Have we reached critical mass?

Merida officials at downtown residents’ meeting

Yesterday I attended a meeting convened by Merida’s city administration. The officials present were:

  • Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo: Office of the Mayor
  • IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Police
  • Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Director of Urban Development
  • CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Development

A wide cross-section of approximately 80 people showed up – all had an agenda. Private homeowners, assorted business owners, bar and restaurant operators, professionals such as lawyers, an audio engineer, and hotel owners all had their turn speaking. The group included native-born citizens of Merida, Mexican nationals who have moved to Merida from other parts of the country, and foreign residents.

The bar and restaurant owners basically said:

  • We have the right to operate our businesses.
  • We have licenses to stay open late and have live music playing.
  • Bars and restaurants are an important feature of the downtown area.
  • We employ a lot of local people and the lives of our employees matter.
  • It is unfair for the residents of downtown to expect utter silence.
  • It surprised them that only a few native Merida residents were in attendance, and it seemed to them that the complaints are all coming from foreigners.

The homeowners and business people, whether local, national or international:

  • All agreed that bars and restaurants are important to the downtown area.
  • They expressed dubiousness at how the licenses to operate were obtained.
  • All are sympathetic and supportive of the employees – they recognize that everyone needs to work, and they have the right to safe working conditions and salaries that allow them to support themselves and their families.
  • But they want the bars and restaurants to better-manage the noise levels.
  • Many homeowners said they get little sleep because of the noise from the music and revelry.
  • Many business owners said the noise has affected their businesses in a negative way. In fact, several guest houses have closed, or are on the brink of closing, because no one will stay in noisy rooms.
  • Homeowners also object to new bars and restaurants getting permission to operate right beside their already established homes.
  • The homeowners and business owners ask why they have no say in the kind of neighbors they get. They object to having the noisy ones foisted upon them.
  • They say there should be forethought and consultation with all affected parties when a new business opens.

One resident made a very important point. She reminded the Merida authorities that our city enjoys a wonderful reputation as a cultural destination, but if the current situation continues, the international press will learn of it – Merida will get bad publicity – and everyone will lose.

I know I start a lot of posts with, “When I moved to Merida 41 years ago…” but this does give me perspective, and please forgive my repetition of the point. But at the time, the downtown area was a decaying mess – block after block of neglected buildings. Meridanos were moving to the north. As soon as the malls were built, many businesses moved there too.

The renovations and improvements to Merida’s Centro were started 30 years ago, mostly by foreigners who bought the empty, derelict homes. They restored them and once a significant number had been improved, the City and State administrations also began their campaigns, just as the city of Campeche had already done.

The sustained efforts of private homeowners, the city and state governments, laid the groundwork for the beautiful and vibrant downtown area we have today. Then the bars and restaurants started opening (or re-vamped their image)a larger scale.

Now the bars and restaurants say that foreigners are not “respecting local traditions”.  They say that Merida has always had noisy bars and entertainment venues, and this is true. But, but, but– this issue is one of degrees. The sound equipment currently available is much more potent and loud.  The bars and clubs are open late six nights a week. No one would get in a knot over some noise, some of the time. Why don’t the antros behave in a respectful and neighborly way? Why don’t they police themselves?

Now there is even a movement that urges locals to resist the “gentrification” of Merida. That is a broad term. I don’t think improving the aesthetics is gentrification. The antros and clubs charge plenty for their cool hipster atmosphere. That’s gentrification.

Several people at the meeting said that these transgressions happen because bribes to the officials are an accepted modus operandi. The authorities denied this and seemed offended by the allegations.

The authorities asked for our understanding, and gave a lot of excuses as to why they cannot act more forthrightly. They say regulations are not in place. When a resident showed a printout of a federal law pertaining to noise levels, all the officials claimed this law does not apply – that local regulations are necessary.

A lawyer from Merida pointed out that if the laws and statutes do not apply or are outdated and ineffective, they must be changed – the sooner the better.

