Tag Archives: montejo

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.

Casual Restaurant Critic vs. McDonalds Montejo

It would, at first glance, seem almost sacrilegious; putting those two terms in the title together (Montejo and McDonalds) but then again maybe not. The Montejos and their ilk rolled over the native population like a steamroller and imposed their supposedly superior catholic customs on their ‘subjects’ and so it is only fitting that several generations later, the McDonalds (and the KFC’s and the Sam’s Clubs) of the world impose their materialistic and money-driven worldview on the mixed bag of white and brown Yucatecans that inhabit the area today.

Driving along Montejo, the part that is still the Paseo and not the Prolongación that borrows shamelessly from it’s Paseo counterpart to give it underserved prestige, the Casual Restaurant Critic, stomach growling in hunger, saw the orange and yellow epileptic fit inducing logo of McDonalds and, judgement clouded by said hunger, stopped to have a bite to eat.

McDonalds on Montejo is located in that awful shopping center by the Monumento a la Patria; the latter a monumental labor of love created over 14 years by a Colombian artist for the city of Merida and the former a monument also, to hideous architecture, neglect, crass commercialism and the pursuit of money at any aesthetic cost. What was once a stately colonial mansion has been converted into a garish McDonalds complete with plastic playroom while the mansions former gardens are now concrete covered, housing businesses that no one wants to visit.

But the Critic digresses. Again.

The immediate reaction that comes to mind upon climbing the steps to the entrance is one of “oops, this place needs a paint job”. The doors are missing paint in the usual places where many hands have been and the effect is not good. Inside, there is no welcoming blast of cold air to greet you. In fact, there is no greeting at all. The place is warm; too warm for a Merida afternoon and the employees are positively glowing (with sweat) and look as though they are suffering from heat exhaustion. As the Critic approaches the counter, occupied only by one other couple who obviously made the same mistake as the Critic, one saggy-eyed young female employee who will not win the coveted Employee of the Month distinction any time soon and unable to utter a sound, motions with one weary arm movement and pointed finger to a cash register down the counter.

The Critic orders his Big Mac and the clerk mumbles something in her heat-induced stupor, which the Critic needs to hear again before understanding. Oh, they will bring it to the table. OK.

The Critic finds the air conditioning working in only one part of the restaurant; the enclosed glass box that is the children’s play area, complete with plastic jungle gym and thankfully free of small screaming human offspring. The chairs are red, orange and yellow and extremely uncomfortable as they are expected to be to get you in and out quickly. Although here it is a moot point as there are no lineups to get into this fine dining establishment. The Critic, waiting patiently for his food, then notices the tinny music blaring through the hi-fidelity sound system; all ponchis ponchis with screaming DJs in between “songs”. This McDonalds really wants you out of there, and fast!

Finally, the food arrives and the fries are fine, the Coke is cold and the burger literally falls to pieces about 1/3 of the way through. Although they bring you the burger, the straws, the napkins and so forth are not included in the “service”.

At last, hands greasy and sticky from the special sauce and now cardboard-like french fries, the Critic abandons this abomination of a restaurant, hopefully never to return.

Carls Jr and Lucia Mendez

So, you ask, what the heck are the terms Carls Jr. and Lucia Mendez doing in the same sentence?

Well, as luck would have it, or happenstance or just plain old hunger, I left my office in Chuburna with the firm intention of finally trying the fish and chips at Giannis that I had read good things about.

Unfortunately  Giannis, on calle 60, was about as closed as an argument about whether or not a glorieta on the Prolongacion de Montejo would go ahead or not.

Still hungry, I decided that because of the odd hour (6-ish) nothing normal and yummy (like a cocina economica)  would be open and my options were limited to fast food which I then proceeded to find in Carls Jr. on Montejo. In hindsight I should have eaten at El Pez Gordo but I had a hankering for a hamburger.

Inside Carls Jr. the air conditioning was fantastic, the place was more or less empty except for the thankfully glassed in kids section where children caroused and screamed and the burger was… just alright. A bit disappointing but whatever.

On the many wall mounted televisions sprinkled around the restaurant, I could enjoy some telenovela and the accompanying commercials obviously dedicated to a female audience with absolutely nothing better to do. I had forgotten, as I don’t have the pleasure of  being able to enjoy Mexican television at home, how truly awful it is!

Lucia Mendez is still doing telenovelas which is probably the only thing she knows how to do and her acting skills are amazing. So convincing was she in the part I saw that I am sure she really is a telenovela actress. She also had had major work done on her face which really doesn’t move much when she talks. Her perky Michael Jackson nose, cheekbones and lips all show signs of an overhaul. Poor thing, desperately clinging to her fading beauty, fingers slipping one at a time off the precipice of youth and about to tumble into the chasm of obsoletion. Is that a word?

The men are cartoons of course as well. Many a furrowed brow; an angry outburst alone in an office. How many men in real life talk to themselves like this? All angry and banging their fist on the desk while the camera closes in on their face, all covered with makeup.

And the sets, the fabulous sets!

