Tag Archives: Yucatan

The Casual Restaurant Critic at CienFuegos

Another upscale steak-focused restaurant opened a short while ago at the busy intersection of periférico and the City Center shopping center, where traffic is hideous during busy moments and horrendous at all other times. The restaurant is Cien Fuegos and it takes over the space once occupied by the doomed Tony Roma’s franchise.

Speaking of traffic, there will soon be yet another massive building opening there complete with a Camino Real hotel, so it will be interesting to see how Merida’s overly qualified traffic wizards will manage the results of a total lack of urban planning. The only plan seems to be “make it as much like Mexico City as possible” as if that were something even remotely desirable. But the continent was conquered with the help of colored beads and glass, and that legacy persists to this day.

Alas, once again the Critic digresses.

Having visited Cien Fuegos just recently during the pandemic and its limitations on how many people can be in a restaurant the Critic and his generous Better Half enjoyed a meaty meal in a very upscale setting. Service was attentive and all protocols were implemented. The Critic and BH were happy to be able to remove masks as the virus evidently respects humans when they are eating.

A hostess meets and greets, squirts gel and takes your temperature with the plastic pistol everyone has become accustomed to. Once seated, hunger overcame the Critic and BH and guacamole was ordered and devoured, followed by massive rib eye to be shared, served on a hot plate and sliced to allow serving oneself. The guacamole is interesting. The onions are grilled and it features ants. Yes. Other accompaniments were mushrooms and a grilled veggie platter. Thankfully no carbs were ordered as the food was too much to finish properly, and no room for desserts either.

This restaurant would be a good place for a group (six people or less per table at present) or anyone in a celebratory mood. The music is a little loud for whispering sweet nothings in one another’s ears and even regular conversation but the latter is probably because the Critic is old and decrepit and that’s what oldsters do, complain about the noise. Anyone remember the Grinch? That was one of his least favorite aspects of the Who’s celebrating Christmas.

Cien Fuegos has valet parking or you DIY under the building where there is a smallish underground lot.

The guacamole has ants in it. Yep.
Grilled vegetables including beets (foreground)
Mushrooms & peppers
The rib eye

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Humo, Progreso

It’s the weekend, there’s a rainstorm on the horizon and the sky is a roiling black and gray menace.

“Hey, let’s have lunch in Progreso!” exclaims the Casual Restaurant Critic in a jolly mood to his ever-lovely Better Half and after making a reservation on Humo Bistro’s Facebook page, the two are in the car, off to the beach.

About 10 minutes into the drive the car enters the blackness of Mordor and the from the heavens vast quantities of water pour forth in what seems to be a Great Flood of yes, biblical proportions.

“I bet Noah would enjoy this” thinks the Critic.

Visibility is reduced to a few feet in front of the vehicle and yet, the Critic and his Better Half are determined. Lunch will be had! In Progreso! Gripping the steering wheel tight and flicking the wipers to top speed, the trusty Suzuki battles onwards.

Fortunately, the space directly in front of the door to Humo Bistro was wide open and only a few drops made it down the Critic’s back as ran quickly inside. The charming young lady who was to be the wait staff popped open an umbrella and escorted Better Half inside, took the respective body temps and squirted sanitizer onto expectant hands.

Once seated, both CRC and BH ordered the onion soup, an appropriate dish given the gray wetness outside reminiscent of a disgusting yet typical Vancouver afternoon. It was quite good. The cheese might not have been Gruyere but nevertheless was melty and gooey and hit the right notes.

Then, the Critic ordered pasta, which he quickly changed to a burger and as per Gila’s recommendation, this burger became the Bistro Burger. This burger was outstanding with cheese, onions and a thick slab of beef. Better Half ordered capered (alcaparrado) fish filet which came with veggies but no rice, perfect for the meal plan she is currently experimenting with. In between the soups and the main courses, a Caesar salad was also ordered, again quite good.

For dessert, the apple crumble (which had caught the Critic’s eye from the first glance at the menu) and the key lime pie, another favorite. Both were excellent, with the crumble coming out on top in the Critic’s never humble and quite subjective opinion.