The lack of native-born Centro residents attending the meeting was mentioned again and again by the bar faction. The person beside me whispered that this was probably because they all knew the meeting would be fruitless and did not want to waste their time.

The discussion got ugly towards the end, and this is when the director of tourism said that there would be another meeting in three months. She promised there would be progress in reviewing the regulation of noise levels.

Everyone dispersed with no sense of consensus. The residents were disappointed with the authorities’ lack of resolve. I think the authorities were surprised that the residents were so vocal and at times, disrespectful. But everyone is angry at the current mess.

To sum it all up, we got the same old run-around as always. All the officials present basically said the same thing:

  • I am sympathetic, but I can do nothing.
  • The appropriate laws are not in place.
  • The guidelines are not current.
  • I cannot act just because I want to.

If you want to contact the city officials who took part in the meeting, here is their contact information:

Lic. Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo:  Office of the Mayor   guibaldo.vargas@merida.gob.mx

IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Policemario.romero@merida.gob.mx

Ing. Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Directo of Urban Developmentaref.karam@merida.gob.mx

CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Developmentcarolina.cardenas@merida.gob.mx

If the authorities do not act, we will have an even bigger mess in Merida’s Centro. I do not think it is too late, but I seriously question whether or not the authorities care to change the status quo.

I think this noise issue has reached critical mass.

Consider this

 

Yesterday I wrote about residents’ concerns over the noise level in downtown Merida. From the comments on social media, I conclude that a number of people do not fully understand the situation. Some wrote that the residents who are complaining are “intolerant” and  “un-cool”.

Fine, I guess that everyone has the right to an opinion. But, consider this scenario…

I know a young man (born in Merida) who purchased a derelict carpentry shop on a beautiful lot… 10 meters by 52 meters. It is located in Santa Ana, about 12 blocks northeast of the main square. When he took possession of the property, it was overgrown with 20 years of weeds, piles of rubble, and old shacks; there was no septic tank…  He has spent the past 8 years cleaning, repairing, planting trees and a garden. He built a 2 bedroom home. He is now married and has a child. The young family LOVE their home, especially because so much of their own hard work (and all their money) went into creating it.

Then a huge empty building, right next door to them, was bought by a group of wealthy investors from Mexico City. They are turning this property into a multi-venue eatery, with live music every night. The developers claim it will be a “happening” place… a great “attraction” for Merida.

The young man’s home and the restaurant share a 52 meter common wall. He asked the new owners to somehow soundproof. They said this would be “impossible”… a synonym for “expensive”… The restaurant complex is currently under construction, and jack hammers pound all day. The dust makes it impossible to go outside to the garden or open the windows. The toddler has a cough that won’t go away.

And once the business is up and running, the young family can expect typical restaurant prep noise all day long… kitchen banging, cooks swearing, delivery trucks coming and going, tables being dragged into place… Not to mention the vermin that propagate wherever food is stored.

And at night there will be live music, people whooping it up… it will be IMPOSSIBLE to live in the home they love.

This couple does not have the money to move, and they can’t sell. Who will buy their property with the monstrosity next door? They have been completely SCREWED – OVER.  Sorry, but there is no polite way to put it.

The one hope they have is the meeting to be held today at 4 PM in San Sebastian. The authorities have promised to show up and listen to the residents’ side. The young couple is praying that someone will help them out of this mess.

The residents who are complaining about noise are not just “whining expats”. They are also Meridanos whose families have lived in El Centro for generations, and they are not asking for anything outlandish. They are not “intolerant and un-cool”. They are people who have rights and they need to be heard. We should show them respect and support… not dismiss them.

Because think about this… if proper zoning and noise ordinances are not enforced, anyone’s home could be the next to be invaded. I don’t think anyone would like that.

Protecting Merida’s Quality of Life

                                                Is this what you want going on next door to your home?

Merida is a wonderful place to live… just look at the statistics documenting the numbers of people moving here from other states in Mexico and from other countries .

