El Claustro de Sor Juana Ines dela Cruz

In 1651, Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born in San Miguel de Nepantla. Juana learned to read and write at the age of three, and unable to handle her precocious daughter, Juana’s mother sent her to live with well-to-do relatives in Mexico City.  Her talents in literature and music, as well as her beauty caught the attention of the Spanish Vice-regal court, and Juana was invited to be the maid-in-waiting to the Viceroy’s wife. Juana impressed the court and professors with her knowledge, her debating skills.

In XVII century Mexico the Inquisition was powerful and much-feared. There were only three paths open to a lady: become a wife, become a courtesan, or become a nun.

Because she was illegitimate, she was deemed unmarriageable. Nonetheless she was devout, so the courtesan role would not fit. That left only the third option – and indeed, she spent 26 of her 44 years as a nun. On the day of her final vows, she took the name, Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Her order of contemplative sisters lived at the Convent of San Geronimo, less than a kilometer from Mexico City’s Zocalo – the Main Square. She constantly defied the authority of the Catholic Church by writing – poems, prose, plays, essays and letters – that today are recognized as the most brilliant, but subversive literary works of the colonial period. As a woman (and a nun at that) she was not supposed to write at all). She died in the convent in 1695.

368 years after Sor Juana’s death, the cloister is now a liberal arts university that bears her name – Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. I think she would be pleased to know that her former prison is now a place of enlightenment and learning.

Jorge and I visited the university’s on-site museum that features several portraits and sculptures of – La Musa – The Muse.  Her resting place, her cell, confessional, and even her blue-tiled bathtub can be viewed. A section of the convent that sunk over the centuries has been excavated and covered with thick acrylic panels, so visitors can tiptoe over top of the foundation of the former kitchen and annexed patio.  Later, as we strolled along the worn garden pathways and under the stone arches, I tried to imagine what it would have been like, to be an exceptionally intelligent woman, forced to conform to the laws of ignorant, misogynist clerics.

Sor Juana was Latin America’s first feminist, and she quickly shot down the theological dogma and cultural constraints of the Spanish colonial society. At the time, the secular and religious leaders proclaimed women to be intellectually inferior. Sor Juana insisted that she (and in fact all women) had a God-given, intellectual right to read, study, write, publish, and teach.

In her convent cell, Sor Juana had as much liberty as the times would allow. The space was large enough to house a telescope, thousands of books, scientific and musical instruments. After compliance with her strict religious observances, she would escape to her sanctuary to study, and of course, write—poetry, plays, romances, dramas, letters, and songs.

Much to the dismay of her clerical critics, Sor Juana’s work was smuggled out of the convent and printed. She became extremely popular in New Spain and even Spain itself. Fear, manifested by envy and resentment spurred the Archbishop to launch a campaign that he hoped would break her spirit.  Self-flagellation, penance, and mortification of the flesh became daily requirements. She was forced her to renew her vows and then sign the document with her own blood. After that, the Archbishop removed her books and writing tools:

The plague of 1695 claimed Sor Juana’s life, but her work lives on.

In a thoughtful mood, Jorge and I joined our author friends, Michael Schussler and CM Mayo for lunch at the Zèfiro Restaurant. We enjoyed a delightful meal and of course we talked about Sor Juana and her legacy. Thanks to her and others like her, we have the freedoms we have today.

Authors’ and journalists’ rights of expression are constantly challenged and questioned by society, and we auto-censor as well. If I had even 1% of Sor Juana’s bravery and conviction, my writing would be riskier. Maybe this is one of the changes coming into my life?

 

MEXICO CITY

Jorge and I are spending a week in Mexico City prior to my departure for Canada on Saturday. This city is so amazing and over the next few days we plan to visit:

The Cloister of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. This is where La Musa – Mexico’s best known colonial writer lived and wrote her most beloved poems and letters.

The Dolores Olmeda Museum, which houses a superior collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo original paintings.

Cloister de Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz

Xochimilco, the floating gardens of Mexico City – always the setting for a good time

The Soumaya Museum  the museum built by Carlos Slim to honor the memory of his late wife. It showcases their personal art collection.

In the coming days, I will do my best to post a few pictures and anecdotes about our visits…

My Heart is in Two Places

This spring has been unbelievably busy and I’ve not had the chance to do much writing. I hope I can get back to blogging and other projects soon, but BIG changes are in the wings. In fact, until winter rolls around, I won’t be “Writing from Merida” .

I plan on spending the remaining six months of this year in Canada, and if the sun, the moon and the stars all align – winters in Mexico and summers in Canada will become my annual pattern. Some people have told me this shocks them because I have always been a staunch supporter of Mexico.