Service was charming throughout. Owner Gila and her chef hubby came over to say hello. The room decor is attractive and one feels not in Progreso, which can be a good thing when you want to switch things up a little and enjoy a nice meal in a place with a little more sophistication than the plastic beer company chair and reggaeton environment available elsewhere.

With a couple or three glasses of Merlot and all that food, the bill came to about 1200 pesos. Not cheap, but not Chablé level either.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kuro Uma Sushi

Yes, more sushi.

The Critic (and the always-lovely Better Half) first tried Kuro Uma sushi at an in-home catered event, given that the restaurants were not yet allowed to open at the time and this was a special birthday celebration indeed.

Impressed by the food, the service as well as the presentation, and attention to detail, both Critic and BH could not wait to visit the restaurant, a happy event that occurred just this past week. Merida restaurants are now allowed to open with a limited number of patrons and so, Kuro Uma was the Critic’s first official restaurant outing in at least six months.

A reservation was made in person, with trepidation and specifically requesting terrace seating (being in a small, enclosed environment makes the Critic somewhat hesitant) This did not happen as that day, the folks running the commercial center decided that they would undertake repairs on some water damage and the one terrace that was inoperable (all the other restaurant patios and terraces were open) was the Kuro Uma patio. So, the decision was made and the Critic and Better Half took their places at the counter/bar and proceeded to order. Too much food, as usual.

Food took it’s time coming out but the level of detail in the presentation and cutting of the fish which you can observe firsthand from your seat at the bar, was exquisite. Fish was fresh and very tasty. Recommended is the omakaze sashimi plate (5 types of raw fish) which on this occasion was mostly tuna. The 7 piece omakaze sushi was also excellent. But the dish that still makes the Critic salivate as he writes his casual review, is the pork belly, recommended by the folks also sitting at the bar who shall be called the Xcanatun Couple for the purpose of showing them the appreciation for recommending the dish. Marinated for god knows how many hours, the pork belly literally melts in your mouth and the flavor touches on all the taste points, guaranteeing your blissful satisfaction. The term “mouthgasm” comes to mind.

Accompanied by an icy Sapporo and some sake, this was a luxe lunch that the Critic hopes to repeat very soon! Enjoy the photos.

Pork belly
Not your average Rice Krispies squares
Sake

Primera Piedra

Note: this article was started in 2010! I found it lurking behind the mayonnaise in the back of the fridge and after a quick re-read, thought it worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

I witnessed today what was probably an historical event. It was what those of us who speak English would call a ‘groundbreaking’ ceremony, where officials and businessmen have a little event aka a photo op where someone with completely un-calloused hands grasps a shovel for probably the first time in their life and pretends to actually dig something while mugging for the cameras of the eager press. In the Yucatan, where digging is a physical impossibility in most cases due to the half an inch of topsoil covering a solid limestone rock layer that extends from the hills of Muna to the coast, the groundbreaking become the ‘primera piedra‘ ceremony.

In this particular case, we were witnessing the unveiling and blessing of the ‘cornerstone’ of yet another Centro Comercial (mall) this one to be built by a conglomeration of business interests, most of which are foreign to the foreigners who read this so I will stick to generalities. The fine folks who gave us the Gran Plaza mall have gotten together with the modest Carso group (owners of such fine commercial ventures as Sanborns, Sears, Dorians, Mixup and more (including TelCel and TelMex), the Ramirez clan who own the Cinepolis chain of cinemas, and Yucatan’s largest franchise owner/operator who owns/operates most of the franchises you see in southwestern Mexico such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (known locally as simply Ken-Toh-Key), Pizza Hut (not to be confused with the local Pizza Hot), Burger King (yes, there is a Burger Queen in Merida) and the Bisquets Bisquets de Obregon franchise from Mexico.

The new mall, to be built on the new avenue that takes you to Cholul, will be spectacular, according to all those present. But this article is not about the new mall; rather, it is about the groundbreaking ceremony itself.

Once your car was parked by the obligatory valet parking, you found yourself on a corner of the property designated to soon become treeless and filled with more concrete, the scene was set with billowing white tents, hundreds of exotic candles providing subdued lighting and lounge-style background music. ‘Lounge’ is the latest style to hit Merida and everyone wants to incorporate it into their festivities to make them so much more hip. Plants were everywhere, all rushed in at the last minute and to be removed soon after the last guests had left. All kinds of fine upstanding folks were there, from the proud and fan-waving (it was a hot night) parents of some of the investors, potential contractors (lighting, construction and other) engineers doing their best to schmooze with the investors and line up some work, slim tall edecanes (female models) holding ends of ribbons and standing behind the men at the presidium table like so many exotic flowers, along with local politicians and church officials.

