Tag Archives: Yucatecan

La Europea – Nada Que Ver

Today I was shopping in Walmart City Center (because there’s nothing like doing some grocery shopping on December 23rd, right?) and decided to walk over to the newly opened La Europea store.

La Europea is the well-known wine and liquor shop in Cancun that also has gourmet food items and a sandwich bar featuring fine hams and other cold cuts. They just opened their Merida location in the City Center mall, where a food court was destined to be but never materialized.

Walking in, you are looked at, walked by and generally ignored by each and every employee you come across. There are boxes all over the place and plenty of paper strewn on the floor. An employee in “Ignore Client” mode, pushes a broom lackadaisically ignoring you as she meanders past. The shelves are somewhat sparsely populated; in particular the chips were one bag to a shelf, indicating a last minute attempt to fill retail space with something – anything. I was pleased however, to find some jars of white asparagus that was NOT from China (see earlier post on Superama) but rather imported from Peru.

The whisky selection seems a little more extensive than that found at COVI, with a greater selection of Kentucky and Tennessee whiskies on display. All the other brands of Scotch, vodkas and rums are ones you will find elsewhere in Merida, from Costco to Walmart to Sams to the aforementioned COVI.

Like Superama, this is a store that is marketed to appeal to a clientele that is interested in quality. However their service, just like Superama and from what I witnessed today, is nowhere near anything resembling good or even mediocre. It sucks.

With employees completely indifferent to your presence you will be much better served and enjoy a much more pleasant shopping experience at the store whose name begins with a C and ends with an I which I am hesitant to name again so as not to be accused of owning stock in the company, which I don’t.

Doña Juany gets a Headache

Stepping out, broom in hand, into the relatively cool morning air in front of her colonial home that had once belonged to her parents and who had gone off and died, leaving her in charge of taking care of the old, crumbling family home, Doña Juany paused for a moment to take a breath.

Fate. Yes, as fate would have it and thanks to her ungrateful and unhelpful brothers deciding to marry and move to el norte because God forbid that her sisters in law should have to live in Merida’s congested downtown – las wachas – she had been the only one left to live in what used to be a grand colonial home but which was now reduced to a dusty relic, complete with cracks in the walls and ceilings, vines creeping into the kitchen and rotting wooden door frames. She glanced – half angry, half sad – back at the sagging front door and grunted sharply, beginning to sweep the sidewalk with quick, violent movements.

Of course she had not gotten married; the love of her life had been Carlos Irigoyen but what had been a promising love affair was fatally interrupted by the constant neediness of her mother who was on her deathbed and had no one else to care for her. Juany’s father had died a few months prior and that prolonged illness and the news that Mama was also now sick, was the motivation her brothers needed and they had fled the family home to take refuge with aunts and uncles and in universities in Mexico City and Monterrey.

“Anywhere but here” she muttered to herself, sweeping a little more vigorously.

Of course while they were off enjoying life and improving themselves under the guise of ‘studying a career’, she was left behind with Mama Rita, as the servants – long since gone after her fathers illness dried up what was left of the family fortune – used to call her; bathing, feeding, changing her now baby-like mother and arranging for a priest to come visit once a week to keep up her spiritual health. Not that she minded of course – she had to remind herself sternly – but wouldn’t it have been nice if her brothers had shown at least some interest in helping out, in some small way. But no, not even a hint of interest let alone outright help. And then they started in with their girlfriends, some of whom eventually became their wives – las wachas – and they all moved back to Merida, but as far away from el centro as possible, to fashionable neighborhoods with pretentious names, like Monte Alban and Monte Cristo and Monte Fulano and Monte Mengano.

Her sweeping picked up speed to the point where she was now slashing the broom back and forth, not even seeing what it was she was sweeping.

And so here she was, unmarried, overweight and bitter, saddled with a responsibility in the form of a house that she couldn’t get rid of even if she wanted to, given the condition of the building and the drooping real estate market in Merida.

She stopped sweeping and her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Embarrassed, she quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and muttered something about el polvo just loud enough to be heard, in case anyone was looking out a nearby window or door.

She could feel a headache coming on.

It was at this moment that Frijol, the neighbors dog, sauntered into her line of sight and stood before her, looking up with those big dark malix eyes and wagging his tail expectantly. He was a healthy, well fed, all-black former street dog who had had the fortune to be adopted by Doña Juany’s neighbor, a gringa who had moved in a few years back and with whom Doña Juany had come to be on speaking terms when they occasionally crossed paths on their street.

With a jerk of his head, Frijol turned to bark happily at his owner, who now also appeared in front of Doña Juany.

Buenos dias, Juanita!” said Betty cheerfully.

Buenos dias, Doña Beti” answered Doña Juany, forcing a smile and hoping her eyes were not too red. “Mucho polvo” she added with a quick rub of her left eye.

