The Way We Were

Doña Bertha with the wives of her five sons, at her home for the Christmas Eve dinner, 1977

New residents in Merida often ask me how Yucatan has changed since I came to live here in 1976. And the first thing that always comes to mind is the way Merida’s physical spaces used to be laid out. Soon after I met my husband, Jorge, he took me to meet his parents, Don Humberto Rosado-Espinola and Doña Bertha Baeza-Delgado. They lived on Calle 56, between Calles 57 and 59. Their home was much like that of the other middle-class families who lived right downtown. But now, 45 years later, I can only think of a few properties that are still arranged like the home where Jorge grew up.

I am from western Canada, and at the time of my move to Merida, the longest-standing buildings in my hometown of Vancouver were barely one hundred years old. I felt awed when Jorge told me that his family’s home in El Centro dated back to the sixteenth century. And in fact, it appears on the first maps of the colonial city.

Solid stone and mortar walls soared six-meters up to meet the high ceilings that were held aloft by wooden beams. The house had been modified at some point during the mid-twentieth century and a large window facing the street was added. This allowed light and air to enter the cavernous space, and a couple of constantly-oscillating ceiling fans kept a breeze moving 24-7. Doña Bertha’s pride-and-joy were the twin crystal chandeliers that illuminated the whole interior.

When Jorge’s father bought the house in the 1950s, he had a divider built half-way up the facing walls, thus making two practical rooms out of the front part. It was fashionable for the lady of the house to have her own bedroom, and my mother-in-law’s occupied the newly-created one on the left-hand side. She could look out the window and see her sons coming and going. She used to say that no one could fool her about what time they arrived home.

Along with hooks for multiple hammocks, Doña Bertha had a king-size bed, covered with many puffy pillows and a pale blue satin quilt that spread out beneath a filmy white, lace-trimmed mosquito net. Never before had I seen such an enormous bed in anyone’s house. I couldn’t look at it without thinking of the Gulf of Mexico covered by billowy clouds. A handsome red mahogany armoire, a dressing table with a bevelled circular mirror, and a cabinet for her custom-made dainty shoes completed the furnishings. Portraits of the many cherished grandchildren lined the walls, and a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows brooded in the far corner.

To the right of the divider stood the proud sala (the living room). The front-and-center feature was la consola (a combination black & white TV and high-fi) My father-in-law showed me his collection of Frank Sinatra, and Big Band music, stored carefully beside his Asimil language-learning records. Don Humberto studied English, French, and Russian by that method. My husband used them to learn English, French and German. The room’s furniture included a green velvet-upholstered sofa and two matching armchairs, an enormous gilt mirror, and a marble-topped coffee table, covered with bric-a-brac that my mother in law collected. Sadly most of the figurines had been dropped a time or two by inquisitive grandchildren. The repair jobs with a glue called, Resistol-5,000, left bright yellow seams where the damage had been done.

The dining room with its sideboard and table for eight, lay on the other side of a Moorish-style arch, another architectural addition from the 1950s. Often there were three or four shifts of Rosados and assorted relatives taking turns, and fully enjoying, the amazing meal prepared by my mother-in-law. She had a justified reputation as a fine cook and the whole clan vied for an invitation to eat with her at holiday times. Doña Bertha also owned a glass vitrine with a porcelain dinner service and green crystal-ware for 16 persons, but this collection never graced the table. It was decorative, and not used even once!

On the other side of the dining room, three bedrooms and a bathroom were built down the length of the property, all the way to the kitchen. They had connecting doors and were also accessible from the garden. Full length windows drew in the fresh night air that kept Don Humberto and the five Rosado boys comfortable and cool in their pastel-colored cotton hammocks. Trees –  three avocado, two sour orange, one lemon and an achiote – soared to the sky from the narrow strip of vegetation. Peeking out from between the trunks and among the stepping stones, there were roses, hibiscus, climbing vines of all kinds, and other ornamental plants that Don Humberto loved.

