Monthly Archives: November 2008

Weddings (continued) Part Three:The Reception

Finally all that boring stuff at the church is thankfully done with and everyone is in agreement that it was really a beautiful ceremony. It matters little how dull and uninspired it might have been, or how the priest doing the honors was really talking down to his congregation as if they were a bunch of Matamoros chicken farmers, his self-important speech, political references and grandiose hand movements that inspired me to think that his real arms were under his robes and that there was another priest behind him, out of sight, moving his arms along with priest 1’s words. His robes moved back and forth under his sweeping arm movements, like a fat lady’s arm flaps applauding at a football game, only in slow motion.

Yes, no matter what it really was like, it’s always a beautiful ceremony, mostly thanks to the radiant bride, with whom all the ladies present feel some affinity and/or pity, depending on how their marriage(s) have worked out.

Enough of the mass already! On to the party!

Once you arrive, you make your way to a table. This is done as quickly as possible since you don’t want to arrive late and have to sit with some people you don’t like and make small talk as if you enjoyed their company. I mean, all that ‘talk to strangers’ stuff has already been taken care of in the church, when the lady next to you in the poofed hair and heavily freckled exposed shoulders turns to you and says something about ‘paz’.

On your way to a table, you try to not to look desperately around for familiar faces of people you would like to spend the next few hours yelling across a table with while scooping mystery dip off a plate with your supply of Ritz crackers. Thankfully not all weddings serve Ritz n Dip, but it IS a popular menu item with many caterers.

Once you are seated, and if it is a good party, you can count on a waiter asking you what you would like to drink. If it is a really good party, the hosts will have printed for you a menu of the evenings dining opportunities as well as a list of the wine selection, cocktails and hard liquor available so you can avoid having said waiter tell you that most famous of local phrases: ‘no hay‘ (that isn’t available) Along with your drink, you can begin the scooping of the afore-mentioned dip with your Ritz crackers or, in the case of a classy wedding, help yourself to some fine cheeses and crackers that are not of the Ritz variety. There will be background music which will be of a volume conducive to conversation as people arrive and are seated.

Once the tables have filled, the music will start, a live band of some sort, doing cover versions of popular songs in different genres. The volume will be cranked up to the point where you are yelling at the person next to you and causing what I term ‘auditory fatigue’, where you become glassy-eyed and sit, looking at the people around you but unable to carry on any sort of conversation with anyone at your table, with whom your interaction is limited to occasional smiles, hand signals and shoulder shrugging whenever your eyes should cross paths.

At some point the bride and groom make their triumphant entrance, at which point everyone applauds. Sometimes there’s a toast, sometimes there is only the applause and then the hopefully happy couple, stressed and probably relieved that the hard part is over with, officially commence the dance portion of the evening. There is much animated yelling on the part of someone in the band designated with the challenging task of firing up the crowd. To this end, he or she will continue with frequent, repeated full-volume exhortations to get everyone ‘excited’. If you are not on the dance floor, nor have any plans to do so, your evening will be quite grim as you stare, numbed by the noise, noise, noise, noise (quote from my good friend the Grinch) at people around you in similar funk or at the fun people are having on the dance floor.

Speaking of music, the typical scenario is a live group, with what seems like an excess of vocalists. There will be some sort of percussionist, perhaps a bass and electric guitar, and the omnipresent keyboard/laptop filled with enough sonic effects to provide a soundtrack to a mission to Mars.

As far as the actual music goes, they will play cover versions of hits. The genres inevitably covered, in no particular order and played at every single party in Merida that I have ever been to are:

  • tropical salsa and merengue, featuring predominantly Celia Cruz’s Carnaval;
  • cumbia and reggaeton (the latter a new addition to the musical lineup);
  • swing and 40’s tunes for the old folks, often in the form of a neverending medley;
  • 70’s music, where YMCA will ALWAYS be included, along with Gaynor’s I Will Survive;
  • the Timbiriche set (All Mexicans love the old pop group Timbiriche it seems – they go wild when this pap starts

If you have been to parties in Merida, from 15 años or weddings to birthdays, you will recognize each of these genres. Again, the quality of the interpretation of each of these yawn-inducing musical moments varies greatly according to the budget provided for it.

