Got questions? Like Painting?

This is the painting I did for Day One of te Art Rendezvous… virtual participación I’m afraid

Mary Elizabeth Walberg is the moderator of a website called, YUCATAN BEACH FRIENDS. Each Sunday she publishes an interview with someone living in the community. However, sometimes her column doesn’t feature a person, but rather several of them who are associated with an institution, service club or a structure of historical merit. I enjoyed reading her account of the families and fortunes associated with El Pastel – The Wedding Cake – an iconic summer residence on the Malecón of Progreso. The house gained its moniker because literally, it does resemble a multi-tiered, sugar-coated confection. I wrote to Mary to comment on her interesting story.

She and I had been introduced previously, but always at a big event. We are both from Vancouver and one morning last month, we decided to have coffee together. It was fun to talk with someone from the old stomping ground. After 20 minutes or so, we both realised that our conversation was touching on subject matter for one of her weekly columns.

Last Sunday, February 7th her interview with me was published.

In fact we talked about so much that Mary decided to break the material into two parts. The second one will be published next Sunday, February 15th

I received quite a number of comments, both on the Yucatan Beach Friends site and by email. One of them read:

“Hello Joanna, I read the comments you gave to Mary at Yucatan Beach Friends. I hope you will share more information soon. I know I’m not the only one with lots more questions.”

Hm-m-m-m, that got me thinking. I have written more than I ever wanted to write about the most recent former U.S-president, and I am exhausted from NOT writing about the activities I usually enjoy because the all-consuming COVID 19 has put the kibosh on most of them. For example this week is the one time a year, when I join other painters in Carolina Weis’ long-running annual art rendezvous, MERIDA IN 5 DAYS.  Everyone who participates has such a fabulous time, and we all produce one work a day, in five different locations in and around Merida. Sigh – Sigh – Sigh –

Now, I am not suggesting that I’m an expert on any topic, but I do know a fair bit about adapting to a new culture and country. So I offer this blog as a place for asking the questions that have you stumped.

As you can imagine, the person who sent the comment is tackling several hurdles right now. As I am doing with him (or is it her?) names and other personal information will be kept confidential. So, if you’ve got something you’d like put out there, write to me at:

I look forward to hearing from you.

Snaking our way to Sotuta

On our way

Last Saturday the weather in Yucatan was as close to perfect as it ever gets. Jorge and I could not stand being cooped up, so a car ride seemed like a safe way to scratch our itch. We decided to visit Sotuta, a town 75 kilometers from Merida. The name means, “place surrounded by water” which is derived from the fact that cenotes are common in the area. However, we did not seek them out because we did not want to encounter any crowds during our escape from the confines of social distancing.

The road shown in the above photograph is the highway from Merida. To reach Sotuta, you need to exit and that road is winding, narrow and a bit hilly. The curves are not well banked. No photo of this because I dared not distract myself long enough to take one.

Monument to Nachi Cocom, Maya resistance leader

Sotuta is the ancestral home of the COCOM family. In the pre-Columbian era, they fought often for supremacy over the Itzaes from Chichen Itza, but once the Spaniards arrived, they became the focus of the Cocum war efforts. One of Yucatan’s most famous defenders against the Conquistadores was a man named, Nachi Cocom. He lived and died, a martyr to his cause, during the first half of the 1500s AD.

Tajonal growing along the roadside

The drive to Sotuta is particularly picturesque at this time of year because f the abundance of wildflowers along the roadside. The “tajonal” is the most common and the bright yellow blooms attract many bees. It is the pollen from this plant that gives Yucatecan honey its distinctive taste.

Sotuta’s church
Entrace to the church’s atrium
Another view of Sotuta’s church

The most destinctive structure in town is the Spanish colonial church that features a large atrium.

We had hoped to find a local fonda where we could have lunch, but the pandemic has nixed that. So back to Merida we drove, much happier that when we set off four hours earlier. Getting out into the countryside always lifts our spirits.

And our little pup, Buddy also enjoyed the outing!

The road home. Even when there were not many flowers to enjoy, we had the sky. I often describe the skies in Yucatan as a gigantic – panoramic – ever-changing mural.

2021 Impressions: How are we doing so far?

On January 1st of this year, everyone I know was looking ahead to 2021. Hopefully, the New Year would usher in fresh air. Could it vanquish the bad vibes of 2020? Citizens of every country looked forward to a positive shift in US policies. And of course, most prayed the COVID vaccine would be available to us as soon as possible.

“We need CPR,” I told my friends, “and I don´t mean Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation.” I wanted to use the acronym to stand for: Clarity, Peace and Resolve.

But just six days later, our hopes plummeted when the US Capitol was stormed by a rebel band protesting the ratification of the US election results. They claimed the presidential victory had been stolen from their leader, Donald Trump. He should have been given “four more years”. Millions of TV viewers around the world watched these self-proclaimed “patriots” ransack the building. To gain access to private offices, they smashed windows, and made off with private computers and confidential documents.

