Tag Archives: Yucatan Living

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.

6 Cool Places to Escape the Heat in Merida

Damn it's hot!

Damn it’s hot!

At this time of the year, the hottest season in the Yucatan with temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s (fahrenheit) there are brush fires everywhere and the city of Merida, with all it’s concrete and asphalt, is an inferno.

Real health issues can result from extended exposure to this kind of oppressive heat and so, in the interest of assisting visitors and locals alike, I am presenting a list of my favorite places to cool off in (and around) Merida.

Please, if you have favorite places, let me know to include them in this list for others to enjoy.

1. The Vegetable and Fruit Refrigerated Room at Costco

Costco is air conditioned and that is all fine and good, but if you are really wanting to cool off, I suggest you go to the patio furniture area, pick out a nice lounge chair and carry it into the vegetable and fruit cooler at the back of the store, where temperatures hover just above the freezing mark. A good 10 minutes in there and your body temperature will be restored and your brain will contract back into the available space in your cranium, relieving you of your heat-headache.

2. OXXO Convenience Stores

The thing about OXXO convenience stores is that they are located everywhere in Merida (except south of 63 street as it seems that the people down that way do NOT fit into the OXXO demographic) and they are all air conditioned and most even have a small table and chair setup where you can enjoy something from the large selection of processed junk food available. Take your time; there is no apparent set amount of time you can stay there. If you are feeling considerate, you can give up your spot to the next overheated Meridano or turista waiting to cool off.

3. Galeria Mall

At the Galeria mall, you can grab a bench seat in front of the ice rink (yes, I said ice rink) and watch the kids – and some adults – do their imitation of The Walking Dead on skates. Of course there are some really talented skaters out there along with the zombies which begs the question “how the hell did THAT happen?” Where did they learn and practice skating before this mall opened? Interesting.  After sitting there for a while you will notice your body cooling off and the desire to throw yourself on the ice naked will thankfully go away.

4. Altabrisa Mall

At the Altabrisa Mall, you can just hang out along with everybody else and their perro who is in from the heat. I mention this mall and not the Gran Plaza mall as it seems the Gran Plaza mall has air conditioning issues and so is not nearly as fresh and refreshing as Altabrisa is, the mall of the moment. There is a Starbucks and also a Haagen Dazs café if you are feeling the need to be seen spending an inordinate amount of money on a beverage.

5. Starbucks

Speaking of Starbucks, there are several of these around Merida now and are a somewhat more cozy option than the OXXO convenience store concept discussed above. It’s like being in someone’s (someone well off) living room: nice music, nice people, nice temperature and good coffee. You’ll spend money on your coffee but you will be guaranteed a good cup of coffee. To the people not from Merida – you know who you are – who whine that Starbucks is killing the local coffee culture, I laugh out loud at your ignorance of the crap we had to drink before Starbucks came to down.

6. The Casa Montejo Museum

If you are in dire need of a blast of ice all over your body and are on the main square, you can pay a visit, ostensibly to get a little culture, to the Casa de Montejo museum. Unless it’s a Monday, you will be able to visit the former home of one of the Franciscos de Montejo and while pretending to enjoy looking at furniture and wallpaper from the 1500’s and 1600’s, you can be sucking in icy cool air. That place is kept as cool as a Pappa’s Steakhouse meat locker and it feels great. Afterwards, pop across the square for a sherbet at the Sorbeteria Colon, where you can frost your insides with a creamy scoop of coconut ice cream.

Don Ambrosio and the Hacienda Lifestyle

Don Ambrosio’s joints ached. As he climbed the stairs to the platform containing the rusting remains of the haciendas henequen scraping machine, 3 large white ladies in straw hats and plaid shorts bearing what must surely be expensive camera equipment close on his heels, he suddenly felt older than his 73 years. He was getting tired of this, showing a seemingly never-ending stream of tourists the ruined plantation that had been a part of his life for the last 60 years.

He turned to face them, directing his gaze at each of the three flushed red faces that stared back at him expectantly. Two had already raised their cameras and were pointing them directly at him; he wondered if he should start a little song and dance number. Wearily, he took a battered henequen leaf – one of his props – from the floor behind a giant metal wheel and, bending it in half, showed them the fiber that would have been extracted and motioned to them how the leaves came up from the fields and onto a conveyor belt that fed them into the scraper, leaving liquid and pulp behind. The tourists snapped away with their cameras and he paused for a moment and smiled a tired smile. His English was unfortunately non-existent and their Spanish was limited to “si” and “no“.

It seemed – no it was – so long ago now that he had worked as a henequen leaf cutter in the vast extensions of land that had once belonged to the plantation, working from 5 AM to 5 PM under the merciless sun for very little pay. In those days, he remembered, there was no question about what one was going to do, or to be, other than a worker at the hacienda. If you were lucky you worked in the hacienda buildings, tending to gardens or perhaps performing cleaning duties for the wealthy owners who spent an inordinate amount of time lounging around on the expansive terraces, sipping cool jamaica tea or perhaps something a little stronger. If you were less fortunate, you worked in the fields and were woken each morning by a 4 AM whistle that signaled the beginning of another backbreaking day in the fields or on the machines.

The gringas had stopped taking photos and were waiting to move on.