Si” replied Betty “es muy seco todo” and with that she turned, waving, and sang out “adios Juanita!” while opening her front door and with the malix Frijol bounding happily ahead of her, disappeared inside.

Doña Juany looked after them for a moment, then took her broom and slowly stepped through the sagging wooden front doors back inside, closing them carefully behind her, making her way past the scratched petatillo rocker next to a small metal end table that featured a scene from a Disney cartoon, through the off-white, almost green square-tiled kitchen, making a beeline for the baño with the one naked overhead light bulb and finally reaching the stained wooden wall cabinet with the broken mirror, where she kept her headache medicine.

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Will Doña Juany find comfort in Aspirin? Will Frijol the Malix live happily ever after? Will Betty remember to call Pat?

Stay tuned for another installment of TihoTales, when inspiration strikes!

The Problem with the Muchacha

“I mean it’s not like she’s actually stealing anything” said Pat, holding the cup of decidedly watery coffee with both hands, feeling the cups smoothness and marveling at the fact that you could even hold a fresh cup of coffee in a porcelain – albeit chipped – cup with both hands. Shouldn’t this be hotter?

Betty nodded, completely in tune with the frustrated sentiments of her recently arrived friend from Baltimore, for whom Betty had procured a maid in response to Pats request because, as she had put it, “I need more time for my art.”

Blonde, blue-eyed and originally from Guelph, Ontario, Betty had had similar concerns when she first arrived in the formerly-white city of Merida some years ago but now had become accustomed to the locals way of doing things. She recalled the shock of finding her mozo, a young lad of about 22 with a limited command of English and decidedly Mayan features whom she had hired off the street, poking around in her kitchen when he was supposed to be watering her garden. “Que haces, Juanito?” she had asked and the mozo had simply shrugged and left her there, wondering if she should make it more clear what his job description was and seriously debating whether or not she should count the spoons.

Pat interjected with a sigh. “I know she is a sweet girl and would never take something without asking” she said “but I can’t shake the feeling that she has been through my things”

The waiter, a man in his fifties with a large belly completely inconsistent with his income, approached the outdoor table. “Mas cafe?” he asked, all the while checking out Betty’s legs, which were bare, muscular and tanned, thanks to her plaid shorts and a strict regimen of daily swimming and walking her dogs. “No, gracias” said Betty, while Pat just shook her head. The waiter retreated into the dark confines of the cafe.

Pat continued. “I mean there I was, in my studio doing some work with forks. You know I am working on a piece that involves forks, right?” Betty nodded. “And I look over at the kitchen and there is Seidy talking on her cell phone and putting something in her purse. So I put two and two together…” Her voice trailed off.

“Look,” said Betty soothingly, “you really don’t know what she was up to and I’m sure you’re just jumping to conclusions. Remember that I talked to Seidy’s mother before we had her come to work for you and she assured us that Seidy was very responsible and completely dependable.” Pat nodded. “Why don’t you ask her what she was doing?” continued Betty.

Pat shook her head, setting down the chipped cup. “I couldn’t do that” she said, “I would be accusing her of something and what if it is all a misunderstanding?”

Betty smiled gently. Pat had been through a lot in the last few years and her self-esteem was still somewhat fragile. After her husband had left her in yet another classic middle age crisis love story, Pat had spent much of her time depressed and only when she discovered her passion for art – and anti-depressant drugs – did she climb out of her funk and rejoin the living. Now she had managed to purchase a small home in Merida and was getting by on her savings and the occasional sale of her rather controversial art. There was not a huge market in Merida, it seemed, for abstract sculptures made of kitchen utensils.

Betty signaled for the bill to a passing busboy using that ‘writing-in-the-air’ motion she had picked up as part of her cultural conversion, who nodded and continued on to the cafe’s interior. A moment later the waiter emerged from within and asked Betty if she wanted the bill. “Si, por favor” she said and a few minutes later was fishing through her fanny pack for some pesos. Placing the money on the bill and mentally calculating the 10 percent she was leaving as a tip, she looked at Pat. “If you like, next week when I have a moment, we can sit down – together if you like – and talk to Seidy and find out what she’s up to these days. You know, sometimes when you talk to them, you get to know a little about what it is that’s going on in their lives and everything is really OK.”

Pat’s slightly worried expression seemed to brighten a few shades. “That would be great Betty” she said, “can I call you?”

“Of course” Betty replied with a smile. They got up and made their way down calle 62 until they came to the corner of 61, where they parted, with a peck on the cheek just like the local ladies of a certain economic and social background do it, and continued on to their respective homes in Centro.

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Will Pat resolve her doubts? Will Seidy cough up her secret? Will Betty adopt another street dog?

Stay tuned for another installment of Ti’ho Tales, coming soon, should the inspiration strike!