And I am still a staunch supporter. In 1976 I left Canada to marry Jorge, an amazing man from Yucatan. He taught me about the history, culture and geography of this unique country. We built a home, raised our children and founded a college in Merida. We have a rich, meaningful life here, but as I’ve already said, it is time for “Changes in our Lives”.

I will miss the colors, the music, the food and the flair of Mexico. I will miss my friends, my neighbors, people I know in the markets, and the countryside. Most of all, I will miss my family here.

Not all of them fully agree with my choice. Jorge would prefer I stay here full time, and he doesn’t want to spend half the year in Canada. He will join me there for two months this summer – maybe more as he gets used to the idea?  Our grown children are now building their own lives – they don’t want me to go either, but we will stay in touch by phone, facebook, and whatsap. I have to say though, my eyes fill with tears when I think about not being able to read, play, paint, read, laugh, sing and swim – whenever I want to – with my darling granddaughter, Emma.

I keep reminding myself and others that I’ll be back before we know it. But still, there’s no way to ignore the facts. This is a HUGE change and many wonder why I am making it.

The reasons are complex. I love Jorge, my family, friends and my home – I am truly grateful to have lived four magical decades in Mexico. Nonetheless, full immersion in a country where the language, culture, climate and politics are so different to what I grew up with – has not always been easy. Up until recently, with Jorge’s support and the insights he shares, I have always been able to deal with any challenges that come along. But now we are older, and my priorities are different than when we were young.

When I married Jorge at 24, health care was the furthest thing from my mind. At 64, it is an important consideration. IMSS, the national health care system in Mexico, provides basic coverage but it does not meet all my needs. At my age, I cannot purchase private insurance.

I am fortunate though – even after such a long time away from Canada, I am still a citizen, and therefore eligible for Canada’s health plan. To receive this benefit, I must reside in Canada six months each year. I think the Canadian government is more than fair, and I am  appreciative. I have kept up my relationships with my Canadian family and friends, so I don’t think living there will be hard.

However, as happy as I’ll be to live closer to my loved ones in British Columbia, I know there will be days when I’ll wish I had never left Mexico. As I check items off my to-do-before-departure list, the consequences of my choice weigh heavy.

Yes, change is complicated, and because I am no longer a sweet young thing, I can’t let fear or uncertainty dictate my actions. I have to follow what seems like the best course. I wish Jorge would be flying up to Vancouver with me, but he wants to live in Merida, where he grew up. He is respecting my decision, and I must respect his. Forty years ago, at our marriage ceremony, my aunt read from The Prophet, by Kahil Gibran, and this stanza stuck with me:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

This is not the first time Jorge and I have swum against the current – it gets harder as we get older – but we do have a lot of experience. Truth be known, we have been swimming upstream for most of our lives.

So, we’ll see how it goes – this time.

My new blog is (appropriately) called:

CHANGES IN OUR LIVES

https://changesinourlives.wordpress.com

Go to the link, and scroll all the way down to the end of the posts. When you arrive at the footer, you’ll find some general information about me and my writing. You’ll also see the FOLLOW button – click on it if you wish to receive an email alert each time I post.

I look forward to hearing from you.

The Miniaturist

What to do on a hot day? Maybe it’s best to give up on the idea of running errands and slogging through the chores? Why not play hooky and spend the day with a good book? I did that last week, and am still savoring my escape into the golden era of the Dutch masters, XVII century guilds, silk roads and sailing ships.

The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton begins with 18 year old Petronella (Nella) Oortman, arriving into Amsterdam from the Dutch countryside. Poised on the stoop of her new home – with a caged parakeet and suitcases at her feet – she feels alone and out of her depth. Her husband, Johannes Brandt is a rich merchant, almost double her age. This is a marriage of convenience – and no one pretends otherwise.

When the young bride is given entrance, she feels overcome by the scent of pungent spices – especially cinnamon and cardamom – swirling through the opulent canal house. Johannes has commissioned so many paintings that they crowd the walls. Oriental rugs cover the floors and maps of lands unknown to Nella lie scattered about. The exotic feathers and dried bones she discovers make her curious about her husband’s travels.

She soon realizes that he, his sister Marin, and their servants Cornelia and Otto, have secrets that both fascinate and terrify her. Brandt does not make himself available to Nella in any way, but eventually Marin convinces him to take his wife to a splendid Guild banquet, where she again feels unsettled by the wealthy world she is now part of.

Johannes gives her an unusual wedding present – a dollhouse – a reduced replica of their own home on the Herengracht. Her sister-in-law provides her with the address of a local artisan, the miniaturist, who will make furnishings and dolls for the house.

