Merida Moments

Merida Moments

19 February 2007 Interviews & Editorials 55

One moment, you find yourself in the center of a small pueblo outside of town. Students dressed in crisp school uniforms ride by down the middle of the street on their bicycles, laughing and calling to each other in the hot midday sun. There is not another car but yours in sight. In the distance, a 16th Century church rises against the bright blue sky. You wonder "Where am I?".

Then there's the far-off stare of a huipile-clad woman in the streets of the mercado, her dark hair bound and coiled behind her, children at her side. As if she wonders what she is doing in this crowded market with cars and fumes and cel phones. Where have all the chicle hunters gone?

Another time, you are struck by the unaffected smile of a city worker as you walk by. He is doing his job, sweeping trash in the street. You aren't young or beautiful. You smile, he smiles and you both say Buenos Días because that is what people do here.

You notice the morning traffic of black xcav crows as they commute in flocks up Paseo Montejo, going north for the day. They swoop straight down the avenue in surges, flying between the trees, like strangely silent flying businessmen. At dusk, the reverse commute is noisy and raucous, thousands of black-suited birds screeching and reciting the details of their day, ecstatic about the encroaching evening and their nightly party in the trees.

There are those precious Sunday mornings in the Centro. Not in the zocalo, where the crowds gather, but out in the surrounding neighborhoods. Whole blocks with no cars, no people, just the quiet heat of midday, the background cries of boys playing out their soccer dreams in a distant street. Old men rock on old chairs in old doorways, stubbled and bare-chested. Old women sit inside their homes watching Catholic mass in Mexico City on television. Briefly, the silence is broken as a family drives up, unpacks itself from a little car, carries aluminum-covered dishes into a dark doorway.

Then there's the sound of empty coconut shells clapping together when a horse-drawn calesa trots by, mixing centuries with uncanny ease.

Or that wonderful Latin-American phenomenon of lovers in the park, when each bench is occupied as if it were a hotel room with a Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door. Lovers mate in full sight, fully clothed. Whispers and smiles swirl around them like honeybees, protecting their intimacy from passers-by. Sometimes, a woman will glance up from her lovers' conversation but though her face is caught by the streetlight, she doesn't see you walking by.

Sometimes, you happen to notice the dripping, tropical crowded undercurrent of revolución just after a heavy rain, when you can sense the plants in your garden start closing in, plotting an overthrow of order with their newly-emboldened viridian chaos.

Or you're driving past a Mayan pueblo after sunset, when each small home glows from within, bare lightbulbs or christmas-lit altars casting light out onto the paths. The present recedes like a tide to reveal a timeless place where people visit in the streets and children play quietly, dogs lie down unafraid and women laugh.

Every once in awhile, it's just the pink prick of bougainvilla, the hollow drum of the ceiba tree, the swishing miniskirts of palm trees with long legs, the flaming flowers of the flamboyanes, and the yellow dripping lluvia de oro and its rain of gold.

And then there's that indescribable high when the red grease slips out from between two ends of the folded tortilla and drips onto your hand just as the almost-sweet spices of cochinita are taken over by the intensity that spreads across your tongue like a habanero prairie fire and blossoms into your throat like a bright red hibiscus of pain.

And afterwards the cool, pop-rock elixir that pours out of the sea-green iconic bottle, like foam from a Caribbean wave, quenching the fire that burns from your mouth to the back of your brain. Brief relief, and then the flames surge back, unabated and hissing for more. Why is it that Coca Cola tastes so delicious here?

At times, its that lazy moment when the day reaches the golden hour, and the sun casts elaborate shadows through the iron protectores across your window onto the brightly colored mosaico tile floor.

Or the moment when you find yourself sitting in Santiago Park, on a park bench painted with 100 coats of green paint, listening to the birds and church bells chiming, watching a young family on a bench opposite you. The children are making faces at each other while they eat ice cream. And the young parents are just quietly enjoying them.

Late one night, you wander down to the center of town and find the zocalo ringed by groups of men, in twos and threes, dressed smartly in their guayaberas and carrying old guitars. From around the square, the strains of singing and strumming reaches you and you realize they are all here just to sing. And some of them have been coming here for decades. Where else could you be but Merida?

The last few days it has been moments when you see your neighbors, walking down the unusually quiet street, blowing horns, laughing and generally enjoying themselves because they just walked back from watching the Carnaval parade.