The music take a break, announced by a little theme song and choreographed stage movements aka vamps. It is before / during this break that the Ritz n Dip plates are removed and dinner is served. Again, depending on the budget, this can be a one plate affair or consist of first course like a salad or soup (or both) followed by the actual dinner itself. It is mealtime when the quality of Rigels’ catering really becomes apparent, because his food is cold when it should be and hot when it needs to be hot. It is also tasty and well presented. There are one or two other good caterers in town, but there are also a lot of improvising cheap ones as well.

As you are eating, if the event is planned well, there will be soft background music that will help in your actually enjoying your meal; poorly planned events overlook this small detail and will move into the next round of an eardrum-crushing onslaught guaranteed to make that limp, lightly salted, boiled cauliflower floret want to jump right out of your esophagus.

Once dinner is over, there will be desserts which range from the cloying, tasteless yet sweet corn-starch variety to some really delectable items. On a memorable occasion (last night for example), fine Belgian chocolates from L’Amandine along with home-made Arab pastries.

After that, the evening consists of two options:
a)either drinking in excess and joining the crowd on the dance floor, where all manner of fun is being had with the help of ‘props’, ranging from styrofoam headwear to maracas to slippers to balloons to you-name-it; all matched to the particular set of music being played at the moment. During Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, for example, it is not unusual for the singer to put on a black afro wig and pretend to be black. Celia Cruz, well you get the picture and
b) drinkling in excess and staying at your table amidst an ever-dwindling crowd as people go home, having been fed and entertained. Bleary eyed, you patiently and determinedly attempt to finish all the whisky available and perhaps, if you wait long enough, will get to enjoy the late feeding at 5AM involving tacos and tortas de cochinita, another wedding and party tradition for those who party all night.

…. more later….

Weddings (continued) Part Two: the Church Ceremony

The day of the wedding, there are two important events (important at least for the invited guest, there are plenty of other important events for the couple doing the marrying) : the mass, and the party/reception.

Remember that we are in Mexico, the invitees can number in the hundreds and also, everyone is catholic which explains a lot of things about the state the country is in, but again I am digressing and that is definitely a subject for Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

So, we have a whole lot of people and a catholic church service. This is the case at least 94% of the time; I have been to a wedding – and fairly recently – where the religious portion of the marriage was performed by a Mayan X’men, or holy man, in an elaborate ritual complete with conch blowing, branches brushed all over the bodies of the participants to ward off evil spirits, lots of candles and plenty of smoke. All this on the beach in Uaymitun. Really quite different and as completely believable as any religious ceremony I have ever been to. Which, if you know how I feel about these things, says a lot.

Back to the subject at hand: for most weddings, you can expect that less than half of your guests will bother showing up for mass. While this part of the day is important for the bride and groom on occasion but more often than not, important for the parents, it is completely irrelevant to most of the people who are looking forward to a great party. So if the church isn’t full, this isn’t cause for concern. Depending on the priest doing the spiel, which in turn is a reflection on the amount of money invested in the eccliastical department, the quality of the mass will be either boring and ho-hum or interesting with lots of personal asides to the bride and groom and the parents. And your seating arrangements are not indicative of your relationship to the couple, which means you can sit wherever your heart desires. Don’t forget to bring along a few coins or a small bill, cuz that basket does get passed at one point. you know the church needs the money, I mean look at the condition of the Vatican these days! And, be prepared (and this can be frightening if you don’t understand spanish or the hypocrisy of catholicism) because all of a sudden people will turn to each other – and you – and wish you peace. You will not speak to these people again once out of church.

The music at the church is also important and again, the quality is directly proportional to your investment. An off-key violin trio and a shaky soprano really reaching for those high notes can make the most well-intended sermon go incredibly and horribly wrong. If you are lucky, you will be invited to a wedding like the one last night; the father of the bride had the taste and pesos to hire professionals: a small choral ensemble and orchestra, that played everything from Gloria (Haendel or Vivaldi?) to Morricone’s theme music from The Mission. Perfectly in tune and an absolutely perfect way to ignore the silly man at the front of the church in his frock, changing hats – from the tall cream-colored bishop model to the more casual holy red beanie – every time he moves from a standing to a sitting position, all the while making half-hearted attempts at humor and to present himself as the consummate humble servant of the lord. Indeed. In any case, the musical selections were perfect. Music in Merida’s churches has come a long way since Los Violines de Waldemar, I am happy to report.

