Monthly Archives: January 2010

No More Tenencia?

For those of you who do not have the privilege of owning a vehicle in Mexico, this will be of little interest.

For those that do, you probably know it already: in Mexico we have to pay a tenencia, or tax just to own a car. This on top of all the other taxes that one must pay in Mexico, this great land where those that pay taxes (30% of the population) pay for the other 70% who either evade taxes completely – those at the top end of the economic spectrum with good fiscal lawyers – and those who are ‘too poor’  at the bottom, because ‘ay poooobres‘ the government and politicians feel sorry for them.  They don’t want to help them, educate, raise the minimum wage, whatever; but they do feel sorry for them. And so they don’t pay taxes either.

Once again I digress. I was talking about the tenencia.
In a nutshell, it is a tax that is based on the value of the car and decreases as the car ages. Implemented in the late 1960’s to pay for the Mexico City Olympics, it turned into such a cash cow that it never went away.

There has been talk about the tax being unconstitutional and the voices, during the 20 years I have lived here, have become louder and more strident; this tax is obsolete ie. the Olympics have been paid for many times over , it is unconstitutional and should be abolished for once and for all.

In the last presidential election campaign, Felipe Calderón promised to eliminate this tax. Today I received an email that explains that he has eliminated the tax at the federal level and has left it up to each state to decide whether or not they want to continue charging this tax. This is why, in a bold and rare move, the state government of Queretaro has eliminated the tenencia tax altogether. Finally, some good news!

So if you are here in the Yucatan and wondering why we pay this onerous tax, know that it is now in the hands of our governor, not Felipe Calderón.

Welcome to LawsonsYucatan!

If you have found this then you are on the new William Lawson Yucatan site!

This will be the new repository for all things related to William Lawson and my take on life in the Yucatan, which dates from the NotTheNews days to the elmaloso blog to the Casual Restaurant Critic blog. This is over 10 years of writing about life here. Eventually, it will all be here.

The immediate priority is to get the theme (the look of this WordPress blog) working, and then transfer content from the other online areas and sites to ‘populate’ this one. Sort of a one-stop for all things related to the topic of life in Merida or Yucatan, from a neurotic foreigners point of view.

Comment at will and spread the word!

Wake-Up Story about Crime in Merida

Yes, Virginia, there is crime in the formerly white city. Fortunately, it is not of the narco/violent variety so prominent in every single other state of this great country.

Ms. Gorbman just put up an interesting post:

Read and be aware!

The Mystery of the Black Christ at Chumayel

Note: If you are under the impression, from the suggestive title “The Mystery of the Black Christ at Chumayel” that I am going to explain in definite terms why the altar in the church at Chumayel has a black Christ on it’s cross, then stop reading now, because I haven’t found the answers. If you have the answer or know of a good theory, let me know!

On a very recent (last week) visit to the church at Chumayel some friends remarked on the black Christ, finding it most unusual and so asked me about it. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s your typical representation of Jesus on the cross except the material seems to be black. While the fact that the Christ is black is unusual, what is certainly not unusual is that I don’t have a clue, being a lapsed catholic who has turned further and further from organized religion and so I was not able to answer their question on why the usually Nordic looking Jesus was in this case, black (without the facial features associated with the black race, of course)

After some poking around, superficially I admit on the internet, I have come to the preliminary conclusion that there is nothing tremendously scandalous or mysterious about the black Christ in Chumayel. Nor is it particularly unique, as there a few others literally hanging around.

For example, one of the more popular ‘Black Christs’ is on display in Guatemala in a village called Esquipulas. Beyond the usual back story on why a carved Christ is commissioned in the first place (humble villagers, miracles, rural area, etc.) the reason given for its blackness is the darker wood used combined with natural aging over the years.(1) The local arquitect Eduardo Andrade indicates that it’s color is due to years of being prayed to amidst candle smoke and soot.(4)

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City also features a black statue of Christ, known there also as Lord of Poison which is a pretty interesting name for a Christ figure. This is the most venerated statue in the entire cathedral and is located at the Altar of Forgiveness and apparently dates back to the 18th of August, 1602 when the Dominican Fathers came to Mexico with several Christ sculptures, all white.

Legend has it (2) that this particular figure was installed in a small chapel in Tlanepantla where the regent archbishop prayed daily and at the end of a prayer, would kiss the feet of this statue. When his enemies saw what his routine was, they applied poison to the feet of the statue in the hopes that they could off him in this way after his next prayer. Alas, their cunning plan was foiled when the statue (faith, people, faith) shrank back from the archbishops approaching lips, thereby saving his life and providing for yet another biblical story. The most interesting part of this tale – for the purposes of this article anyway – is that the statue then absorbed the poison that had been applied by the evildoers and this is what turned it black.