It is important to break here and mention that when you are starting a business in Merida, or perhaps anywhere in Mexico, it is vital that you have a ceremony where a symbolic ribbon is cut by someone important and that someone from the Catholic hierarchy drops by to say a little spiel and splash some holy water around to´’bless’ the new business venture. You can be the biggest crook in town, but if you have enough cash, all this can be arranged without any difficulty whatsoever. Now the more important you perceive your new undertaking to be, the more exclusive the list of invites. In the case of this new mall, it was a Very Big Deal indeed, because the mayor did not send a representative as he usually might do; he came himself. The governor also showed up, in person. This speaks well for the investors of the mall; that these important people, who must have very busy schedules, would take the time to come to a private function such as this and utter a few mumbled words of encouragement and take advantage of the situation to remind those present that all this development was the result of excellent government at both the municipal and state level. Of course.

But your event is complete if you can persuade some higher-up from the Catholic church to perform the Water Ceremony; and who better than the arch-bishop of Yucatan himself? Well lo and behold, he showed up in his newly acquired wheelchair with plenty of help to push him around and a vial of the necessary holy water. The size of this particular project and the actual stone itself compared to the amount of ‘holy’ water in his little vial, reminded him of a case where he had gone to a car dealership to perform this ceremony and the owner had asked him, as he splashed his water around, if that was ALL the water he had brought. He had replied “Do you want me to bless your dealership or wash the cars?” A stand-up comedian! In a wheelchair. The irony.

I don’t know where this was to end when I wrote it in 2010, but it was a work in progress that I found while cleaning up bits and pieces, odds and ends, of my writings and thought it was worth sharing. 

May 18, 2020. On Hunkering… Down

Some new words and phrases have entered out lexicon, hand in hand with COVID19: social distancing, N95 facemasks, PPE, shelter-in-place and more. One term I have seen used all over the place – and used myself – is the phrase hunkering down. Everyone is hunkering down these days.

Hunkering sounds to me like something out of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, something a sailor might be doing, crouched on an island in a shelter made out of palm fronds along with bits and pieces rescued from a broken sailing vessel. Or a man stranded alone in the mountains, protected from the elements by pine and fir branches, perhaps staring out at a small fire sputtering in the drizzle directly outside.

It is rare if not impossible to find hunkering all by itself. You can’t just hunker. “I’ll be hunkering over here for a while” just doesn’t work. You have to hunker … down.

Dictionary.com has five definitions but it is the third one on the list that definitely applies at this moment:

“to settle into the safety of one’s home or other designated shelter for a potentially long time, as would be necessitated by a natural disaster or an outbreak of a contagious disease”

It’s first recorded usage dates back to the early 1700’s and is possibly derived from the Old Norse hüka which means ‘to crouch’ This in turn is similar to the old Dutch huiken or modern German hocken, both of which mean ‘to squat or crouch’ so that theory seems to make perfect sense.

To my untrained ear it sounds very old-British and some have even traced its use back to Scotland. I fact, the Oxford English Dictionary describes how to hunker: “squat, with the haunches, knees and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels (hams? really?) and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet”.

An interesting and digressive factoid: the term was popularized in south-western United States dialect form by U.S. President Johnson in the 1960’s.

No matter its origins; while the hunkering down we are doing is less about crouching on haunches in the wild, it is about staying in one place, safe from the outside world and its inherent and contagious dangers, and staring – like the shipwreck victim or the mountain man – balefully out at the bleak world just beyond our shelter.

April 24, 2020. Facemasks. Or Something. Rabbits.

We’re so used to exchanging polite smiles in our daily social interactions that I found it strange to see that the cashier at the supermarket wasn’t returning my supposedly friendly smile.

I thought that maybe he was having a bad day but then it dawned on me that he had no idea what was going on underneath my protective face mask that covered my mouth and eyes.

