Monthly Archives: April 2011

Hanging out with the Expats at the Living in Merida Book Launch

The other week, I felt strangely compelled to join other palefaces living in the formerly white city to an event organized by the Merida Verde people to officially launch the second edition of the Living In Merida book, now new and improved and chock full of information for new, English speaking arrivals, with the occasional tidbit that might be useful for those of us who have lived here longer than most and have our own personal favorite suppliers of everything from accurate law advice to honest real estate brokerage services to where to get a transmission repaired without losing an arm and a leg in the process.

To project an air of respectability I put on a clean shirt, picked up always charming Better Half and headed out to that hotel with the Pinedo Covalin boutique located on the corner of 47 and Montejo, right where Montejo ends and what some locals call El Remate which of course is a misnomer as it is not a remate as such, but a principio or beginning of that famous avenue modeled after Paris’ Champs D’Elysees.

Again, I digress.

There were all manner of expats milling about, some of which sported faces completely new to me, as I am somewhat out of touch with this crowd, who for the most part inhabit that part of Merida they charmingly call  ‘Centro’ and are not frequent visitors to the other end of Montejo, where the Fridays, Sams Club and McDonalds along with the mall and its adjacent Starbucks make for a very different, and oft-criticized by visitors, impression of Merida.

“I prefer the REAL Merida!” they will say, wrinkling their nose, as if everyone should be wearing white outfits and balancing trays of glasses and bottles on their heads while dancing a typical jarana, panucho in hand. God forbid the locals should aspire to eating a hamburger or having a double grande latte with non-fat soy milk.

As I made the rounds, I overheard – and occasionally engaged in – earnest, well-meaning conversations on organic gardening, saving yet another local dog, the latest restoration of yet another fabulous little colonial down on 66 and all the Art that everyone seems to be making. These subjects are somewhat foreign to me, having been here now for so long with my regular boring job, normal family obligations and other mundane, boring activities that leave me precious little time for this navel-gazing that seem to be so popular among those who have moved here from el norte, to relish the freedom that a bank account in dollars can provide in a land of pesos.

Inside, the wine flowed freely (hey it was free, aprovecha!) and as some of the dialogue began to get a little slurred, I tried to identify, without much success, some of the people who I might have engaged with only online, before moving outside for some fresh air and a smoke. This nasty activity is of course now banned anywhere indoors in Merida, to the delight of many and the disgust of many more who can’t understand why Merida needs to adopt these new regulations when there are so many other things to be improved upon.

Once the book was presented and the thank-you’s made to all the collaborators in a drawn out affair which proved that not only Yucatecans will continue their conversations while someone is making a speech, the little soiree was over. A little more socializing with a few good friends I found there and I called it a night.

And the book? I’m sure it will prove to be a valuable addition to the information already out there, particularly on websites such as yucatanliving and yucatantoday and of course lawsonsyucatan, but one must take it all with a grain of salt. For example, the section on buying a used car mentions that one place to buy a previously owned vehicle is the ex-Penitentiary, which, as any local will tell you, is rife with stolen automobiles, cars with ‘papers’ issues and the occasional con artist.

It was a strangely different sort of evening, a take on a Yucatecan night out minus the Yucatecans, featuring a fantastic selection of characters out of some travel novel from the last century; something by Somerset Maugham. And although at the time I was a little less than enthusiastic about going, I am glad I went.

Bella Roma – New Authentic Italian Find in Merida

Everyone is talking about it.

A new Italian eatery; a really authentic Italian restaurant, located in the most unlikely and hard to find places; the new, gigantic urban development known as Las Americas. Not the mall, but the Sadasi construction companys huge housing project near Dzitya, just off the Merida-Progreso highway.

The Casual Restaurant Critic, Better Half and several friends visited this hidden gem a few nights ago and the group was magically transported from Merida to a Roman neighborhood trattoria, where a large (20 members by one account) Italian family hosts Yucatecans and the occasional Canadian and offers up real food from the land shaped like a boot.

The pizza is of the ultra thin crust variety and while the ‘everything’ pizza was fine, it was the quattro formaggio with anchovies that wowed the group. Pastas were perfect; rare indeed is the restaurant that can put together a delicious pasta cooked perfectly. Elio al Mare is one, Bella Roma is another. Accompanied by a reasonably priced bottle of Moltepuciano red wine, the meal was perfect up to and including the tiramisu and limoncello (and mandarincello) for dessert. Exquisite!