The story quickly got out and spread rapidly amongst the flock; the great back story and the fact that the chapel was not open to the public heightened the mystery and devotion to this black Christ. After being under wraps for many years (ie the marketing plan had worked and the product was ready) in 1935 the now heroic black Christ was moved from its private location to the Metropolitan Cathedral so as to be available for worship by all.

Apparently there is another black Christ in Veracruz, in the town of Otatitlan.(3) The investigator Carlos Navarrete proposes another theory; that these black Christs were made on purpose (as opposed to “Oops, it turned black we need a legend here, people”) and that they can be found on ancient trade routes established by the Pochtecas or prehispanic traders. In the work there is a mention of a substitution in Otatitlan, of a singular black Christ that replaced Yacaecutli or God of Commerce, who happened to be black also.

An article about Campeche mentions 3 black Christs; one in Merida, one in Calkini and one in the church of San Roman in Campeche itself (5), making the one in Chumayel another in a whole series of non-Nordic statues of Jesus.

And finally, beyond Mexico and Guatemala, there is another one of these statues in Portobelo, Panama. From the website: (6)

  • Nobody knows exactly how or when the Black Christ (El Cristo Negro) arrived in the tiny community of Portobelo on Panama’s Caribbean coast. Some put the date at around 1658. But the stories of miracles surrounding the eight-foot wooden statue of the Black Christ are enough to overwhelm the village with tens of thousands of pilgrims every October 21.

So there you have a brief look at the black Christ. Now the next time I am in Chumayel with out of town guests asking in hushed voices about the mysterious figure on the cross, I’ll be able to tell something reasonably intelligent.

Tecoh is a Charmer!

When traveling with friends and relatives around the Yucatan, I am often struck by the difference in ‘feel’ from town to Yucatecan town; Mani, while famous for its’ convent and history and of course the Tutul Xiu restaurant always gives me a neutral impression. Some people are very friendly, like the lady who embroiders dresses in front of the unfortunately closed-during-a-large-part-of-the-day convent; others are outright sullen and hostile. In Uayalceh, there are many suspicious looks and a kind of hardness in faces that is difficult to describe but perceptible.

Yesterdays excursion through the so-called ‘Convent Route’ had a similar result. The inhabitants of the tiny villages of Telchaquillo and Mama were indifferent and the towns themselves lackluster bordering on decrepit in spite of their attractions.

Tecoh was a different story altogether. Maybe it was because it was Sunday, everyone was dressed up, in church and feeling celebratory or maybe it was the impression you get from the moment you leave the highway and approach the town, noticing that there are trees and flowers planted along the way to welcome you. As what seemed to be the entire population of the town exited the church upon the conclusion of Sunday mass, Yours Truly and company got plenty of stares and a giggle or three from the kids but also many a Buenos Dias and a smile. Friendliness seemed to ooze from the pores of everyone we came into contact with.

The thought came to my neurotic foreigners mind that this might be one of those places that Yucatans reputation for friendly people, peaceful provincial life, comes from. It even crossed my mind that this might be a good place to retire.

Is the neurotic foreigner getting soft in his old age?

Real, Delicious, Scones in Merida – El Postrecito

The Casual Restaurant Critic is not a huge fan of scones. Usually, they are these dough-y mounds of white flour biscuit that require several glasses of liquid to swallow; however, the Critic had some scones made by Alejandra at the El Postrecito café, just off Montejo on Calle 21 (the one that goes to Plaza Fiesta).

These are light and fluffy inside, full of buttery flavor and the outside has a sprinkling of sugar which makes them lightly crunchy. The Critic doesn’t even know if they are on the menu but if they are, you should try them in their regular (with what seems like a touch of lemon or lime) or chocolate chip versions. If they are not, order a dozen for your next breakfast meeting or social event.

Eat them hot and you will not be able to stop.

Dzibilchaltun Museum is an Embarassment

As I alluded to on William Lawson’s Driving blog, yesterday I took some folks to Dzibilchaltun. I had told them about the site and it’s small but well-put-together museum.

