Category Archives: Inspired

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Chichen Itza – Random Imagery

A menagerie of tourists
wandering herds of pampered human flesh
bright white sneakers, tomato-red faces, tank tops with sunburnt arms dangling

scrawny brown vendors en masse
hogging shady trees,
waving shiny trinkets, “Juan Dolla!”

weary, burnt-out guides
in mirrored sunglasses, white guayaberas washed to the point of transparency
“now look over here, my friends” ad nauseum

wrinkled wizened face
the ancient tiny Mayan lady’s sad eyes
“hankie 10 pesos” her only English

sweaty lineups
crowded bathrooms and overpriced ice cream shops
tourists in heat-exhausted stupors, indifferent employees

“hat my friend, hat my friend”
brown woman ignored by the pale masses
climbing the stairs to their overheated destiny

flocks of silver buses
motors racing, air conditioners on high
parked, waiting for their victims to return, the driver snoring in his undershirt

Wonder of the World
Chichen Itza Disney-fied
and cash cow to the government

Paying it Forward – the Houston InfoDesk Volunteers

PART ONE – I am stuck in Houston, thanks for a mental seniors moment that caused me to miss my flight back to Merida today. A couple of things stand out from today’s experience, which really doesn’t upset me that much as make me feel stupid and will help be a little less relaxed next time I travel.

Having arrived well after the airplane doors would have been closed, I was sent off to the side and after waiting an interminable amount of time in line at the United customer service desk I played it as humbly as I could with the unsmiling lady behind the counter. It’s hard to play the indignant customer when the fault was entirely mine. Having already  checked on line it was no surprise when she told me that tomorrow’s flight was booked solid with the exception of one business class seat at $1300 USD. Now that is pretty steep even if you do love leather and cutlery but I thought, what the hell, and told her to book it. Perhaps I could get some credit for the flight not taken and if not, well so be it.

She stabbed at the keyboard for a while and told me that she had to check with someone to see if in fact that seat was still available. She was put on hold and told me that it would be at least 10-20 minutes. By this time she and I were on good terms and I suggested maybe Cancun would be an option. Cradling her phone between her shoulder and cheek, she hit a few more keys and a morning flight appeared for $500 and then, miracle of miracles, she announced an 11:30 flight that could be had – at no charge at all.

I was so happy I almost jumped over the counter to give her a hug but that would have been inappropriate and so I settled on a hearty and thankful handshake. When I then asked about a hotel recommendation she actually gave me a coupon for a discounted hotel stay, the kind you get when THEY screw up. I was most grateful and again thanked her enthusiastically.

PART TWO – I am at the info desk at terminal E, the United terminal where two elderly folks in red uniforms are helping people with questions related to all manner of things. They wear tags that have their names on them and the fact that they are volunteers. The lady whom I will call Lady helps me with a phone to call the number on the United coupon to set up the hotel, offering to let me use her cell phone in case their courtesy phone didn’t work for what was obviously a non-local number.

Meanwhile the man whom I will call… Man, is dealing with a sloppily-attired individual who demands to know the flight schedule of ANA from Tokyo to Houston. They are obviously flummoxed and can not pull up any information on their computer, which seems to be not working. Mr. ANA is very rude and sarcastic with them, telling them that any Google search would display the information – oblivious to the fact that these are senior citizens and probably not the most tech-savvy people in the world. It is obvious from their expressions that they don’t even know what ANA is. I wonder why he doesn’t check it himself on his own computer or a rental somewhere.

As I complete my hotel booking over the phone, I can hear a lady in the wheelchair behind me loudly ask if there is a time limit on the use of the phone, to which Lady answers ‘no’ which is met with ‘well there should be’ which I choose to ignore since she is already in a wheelchair and I don’t want to further complicate her existence with a smack on the head with the telephone receiver.

The Man has now consulted with the Lady about Mr. ANA and they both are now trying to find some info on the computer and at the same time apologizing to Mr. ANA who remains unfazed and continues his eye-rolling and relentless questioning.

An elderly lady of the oriental persuasion appears and demands attention in that impatient and oh so charming way that some older folks have developed. Lady points her in the direction she needs to be moving.

Throughout all this, both Lady and Man are smiling, patient and while frustrated, they do not take it out on their ‘clients’.