Service was adequate, but the crushing onslaught of Yucatecans never stopped and the female waitresses, evidently sisters and daughters of the older folks in the kitchen as well as several young men including the Eros Ramazotti singing member of the family who provided live entertainment for part of the evening, were hard-pressed to spend much time at any table. Every few minutes, yet another Italian face would appear with a load of plates and the Critic counted at least 11 different members of the staff, all related apparently.

Dinner for 8 came to about $1400 pesos before tips which the Critic felt was quite fair.

Gasoline Prices Up Today

In case you are not on top of these things, are driving a Nissan Leaf or only use bicycles to get around Merida, I thought I would mention that gas prices went up today, Saturday April 9th, 2011, yet again.

The price of Magna is now $9.08 pesos per liter, Premium is $10.26 and Diesel $9.44.

From my somewhat limited mathematical conversion ability, this works out to about $2.85 USD a gallon for the Magna stuff. Some people say, “Oh, that’s about what we pay back home!” Yes, Virginia, but back home you are earning in dollars and here we are earning in pesos, dear. “Oh”.

Oh, indeed.

Los Almendros – Ticul, Yucatan (it ain’t pretty)

Yesterday the Casual Restaurant Critic, along with the always lovely Better Half and two other guests of Yucatecan extraction were in sunny Ticul, the clay pot and shoe capital of the area. Ticul is also home to Los Almendros, the Yucatecan restaurant to go to back in the day.

No longer.

The Critic was aghast at the decline of this once-great culinary destination. The restaurant itself looks pretty much the same, with plenty of religious paintings hanging on the walls, above aesthetically-challenged lamps with energy saving bulbs protruding from their petal-like openings and non-functioning mini-split air conditioner units. One must assume that the air conditioning is for a) really hot weather (hard to imagine it getting any hotter than April) or b) for when the restaurant is full, which might be never.

The courtyard in the back has been converted to a hotel and the lobby entrance is at one side of the restaurant. Evidence that the breakfast for the hotel is served here includes the buffet table, still strewn with coffee machines, cups, a few boxes of Zucaritas mini cereal boxes and some thermoses; this is at 4 in the afternoon. The Critic suspects this makes setting up the next mornings breakfast service so much easier; a quick rearranging of these items will greet guests when they wake up for their all-inclusive 60 peso breakfast.

Orange juice was refreshing and tasted fresh, the pitchers are filled from bags of orange juice stored in the fridge behind the bar. Guacamole, ordered by the afore-mentioned Yucatecans, was fresh enough and came with crunchy tostadas. Everyone ordered Poc Chuc and the pork was tasty, tender and there was lots of it on the plate. The big dissappointment was the Critics favorite, Queso Relleno which was nothing like a queso relleno eaten – and enjoyed – elsewhere. A bit of cheese covered meat, which looked like a pate, swimming in a large bowl-like plate filled with corn-starch kol which was strewn with bits of cheese, tomato sauce and turkey. What the hell the turkey was doing in there baffled the Critic who was unable to finish the unappealing dish as it just seemed like the kitchen had combined a bit of Queso Relleno with some Pavo en Relleno Blanco that was lying around.

Tortillas were fresh and decent enough and of the hand-made variety, although they weren’t nearly of the consistency, flavor or freshness of those served at the Principe Tutul Xiu in Mani. Usually Poc Chuc is served with a small bowl of Frijol Colado, which is cooked black beans, strained (not ground up in a blender) served like a soup on the side. The beans only came along after being asked for and to the Critic, tasted a little off, but everyone else seemed to think they were beyond excellent, so the Critic must have been negatively influenced by the horrendous queso relleno, which surely clouded his judgement.

Service was poor to average at best, what with the television blaring over the cash register area and providing entertainment for the staff from which it was necessary to tear them away to get any kind of service. Dirty dishes remained on the table for ever, and don’t even get the Critic started on the coffee.