After the whole ceremony is over, everyone showers the bride and groom with best wishes, hugs and kisses and then, it’s off to the next part, where they will meet up with the rest of the guests who somehow ‘couldn’t make it’ to the church. If the church is near the reception you can walk there, unless of course you are local which means you will probably get in your car, drive half a block and park it again, so that it’s close when you leave the reception later.

…………more later………….

Weddings – A Brief Overview from the Neurotic Foreigners POV – Part One

Inspired by a wedding I attended last night, I thought it might be fun to do a little write-up regarding that most important of social occasions, the wedding. For those of you new to the Yucatan, you might find this useful. To make the article more readable, I will post it in several parts. This is the first part, dealing with most things pre-wedding.

Before the grand social event, which the father of the bride is responsible for paying in its entirety (none of that shared expenses crap that is becoming more and more common up north), there is that overwhelming decision involving the potential guest list. It is not uncommon here for weddings to have a guest list in the hundreds. From 150 to, as at last nights event, 650 guests to feed, get drunk, entertain. The guest list is hashed out between bride and groom, and their parents. The number is usually huge, and then whittled down to minimize no-shows and also the overall expense. As the list of invites moves from tentative to firm, it then again grows as all parties realize that they simply can’t leave out this or that person, especially when this other third person is being invited.

Besides family members who obviously must be invited whether we are getting along with them or not at the moment, and beyond the friends category, there is another group that requires careful consideration: the must-invite guests, those with whom (usually the parents) have acquired some sort of obligation, usually related to their careers. A bad career move would be to forget to invite your supervisor and/or boss to your offspring’s wedding! A good move would be to include not only your boss/supervisor but also the actual owner of the company you work for; this would add not only possible career advancement to your future, but also a certain status for you within the company and society as a whole. Everyone will be duly impressed with your clout when the owner of the company walks in, accompanied by his wife batting false eyelashes and draped in an imposing authentic fur throw.

A notice in the local paper, usually the Diario de Yucatan, is also a nice touch, under the headline ‘Novias del Mes‘ (brides of the month) where a studio quality head shot is accompanied by a brief bio outlining some of the family and groom’s details. This photos appears in the Local section, which is a popular second to the fluffy Sociales section which many Yucatecos turn to first to catch up on the latest social events and to criticize this or that person’s hair, dress, makeup or pose. It is a fun and popular activity for all ages and everyone participates.

The guest list now confirmed and agreed on by all concerned, the invitations are printed and sent out. These are almost always square, about 10 inches by 10 inches, folded and have the embossed initials of the bride and groom on the front in a suitably flowery font of the bride’s choosing. Much is made of the paper to be used as well, and whether a see-through cellophane envelope or a regular paper one is to be used. Everyone wants to be original, but not original enough to break out of the 10×10 square mold.

Inside the invitation, all the usual details are posted in a matching font to that of the embossed cover previously alluded to, along with the RSVP card and possible a note indicating at which stores guests can find bridal registry info in order to get that set of silver plated cutlery. If one of the parents has passed away, there will be a little black cross next to their name.

Invitations are to be hand delivered. This enormous task can be divided up among members of the immediate families and the whole custom is becoming a little less rigorous. Some people now leave several invitations for members of another family, for example, at the home of one of those family members.

If you are the lucky recipient of an invitation bearing the inscription “Don William Lawson y Famila” (fill in your name here), you can head off to one of the local stores that have bridal registries and be confident that the bride and groom are listed there – there aren’t that many local stores to choose from; Sears, Liverpool, and Chapur pretty well sums it up. You ask to check out the list, you can have it printed and choose something, pay for it, and the store (at least Liverpool does this but I imagine they all do) takes care of the nuisance of having to wrap and deliver the present. You pay, leave your information so proper credit can be attributed to you and you’re done.

Of course there are many many things to plan for the wedding. There is the dress, which is usually made specially for the occasion and requiring several fittings. There is a cake, the catering (!), the music, the venue, and and and and and….

There are quite a few caterers in Merida; but the most popular one at the moment and very socially acceptable if you know what I mean, is Rigel. That’s pronounced REE-hell. He has come up through the years from modest little events to doing the biggest and most elaborate social gatherings around. If you want your food to be tasty, attractive and actually warm and cold when it supposed to be, you hire Rigel. If you aren’t worried about those minor details, you could hire someone else.