Merida sometimes seems like it is lost in time, just drifting, occasionally caught up in a swirl of history, but a city apart, receding from destiny, approaching perfection, hotter than hell. Sometimes the beauty of it just stops you in your tracks. For a moment.


  • Harald Jezek 14 years ago

    Ola Desi,
    nao sei quando voce escreveu essa mensagem e se ainda esta procurando uma resposta.
    Eu conheco a vida no Brasil e Merida.
    Atualmente Brasil e muito caro pelo Real alto (ou dolar baixo). Em comparacao Merida ainda e muito mais economico, mas precos aqui tambem continuam subir.
    Obviamente tambem depende com que lugar de Brasil estamos comparando.
    Sao Paulo e muito caro, mas no interior a vida, suponho, deve ser mais economica.
    Se precisa alguma ajuda me avisa.

  • Desi Ramos 15 years ago

    I just turned 65 and want to retire either in my homeland, Braszil, or in Mexico. The cost of living in the US is rising faster than my income can keep up with. But with the week dollar, it's rising faster and faster in Brazil also. I'm wondering what it is in Merida, MX. I realize that it's rising there too, but probably not as fast as here in the US. How hard is it to emigrate to Mexico? A lot of paperwork ? Is it safe ? Alhtough I'm not a gringo, I'm not mexican either, and have a gringo accent when I speak spanish, for I have lived in the US for some 43 years...Whatever light you can shed on this will really bd appreciated. Thanks...

  • Mayra Alejandro 15 years ago

    I have two experiences to add to the ones on this article:

    Have you noticed how the trunks of flamboyant trees ressemble human torsos, or arms, or legs!? There is a flamboyant tree on "Avenida Colon" whose trunk looks just like the torso of a woman, belly button and all.

    Then there is this man that sells corn, "elotes", around my neighbourhood. His voice, as he announces his elotes, is a deep, rich, strong, baritone, that many a classical singer would envy, and his song is like a romantic ballad.

  • CasiYucateco 15 years ago

    As a note to our Mexican friends: There are many gringos who do not believe the terminology of "illegal" is at all appropriate. A person is never "illegal." Their actions could have been illegal, but the person is still a person.

    Of the many undocumented workers in the USA, not all have crossed the border improperly. Large numbers of undocumented workers came "legally" on student or work visas and overstayed the timeframes allowed. I know of areas with large numbers of Irish undocumented residents and personally know a Scottish undocumented resident who overstayed a student visa 20 years ago.

    Why do people do such things? Because the Byzantine process of becoming "legal" is so incredibly complicated. As one example, there is a Philappine Doctor and wife who have lived legally in the USA for over 15 years. His parents filed the papers for him to immigrate to the USA, not knowing that he and his wife had already married in the Philappines. No one knew that this was any problem. They both received totally legal papers and provided medical services to the small town where they live for the past 15 years. Now that they have applied for citizenship, the "lie" that he was "unmarried" on the papers filed by his parents long ago means that instead of being allowed citizenship, the draconian ICE wants to deport both he and his wife - who have had legal papers all along and who have followed every law while providing vital medical services in an area underserved.

    A recent article delved into the number of "open visas" available to Latin Americans who have no family or pre-arranged work in the USA: 147. Yes, in an entire year, only 147 visas are available for people desperately seeking a living to feed their families:

    "The yearly cap on unskilled workers is placed at a 5000 maximum. This despite the fact that according to the Dept. of Labor, the US economy produces between 400,000 and 500,000 new low-skilled jobs a year and the vast majority of the nearly ½ mil unauthorized workers who enter the country each year find work in these unskilled sectors.

    "But as unrealistic as the 5000 cap appears, the situation is actually far worse.
    "Of the 2513 unskilled workers allotted green cards last year (2007), 2366 were already here living and working in the US. They simply "readjusted" their status to permanent residents (most likely from some temporary worker status) ...that leaves 147.

    "147 new un-skilled workers without US citizen or legal resident family already here were allowed to enter the US last year legally and receive green cards.

    "147 out of 1,266,264.

    "147 tell me again how there is a legal path for all who are willing to work and wait patiently."

  • sergio 15 years ago

    Para "Orgullo Criollo". No, there are not 20 million Mexican "ilegals" in the USA. There are 12 million ilegal aliens, of which about six million are from Mexico. The other six million come from all over the world. But if you really want an answer to your question, you should go and visit yourself. I don't know where you are from, but I can tell your intentions are far from good. Your orgullo sounds very suspicious to me.