So many settle here for the “quality of life”-

However, the “quality” is at risk for homeowners in Merida’s “Centro” (the downtown area). There are now so many restaurants, bars and night clubs, and the noise levels are out-of-control. Rules and regulations that “manage” these businesses do exist, but obviously there is a lot of “oversight”…

I know one resident of the Santiago area who had to close her guest house because the racket coming from two bars, nearly every night of the week, made it impossible for her guests to sleep.

Someone very dear to me is watching in horror, as what seems to be a giant eatery, is being set up right beside him on Calle 47. The young family’s home shares a common wall with this place, and the owners (investors from Mexico City) refuse to reveal their full intensions. Jack hammers are pounding all day and into the evening, so I think there is A LOT going on. And I ask, who is “gaining” from this invasion of a homeowners’ rights?

The neighbors who established their homes long before “the investors” moved in have every right to see their property respected, but they are led around the mulberry bush  time and time again.

Finally a meeting has been scheduled to address these issues with the:

  • Chief of police
  • Director of Urban Development
  • Officials of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice
  • Director of Tourism

If you are concerned (and we all should be) please come to the meeting:

Friday March 24, 2017

4 PM

In front of the Church of San Sebasistian, Calle 75 # 549 X 72 and 70)

If you have any evidence to support your complaints (decibel readings, video, photos, testimonials, or documentation of your interaction with the business owners or authorities) please bring them to the meeting.

VERY IMPORTANT: If you are worried that your participation will be construed as a political act (which is forbidden for foreigners) please get that idea out of your head. This is not solely a “foreigners’ protest”. It is action led by this city’s local residents who wish to conserve the very way of life that makes their city so attractive to themselves and other people. They are sick and tired of unrelenting, mismanaged “progress” that destroys their tranquility, just so “the investors” can make more money.

My husband and I will be at this meeting, we hope you will join us.

The eyes have it…

“I am sure many people compliment you on your eyes,” I said to a woman I met last week.

“Just as they must comment on yours,” she replied.

Between two international residents, such an exchange would sound strange, but my new acquaintance is not from the United States, Canada or a European country.

Her brightly embroidered huipil, friendly smile, and physical features type-cast her as a Yucatecan village woman, and indeed, she comes from Muna, close to Uxmal. But while most of the country’s population is dark-eyed – this lady has  striking blue eyes.

We did not have a long conversation, but I figured her family tree probably includes a few of the Casa Carlota settlers.

Casa Carlota was established during the Second Mexican Empire (1864-1867) when two Yucatecan hamlets – Santa Elena and Pustunich – received 443 German immigrants. They were farmers and artisans who came to the country at the invitation of Mexico’s Emperor Maximilian, brother of the Austrian king Franz Joseph. The emperor hoped to colonize the Yucatan with 600 European families a year.

Funding for the project did not last long because Emperor Maximilian met an early demise by firing squad. The German settlers dispersed. Some went to other Mexican cities, some to the USA, others back to Europe, and of course some stayed on.

These individuals and families quickly formed relationships with the people living in the surrounding countryside. Marriages were performed,  and many German-Maya children arrived into the world.

Readers interested in learning more about this unique period of local history can download and read this PDF containing information compiled by Alma Duran-Merk:

http://www.academia.edu/2140174/Identifying_Villa_Carlota_German_Settlements_in_Yucat%C3%A1n_M%C3%A9xico_During_the_Second_Empire_1864-1867_._3rd._edition_electronic_version

 

Changes

Jorge and Joanna 1976

The only constant is change. Over the years, I’ve quoted this apparent oxymoron over and over again. In fact, the first paragraph of Magic Made in Mexico – my book for international residents in Mexico – emphasizes this very point:

I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could recognize pivotal times in our personal journeys – the forks in the road that present themselves – do we see them coming? Does a vague premonition warn us that certain decisions are destined to truly change our path? If we could anticipate those critical junctions, would we have the nerve to follow through?