Most scenes look like they have been filmed in a Liverpool home furnishings section, or maybe the set designers are ex-decorators from the Palacio de Hierro or Liverpool? Who knows. One scene featured lunch, and a pristine white table setting was offset by the bright orange drink in a glass pitcher. No one was drinking anything and Mom finally got around to serving a rice noodle broth. It looked delicious, but no one was paying attention.

Finally, the highlight of my very- late-lunch television viewing experience: a fabulous commercial, right out of a Saturday Night Live sketch, for “UpLift” cream which will make your bum pop right out and your boobs stand up at attention. A rather suggestive video – considering the kids in the glass and plastic cage a few feet away – shows a woman rubbing “UpLift” cream on her breasts (the nipples are blurred out) and then another hot female in a tank top rubbing her bum while wearing a thong. Then, magic! An animation morphs her “unflattering” flat bum into a true rappers delight, “it’s like, out there Becky” (from Baby Got Back). You get to watch this creaming and morphing several times during the several-minute long commercial. I tried to imagine this commercial in a non-latin culture. Couldn’t do it.

That’s it. The end.

Next time I am going to OneBurger. Maybe they will have something better on TV.

Hennessy’s for Lunch

The Casual Restaurant Critic has said all he is going to say about Hennessy’s so here are some pictures, as they are apparently worth a thousand words. There’s at least 6 or 7 thousand words here for you to drool over. The food today was great, service a little less so, but they try.

And Sean was nice enough to send over a dessert sampler for the Better Half and Critics birthday guest. Thank you!

Hennessy’s Irish Pub – A New Years Eve Celebration

There is, in this increasingly competitive culinary environment that is the upscale restaurant scene in Merida, a new player in town and it is a stunner! Hennessy’s Irish Pub has moved into a stunning location designed by Henry Ponce the architect, on Meridas most important avenida under the gaze of the nearby Montejo clan statue, about a block from the equally sumptuous Rosas and Xocolate boutique hotel and restaurant, whose most recent claim to fame was Caroline Kennedy popping in for a discrete visit.

When you think Irish pub you think smoke, whisky and a good brawl. No brawls were in evidence at Hennessy’s however, when the Casual Restaurant Critic and his lovely Better Half, along with a new Casual Restaurant Crew, went there to celebrate New Years Eve. The crowd was decidedly upscale, and at least half or more were of the expatriate variety, coming out in all stripes to sip a Guinness and perhaps chat with the ‘impossibly handsome’ owner, one of two actually, who put this place together.

Also when Irish pubs come to mind, the last thing – on the Critics mind at least – is food. What is Irish pub food anyway? A sausage? Something featuring the Irish staple, the potato? No, this was something far, far better.

Appetizers included a spinach salad, fish cakes, an onion soup and the most amazing seafood chowder, red in color and thick with chunks of tender fish and other items plucked from an ocean near you. The main courses had by the table at which the Critic had the honor to sit, were two: the Panchetta and the lamb (or was it beef?) curry. While the curry was tasty and at apparently just the right volume in the spice department, the Panchetta was the hands-down winner. Crispy, fatty pork (how can you go wrong!) on a bed of something that resembled a mashed potato and apple concoction that provided a perfect, sweet without being cloying complement to the perfectly roast pork. And the portions were enormous!

For dessert, there was an amazingly thick cheesecake and a delicious apple strudel, served with vanilla ice cream.

Service was, as is the case at these type of events, adequate at best but always friendly and the ambience as well as the place itself, outstanding. Take your best friends and head over there tonight!!

Please enjoy the photos, provided by a member of the Casual Restaurant Critic Crew; aka Juan. Gracias Juan!

The Spinach Salad

Crispy Fish Cakes

The Seafood Chowder!

French Onion Soup

Pancheta! That's what it says on the menu BTW. Nevertheless, it is to die for. Honestly.

Curry! Was it lamb or beef? Can't recall - too much of that rose wine!

Luigis for Breakfast

A friend whom the Critic shall call Lincoln told him about this place where he goes for breakfast regularly; a breakfast that is tasty, hot and most importantly (the Critic suspects this to be the case) cheap.

It’s called Luigi’s but before you get all excited, the place is about as Italian as a Ticul-made pump. There is a fellow there by the name of Luigi, but he is Yucatecan and his place somehow lacks the glamor of, say, a Milan eatery. In fact, this place is a hole in the wall practically on the corner of 56 and 43 streets, identifiable by the official Coca Cola colors and hand-written menus on construction paper taped unceremoniously to the walls.

The tables and chairs are also Coca Cola, but the ambience, such as it is, is very neighborly and friendly with everyone commenting ‘buenos dias’ and ‘provecho’ as they pass your table. There are some food pictures below, the first is of ‘huevos a la Mexicana’ and the second of the giant bread basket. The accompanying refried beans are terrific and there is no coffee, just Coca Cola.

Total for two people having full egg breakfast? 58 pesos, or about 5 dollars. Can’t beat that.

OneBurger

The Critic and the infinitely patient Better Half stopped at OneBurger, a relatively new addition to the Merida culinary scene, although it has been favorably reviewed by the Critics cohort in criticism Beryl, at www.gorbman.com some time ago.