Nella orders a few pieces and is delighted with the detail and craftsmanship, but she’s taken aback when she receives items that she has not ordered. She cannot understand the significance of the tiny pieces. But as strange events unfold around her, it seems as though the miniaturist is warning her of what is to come.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton’s first novel. As an author I am impressed by her writing style – her depiction of the historical period drew me right in. Because of my Dutch background, I found the tale absorbing even though sometimes the characters confused me with inconsistencies. Never to the point though – that I stopped enjoying the read.

The scenes of frigid canals and the even-chillier puritanical society that Nella Oortman has to navigate, captured my imagination and transported me to a world, both miles and eons away – a welcome diversion on a sweaty, steamy day in the month of May!

The heat in Yucatan

Have you noticed that most people have been in a good mood for the past couple of days? A few drivers (one of them behind the wheel of a bus!) actually let me merge into the traffic. The neighborhood dogs have barked less, and all over town, folks are out and about. Obviously, the cooler temperatures have made for a happier Merida.

I started wondering about the scientific studies that measure the effects of extremely hot weather on our physical health and mental wellbeing? Come to find out that tons of them are posted on the internet – and every single one of them starts with a basic assertion:

Worldwide climate instability is caused by global warming. Period.

This means there will be longer, hotter summers in many places, including Yucatan – so heat-related physical and emotional health problems are on the rise.

Earth’s warming oceans and changing climate improve the habitat for mosquitoes. Mosquito bites can infect humans with diseases – both new and re-emerging – like dengue, chikungunya, and west Nile. As the climate continues to heat up there is a real risk that we’ll see more cases of malaria. Ticks also thrive in elevated temperatures, allowing them to feed and grow at a faster rate. The black legged tick is a carrier of Lyme disease.

How can you avoid mosquitoes and other disease transmitters? In Yucatan, you cannot. But you can significantly reduce risks by using insect repellent when you are outdoors, especially in the evenings. Put screens on all your windows and doors, and to prevent propagation, be sure there is no stagnant water in your home or garden. It won’t be pleasant if you are infected – but  don’t panic – follow your doctor’s advice, and you should recover with no lasting side effects.

In the tropics, dealing with the high temperatures is really the biggest challenge. The human body copes with heat by perspiring and breathing. However, if you live in an environment with high temperatures and high humidity, you may be sweating but the sweat won’t be drying on the skin, and this can lead to heat exhaustion. Be alarmed if you feel dizzy, or have a headache. If you begin sweating profusely, your skin turns red, or you have muscle cramps, you can be sure you are being overwhelmed by the heat. These symptoms can usually be quickly treated with rest, a cool environment and hydration (including refueling of electrolytes, which are necessary for muscle and other body functions). Don’t fool around – if you do not deal with this – your condition will move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.

How can you prevent this from happening? Drinking water – at least 8 glasses a day – in addition to other fluids is essential to good health in Yucatan. The systems in the human body that enable it to adapt to heat cannot cope if dehydration sets in. One more thing – a number of studies show that people taking diuretics for high blood pressure, and beta blockers could be at increased risk.

Fortunately, in Yucatan, the temperature usually falls in the evening, allowing for respite. But on the nights when it remains elevated, the body can get overwhelmed, and you’ll need to be extra careful the following day.  Certainly society has evolved in dealing with the heat—the biggest boon in hot, humid climates is the development of efficient air conditioners. Fans are not enough, and can actually make it harder for the body to adapt to heat. Like a convection oven accelerates cooking time – blowing hot air on a person can heat them up rather than cooling them down. Although some hardy northerners do manage, I would go so far as to say that if you are moving to Yucatan from a cooler climate, you will absolutely need at least one AC unit.

We’re living to older ages, and Yucatan’s climate is nothing to take lightly. Be careful with the I-can-handle-it attitude. Watch how the locals manage the heat and mimic them.

  • Make the daily siesta (at least lie down) part of every day.
  • Only exercise in the early morning or late in the evening.
  • Stay out of the noonday sun.
  • Walk on the shady side of the street.
  • Wear a hat, or carry an umbrella to protect yourself from the direct rays.
  • Use cotton clothing
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Go easy on the heavy food and alcohol.
  • Do your socializing in the evenings.
  • To bring down your body temperature, take frequent showers or frequently dip into a pool.

Look after yourself, and you’ll live happily in the heat, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief and you’ll be healthier – body, mind and spirit.