I certainly did “follow through” – but for the past several years, I have sensed more than a “vague premonition” – I’ve known that changes are not far off. In fact the Universe  has been banging me over the head with a cast iron frying pan. Yet, I have resisted. I’ve tried to divert my thoughts and actions.

Part of me doesn’t want to make any changes. For a whole gamut of reasons, I want to continue ambling along just as I’ve done up until now. And yet, another part of me feels like a diver poised with her toes curled around the no-slip tip of the highest platform – waiting for the whistle to shrill – the signal that it’s her turn to leap.

Forty-one years ago I moved to Merida. I was young – incredibly young. I did not comprehend how radically different my new world would be, but at twenty-three, I thrived on adventure. I craved it like chocolate. Now, I am almost triple that age. The life I charged into has been amazing, enriching,   challenging, and wonderful – mostly because Lady Luck introduced me to Jorge – the man who has shared the roller coaster ride. Now retired, I guess we should be settling into our dotage, resting on our laurels – taking it easy.

But gale force winds are blowing again – I feel the need to regroup, refocus and repurpose my life.

For a mishmash of practical, sensible, prudent reasons, and for some emotional, familial, climate-related, and age-induced ones – I’ve decided to move back to Canada for the “warmer” half of each year.  I will continue to live in Merida for the “cooler” half.

Those readers who know me will immediately wonder – what does “the man who has shared the roller coaster ride” have to say about all this? To be honest, Jorge is less than thrilled. This is my doing, but he is willing to give it a go. After all, if we don’t adjust, we can always change our minds and pick up where we left off. Potential for un-change is also limitless, isn’t it?

Jorge and I will probably not be able to leave Merida until June, which means we’ll be away until December.  We plan to settle in Kamloops, a city of approximately 90,000 people in the interior of British Columbia. The place has much to offer– lots of sunshine, a small university, cultural venues, and a good library located two blocks from our 2 bedroom apartment. There are paths along the river for pleasant walks, and lakes for swimming – cold swimming. The shopping is plentiful – in both farmers’ markets and malls. Local wineries and pick-your-own-veggie fields will make for some vastly-different-from-Yucatan day trips. But the best feature in Kamloops is the close proximity to my sister, Barb, and other family and friends.

And to mark this milestone, what does an earnest blogger do? Why, she starts a new blog, what else? After nearly a decade, it feels bitter-sweet to be leaving Writing From Merida. But it’s all about change, right?

After today, I do not plan on writing any new posts for Writing from Merida. From now on, you will find all my new content and some of the posts from my former blog at:

 Changes in our Lives

https://changesinourlives.wordpress.com/

If you wish to follow the new blog, you need to re-subscribe – scroll to the very bottom and click on the button provided.

Changes in our Lives is still a work in progress. Be patient – it will continue to evolve – as will Jorge and I.

Jorge and Joanna 2017

Mole Poblano – A Recipe From the City of Angels

MOLE POBLANO

(for 8 persons)

Place the following ingredients in a large pot and completely cover with water (about 3 quarts). Put on the lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and stew everything for 1/2 hour.

  • 2 chickens, cut into quarters, skin removed
  • ½ med. white onion, chopped coarsely
  • 4 whole cloves of garlic, skinned
  • 1 T. salt
  • 10 whole black pepper corns
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano

While the chicken is stewing, cook and char on a stove top griddle:

  • 1 lg. white onion, skinned and left whole
  • 1 lg. red pepper, veins and seeds removed
  • 2 lg. whole Roma tomatoes

Cut the vegetables (charred skins and all) into large chunks and put them in the blender. Add:

  • 2 oz. of dark chocolate (La Abuelita)
  • 1/2  tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. chicken consommé powder (Maggi)
  • the contents of 2 jars (235g. each) of (DoñaMaria) mole paste.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them on a platter to cool for ½ hour – then remove the meat from the bones in as large pieces as possible. Set the chicken pieces to one side. Discard the bones.

Strain the broth, discard the onion and other bits, and then take out enough broth to cover the ingredients in the blender. Process until smooth. If your blender’s glass is not a large one, do one half of the ingredients at a time. Transfer the mixture to a clay cooking pot or other large pot.