The coffee! This was very possibly the worst “coffee” ever encountered by the Critic or his guests, anywhere in the Yucatan, ever. With a bouquet that was distinctly reminiscent of burnt tortillas, the hot, dark water in the cup tasted like the proverbial agua de calcetin (dirty sock water) and was literally undrinkable.

Lunch as described, for 4 persons with two pitchers of orange juice came to about 500 pesos and really, they should be paying the guests to eat here, not the other way around.

What a shame that this once-proud and fine Yucatecan bastion of good eating has degenerated to such absolute misery.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Fruteria La Jarochita

There’re probably a million fruterias in Merida now; this is one of them, called La Jarochita which means “little woman from Veracruz” but rather than little, the ita (or ito) at the end of the word Jarocho a term of endearment.

I stopped by for some fresh squeezed carrot & orange juice and the afternoon light was again, like the “doors and facades” moment before, fantastic. Each fruit displayed looked like fat colorful jewelry. Alas, I did not have my camera with me, only the ubiquitous iPhone.

Here are some of those shots:

Chillin’ at Starbucks

For most people it’s no big deal to be sitting with ones laptop in Starbucks, checking emails, surfing, tweeting, or updating a blog. It’s just that this is the first time I am doing it. And I must say that it’s really not such a great experience, except of course for the coffee which is pretty darn good good and the air conditioning, which is blessedly divine.

First of all the internet connection with a laptop running Windows is less than intuitive but after banging the laptop against the wall a couple of times, the Infinitum Starbucks log-in screen appeared and I was able to ‘register’ to use internet in any Starbucks in Mexico.Cool. The Infinitum part never worked; 7 attempts with the cashier-provided username and password yielded no result other than an incorrect username message en español.

Once that was working, and I began to check my myriad accounts of this and that and the other, it immediately became obvious that the seats are of the old-fashioned wooden variety and the apparent lack of tone in my muscles means that every pelvic bone I own is in direct contact with the maple or so it seems. I shift from side to side, sliding to the front and then to the back, trying to find the sweet spot to no avail. The fact that the wood is so smooth doesn’t help either, as any position I adopt changes in seconds as I literally slide in another direction. The chairs back rest seems too far away to offer any support to my spine and so I alternate between slouching and then self consciously straightening my back like a 1950’s Mad Men secretary banging away primly at her Olympia.

Other than that, things are just fine here in Starbucks. The background music is classical guitar and although very nice, although it seems to me, as I slide around on my chair, that the ambiance is reminiscent of Monty Pythons cheese shop and the increasingly irritating background music therein, as Cleese orders cheese.

To make matters more interesting, just now a less than-youngish man has sat down at the next table, set up his laptop and is doing his business correspondence here at Starbucks because, as I just overheard him yelling into his cell phone, his internet is down at home and that’s why he came here. I am also privy to potentially boring information about his upcoming sales promotions and the fact that he has only two months left on something or other and he needs to get things moving. Before and after the high-volume business chatter is of course the social chatter, again on extra high enthusiastic volume, which involves a lot of friendly banter and macho bullshit back and forth. Did I mention that his cell phone is actually a NexTel phone and emits that irritating electronic fart every two minutes?

Ah yes. Perhaps it’s a sign of age and my increasingly diminishing levels of tolerance for loud, annoying individuals and uncomfortable furniture, but for me, the laptop at Starbucks thing isn’t working out tonight.

Although I did hammer out this post as a result. In Starbucks.

Jennifer Lopez Visits Chichen Itza

J-Lo at Chichen Itza

So, if you have read the local papers, you know that J-Lo was in Chichen Itza filming a video. It’s unclear whether the video is to help promote the site, as Chichen Itza needs promoting – no one has heard of it I’m sure – or is a music video for J-Lo herself.

In any case, and according to the Diario de Yucatan article, she did her thing there which included staying overnight in the Pavarotti suite at the Mayaland hotel, which runs $1100 plus tax (dollars, per night) which I am sure she didn’t really have to pay for seeing as we love to host celebrities here in the Yucatan. The article also points out that 30 people from nearby Piste were hired to carry stuff and were paid the daily minimum wage which is currently set at a generous 5 dollars a day.

Now you are up to speed on the latest celebrity sightings in the Yucatan. Didn’t this make your day more complete?

I thought so.