Music is also plentiful in Merida. There are several groups to choose from and various degrees of interaction. Lately, the more the merrier is the norm. More on all that in a later posting.

There is the venue; which one you choose depends largely on your guest list and budget, in that order. Most of the venues in Merida are not particularly attractive; they are mostly huge empty spaces with shabby carpeting and very rough around the edges that most party planners try to play down with clever lighting and strategic placement of flowers and other decorations.

The church and priest also have to be arranged. Money is the key here, the more you can pay, the higher ranking priest will be available for your event. Of course, it also helps to be a member of ‘society’ as very few high-ranking officials of the catholic church will attend a nobody’s wedding. Bad career move.

Speaking of churches, the bride and groom have to be up to date in their church papers. They may find themselves at a little refresher course where they will be brought up to speed on all the charming details they may have forgotten about the bible story. Of course, payment is required for these lessons in faith and the blessings it will bestow upon you and yours.

More later…

Smoking Ban In Malls Now in Effect

Some of you may remember a while back I posted energetically regarding smoking in restaurants. In it, I mentioned that the malls were still smoke-friendly.

Well, no more. The Gran Plaza has finally abolished smoking in the mall, which includes those cafeterias and restaurants like Segafredo, Italian Coffee, Kukis by Maru and Italianni’s. This on the heels of the smoking ban in their sister mall Altabrisa which had already transformed itself into a smoke-free area.

I’m a big fan of keeping the government out of the private lives of the citizens it purports to govern and am for the idea of the owners of private property making the call as to whether or not smoking should be allowed. This argument, I realized the other day as I argued it with a die-hard McCain fan, was actually the true Republican position, where-as she was arguing it from a Democratic POV.

Once again, I digress.

I suspect the Gran Plaza management, if the terms management and Gran Plaza can be used in the same sentence, decided to ban smoking because of the law banning smoking in public places. I would like to think it was their decision, but it probably wasn’t.

But you know what? The air actually smells cleaner now in the mall, although on the Casino/Comercial Mexicana side of the mall there is still a noticeable – and very disagreeable cigarrette odor.

And I now smoke less when I am at the mall, since I step outside to do it.

El Fogon – Antojitos Revisited


note the finger – the Critic was being discrete…

Just days after visiting this place for the first time, the Critic stopped by again to pick up an order of consommé and pozole to take home to a sick Better Half. When you have a cold, a hot consommé or spicy pozole should be just as good as a hot chicken broth – or that was the thinking.

In any case, in short order the Critic was heating up both soups at home and the portions were just enough to feed two people. They came with tostadas, oregano, lettuce and radishes, spicy ground chiles, salsas; all the possible condiments you could wish for to dress up both of these broths.

Delicious was the verdict, the Better Half did not get much better but it was tasty.

Total price of this take out? $54.00. Unbelievable. That’s less than 5 usabucks for 2 orders of home-made soup.

El Fogon – Antojitos Mexicanos – Near the Gran Plaza Mall

The other day, feeling hungry and definitely not in the mood for the usual WinFa/Trompos/BurgerKing lunch, the Casual Restaurant Critic sallied forth from the occasionally air conditioned Gran Plaza mall with his Better Half, strolled across the parking lot in the general direction of Starbucks and then veered off to the left to have lunch in the red-signed restaurant that proclaims, in an apparently Coca Cola sponsored, red-lettered sign: ‘Cocina Mexicana’. Next to that, a smaller logo with the words El Fogon.

For those readers unfamiliar with the term ‘antojitos‘ it means snacks or perhaps appetizers and is generally used to refer to food prepared in the wach style. If you don’t know what a wach is, you need to find the NotTheNews Living Dictionary (it’s online around here someplace or order a printed version at lulu.com) and look it up. Mexico City street cuisine is alive and well in Merida and there are several places where one can find typical food from the country’s capital. Jardin Balbuena is one of those places. This place – el Fogon – that the Critic is writing about today, is another.