Bank Credit Card Interest Rates

For those of you not familiar with the exorbitant rates charged by Mexican banks for use of their credit card, and think you have it bad there in the US or Canada, here’s an interesting tidbit of information, sent to me recently in my HSBC credit card statement by the Banco de Mexico and the Condusef. The former is the central bank in Mexico and the latter is the place to go when you have a complaint or grievance against a bank or credit institution.

The rates, comparatively, for “Gold” credit cards, by bank:

Bank / Product / Annual % Rate

  • Banco Inbursa – Oro Inbursa – 25.5%
  • BBVA Bancomer – Oro Bancomer – 32.9%
  • Santander – UNISantander-K – 33.2%
  • Ixe Tarjetas – Ixe Oro – 35.3%
  • Banamex – Oro – 41.7%
  • HSBC – Oro HSBC – 42.3%
  • Banorte – Oro – 43.8%
  • Scotiabank – Scotia Travel Oro – 53.4%
  • American Express – The Gold Credit Card – 54%

Pretty shocking huh?

Merida Doors and Facades (Photos)

This afternoon I found myself in Meridas centro, known in expat circles as “Centro” ie “I live in Centro, where do you live?” about which I could go on in a humorous fashion for quite some time, as no local ever calls it just ‘centro’ but anyway, once again I digress and of course I might alienate some of my readers, whom I dearly love to death.

Gosh it’s hard to type this when the cursor disappears!

In any case, there I was, the light was perfect and I have always wanted to take photos of those colorful facades and doorways so typical of the centro scene and lo and behold: I had my camera, the afternoon sun cast a warm glow all around and I had time to spare.

Here are some of those shots.

Bryans – The Newest Trotter Restaurant

Por fin, as they say around here, the Casual Restaurant Critic got his critical butt into a comfortable seat at Bryans, the latest and greatest in the Trotters chain here in sunny Merida.

For those of you unfamiliar with Trotters (no relation to Charlie in Chicago) the Trotters have several first-rate restaurants here in Merida; there’s Panchos downtown catering to the tourist crowd as well as those interested in picking up tourists who have overdone it on the excellent margaritas there; there’s La Tratto, an upscale and always popular trattoria located on the Prolongacion (del Paseo de) Montejo; the relatively new self-named Trotters, just down the street from the Burger King fountain (hey, that’s what it’s called around here) off Montejo which quickly became the benchmark for Merida restaurants trying to create the perfect dining room and now Bryans, which is even swankier than Trotters.

The menu at Bryans appears to be similar to that of Trotters, at least at first glance. There are some meats, some salads and some soups, as well as some desserts that all appear to be a continuation (or evolution) of items seen on the Trotters menu. The feel of the place? One certainly does not feel as if one is in Merida at least for a little while. There is an impeccable open kitchen, filled with industrious chefs and their helpers working away, polished stone and dark wood finishes throughout, enormous floor-to-ceiling open windows/doors, an upstairs wine attic visible from the dining area below, subdued lighting throughout and the huge terrace outside for those who enjoy a little nicotine with their dinner. Perhaps a little less formal than Trotters, but a whole lot more elegantly hip, this restaurant has to be seen to be believed and is filled nightly with Meridas beautiful people who know nothing of an economic crisis, thank you very much. The Critic, in spite of not being one of the beautiful people, was accompanied by his beautiful Better Half and so had an excuse for being there and visited Bryans at lunchtime, just before the rush.

Food ordered included a Parisian burger, medium rare and others in the party ordered the pork filet, which appeared to look more like a fat chop, served with a barbecue sauce. The smallish burger was very tasty and the Parisian part consisted of the sauteed mushrooms and onions on the meat and the small size of the platter turned out to be just right – not too much, not too little. The other members of the party commented that their pork was delicious. For desserts, the fantatic tiramisu cheesecake and a berry tart that the Better Half recalled as having been served to her warm on a previous visit. This time it was not warm, but straight out of the fridge. Coffee was excellent , aromatic nd fresh, individually made to order for each person.

The food, at least to this cantankerous Critic, although good, was not as mind blowing as he had expected. Unlike the recent meal at Hennessy’s, which blew the Critic away, this was fine, but nothing that the Critic would say exceeded expectations.

On a nit-picky note, the servers were friendly and plentiful, although large gaps appeared between their visits to the table and in spite of many of them just circling around, including supervisors. They could have been a little more attentive to the table at crucial moments, such as ordering desserts, refilling coffee, when it came time to ask for the bill, that sort of thing. Another detail which stood out in this immaculately beautiful dining room was the fact that the drinks were served not on a coaster with a funky design, but on a servilleta Lys, folded in half. One must assume that the printer is working frantically on those coasters as the limp wet napkin hardly does justice to the obvious care and attention paid to every other detail.