I pull up the FlightTrack app on my iPhone and find the ANA information and tell the guy what he needs to know and finally, to the relief of Lady and Man, he walks away. What possible satisfaction this man gained from knowing that ANA’s flight from Houston landed at 3:55 PM at Narita airport is beyond me.

Wondering what motivates them to be there in the first place, I ask if every day they had difficult people like this guy. Their features relax and they smile a tired smile.

Lady answers first. “Some days, yes.”

But they both shrug it off.

“I just wish that coffee line wasn’t so long” says Man, pointing at the Starbucks outlet in the corner, where a long line of people waiting to order coffee stretched into the terminal, almost blocking the children’s Christmas choir doing their best to sing Jingle Bells in tune.

“I’m going to buy you a coffee” I tell him.

He comes back with an energetic “No, you are not!”

But I go stand in that line anyway, which takes forever as this is the one Starbucks in all of the great state of Texas that has the winner of the Slow-as-Molasses Ass-Dragging Contest working the till. Her companion, whom I will briefly refer to as Scruffy Mexican, looks out at the line with dead fish eyes, bored beyond belief and chewing his gum with a gusto reserved for recently rescued shipwreck survivors when fed their first meal.

I buy a couple of coffees; black – who knows if Lady and Man have milk allergies, high blood sugar or whatever – and a couple of packages of biscotti. I then head back and set them on their counter. “Merry Christmas” I say.

Man makes a move to reach into his back pocket. “How much do I owe you for those?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just want you to know that you are appreciated. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it” I tell them.

I shake their hands, grab my bags and head outside to wait for my hotel shuttle feeling like I have returned a little of the goodwill I received from the United lady earlier.

Looking for that elusive great television series

FearWalkingDead

Just so my seventeen faithful readers aren’t under the impression that the only thing on my radar is anything Yucatan-related, I hereby remind them that I can go off at length in other areas as well.

This week I downloaded the first episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, in response to David Bianculli recommending the series as worth a look, on NPR’s Fresh Air recently.

While the show, a prequel to the highly successful Walking Dead drama which I enjoyed until it became too much like a never-ending and splatter-y graphic catalog of how to kill a zombie , tries to muster up some tension and suspense from the outset, I found myself completely distracted by both the dialogue which was heavy and not particularly natural and the grossly distracting (to me, the neurotic observer) details in the finished production, particularly the sound.

For example, the woman who is the main character, is told by her boyfriend/husband that the strange story told by her drug addict son makes some sense as he (boyfriend/husband) had gone to the site where the event took place and she tells him no “Oh you went there, what did you see?” but “Really? I don’t think you should validate his outrageous stories by pretending they are based on real events.” To me this implies that she certainly does not take her boyfriend/husband very seriously indeed and is hardly believable if they are in an adult relationship. He of course, like a good TV husband/boyfriend, just stands there with no expression, waiting for her next line.

Other distractions:

  • Misunderstood overachiever white daughter is sitting with black boyfriend on bleachers at school (edgy) and he begins to draw on her arm, because he is a graffiti artist and that’s what they do: they draw on you. Camera is back to their faces, earnestly expressing some lovey-dovey mush and when the camera comes back to the arm and he asks her if she likes his creation, you can’t help but notice that what is there has nothing to do with what he started drawing previously
  • Family drives a 2006 Toyota Camry – as I do – and every time they lock or unlock the door and I hear the chirp of the alarm, I am thinking “THAT IS NOT THE SOUND THAT CAR MAKES”
  • Aforementioned daughter is visiting empty house where missing boyfriend lives. She is walking on concrete, then a wooden floor and the sound of her shoes is important to the plot here as it is supposed to be a very suspenseful buildup to something. The distraction is that her shoes are sneakers aka running shoes and they would never sound like a solid heeled shoe like that.

And so, I made it to the end of episode 2, but doubt that I will continue as these and other distractions will make it impossible for me to take the series very seriously.  Sorry David.

Why I Don’t Read the Newspaper – a Rant

Today, a copy of the Diario de Yucatan, once Merida’s more serious newspaper, entered my home and once again reaffirmed my belief that it is far better to ignore local news in any form because hearing, reading or seeing what is ‘newsworthy’ is really just depressing and makes one’s blood boil.

