

As I mentioned the seats were great. I felt sorry for the folks in the front row, where there is a balcony looking down on the sorry-ass VIP’s below, because this front row is also where the vendors are passing by selling everything from beer, pop and water to snacks to junk food to whatever else they can, out of elegant 5 gallon paint buckets. There are at least 1,000 of them in the entire place and they DO NOT STOP the entire evening and so, those people who thought they had an unobstructed view of the stage, spend much of their evening peering around the sweaty bodies of vendors looking forlornly and expectantly into the bleachers.

Did I mention the heat? As I said before, if you are a woman, don’t bother putting on makeup or dressing in any light colors as the dust outside will dirty your clothing and the heat inside will smudge the Sephora garage sale on your face. It is really hot. Reading up on the Coliseo’s Facebook page, someone complained about the fact that the air conditioners weren’t turned on until half way through the concert, and the Coliseo answer was that yes they were, but there were so many people that “affected the air flow”. Um, OK. That makes perfect sense.

Oh yes, the sorry-ass VIP comment. The people on the floor had paid top peso to be there in their little seats and all. As soon as the lights dimmed and the music started, however, the seats were abandoned as was all sense of decorum and it became a large mosh pit filled with an over-dressed mob that jostled to get as close to the stage as possible. Aisles? Forget about it; those filled up as well.

An MC announced a welcome to the disinterested crowd, and informed us all where the emergency exits were, should an emergency arise. The immediate concern to me was suffocation and heat stroke as my shirt stuck to my back in spite of Better Half’s vigorous fanning.

Marc started his show more or less on time and people continued drifting in until about 10 AM and by then, the show was 1/3 over and the Coliseo was finally full. The powers that be at this point started thinking about turning on the air conditioning.

Perhaps in another post I will write about the concert itself, but for now, this report has gone on for far too long.

Ahh, what the hell; a few lines about the concert. Short show, awful, muddled acoustics due to all that concrete, and he stops singing during almost all the songs and asks the audience if “they know this one” and then holds the microphone out to the audience and they all scream along in their charming tone-deaf but enthusiastic way like autistic children at a birthday party. I know this is how concerts at Xmatkuil and other palenque events work, but I was hoping for a more enlightened experience at this new and supposedly more sophisticated venue. Alas, it was not to be. Marc by the way was also sporting a healthy glow that quickly metamorphosed into a full blown flow of sweat and he laughingly mentioned on more than one occasion that it sure was cold here tonight which got a laugh out of the audience every time.

So what about after the show you ask. Well, I could write for another 12 minutes about the absolute MESS that is all those people leaving the Coliseo parking lot at the same time with no direction, no courtesy and driving like a herd of horny hippos that have been let loose from the zoo to find a mate after 2 years in captivity. I could, but I won’t. Have you been to Costco and seen how the charming mothers from the catholic Merida school across the street, who use it as their personal parking lot, will commit vehicular homicide against anyone who is in their way? It’s like that, but on a larger, unmarked, chaotic and of course dustier scale.

The Coliseo has potential, but I don’t see anyone working on it these days so perhaps the half-finished look and feel is what they were going for. One day perhaps, the plastic-looking facade will be redone with something more striking and the parking lot will be landscaped (insert another snort here) or at least paved and there will be some adequate lighting outside and the air conditioners will be turned on (or they will let less people in to enable more “air flow”) but for now, I will avoid it and retain my sanity thank you very much.

 

* The parking fee, from what I have learned extra-officially is the Coliseo’s payment to the state police for “helping” them “organize” the parking situation. Apparently the money goes to some sort of fund for policeman’s families.   

 

6 Reasons Why Uxmal is Better Than Chichen Itza

Uxmal is better than Chichen Itzá.

Yeah, I said it.

While all the tour companies and agencies and re-sellers and operators are out to make a buck on delivering hordes of bleary-eyed and sunburnt beachgoers from Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Tulum, those in the know are in Uxmal enjoying what is most assuredly a superior Mayan ruin experience.