    And yes, this article on Merida was excellent. Merida, a place I have never visited.

  • Tim Perry 15 years ago

    Hello again,I'm sorry to say its been a month too long to be away from such a beautiful,well thought out,well laid out, forum of wonderful places and People equally as genuine as I have come to know from My all to short visits to the Yucatan... How I miss it more than ever, as this will be the first time in 6-years that Myself and wife will not be making what is more of a sacred, spiritual, cleansing and destressful way of getting out of Our -Gringo rat race... This has been one of the hardest winters in Maine in a long time, 10 degree days mid 20's for a high, hardly any sun, snow almost every other couple days,15-feet of snow. The price of gas home heating oil , plowing bills it just never ends.. When I just finished this Beautiful article about life and People the simplicity, the honesty, the sights ,sounds smell and tastes just overwhelms Me ,it has taken Me away from here as I sit here I feel I'm there with every word I read, I thank You So MUCH... even if for a short time. Reality will set in and I have to think of tomorrows woes...the clock is ticking at such a tremendous pace its so hard to keep up as We struggle away in the Ol-USA... Take care Everyone TIM

  • alayne chalmers 15 years ago

    If strong men weep on reading your prose, I feel better about so often being reduced to tears at beautiful Merida moments like bougainvillea blossoms filling a birdbath, and blubbing out loud reading your article. Merida and I first met on January 7, 1997, and life in Ontario hasn't been the same since.

  • Darci 15 years ago

    I was a fan.
    Now I adore your talented, beautiful, and accurate
    description of why I love the Yucatan.
    I will print this article for my mother. For her to understand why it is that I fell in love with her (the mayans and the yucatan). I will hope that your words touch my mother, as deeply and poetically as it has for me.
    If she understands from your words and your painting with those words onto a canvas of pure perfection - I am forever in your debt.

  • Irene 15 years ago

    My gringo husband and I had planned a trip to Merida, Playa del Carmen & Belize a couple of years ago, but the hurricane hit & we switched the plan to Pto. Vallarta. Now I wished we had stuck to the original plan! I had read about Merida and all it's charm in travel books (even though I'm 100% Mexican, regretfully I don't know the land like I should). I recently came across YucatanLiving subscribe to your newsletter. I check into the articles at least once a week. I feel your articles & website keep me connected with who I really am and provide insight to how the country is evolving, and not. It's comforting to see that somethings don't change. It is with great pleasure to recall my childhood days in northern Mexico, playing barefoot and shirtless in the streets with my other siblings. To chase the 'paletero' for a 'raspa', La muchacha de 'las donas' for my favorite sugar doughnuts, or many of the other street-cart vendors selling corn, or fresh fruit. At night we would climb into the huge walnut tree in our back yard to catch a cool breeze, or sleep on the rooftop "patio" altogether just to keep cool. And when it rained nothing was said if we wanted to play in the rain; now I recall the smell the wet dirt from the adobe home we lived in. You couldn't resist walking up to it and pinching a piece off to taste! It was all so sweet and simple!

    CasiYucateco & Susana said it best! "The experiences you describe are part of the wonder outside our own paradigms of thought. I hope I always feel amazement, joy and mystery at the ways of this incredible land. But I also hope to fit into it better than I do now." One day we too will return home. Thank you all for showing the heart of Mexico and our people.

    Irene de Chicago

  • Juana 15 years ago

    Whomever wrote this is clearly observant and sensitive in their musings and searchings in and around Merida - this captures that wonderful city in a way it conjures up the images, smell and sounds beautifully.
    On a day full of snow here in Toronto, this reading made for a gleeful reprieve.
    Muchas Gracias.

  • alejandro bolanos 15 years ago

    dios mio!!
    I am crying as i write this letters.
    It becomes hard to see the right leter i need to type on this keyboard.
    I wonder what nerves did your writing touched to make me feel this way?
    I should not be crying!!
    I am not a yucateco, nor have I ever been to merida or the state.
    So why im i crying?
    It is because your writing made me remember a lot of things that are mexico.
    I am crying not of sadness but hapinness!!!
    I am a mexican living in the usa.
    I am going back to mexico soon!
    Thaks for all the poetry.

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