Boiling Point 1

In the newspaper, dated Saturday 20 of June, 2015, the Local section had this as their top story: “Elogio de la ONU (Spanish for United Nations) a Mérida.

It turns out that someone from the UN came to Merida for an environmental Expo and made encouraging comments about the potentially ‘great business opportunities’ in the area of renewable energy production that exist in the Yucatan along with the fabulous wealth of natural resources.

Now I am not sure what planet she is coming from – although later she mentions being in the DF so anywhere looks promising after that – but perhaps she didn’t read or hear about the rapid rate of contamination of the peninsula’s ground water thanks to complete indifference by authorities and citizens alike, who have no qualms about disposing of waste into the aquifer. Or read the article by another visitor recently who was blown away by the amount of trash that can be found everywhere in the Yucatan, particularly along the so-called Emerald Coast which was named after a visit to the Yucatan by a direct descendant of L. Frank Baum. Or see how trees are cut at an alarming rate both by those exploiting them for lumber or pulp as well as many developers and residents who regard anything resembling a leaf as garbage and ‘undesirable’. Natural resources indeed. Perhaps she was referring to the abundance of limestone. We sure do have a lot of rocks.

When she mentions that “Yucatan has one of the best environmental strategies in the country” I can only wonder at how bad the other states in Mexico really are. Is there potential for wind and solar? Yes. Is it being aggressively pursued by any government agency? Not that I know of, but then I don’t follow the press on a regular basis so am not up to date on the pomp and circumstance of self-congratulatory official pronouncements. There is an ongoing, energetic program to rid the Yucatan of plastic. Kidding. And the reforestation along avenues and highways is also a priority here. Not. Especially not when there is a billboard that needs seeing.

My lethargic cat has more environmental strategies than the Yucatan.

In the article she also states that Merida has ‘buenas vialidades‘; in other words, a good road and street system. I will give you a minute to pick yourself up off the floor. What vialidades is she talking about, I wonder.

  • The multilane manic madness of the Avenida Itzaes with its lanes that are abruptly repainted at each intersection?
  • Downtown streets with its yellow curbed no parking streets that are ignored by the PAN officials who park their cars in front of their office?
  • The white-knuckle bottleneck that is the glorieta experience at the new museum of all things Mayan?

Many of us who live here would beg to differ and it is only getting worse, as the recent opening of Krispy Kreme on Montejo or a drive through the neglected neighborhoods in Merida’s south can attest.

Boiling Point 2

Second article in the Local section, is the confirmation of the construction of yet another centro comercial aka mall, this one called Uptown Center, following the accepted and malinchista protocol of naming all new and exciting commercial developments in English. Uptown Center sounds so… uptown, after all. and that’s where we all want to be. With a Walmart and a Starbucks, it most certainly will feel uptown. Meanwhile, el sur de Mérida continues to languish amidst potholes, deficient street lighting and dilapidated public transportation. What the hell, they’re poor and their apellidos are cortos so who cares.

This new mall location is a large property and it seems the Ayuntamiento has signed off on it. What makes my blood boil is the fact that Merida does not need yet another upscale freaking mall. What Merida needs is parks and green spaces for its citizens.

Imagine the city of Merida leading the way in Mexico and even North America not because of what was already there (Mayan culture, natural location – see boiling point 1) but because of what its citizens and government did to make it that way. But alas, the general interest is not in having a great, livable and healthy city; the general trend is to have as many Walmarts and Starbucks as possible, covering everything with concrete as we pursue that goal, and THAT will make us all feel like we are living in a great city.

Does this not make anyone else angry? Feel free to comment below.