Jeez here I am all motivated to write this and I do a quick search for the subject, I see that it has already been written about, and probably much more thoroughly than I could have done, here What else can I write about. Hmm. Rabbits?

I cooked a rabbit the other day. I had gone out to one of the little villages about 45 minutes from Merida to deliver a couple of despensas and one of the ladies said she wanted to give me a rabbit.

Do readers unfamiliar with Mexican Spanish know what a despensa is? It’s a package/box/bag/collection of usually food items for folks that are needy. Needy as in they need them, not a personality trait.

I asked the lady if the rabbit was already beneficiado, and she assured me that yes. Was it cleaned I asked? I didn’t want to pick up a rabbit that I would have to skin at home and then rip the entrails out of. Nor did I want a “lucky” rabbit’s foot.

Again with the definitions. Some words work better in español so chill OK? Beneficiado means killed, slaughtered. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Beneficiado. Sounds beneficial; positive.

She assured me that it was in her fridge and clean and so I drove back to Merida with a bloody rabbit in a plastic bag in my trunk. I mean it could be a cat for all I know, there is no way for a cooking aficionado like me to tell.

It made it home; no stops at police checkpoints with uncomfortable questions about what the dead animal in the bag in the trunk was and I quickly popped it into the fridge for later preparation.

A day later, I found a recipe online and with a minimum of effort, prepared the rabbit according to instructions. Cooked it in the oven at 175 for 90 minutes.

Ketchup and sugar figure into the recipe. Weird. Should I include the video I made of the preparation here? Probably not.

The rabbit was delicious! Served with some white rice and green beans on the side, it was a delectable feast and made me think about how the folks in the rural village that I am taking despensas to are eating rabbit (and probably venison) while I am cooking up Costco chicken. What the hell is that all about?

That’s my report for today. Have a great night everyone!

Dream of rabbits.

You’re so mean, ‘dream of rabbits’ Geez.

April 20, 2020. Sweeping as Therapy

Who knew?

My morning routine, such as it is here in the COVID19 era, involves taking a broom and sweeping the driveway. 

In case you don’t live in Yucatan and don’t know, we are at the height of our dry season and many trees are popping seed pods off by the thousands in preparation for the rains that will soon come. Nature is smart that way. 

Each morning finds our treed driveway littered with hundreds of cracked open seed pods, their contents strewn randomly and wastefully all over the concrete. These pods are dry and have the consistency of hard plastic. Stepping on them results in a satisfying crunch that will make you jump in anticpation to the next step, just to crunch every pod you can, like a six year old stomping in a puddle. The satisfaction is similar to that achieved when you take that piece of bubble wrap and pop all those delicious bubbles. Step on these hard shells with bare feet however, and you will be reminded of that time you stepped on your kids/cousins/brothers/sisters lego in the middle of the night. Ouch.

But, once again I digress.

The morning sweep with the headphones on comes after the morning walk and the morning coffee enjoyed by the morning fire. There is a certain satisfaction moving that broom back and forth, hypnotically watching the seeds, leaves and dirt accumulate, while listening to Bill Maher trying to be funny from his backyard and without an audience, or the New York Times Michael Barbaro emphatically interjecting yet another “HMM” during an interview with an enthusiasm usually reserved for Mayan mestizas during a particularly juicy piece of gossip.

Once the sweeping is finished, it’s back to the morning coffee and attending to pressing decisions about what to cook for the day’s lunch, whether or not it’s garbage day, washing whites or colors, or any number of mundane tasks that could be undertaken to take my mind off the fact that this situation is dragging on and on (and on) and I have no legit means of income and what will happen when my meager savings are used up and my credit cards limits have been saturated…

Where’s that broom? 

 

April 9, 2020. Sanitary Mall Entrances and Police Checkpoints

Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.

I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.

Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento  I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.

I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt –  and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.

The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.

I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down. 

One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.

After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.

It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either. 

Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.

At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.

But wait – not so fast.

First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.

The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.

The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.

Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.

A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.

“I’m good?” I ask.

“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante

If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.

Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.

We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.

It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.