Upon entering you are greeted with a sparkling white interior which an employee was busy cleaning. So busy was he that he didn’t look up for a while, but when he did, and the Critic asked him to explain the concept since it was his first time there, he did so in a friendly, courteous manner. All the hamburgers are of the ‘gourmet’ variety, with all kinds of weird and wonderful toppings that the Critic loves. Things like goat cheese, red onions, real Cheddar cheese (unlike the processed orange plastic crap across the street and down a ways at Carls Jr which is a pretty darn good burger BTW) and actual real ground beef.

The verdict?

The hamburger was very tasty. The meat tasted different, as if it were actual ground beef you make at home, not something overly processed. The buns were not that great in the Better Half’s opinion but the Critic didn’t notice, chomping happily on a Cheddar Cheese Bacon combination that was delicious, if not overly seasoned. Accompanying the burgers were – the Better Half wanted these – fried Yucca (a little bitter for the Critics tastebuds but he is not sure if this is supposed to be how Yucca tastes…?) and Habanero Fries which sound a lot spicier than they are. They were perfect fries; crisp, seasoned to perfection and had just a bit of a bite to them.

The Critics only negative observation was that the lettuce peeking out from between those buns and the chopped sirloin burger, looked a little limp and even brown on the edges, showing some serious signs of age. Attention to the details should keep this burger joint at the top of gourmet lists for a while yet.

Two burgers and fries combos, with the refillable sodas, came to about $300 pesos, which is not exactly Burger King cheap and the Critics paisano dentist buddy would moan in agony at the price.

But it is such a better burger.

The Montejo Statues “Controversy”

An email from a friend alerted me to the presence of a BBC reporter who did a piece on Merida which focused entirely on the ‘storm in a teacup’ surrounding the statues of the Franciscos de Montejo which were recently unveiled on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida’s wide, Champs Elysees -style boulevard. The interview with a Yucatecan anthropologist, which can be heard here, covers the unfavorable reaction that the statues have received from some sectors. It seems to me that if the BBC was doing their GeoQuiz on Merida, there are about a gazillion other things to talk about, but the statues were the topic of this segment.

In my humble and unschooled opinion, the statues simply put a face to the name that is present on the avenue, a local beer, and of course the Casa Montejo, now a Banamex bank and once their base and home in the city’s Plaza Grande. Undoubtedly, their contribution to the city, besides drawing up the initial plans for how the newly formed capital should be laid out and grow, included a lot of exploitation of and violence against, the existing Mayan indian population. I don’t feel that the statues glorify the Montejo clan, as the history of the Yucatan is taught, to some degree, in every elementary, secondary and high school in the state and so most people are aware of the atrocities perpetrated by the conquistadores.

On the other hand, there is a statue, much larger and more dramatic to be sure, to one of the great Mayan indian warriors, Jacinto Canek, on an avenue that bears his name as well. The difference in the two statues and where they are located may be a subtle clue to the underlying sentiments that prevail in the Yucatan today. The Montejos are on Merida’s most spectacular avenue, where turn of the century mansions line the street and pedestrians stroll under giant shady trees on wide sidewalks; the Jacinto Canek avenue is a noisy, commercial and thoroughly unattractive street, notorious for being the home of the shabbiest strip clubs and where the sidewalk is broken and populated each night by transvestite prostitutes.

Racism is alive and well in the Yucatan – but never talked about – and perhaps the Montejos statues contribution will be a renewed discussion on the lingering effects of that fateful moment in history, over 500 hundred years ago, when the cultures of the old world clashed with those of the new.

Local 3 – Not Closed

Just a brief note to let people know that the Local 3 restaurant on Prolongacion Montejo between Dante and the former SEAT dealership, is not closed, as was rumored on remixto.com.

They have modified their schedule for summer, as many Meridanos have moved to the beach and I suspect that some of their staff, gleaned from the Culinaria cooking school, are on vacation as well.

They are open from Monday to Thursday for lunch and early gringo dinner, until 6 PM. On Fridays and Saturdays, they are open for dinner (Mexican time) only and the restaurant is closed all day on Sundays.

Rosas and Xocolate Revisted

On a very busy (restaurant-wise) weekend, the Casual Restaurant Critic and his lovely wife were invited along with the critical folks from Elio the night before to re-sample Rosas and Xocolate. The Critic uses the term re-sample because, of course, there was a previous visit – also on a Saturday night – resulting in a mixed review the first time around.

This time around, however, the experience was spectacular. The service marked one of those rare firsts – in Merida, anyway – and was probably the best the Critic has had to date, with the exception of the lunch had approximately 5 hours earlier which will be written about shortly.

Attention to every detail, attentive and non-intrusive, the waiters looking after the table were very professional indeed. Again, the owner stopped by to say hello and make sure that the table was well-looked after.

The food was glorious, in particular the fried octopus chicharra, the duck salad and the enormously fat and meaty pork rack had by the Critic. Everyone commented on how delicious their food was. Accompanied by Pellegrino sparkling water, a few fruit (lychee and apple) martinis and some choice red wine, the evening was pretty well a flawless dining experience.

The table was indoors and so the Critic was unable to confirm or not the presence of a cleaning lady in the bathrooms doing her thing (as commented on during the last visit).