Boiling Point 3

On the inside pages of the Local section, along with stories of multimillion peso frauds committed without consequence by the mayor of Yaxcaba, the usual tawdry reporting on spousal stabbings and spectacular car accidents, there is an article entitled “The Mayans; a tourism magnet”

The powers-that-be of our fine tourism infrastructure are busy promoting – in England no less – all things Mayan. Among the last names of the fine citizens representing the initiative mentioned are Bravo, Ancona, Franco, Tovar y Teresa, Gomez and others. It would seem to me that including one or two actual Mayans would be an interesting and refreshing twist to these continued efforts to milk the Mayan culture dry, that continues decade after decade, without returning a centavo to the actual Mayans living in the Yucatan today. Of course, there are many ambitious and promising projects that are announced with each new governor, mayor or president; projects with fancy logos and stationery and even official vehicles and uniforms; projects that are promptly abandoned or the funds siphoned off for a new vehicle for the office, or other much-needed accoutrements of the white-guayabera-clad functionaries with their iPhones and shiny black shoes, smiling among villagers who have been screwed over again and again and still pose for the photos, in the hope that maybe this time, the promise might be real.

As I have the opportunity to spend time in the villages and comisarías and ejidos, I see real, emaciated and forgotten Mayans every day and can tell you – without hesitation – that these Mayans do not receive any benefits from these promotional junkets.

International trips where Merida chefs prepare and serve tacos de cochinita and antojitos yucatecos; where miniature replicas of Chichen Itza and other Mayan archeological pieces are expensively shipped and displayed for foreigners who then congratulate the officials accompanying the pieces on the cultural heritage of the Yucatan. The last people to benefit from all this promotion of Mayan-ness, to paraphrase my friend Macduff Everton, are the Mayans themselves.

And that, my dear readers makes my blood boil the most; how about you?

Maybe if I read the paper, listed to the radio, turned on the TV on a regular basis, I would become inured to these myopic assaults on common sense, on human dignity and on the vast potential of Merida and the Yucatan.

Alas, (or fortunately, for my own mental health) I do not.

And so, when a newspaper comes between me and the table, and I see the absolute mierda that is occurring around me in the city and state that I love and have come to regard as my own, I rant. For I am seeing this not as a romantic foreigner who just bought a colonial in Santiago and finds the Luca de Galvez market still charming, but a long-time resident that feels coraje at the potential of the place being squandered so cavalierly.

The Glorious Hacienda Days

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Two publications lay side by side on a battered wooden table among vintage postcards, old election campaign buttons and various odds and ends; all covered by a layer of dust that hadn’t stirred since 1967.

“The haciendas,” proclaimed the gaudy tourism brochure breathlessly “are a living example of our glorious past!”

The history book; serious, dark and its pages turned far too infrequently, looked over, skeptical.

“You’re kidding, right?” it asked.

“The pseudo-French classic and baroque architecture; the grand arches!!” insisted the brochure. “The elegant soirees that the distinguished Yucatecan landowners had in gardens perfumed by citric  limonaria shrubs and gingerbread allspice trees.”

“You’re delusional,” muttered the history book, returning it’s gaze tiredly to the spiderweb-infested ceiling of the tienda de antiguedades in Merida’s overcooked and overcrowded centro.

“Ever hear of ’12 Years a Slave’ – the movie?” The history book seriously doubted that the tourism brochure had done much of anything that wasn’t of a superficial nature.

“The furniture was brought from Europe and was the epitome of refined culture and taste!” replied the tourism brochure, giddy with excitement. “You too can experience this marvellous lifestyle in many newly restored former henequen haciendas that have been turned into five-star hotels!!”

The history book declined to comment further as it would have been a fruitless undertaking to try and convince the tourism brochure that it’s spiel was not only ridiculous but also myopic as it completely glossed over all the human misery that hacienda life entailed. But, it couldn’t resist one last remark. “Glorious, indeed,” the history book snorted derisively, “unless you were brown.”

“Oh shush,” the tourism brochure whispered, “why are you always so negative?”

“Not sure,” answered the history book, “perhaps I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“The immaculately restored-to-its-former-magnificence machine room with its high ceilings is now a culinary destination worthy of Adriá!” the tourism brochure continued.

The history book sighed a tired sigh.

 

 

The Story of Gonzalo Guerrero

For those of you who enjoy a good yarn, and think like me that there is much in the history of the Yucatan that deserves a Coppola or better yet, Christopher Nolan treatment on the big screen, I would like to suggest a look at Gonzalo Guerrero.