Here are the top six reasons Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá, hands down:

1. It’s location. Uxmal is located 90 minutes from Merida and about 5 hours from Cancun which is fantastic. Fantastic because the hordes from the Quintana Roo (Google it) side  of the Yucatan peninsula are not going to show up here, ever. To get to Uxmal from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun and that all-inclusive hotel, you would have to sacrifice a night of accommodation you already paid for and stay in the area around Uxmal or at least Mérida OR spend the entire day driving. And of course then you would be exposed to all that crime in this country. And all this leads to the second reason Uxmal beats Chichen Itzá:

2. No Crowds. Mostly because of the location, Uxmal never feels crowded. Whereas at Chichen Itzá you will line up for a ticket, line up for a bathroom, line up for a second ticket, line up to get your ticket punched and can not get a photo of a structure without seven hundred other human beings photobombing you, at Uxmal you can play Annie Leibovitz all day and get some truly award-winning photos that will keep you in the money via iStock for years to come. Maybe. There is enough room that whenever a tour bus does show up (and they do, but they are full of Russians, Italians, Belgians, Germans or Poles rather than Americanos) the site is large enough to absorb them and it never feels crowded. Also, if you are going to make a wish (inside joke) there are no lines at the bathrooms, ladies!

3. No vendors. Woo-hoo! If you have been to Chichen Itzá lately you know all about the vendors and how their presence INSIDE the site is an eyesore and takes away from your experience. Nothing like feeling the energy of the the ancient stones with your fellow “crystal people” when suddenly your meditative reverie is interrupted by  a nasal shout from under the trees “CHEAPER THAN WALMART!” Um, OK, good to know since I always shop for my Mayan souvenirs at Walmart. The vendors have their agenda and I am not going to get into whether or not it’s a valid one; we are talking about the experience here, and they are not helping by occupying every shady spot on the site and hassling you every two steps with yet another article of dubious origin that all miraculously cost the same and are made by the same person – the ubiquitous and elusive Juan Dolla. You may get the impression that YOU are Juan Dolla: “blanket, Juan Dolla”; “jade mask, Juan Dolla”; Along with the wood carver next to the table carving his (same) piece of wood for the duration of his day thereby convincing you that those masks and jaguars and calendars are hand carved, there are also the Mayan grannies who have learned some English: “hankie, Juan Dolla”. Uxmal has no vendors inside the site. Period.

4. The structure themselves. While Chichen Itzá is impressive in its size and many buildings are indeed breathtaking, the stonework on each and every façade at Uxmal is so much more intricate and will literally blow your mind, if you are of the artistic bent and are prepared to allow your mind to be blown. Chichen Itzá’s structures feature some carved stone but there was also a lot of stucco, painted and sculpted, which, over the centuries has melted away under the sun, rain and the chisels and pockets of the curious. The stones on the other hand at Uxmal, are still there, probably because the un-enlightened Spaniards did not find it necessary to build anything resembling a city, town or hacienda there.

5. No ropes! OK: just a few. The buildings and structures at Uxmal have far less restrictions and nasty ropes draped around their entirety with the sign “no pasar” or “prohibido el paso” which means you are able to walk around in the jungle, behind giant partially restored pyramids, play Indiana Jones (watch out for snakes and wasps) and/or generally feel like Dora the Explorer in your own way. You can climb the giant pyramid at the back for a spectacular and vertigo-inducing view. At Chichen Itzá, EVERYTHING is roped off, all the cool little pathways into the jungle have the aforementioned rope or chain and forget about climbing up anything to get a look around.

6. The best espresso in the Yucatan. It’s true, in spite of what Starbucks and some of those newly arrived Italianos in Merida might tell you: the espresso at the little cart up against the wall in Uxmal, is probably the best espresso you will find for hundreds of miles around.  Chichen Itzá does not have one of these carts. Boo for them.

 

Superman on Montejo

On the Prolongación Paseo de Montejo recently, I was able to observe this super-man who, while transporting a giant king-size mattress from A to B, felt that him assisting in holding the mattress down by the plastic covering on it, would basically prevent it from flying away with a gust of wind.

I can’t remember if it was George Lopez or Jerry Seinfeld that first pointed out this (always male) phenomenon and the (always male) belief that simply grabbing whatever is on your car roof can be held down by you with one hand as you drive along the road.

Please note that this is a male thing and not related to the license plate on the car; I will not approve posts that make fun of our neighbours from Campeche thank you very much.

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Casual Restaurant Critic – Merci Update

Thanks to the Twitter app HootSuite, the posts via Twitter lost their photos on the way from the Critic’s iPhone to the internet. Here are the missing photos, and the Critic can vouch for each and every one of these dishes – excellent!

The chou(x) in particular are really good; not too sweet as is often the case.

French Toast

French Toast

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Quiche

Quiche

Chou

Chou