The Better Half and the CRC ordered enough food to sink a canoe, which is what usually happens when one is starving and the menu looks appetizing! The following items were ordered, believe it or not:

  • pozole de Jalisco, one bowl
  • taquitos de barbacoa, 3 to an order
  • consommé de barbacoa, one bowl
  • tostadas de barbacoa, order of 3
  • gorditas de chicharron prensado, 2 pieces

There is enough cholesterol in the above order to keep an entire African village fed for a month, but the Critic and his BH managed to finish most of it. Everything was hot and for the most part, tasty. The pozole was a little on the watery side as if the Critic had arrived at the final pressing of a large pot of soup that had been re-watered for several days to make it last a little longer. The taste of the tostadas was smothered by the heavy cream that the waches like to pour on their sopes and antojitos, along with that crumbled goat cheese, but all in all the food was satisfying.

Service was familiar ie: family style. This means that a family member is taking orders from the table and really doesn’t have a clue, but was not unpleasant. The food came quickly and the table soon filled with plates and bowls. The outdoor setting on this November afternoon was cool, breezy and very comfortable. There was a view of the small street and the Gran Plaza parking lot. This would be a great place to sit and watch the Christmas madness unfold in December.

And the bill? All that food and a bottle of Coke came to a whopping 171 pesos, which at today’s exchange rates is about 15 US dollars. Quite a bargain, really.

Comments on Blogs

If you have a blog, like this one (OK not as neurotic but anyway) you might have been getting neutral to positive comments from one-name readers. I know I have. Just posted the second one. Then I clicked on the name associated with the posting and lo and behold, it lead to the same insurance blog that another comment-poster led to a few days ago.

Seems like this is yet another sneaky way of getting traffic on a blog full of ads.

Has anyone else noticed this?

NotTheNews on Obama’s Win Last Night

I know, I know: this blog is supposed to be about life in Merida, but I don’t have enough political savvy or material to dedicate an entire blog to politics, so you will have to bear with me as I unburden myself – politically – here. And before you get your knickers in a twist, you should remember that this is my personal opinion and you have every right to go read something else, like the Fox News website if you are so inclined.

My Better Half and I watched the elections in the U.S. of A. last night and as the western states were announced as ‘blue’ we were overwhelmed with emotion. Seeing the Obama family on stage, the emotional crowds in Chicago and Times Square and even in Kenya brought a tear to this cynic’s eyes.

People I talked to here in Merida prior to the election said that Obama would never win, because the Americans would never elect a ‘black’ man as their president, which highlights not only how little they think of the U.S. but also how superficial their analysis was as well.

Personally, I have never considered Obama as the ‘black’ candidate, although to look at him, you could be convinced that it might be true; there is a hint of something African about him. To me, Obama was more about the man; an extremely smart, young, family man with an intelligent wife who projected to me a more international outlook on the world and seemed to have the desire and the ability to negotiate not only with political opponents but also with world leaders with whom he may or may not agree. A radical departure from the ‘shoot first’, ‘first strike’, ‘fuck the rest of the planet’ mentality of the last eight years.

McCain, upon conceding the election, made probably the best speech I have heard him make in this campaign. Passionate, articulate and not at all derogatory, the latter which I almost suspected after the B.S. that was thrown around in obvious desperation during the final months in the race for the presidency. I almost felt sorry for him, hopelessly trying to contend not only with the Bush doctrine legacy which effectively condemned anyone running under the Republican banner and campaigning with the albatross from Alaska that probably cost him a lot of electoral votes.

A few of my friends in the U.S. are alarmed by the election of Obama to be their president. They seem to think that some calamitous fate awaits them, as if it was the 1970’s, the country was Chile, they were Allende supporters and Pinochet had just been elected. For the life of me I can’t understand their fears. Is it their great egoistic fear that taxes will increase?

What could Obama possibly do that has these people so afraid? What could possibly be worse than assuring that your children will be in debt for decades to come? Worse than having your country despised and ridiculed around the world? Worse than sending your (poor neighbors) kids off to die in Iraq and Afghanistan all the while complacently destroying the planet? Or is it something deeper, dare I mention, racist?

Many Americans live in a make-believe world, where it is their god-given right to have everything they want whenever they want it, cost be damned. Massive environmental damage in “third world” countries? Who cares if it means cheap gas. Dictators torturing their citizens for demanding democracy? Hey as long as we get cheap toys at Walmart, who cares.

Time to wake up U.S.A. – and rejoin the global community! This is an important first step.

Enhorabuena!