 

La Ciudad Blanca

Normalmente, escribo en inglés, pero hoy redacto en español, para que todo el mundo se entere:

A primera hora del día de hoy, leí un artículo en La Jornada Maya, escrito por Ricardo Tatto, titulado: “Mérida: una ciudad viva” y subtitulado: “Pide silencio la otra ‘elite blanca’ ” (SIC). (https://www.lajornadamaya.mx/2017-03-27/Merida–una-ciudad-viva )

Desde hace tiempo, esperaba un artículo con este enfoque. Por desgracia, las relaciones entre México y sus vecinos al norte nunca han estado peor. Los mexicanos tienen toda la razón de estar molestos y ofendidos. También yo lo estoy. Pero no es lo apropiado, sacar la ira contra un grupo de expatriados viviendo en Mérida, como tampoco es el trato tradicional de la gente del sureste de México. Al contrario, desde hace un siglo los peninsulares han dado la bienvenida a los turistas extranjeros y a los foráneos que han establecido sus hogares aquí – todos han recibido los beneficios de esta convivencia.

Yo nací en Canadá y llegué a vivir a Mérida, hace 41 años. Me sentí muy bien recibida. Me case con mi novio yucateco y aquí hemos vivido durante las últimas cuatro décadas. En los años 70 había una población de apenas 250.000 habitantes, y el centro de Mérida era un lugar muy vivo. Recuerdo como mis suegros sacaban sus sillones a la puerta de su casa, sobre la Calle 56 para “tomar fresco”. Recuerdo cuando muchos “taxis” eran calesas jaladas por caballos. También recuerdo cuando casi no había supermercados y todo el mundo compraba en los mercados.  Recuerdo con nostalgia cuando los centros de diversión eran “Los Tulipanes”, “La Prosperidad”, y “El Aloa”.

Luego, en los años 80, muchos de los vecinos y negocios se mudaron al norte de la ciudad. Pronto el centro se convirtió en un lugar de tristes edificios abandonados y calles oscuras. Unos años después, hubo una especie de renacimiento, y el centro se transformó nuevamente en un lugar precioso. ¿Y quiénes empezaron esta restauración? ¿El gobierno? ¿Los comerciantes? ¿La sociedad yucateca? ¡No – no – y otra vez – no! Aunque no quieren creerlo, fueron los extranjeros jubilados que llegaron a nuestra ciudad en busca de un lugar tranquilo.

Es verdad – desde la época del Presidente Reagan, muchos ciudadanos de los EEUU han salido de su país porque están en desacuerdo con la política. Compraban los predios vacíos – casitas y casonas por igual – y les devolvieron su belleza. Corrió la voz de lo lindo y tranquilo que es Mérida, y en los años 90 llegaron más estadounidenses, canadienses, europeos y nacionales de otros estados de la República, quienes también compraron las casas en ruinas, y las transformaron en sus hogares. Ya para los principios del siglo XXI, los gobiernos municipales y estatales siguieron el ejemplo – poco a poco – la ciudad volvió a lucir como la ciudad blanca que hoy en día nos llena de orgullo.

Vivo en la García Ginerés, pero desde hace 27 años mi esposo y yo tenemos una escuela de educación superior en el mero centro de la ciudad – en un predio familiar que adquirió mi suegro en 1956, razón por la que vamos al centro histórico todos los días, mas de una vez.

En los últimos años, hemos observado que muchos negocios se han establecido sobre las calles y alrededor de las parques del centro. Otros negocios, existentes desde hace muchos años, han modificado su imagen y ahora gozan de mucha popularidad. Están aprovechando el flujo de gente y no hay nada malo en esto. ¡Qué bueno que hay vida de nuevo y más prosperidad en el centro histórico de nuestra ciudad! Pero, por las noches, realmente es un escándalo – el ruido es insoportable en muchas casas y negocios vecinos de ciertos bares y antros.

Como es de esperar, los vecinos (nacionales y extranjeros) están desesperados porque no pueden ni dormir. Acudieron a las autoridades municipales, mismas que han ha convocado a dos reuniones para escuchar opiniones de los vecinos, comerciantes y  propietarios de bares. El artículo en La Jornada Maya menciona que no todo el mundo fue invitado.

Yo estuve presente, y me consta que por lo menos la mitad de los asistentes era gente de negocios de Mérida y sus trabajadores. Una persona de este grupo estaba sentada junto a mí, y me comentó que ella fue invitada a la reunión. Si ella fue invitada, yo creo que los demás también lo fueron.

Realmente, asistir a esta reunión fue una experiencia desagradable. Me lleno de vergüenza escuchar las acusaciones a gritos de parte de algunas personas de Mérida – hacia los extranjeros – una señora norte americana, me dijo después de esta reunión, que alguien pateo su silla – ¿Qué es esto? No es la Mérida que yo conozco.