So, while the Critic would jump at the chance to return to Hennessy’s to sample more of their menu and enjoy a frosty Guiness, Bryans did not evoke that feeling. But go and visit the place yourself, and drink in the terrific ambience and then form your own opinion.

Fun Merida Activities – The 9 PM Houston Flight Arrival Event

For those of you constantly whining about how this or that is not the ‘real’ Merida as if all Yucatecans had to wear starched white clothing, clunky sandals and balance a tray with bottle and glasses on their heads for your amusement, here is another unreal Yucatecan activity that you too can participate in!

There are tried and true Merida traditions, like frijol con puerco on Mondays, visiting the family home en masse on Sundays, and spending the summer months at the beach, that you are probably quite aware of. But there are also newer, more modern traditions that you may not be aware of or that are being crafted in our lifetime, right now! One of these is the cultural event that occurs almost nightly at Merida’s airport.

Each night at the Manuel Cresencio Rejon airport (who the hell was that guy anyway) here in the formerly white city, around 9 PM, a crowd gathers at the arrivals gate to welcome the passengers arriving on the almost-daily Continental Airlines flight from Houston, USA.

It’s always a fine cross-section of Merida’s population with all the socioeconomic groups represented.Look carefully!

There are the well-off Meridanos from the clase acomodada, awaiting the arrival of a tia or tio or perhaps a student – mi primo – returning from a semester in the US where they went to study English with all the chicanos and instead learned to appreciate the value of their muchacha as well as the recreational qualities of marijuana. These folks gather in small groups, often based on age groups, because they know each other and ask ‘a quien vienes a buscar‘ which is then followed by a lengthy conversation on the life of the person they are waiting for. This is also a good time to catch up on local gossip once the initial conversation has reached a saturation point and/or flight 1842 is late landing on the tarmac.

Also present is some sort of gringo element in the form of a single man or perhaps a couple, who have come to pick up one of their kind who is coming to visit or stay for an extended period of time in their newly renovated house. These people, wearing garb that ranges from monied and downright elegant to scraggly shorts and a wrinkled guayabera topped off with Felix the Cat facial hair and a bedhead do, are often standing alone and will keep to themselves, even in the presence of other gringos unless of course they are on speaking terms in which case they will make light superficial conversation about life in “Centro”.

There is almost always a family or two of people who fit into neither category, gringo or clase acomodada, and who probably live in one of Merida’s “popular” neighborhoods, “popular” being the local term for the poor and low income people that make up the vast majority of the Yucatans population. These people do not mingle with the aforementioned clusters and arrive in large familial units complete with a gaggle of children accustomed to unusual bedtimes and often with an hipil-clad abuelita in tow.

A fun activity is to try matching the passengers escaping the baggage claim and semaforo area with the people waiting. One can get the occasional surprise when, for example, the low income family with the hipil-clad grandmother is the group that welcomes open-armedly the solitary gringo with one carry-on piece of luggage. Hugs and backslaps from the males, polite handshakes from the women and shy smiles from the many children accompany the lucky gringo (you should consider yourself lucky to get such an enthusiastic reception) to whatever form of transporation is waiting outside.

While enjoying this entertainment, I recommend getting a pretty awful cup of coffee which costs about half a minimum daily wage 😉 at the place next to Burger King, or perhaps ordering some hot french fries at BK itself so you can munch or sip while watching the goings-on.

Look around folks, and welcome to the real Merida.

La Taberna de los Frailes – A Valladolid Find!

Whilst visiting the monastery of San Bernadino in Valladolid yesterday, the Casual Restaurant Critic noticed a new (for the Critic anyway) restaurant directly in front of the parking lot of this often visited Valladolid attraction.

After touring the monastery and its multiple austere charms, the Critic and a guest had lunch at this restaurant, owned by a talented Valladolid woman who is also responsible for the upscale cafe on one corner of the city’s main plaza.

The restaurant is very attractive, with a low-tabled bar at the entrance, followed by a high-tabled bar area under a lush maracuya (passion fruit) vine and an elegantly appointed palapa restaurant in back with real tables and comfortable, cushioned chairs. One is struck immediately by the formal table setting in this casual atmosphere, complete with heavy silver and glassware, starched linen napkins wrapped in handmade napkin rings (made from the thorns of the henequen plant among other things) and tablecloths. No plastic Coca Cola tables here!

The food is fantastic – the Critic ordered the Relleno Negro plate while his guest had the Tsik which is usually made with venison but here is prepared with tender smoked pork and served in a lec (gourd) and is both refreshing and delicious.

Service is very attentive and gracious. While the waiter did not speak English, he was very receptive to some English terminology thrown his way, repeating each word carefully to memorize them.

As far as price goes, the total came to $300 pesos before tip, which included one margarita, a Coke and a bottle of water.

Highly recommended!