He had already taken them through the haciendas main buildings, including the kitchen, living and dining areas and had tried to explain, as best as he could with his mime techniques, the fact that every room in the hacienda could be converted into a bedroom or sleeping area thanks to multiple hammock hooks on the walls. He had also shown them the office, where he recalled Don Ignacio, the owner, spending many hours poring over papers with the assistance of an accountant making sure that every aspect of the henequen production was recorded, measured and accounted for. The gringas had shown special interest in – and taken many photos of – the wooden desk, now infested by out of sight termites and ants, who were silently reducing the ancient piece of furniture to dust before his very eyes.

He now showed them the silent motors that once ran the scraper machines; hulking steam engines that belched smoke unfettered by environmental concerns into the Yucatan sky for years through tall stone chimneys that rose, San Giminiano-like, above the flat land like lightless-lighthouses and now served as beacons for visitors intrigued by the prospect of exploring the Yucatans rich past. He recalled the noise of these machines that could be heard for miles around and while it may have been annoying, it was the sound of money as well, for this was the time of the so-called “green gold” which made the chosen families – those of European descent – rich beyond their wildest dreams and allowed them to furnish their mansions and plantations with the finest offerings from Europe, from floor tiles and furniture to crystal chandeliers and marble statues.  Meanwhile, Ambrosio, and the other 300 dark-skinned Mayan workers and their families, lived in the most basic conditions and shared none of this wealth. Instead, they were paid a meager salary in currency produced expressly for their hacienda – it was useless anywhere else – and were limited to buying their provisions at the tienda de raya, or company store, at often inflated prices.

He led the gringas on to the hacienda’s small chapel. While they – somewhat disrespectfully he thought – snapped close-up photos of the altar and the haciendas patron saint dressed in a purple frock, he recalled that many of his friends from the village had initially been glad when, in the mid 1930’s, the leftist federal government introduced land reform and forced the hacienda owners to relinquish control of the thousands of acres they had and turn them over to the mostly Mayan workers. These same workers had quickly changed their tune when they realized that without the machinery, still under the control of the hacendados, they were unable to do anything with the henequen plantations. The owners, meanwhile, also came to a similar realization as the upstart Indians began demanding a better price for the plant, thereby cutting into their enormous profit margins and making the business less attractive. Many of Ambrosios friends had then complained that perhaps they had been better off under the old system as they had been more or less taken care of by the hacienda owners, who, while not permitting anyone to improve their lot in life had provided such basics as elementary education, a living wage, basic medical care and a strict dose of Catholicism. Of course it was too late; the federal law was now the law of the land and things were about to get even worse. The invention of synthetic fibers dealt the final death blow to the henequen industry which, through the demand for rope produced from this plant for the worlds shipping industry and many agricultural applications, had made a select few Yucatecans inordinately wealthy.

In a way, he had been glad to see the end of the henequen; glad to see the owners abandon the buildings to find refuge and undertake other business ventures in Merida. With the demise of the hacienda, the beatings, the 12 hour work days and the harsh penalties for the most trivial transgressions also disappeared.

He took the ladies to the hacienda gift shop, where they examined postcards and trinkets and bought refrescos from Ambrosios daughter who had forgone a life in the city of Merida, preferring to remain in the pueblo surrounding the former plantation and work alongside her father. She had never known the hard life he had led in the long-overgrown henequen fields and for that, he was grateful.

The gringas were done with their shopping and handed Ambrosio a $50 peso bill and through their gestures and smiles, he could make out that they were very pleased with the tour, such as it was. He smiled back and said softly, “Gracias.”

Unexpectedly, melancholy tears came to his eyes – the eyes that had seen so much – and he turned away before anyone could see.

He was very tired indeed.

 

Puuc in Boots – Merida Winter Fashion

I apologize for the cheesy title but it was as creative as I could get for the subject on my mind this morning: Boots.

Now that winter, such as it is, has come to the Yucatan, I have noticed (have you?) the predominance of boots as a footwear option in the fomerly white city. Everywhere you look, the girls and young women are moving from their traditional chanclas for casual wear and obviously foot-torturing stilletto heels to boots. Flat-soled boots, high heel stilletto boots, long boots, short boots, leather, suede and synthetic material boots, boots with tassles, multicolor boots and long black shiny ones that would serve a dominatrix well.

My Better Half, who stopped by Nine West the other day and observed that ‘everyone’ was trying on boots, says it is all about being fashionable in response to my comment that the boots seemed a little over the top considering that it is not particularly wet outside nor is there any snow on the ground that I have seen anyway.

Along with the boots come the sweaters, shawls and even fur (fake or real who can tell) tipped abrigos (coats) that make me sweat just looking at them. Sweat not because they are so sexy, but because they look too darn hot to be worn in Merida, let alone inside the mall.

I do enjoy the look of the boots though, even if it does seem superfluous. A form fitting pair of jeans and calf-high leather boots with heels will cause many to turn for a second glance and I admit I am not immune. My favorite combination seen this frigid winter season, has been a 20-something woman in a tshirt, sweater, knee-high boots and a pair of cutoff jeans. I don’t see this combo warding off cold temperatures any time soon, so I surmise that my Better Half’s observation is correct. It’s all about being in fashion.

I draw the line however, (and these I have seen as well this winter) at earmuffs.