I was shocked at the state of the museum: it is literally falling apart around the exhibits. Not that you are going to get hit in the head with falling plaster, but you may stumble a bit on the floor, which is made of wooden slats which have either rotted or fallen prey to an insect invasion, known here as comejen, that make it sag and uneven. Some of the wooden slats have been crudely replaced by someone with about as much skill in carpentry as I have, using approximate-sized replacement unfinished wooden strips nailed down with the flair of an 8 year old backyard fort builder. Other slats are covered with pieces of carpeting; the sag you feel as you step on them makes you feel you are on the dance floor of the Mambo Café.

Looking up, it is evident that the finishing coat of cement has fallen off in places, leaving rebar and concrete roofing material exposed. Also, while you are gazing up that way, note that the illumination is at about 30% capacity ie. 70% of the light bulbs are burnt out or off. In any case, they are not working, and many of the exhibits suffer from this lack of proper illumination.

It seems both a shame and a disgrace that the INAH does not or cannot maintain this building that must have hundreds of visitors each week, especially during this ‘high’ season (and the just finished Christmas holidays which saw Yucatan’s attractions mobbed by tourists both national and international) and now that Dzibilchaltun is on the cruise ship excursion map.

Very embarrassing, and as a Yucatecan – according to the definition proposed by Tony in the Diario de Yucatan a few weeks ago, a Yucatecan is everyone that resides here and contributes, in one form or another, to the political, social or commercial life of the Yucatan – I find it unacceptable that our so-called authorities show such disdain towards this important showcase for Mayan and Yucatecan culture.

Ca d’Oro – Italian in Merida, Yucatan

The Critic and Co. had lunch yesterday at the new Ca d’Oro Italian restaurant, located in that plaza on Prolongación Montejo where Carls Jr hamburgers (formerly Checkers) is located, across from the giant Interceramic tile store.

The Critic had read a good review on and so was excited to have the opportunity to give this relatively new restaurant a try.

The two appetizers ordered, suppli al telefono and melanzana were good; the melanzana or eggplant was rich hearty and very satisfying while the best part of the suppli was the great presentation in a paper cone. Others in the party thought the suppli a little bland, but the accompanying cooked tomato sauce perked the little rice/cheese balls nicely.

For main courses:

  • an abundant fusilli in a tomato sauce which, according to it’s owner, was good;
  • a roast duck with a lemon sauce;
  • a Pecorino cheese pizza;
  • and the Critic had the tagliatelle with panna and prosciutto.

Overall, reviews were generally good on the food. The pizza and the duck were outstanding, while the tagliatelle was quite bland. If it hadn’t been for the prosciutto, it would have tasted like not much of anything.

Bread seemed homemade and was warm, crispy and light; while the three accompanying butters (habanero, chile de arbol and garlic) were very good although it could be that the butter was actually margarine, if such a thing were possible in the Ca d’Oro.

As usual, the Critic is critical of the service. If you are tired of reading this same old criticism of Merida’s restaurants, stop reading here and go outside and play.

But it seems that the owners of Ca d’Oro have spent a lot of thought, time and money on the decoration, the menu and some wonderful food. The waiter was slow, charmless and not particularly knowledgeable. When asked when the restaurant opened, he seemed unsure and said ‘it’s my understanding that they opened about year ago’. When asked is they had mineral water his answer was ‘yes’. When asked further what kind of mineral water, he replied ‘Perrier’. When asked if they had Pelegrino he replied ‘yes’. Upon returning to the table to remove finished plates, he went on just a little too much about how it was evident that the group enjoyed the food (the empty plates).

If this is nitpicking, so be it. But one only has to have dinner at La Recova, or for really outstanding service, La Dolce Vita in Cancun, to see what a difference well-trained, knowledgeable and professional waiters make.

Final verdict? Try it yourself. There are a lot of items on their menu and the Critic is sure that there are some real gems in there.

Doña Tere – Merida Cancun Toll Highway

Being as the Casual Restaurant Critic accompanies Lawson wherever he goes, he has had his fill of Yucatecan food lately at Doña Tere, on that service island 1.5 hours out of Merida on the Merida-Cancun toll highway.

There have been at least 7 drives back and forth, picking up people from Cancun and bringing them to Merida and ALL of them have been forced to stop and eat at Doña Teres’ fabulous place.

Yesterday was no exception and the Critic has never seen that many people waiting for tables as the waiters and cooks scrambled to keep up with the demand. It’s the end of the holiday season and there were at least 60 people in and around the restaurant trying to get their teeth on Relleno Negro, Cochinita, Lomitos, Tamales and cheese empanadas.