It is yet to be determined if the violent actions were premeditated or if the crowds were enflamed by Former President Trump, when he spoke at a rally, “You will never take back our country with weakness,” he said. Most of the protestors were 20 – 60 year old white males. Their clothing alone made inflammatory statements that were impossible to confuse. One prominent figure who called himself, a “shaman” was draped with an animal skin, slathered with face paint and wore a helmet with horns. Reportedly it was the “Proud Boys”, a neo-Nazi group, who sported the T-shirts emblazoned with: 6MWE – Six Million Wasn’t Enough – a Holocaust reference.     

They surged towards the private offices and once inside, a few of them insolently sprawled over the desk of the Leader of the House of Representatives and posed for photographs.

Just before the die-hard protesters were finally dispersed with tear gas, the cameras showed a close-up of a skinny kid pacing back and forth with his Confederate and Trump flags. His face shone with the pride of a “true freedom fighter.”

The audio reproduced on millions of devices allowed the world to hear the rebels’ remarkable command of the English language. I found it amazing how they managed to modify the F-word, to fit all eight parts of speech – noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection –But the cameras caught more than staged photo ops and erudite grammar. Video showed a police officer getting clubbed with a fire extinguisher for trying to hold the “patriots” back. He eventually died. In fact six people lost their lives during the violence.

Before this insurrection, Congress had been in the midst of ratifying the election results. When it became obvious that the representatives’ lives were in peril, Capitol police spirited them through never-before-seen passageways to a safe location where they were kept hidden for hours. When the crowds had been dispersed they resumed their duties. Once it was discovered that the protestors had actually set up a gallows for the Vice President, he was removed from the building under heavy guard.

Through all this, President Trump purportedly watched TV coverage, pleased with the mess he made. But truly, he misjudged. His megalomania caused him to lose much of his base’s support. Even they could not turn a blind eye to his actions. Imagine the Preident of the USA not trying to stop such behavior?


Then, fast forward two weeks to the Presidential Inauguration on January 20th. Thousands of American and State flags waved in the wind, filling the spots of people who would have attended this event, but could not because of COVID and clear threats from “the boys who love their toys”. Rumors said the rebels would be back for an encore. Armed National Guardsmen took the place of Democrat supporters along the traditional parade route from the Capitol to the White House. I watched on television as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in as the 46th President and Vice-president.

As expected, disgraced President Donald Trump was absent, but outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and several Republican House and Senate leaders did attend. Biden emotionally asked them for “an end to this uncivil war.”

Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks sang, and military bands played. All attending were dressed appropriately for the occasion – formal suits for the men, dresses and matching coats for the women – there was no crass language or rebellious posturing. Civility and propriety reigned.

The tone, demeanor, dress and intended outcome of January 6th and January 20th were diametrically opposed. The January 6th group aimed to incite violence. Those assembled two weeks later want to avoid violence. However, the lawlessness of January 6th has increased the skepticism that the world holds for western democracies.

I’ve heard leaders of other countries publically say they view western democracies as societies in decline. They observe that westerners have become soft. They feel “softies” are easy prey for charlatans and false Messiahs that lead them off course.

I grew up in post-WWII Canada and at the time, great numbers of refugees came to Canada and the USA. My sister has a friend who told me how she belly-crawled through the fields – with bullets flying over her head – to escape Hungry. After several months in a displaced persons camp near Vienna, she and her husband immigrated to Canada. They did not ask what place they were going to, and there were no complaints from them when they were dropped off in Winnipeg. Civic and church groups helped them get settled. It was hard for many years but the Hungarian couple prospered, and in turn they helped others.

As a young woman, I supported the humanitarian policy the Canadian government took towards South-east Asian refugees. Last year when I was in Vancouver, I went for a walk and came across a statue commemorating the exodus of the “boat people from Vietnam”. A late-middle-aged woman came up to me, and in a voice muffled by tears, she told me that her family had been on one of those precarious boats, but their lives were saved because they were allowed to come to Canada. I recounted this story to someone I know and they informed me that Canada, the USA and other “developed countries” could not keep “saving the world”. Her attitude saddened me.

I do not advocate opening the borders up for everyone to stream through, but laws must be put in place that allow for responsible, humane immigration.

Many feel western societies have become self-centered and aloof to the injustices in their own countries as well as foreign ones. This is one of the dynamics that allows hate groups and criminality get a foothold. President Biden is speaking up for human rights, for immigration, for doing what’s right. I hope that Americans and their allies will step up to the plate. I hope they will do for others what they hope would be done for them, and work diligently towards getting back on course.

If this doesn’t happen, we can expect more “shamans and proud boys” taking lives hostage.