Here’s a guy who is all old-school Spanish in the 1500’s and comes over to the so-called new world and, on a boat trip along the coast in a big old sailing ship and boom – the boat hits a reef and capsizes – leaving Guerrero and about 12 or 13 of his pals in a life boat, or perhaps clinging to a piece of timber, on which they reach the shore. Maybe they land photogenically on a sandy beach, or perhaps have to claw their way through twisted, mosquito and croc infested mangroves to land. I’ll leave that scene up to Christopher. Perhaps Emmanuel Lubezki can make it appropriately stunning, as this is the lead-up to the first interaction between the Mayans and the Europeans.

The Mayans meet them and, having somewhat of an appetite, promptly eat most of the survivors, keeping two of them alive for later. Dessert, perhaps? In any case, imagine the culture shock of these catholic Spaniards, meeting brown skinned natives painted in fearsome colors and speaking what surely to them must have seemed utter gibberish. A ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ moment, to be sure.

To summarize the rest of the tale, Gonzalo Guerrero goes native, adopting local hair styles and perforations and leading his new friends in battle against his former countrymen when they inevitably return with more ships in their thirst for golden treasures. His pal Aguilar, who is famous only thanks to his being a counterpart to Guerrero and who kept his Catholic faith and beliefs throughout and runs back to the arms of the Spanish crown at the first opportunity, is soon forgotten by the scribes of history. Gonzalo Guerrero, on the other hand is immortalized forever and is dubbed the ‘padre del mestizaje‘ or the father of all modern Mexicans, who have the blood of native Mexicans and Europeans coursing through their cholesterol-addled veins.

Is this a great idea for a movie or WHAT? Enough with scouring the archives and garbage bins at Marvel Comics. THIS could be a real blockbuster, folks!

 

I’ll Pray for You

Finally it happened. The most condescending phrase that self-righteous Christians can lob at an unbeliever when they have no real argument, has been leveled at me.

Under a cloud photo on Facebook that someone shared where the cloud bears a resemblance to a flying something, the post raved about the glory of God and the sign that was this angel in the heavens over Buttville, USA.

I commented simply that it was, in fact, a cloud. The rebuttal was that some people have no faith which seemed silly since it was a photo of a cloud and it didn’t require faith to imagine it was a pterodactyl or an angel or whatever. When I replied that indeed, I did not enjoy that kind of ‘faith’, the patronizing phrase was thrown in my direction.

“I’ll pray for you.”

I looked it up as I was at a loss as to what to counter with and came across this fantastic little article. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

http://atheistexperience.blogspot.mx/2008/09/ill-pray-for-you.html

Dispatches from the Gym

As of late, I have taken to using the swimming pool at the gym where I work out; a result of some strange twinges in my back that could or could not be a sign to take it easy with the weights or then again, just a sign of old age.

An x-ray and check up with an orthopedist surgeon revealed nothing out of the ordinary and he encouraged me to ‘strengthen’ my midsection, laughing when I told him that 3 sets of 12 sit-ups on the incline bench were already part of my weighty routine.

“Thirty sit-ups?” he laughed derisively, ” you need to be doing at least a hundred or more each day.”

I tolerate his disdain only because a) he is a friend of mine and b) he didn’t charge me anything for the doctor’s visit and c) he is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the city.

In any case, I have taken up swimming which is a great way to exercise here, as there is no sweating involved, no jarring impact injury potential and it is generally a peaceful experience, when the pool staff isn’t playing the latest David Guetta rave concert at full volume.

Recently I witnessed a classic Merida scene while in the pool. The cutest little three or four year old girl, goggles on, clutching her swim instructor who was encouraging her to kick harder. Her head rested on his shoulder, her tiny hands grasping his neck. Think Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire but even more adorable.

Mom, meanwhile, was in the air conditioned lounging area, updating her Facebook page or some such equally significant activity on her smartphone while nearby, but by no means near the young mother, a rather stocky, sullen brown person ie. her maid, sat looking bored, large bags of clothes and other accoutrements related to keeping her charge (the little girl) at her side.

What a missed opportunity, I thought, in my naive Canadian way, for this Mom to connect with her daughter in the pool. The tenderness of the child hanging onto the instructor for dear life reminded me of the many small kids I taught to swim back when my little ones were, well, little. Memories to last a lifetime. And this woman, evidently, judging (yes I am judgemental) from her clothes, maid and bone structure, from Merida’s clase acomodada, was completely missing out on them.

Kind of sad, really.

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.