April 7, 2020. On Social Unrest and Class Distinctions

“This crisis is a godsend”

This is what the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) proclaimed on April 2 at a ‘press conference’ a regular media event these days that is quickly becoming as criticized and mocked (and irrelevant) as those of his counterpart to the north. At least he has finally come around to the idea of social distancing as something people should be doing to avoid spreading the virus as the medical system is already straining under the weight of impending disaster.

When he said this the Spanish equivalent  “nos vino como anillo al dedo” he said it in the context of his much-touted 4T or fourth transformation. It will make it easier to create his new, corruption-free society, a happy, shiny new Mexico free of violence and crime. A utopic vision his fanatical supporters fervently share. Nevermind that many will die as a result of the virus, the important thing is that his vision is realized.

For those of you not familiar with what AMLO means by the 4T there is a brief explanation at the bottom of this article.

In any case, his unfortunate choice of words was the subject of much commentary from the press and those people who are truly concerned about the direction this country is going in. And it demonstrates the absolute sense of self-delusion this president is under that he feels he will be protected from a virus because he will not be corrupt, like past administrations.

One member of his party, the current governor of Puebla, stated categorically that the virus will affect only the well off. “The poor are immune,” he said. If this doesn’t smack of populism and appealing to the downtrodden masses, I don’t know what is.

At this moment there is not a single federal program (like in Canada, Germany and even El Salvador) to shore up businesses alongside individuals. His message to the business community has been ‘you rich capitalists: pay your workers but send them home to keep them safe’ Meetings between the president and leaders of the business community have not yielded anything. No tax relief, no help to meet payroll, no help of any kind.

According to an interview with hotel impresario Jose Chapur this week, Mexico is the only country in the world that is not supporting its business community at the federal level.

Here in the state of Yucatan, we have a much more proactive governor who thankfully has not followed the lead of our illustrious leader. Tax relief, benefits for small businesses, benefits for individuals.

This situation can only lead to one thing: more job losses resulting in more people without an income (there is no guaranteed income for Mexico’s 130 million people, the great majority of whom are wage earners or entrepreneurs.

All those people with nothing to do, no money and plenty of anger and fear, will, with the tacit consent and quiet encouragement of the national leadership, lead to social unrest. Remember the scene from Beauty and the Beast and the villagers heading to the castle with their pitchforks, screaming angrily? Something like that. All those poor exploited workers against those greedy capitalist impresarios.

In the past, we might have been comforted by the thought of our neighbor to the north – uncomfortable as it is – to exercise some pressure to stop Mexico from becoming another Venezuela as they surely wouldn’t want that in their “backyard” but that country is so confused, disorganized and ravaged by the virus that it is not able to exercise much influence on the global stage any longer.

What the country needs now is a serious set of solutions (look around señor presidente, there are plenty of examples around the world) to what may potentially be a huge problem. It can be avoided, but we need action and a clear plan now.

EXPLANATION OF THE 4T

López Obrador refers to his election as the Fourth Transformation of Mexico, preceded by the War for Independence from Spain (1810-1821), the Reform Period led by President Benito Juárez (1857-72, interrupted by two civil wars) and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). Mexicans, with their infallible capacity for reducing names to acronyms and deflating the grandiose, are referring to it as “the 4T”.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2020. On Chimeneas and Backyard Firepits

Not every day can be an update on the coronavirus, since we are stuck at home and the only thing that is updated is on CNN, BBC, CBC, and AlJazeera.

Should I mention Al Jazeera? Red flag for US immigration? Hola señor ICE. Stuck at home sounds negative. So much self-doubt. Oh, stop already.

Back in the carefree days before I became such a curmudgeon, I was in a high school production of My Fair Lady. One of my castmates who, for the purpose of this article I shall call “Susan”, and who brilliantly played Eliza to my Schwarzenegger-esque Dr. Dolittle back in the day, has asked why I light a fire in the mornings – what’s that all about since it is certainly not for keeping warm? A valid question and one I will try to explain.

Once upon a time some years ago, I was at a vivero, which is a nursery where plants are sold. The kind of place you go to when you want something to stick in the ground around your house, like arecas or flowers that will eventually dry up and die but what the hell they look nice for a while so you buy them.

Too pessimistic, the dead flowers?