Al terminar su artículo, el reportero de La Jornada Maya pregunta:

“¿Al final del día, sin afán de ser reduccionista, todo recae en preguntarnos qué clase de ciudad queremos, ¿un centro de retiro para los expatriados jubilados que sólo vienen a Mérida a morir…” (SIC)

Pues yo quiero una ciudad donde “la paz empieza con el respeto al derecho ajeno.” (Juarez)

  • Hay que dialogar – no insular
  • Las autoridades necesitan establecer reglas y normas para todos – y todos tienen la obligación de respetarlas.
  • Si no lo hacemos – todos vamos a perder
  • Si no nos cuidamos de nuestras acciones y modales, caeremos al nivel de una ciudad sin leyes.

Somos mucho mejor que esto – todos tenemos que comportarnos como gente civilizada – no como bárbaros.

Finding Balance

Good wine does not just happen. The owner of the vineyard must tend to his land and the vines. During the growing season, the amount of sunshine and rainfall helps determine the excellence of the grapes, as does the severity of the winter weather. The harvesting and pressing are crucial factors, and the aging process must be timed just right. Producing a good vintage is an art. When the wine is ready for market, the vintner must find the right distributor. He prays the long-necked bottles will be transported and stored with care, and that wine connoisseurs will enjoy the result of his labor.

In ways, writing is like making wine. The more care a writer takes and the more experience she has – the better the results. A writer needs solitude, but not so much that she grows absolutely dependent upon it – the world around her plays a vital part in the creative process. When the manuscript is finished, the editing begins. More revision makes for a better book. Hopefully the writer finds an agent, publisher and distributor who will take her book to market – it has to be where readers can find it. And of course, the author hopes her book will be read over and over again – that it will find a forever home in public libraries, and on private bookshelves.

Those who enjoy wine need some restraint. All of us know that drinking in excess is not a healthy habit.

And writing? Truth be told, too much time in front of the computer is not good either. When I am deep into a lengthy project, it is easy to get so involved that the book’s world becomes my world. I think about my characters all the time. They take on a life of their own, and if I fail to keep perspective, they could become as important to me as my real time family and friends.

And this is the crux. To reach our full potential in any pursuit – winemaking, writing, painting, cooking, carpentry or whatever – we have to spend time away from our day-to-day lives. . I’ve heard it said that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary  to become proficient at anything. During those 10,000 hours, the danger of ostracizing family and frieds is definitely there.

Is excess involvement ever a good thing?  Some artists argue that “the work” must come first. But hey – of those who truly dedicate themselves to their art – how many have happy home lives, solid marriages, and children who do not feel ignored?

The other day, someone asked me when I would write another book. I want to – I do – but my real world needs a lot of attention right now. I hope that I will soon be able to carve out enough time and make the commitment – I’ve got ideas I could develop – it’s all about finding balance..

This Garden

Yesterday afternoon,  I filled a tall glass with ice cubes, and poured hot mint tea over top. The crisp pops and snaps made by the fissuring ice sounded like a promise – a refreshing moment soon to be savored. Taking the drink in one hand, I used the other to pull up the latch of the screen door and swing it open. I wanted to enjoy the last half hour of the Saturday sunlight.

My husband had just finished watering our garden and the spicy smell, unique to Yucatan, floated up from the soaked red soil. It swirled around the leafy orange tree where my chair waited. But before settling down, I picked my way around the perimeter to check on the plants’ progress and wellbeing.

Every year I try coaxing a few non-native species to adapt to life in the tropics. The success is spotty. In this hot, humid climate, they struggle – much like many people I know. The magnolia bush has not budded yet this year, but to my surprise, the dusky blue pom-poms on the hydrangea seem to be holding up. They bring forth memories from the garden I knew as a child – my mom had banks of them along one side of our North Vancouver home. The baskets of multi-colored petunias are thriving but the poor tulip – a gift from my daughter – has completely given up. So sad.

Meanwhile the endemics are thriving. Lilies – the deep coral-colored ones, the white with red stripes, and the delicate-looking ones with long skinny white petals are in full bloom. The Desert Rose, Crown of Thorns, and red hibiscus are also flowering at peak this March. The magenta  bougainvillea spilling over the top rim of the high front wall is a prolific marvel of nature. Basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano aloe, lemons, figs and oranges are as delicious as they are pretty.  But the showpieces of our garden are the orchids.

Orchids are amazing, and most of ours have made their home in the branches of the very tree where I sit to drink my tea.

This garden soothes me and helps me put problems into perspective. I vow to spend more time out here. Life is too short to dwell on issues that are (fairly or unfairly) beyond my sphere of influence.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

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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.