Reserve 4 cups of the broth so you can use it when making the rice, and add all the rest to the blended mixture in the cooking pot. Stir well and put the pot on medium heat. The mixture will be “soupy”, so you need to let it reduce by about a third, or until it has the texture of a creamy sauce.

Add the chicken pieces to the mole sauce and simmer for 20 minutes.

Measure out:

  • 2 cups of rice

And prepare it as you please, but instead of using water, use the:

  • 4 cups of reserved chicken broth

To the steaming rice, add:

  • 2 envelopes of condimento español

(this is basically turmeric and is available at you corner store or in the market)

Optional ingredients::

  • ¼ cup of toasted sesame seeds
  • light cream
  • red onion
  • cilantro leaves

To plate:

Mold ½ cup of rice on one side of the plate. Spoon the Mole beside it. To garnish the mole, I sometimes run a line of cream over the top and sprinkle it with the toasted sesame seeds. Sometimes I place thinly sliced red onion on top or I use cilantro leaves.

I serve guacamole, fried plantains and hot corn tortillas with this meal. I pair it with a robust red wine.

FILEY – International Readers Fesitival of Yucatan

This coming week, if you wander into the Siglo XXI Convention Center from the parking lot, you’ll see the length of the corridor is decorated in a bright red and yellow motif, with traditional Chinese paper lanterns hanging overhead.

If you come through the side access, you’ll feel as though you’ve wandered into a Campeche landscape; reminiscent of colonial times.

The changes in décor are part of the attractions of FILEY – the International Readers Festival of Yucatan, to be held at the convention center from Saturday March 11th until Saturday March 18th. Each year, a state in Mexico and an international country are the honored guests at FILEY – for 2017, the featured state is Campeche and the country is the People’s Republic of China.

FILEY is sponsored by the University of Yucatan (UADY) and the organizational committee has spent more than a year planning the event. This week, the convention center looked like a beehive or ant hill with so many people working  ‘round the clock, to set up the Chinese and Campeche pavilions, the mega book fair, and an art garden. This year the FILEY is offering more than 1,200 activities, and many will be held in the convention center’s salons and cinema.

130 book publishers, sellers and other culture-focused business have stands at the book fair, located in the Salon Chichen Itza. Most of the titles are in Spanish, but even if you cannot read the language, you will thoroughly enjoy the people watching and the energy of this once-a-year extravaganza.

A bilingual presentation, “Intercultural Writers in Yucatan – Escritoras Interculturales en Yucatán” is slated for Thursday March 16th at 8 pm. The invited writers are Marianne Kehoe, Linda Lindhlom and me!  I won’t give away the surprise by giving you the details of our presentation. But we hope you’ll come out and support us.

To read more about the FILEY, click on this link to the Yucatan Expat Life website: http://yucatanexpatlife.com/book-fair-returns-with-english-language-authors/

The full FILEY program can be downloaded from the Diario de Yucatan site: http://filey.org.mx/docs/Programa%20FILEY%202017.pdf

Frida Kahlo

My painting of Frida Kahlo - 2015
My painting of Frida Kahlo – 2015

In high school – Art was definitely my favorite class. In fact, had my father gone along with the idea, my career would have headed in that direction. Maybe I would never have met my husband, Jorge, and spent forty years in Mexico?

But I definitely would have traveled there because Frida Kahlo lived there. Mr. Lange, my 11th grade art teacher introduced her to me through one of his slide shows.

I could not imagine a character quite as “out there” as Frida – I loved her work – especially her strong brightly colored self portraits. And the Edward Weston photographs portrayed her other side – solitary, romantic, and thoughtful.

When I moved to Merida, Yucatan in 1976, Frida was not as commercialized as she is now. Her husband, Diego Rivera, certainly an accomplished painter, used his talent to promote his political causes. Frida used painting and prose to portray her inner demons, and her heart’s desire.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.