Among the all the pretty plants arranged in orderly rows which always appeals to my Teutonic instincts, they had on display some clay pots and in tucked in amongst those, was a chimenea. A chimenea (chimney,  for the monolingual among us) is a clay pot with a hole in the front, and a chimney spout on the top. The idea is that you toss in wood or burnable things in the front, enjoy the fire, and the smoke comes out of the top. It’s for the outdoors, so mostly aesthetic but it can serve as a warming element in colder climates, I would imagine. Anyway, the thought of having one of these intrigued me so I bought it and took it home, which was fun as it took up the entire back seat of my car and sloshed back and forth at each traffic stop.

Jeez I hate it when I am uploading a photo of a chimenea and WordPress comes back with http error. I do not have the energy or desire to investigate further so I guess people will have to do a Google image search themselves. Or click here. It’s the one that is described as chimenea rustica.

Once set up, and some branches for firewood procured, I began to enjoy the ritual of preparing a fire in the mornings – when it is relatively cool here – and this was especially handy in 2002, when a hurricane – Wilma I believe – hit the Yucatan and there was a lot of material (fallen trees, branches, piles of dead bougainvillea) to be burned in that chimenea. So much in fact, that all the heat generated ended up cracking the clay and eventually, the pot succumbed under its own weight.

I missed my morning fire. Drinking my coffee on the back terrace watching the woodpeckers, the parakeets and the grackles was just not the same without those flames and the smell of wood smoke. A look around our yard yielded an unoccupied shallow clay pot (a base really, for a larger one) and I set it up on some stones in the place where the chimenea had once stood. This lasted for a while and then disintegrated as well. A conscientious search through several Merida viveros resulted in zero hits for a new chimenea. It was time to go to Ticul.

I guess now I am going to have to explain Ticul here, people are not going to understand the significance. This is going off on a tangent.

Ticul, a small town about 90 minutes from Merida, is famous for its shoes and its pottery. It is also the original home of Los Almendros, once Yucatan’s premiere Yucatecan food restaurant. There is good clay in the region and a dozen or more crafty-minded people make clay planting pots both large and small. They also make garden ornaments like clay pink flamingos and clay fluorescent green frogs (dubious tastes abound) which are sold in small locales along the street. The shoes, incidentally, are locally made and while they are not Jimmy Choo, they are cheap. And that is a good a reason as any to buy them, apparently. As for Los Almendros? They sat on their restaurant laurels for way too long and were overtaken by other, far better Yucatecan food options like Kinich, Teya, La Tradicion and even Chaya Maya and MUGY.

Why am I writing about restaurants? This is not the Casual Restaurant Critics column; he is always butting in and trying to get attention. 

Along with the manufacture en masse of planting pots and colorful kitschy clay creatures, there are a few high-minded individuals who dedicate their time and energy to the fabrication of Mayan archeological replicas, ranging from small pots and whistles to enormous Chaac (Mayan rain god aka Tlaloc in central Mexico) faces and detailed calendars. These are sold to hotels, boutiques, and serious collectors.

I am really rambling here, have to rein it in. Rain it in. Reign it in. No, rein is right. Right as rein. The mind wanders.

I ended up ordering a chimenea from one of the former (manufacturers of clay pots) paid my deposit and left. Some time later, more than a few months since I had forgotten about it, I went back and although I was sure they would have long ago sold my piece and kept the deposit, there it was. The owner remembered me, remembered the chimenea, even had a copy of the deposit receipt.  Again, a gigantic sculpted pot rolled back and forth on the back seat of my car, on the drive back to Merida.

Es cierto! Este viaje lo hice con Mus. Que mala memoria tengo. It was the day we went to Uxmal and ended up on a hilltop in Ticul, having some great Yucatecan food and enjoying an amazing view. 

Being of a rather delicate clay, this pot lasted less than a year before cracks appeared and it also fell upon itself one morning when I was stuffing in a particularly stubborn piece of firewood.

Getting to the end now, I can almost feel it.

Finally, I broke down and had some albañiles (bricklayers, construction workers) come and build me an actual fire pit with blocks and cement which I now enjoy on a daily basis. This is what you can see sometimes in photos posted on social media.

Lighting and enjoying the fire has become an inescapable pleasure of my morning, a moment to sit with my Better Half, enjoy our fresh coffee and watch the birds in the backyard.