The kitchen, laundry room and the maid’s room filled the remaining space at the back of the property. No room to hang up the clothes to dry at ground level – no, for that we had to climb a metal ladder made from railroad ties – to the roof, where row upon row of lines were strung. Believe me, getting all the way up there with a wicker basket full of wet laundry, balanced on one hip and the opposite hand clutching the railing, was the labor of titans.

Just outside Doña Bertha’s efficient kitchen, grew a fig tree – its boughs laden with fruit all year round. When I asked her how that skinny tree prospered, she pointed at her kitchen table and told me that fig trees only do well when they are planted close by a source of gossip. I nodded solemnly and hoped that stories about me did not garner too much attention.

Yes, I was naïve – of course they all talked about me – I was a never-ending source of unfamiliar comportment. And for Yucatecans, not behaving in the conventional manner produces a stupefied combination of wonder, confusion, outrage, threat and yes – a bit of envy. Propriety and predictability were the pillars that peninsular society depended on.  

Some years after my father-in-law passed away, Jorge bought the family home from Doña Bertha, and it is now part of the college he and I founded in 1990. The spacious rooms have new uses and few people remember how they once looked. Nonetheless, from time to time, my mind’s eye travels backwards with nostalgia, and I get a glimpse of “the way we were”.      

Facebook, what can I say?

Handmade clay dolls from Chiapas

We all get frustrated with our social media feed and we become overwrought by the opinions we’re subjected to. I have favorite blogs and vlogs I follow, and I subscribe to local community, foodie, painting, music, folklore, travel, writing and women’s FB groups. I think the specific interest groups are the best thing about Facebook. These are my favorites…

Arqueología Mexicana

https://www.facebook.com/groups/69407926609

Here you’ll see photos of ancient sites and art. Also posts about new information relevant to Mexico’s past. I don’t linger on the political content, but I enjoy the many well-informed cultural posts and social justice commentary.

Viajeros musicales románticos del ayer hoy y siempre https://www.facebook.com/groups/1395545203937974   

Just as the name leads anyone to imagine, this group is all about Mexico’s diverse music. I love music and thought I knew a fair bit about the música latina, but until I started regularly checking out this site, I never imagined how many styles of music are listened to in this country. Romantic ballads, haunting indigenous chants, cumbias, banda, danzón, ranchero – so many rhythms and flavors. I also learn about musicians of many periods.

México del Recuerdo (Oficial) 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/133665700314005

Thousands belong to this group, so imagine all the memories, stories, legends and photographs shared every day. I never get through all the posts, but I always learn something interesting or quirky.

Human Kind Acts Of Kindness  https://www.facebook.com/groups/RandomActsOfKindnessMatter   

This is another group with thousands of members. The stories that are posted make me feel happy. They remind me that the world is not populated solely by the criminals, corrupt politicians. Or greedy and mean malcontents that populate the pages of mainstream news sources.

Women Artists & their Art

https://www.facebook.com/groups/123529164349096

Talent, diversity, eccentricity… I could rave on and on at what I see on this site. I have learned to look at my own painting with new eyes because of what I’ve seen here.

But my favorite of all my groups is called,

Old Mexico – All things about Old Mexico     https://www.facebook.com/groups/422220755303188    

The group members post photos and descriptions of the traditions, culture, arts and crafts of Mexico, cuisine, celebrations, everyday customs, Mexican themed decor, clothing and more. I look at this site every day because doing so helps me to focus on Mexicans’ traditional concept of beauty, creativity, and color. Most pieces shown by group members are whimsical and rarely are two of them exactly alike – just like the people who live here.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and scared with all the negative news we are force-fed every day. But these groups help keep me grounded, and they remind me of the respect for tradition, customs, family and friendships that are at the core of the Mexico I know and love.   

Ending the COVID epidemic is everyone’s responsibility

Showing good example

Last week, I needed to see the doctor and because I had a cough. He asked me to have a COVID test, which I did. (It was negative) Not looking forward to having those extra-long cotton swaps pushed up my nose, I waited for my turn. A young man was admitted immediately – no waiting for him. I couldn’t believe how sick he looked – so weak that his wife had to hold his body upright in the wheelchair. When the admission staff saw his condition, they rushed him to intensive care.

A week before, I visited Valladolid. What an amazing place. There are new restaurants, attractions and more. My daughter and I had a wonderful visit. But it was very hot. We kept our masks on though, because that is what we need to do. Not all tourists were doing likewise, and I could see they made the townspeople extremely nervous.

Under normal circumstances, I subscribe to a “live and let live” policy. Neither do I willy-nilly put my opinion out in public because I don’t like to invite arguments. But with the antivaxers and those who do not follow the sanitary protocols, I have lost all patience.

Antivaxers claim their rights are at stake. They say they are at peril by accepting vaccines – AKA foreign substances – into their bodies. Those who refuse to mask and keep a safe distance have lots of excuses. They are tired of the restrictions. They want their life back.  

Well boys and girls, we all want our lives to be healthy and enjoyable, but it isn’t possible right now.

To be fair, I have duly noted my information sources about the major arguments cited for not vaccinating (for COVID or any other perilous disease) as a postscript after this post.

Although the antivaxers claims their rights are being abused, in reality I feel their propaganda and rumor-mongering he is holding the rest of us hostage. Getting infected with COVID is not the only consequence. Because of the pandemic, our lives are on hold. And until more people are vaccinated, we won’t reach herd immunity and the virus will keep on multiplying. Unless everyone pulls together, this situation will drag on and on for years.

Many people are in emotional crisis. The rumors and dire statistics have caused them to be fearful. Many are even scared to go outside. The lack of social contact is causing terrible stress.

Economically, almost everyone has been devastated. So many businesses have closed or are barely making ends meet. I know one restaurant owner who had to sell their home to keep paying rent and staff.

Restricted travel is not just about going or not going on holiday… there are many people who have not been ableto see their families for almost two years because COVID numbers cause some nations to enforce travel bans on citizens traveling from high-risk countries.  

This has affected me on a personal level. I have been unable to see our only granddaughter since Christmas 2019. She lives in a European country that will not allow those living in Mexico (vaccinated or not) into the country. This is because our new infection rates are so high. Even with proof of vaccination they cannot enter, unless they agree to a 2 week quarantine. A couple of weeks is all the time most people can realistically be away. And so we’d spend thousands of dollars to fly over there, only to stay in an outrageously expensive quarantine facility, and not even be able to see the child.

Education is in shambles. So many kids have fallen behind and will not easily recuperate the skills they were acquiring. Can you imagine having young children cooped up at home all day, every day, for the past year and a half?

University students also are severely impacted. Their whole future is in peril because, let’s face it, the online instruction cannot take the place of face-to-face interaction and socialization, practicums, internships and labs.

Has the world’s population lost all compassion? We who elect to believe scientists, instead of random posting on the internet, cannot comprehend that refusing a vaccine is all about about standing up for a principal that is vital. To me their refusal is not like protecting the right to assemble. This is not like legitimate protesting over illegal traffic of weapons, drugs or people. This isn’t about condemning global warming. This is not about protesting for women’s rights or sexual exploitation of children. As of today, there have been 198,924,606 recorded infections by COVID 19. Many have recovered, thanks to medical help, but nearly 5,000,000 people have died.

To me, refusing to get vaccinated or non-conformance to sanitary protocols is just plain selfish. It is ridiculous posturing. Come on – wake up people!

***

The opinions stated in this post are my own. My health-related  information comes from:

the Public Heath website:

https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccine-myths-debunked/

the Forbes website:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/06/03/microchips-and-shedding-here-are-5-debunked-covid-vaccine-conspiracy-theories-spreading-online/?sh=160fd46b26af

And the Healthline website

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/doctors-debunk-9-popular-covid-19-vaccine-myths-and-conspiracy-theories#Myth:-The-COVID-19-vaccine-makes-you-magnetic

Image from Insider