Drop Lucy at the dog resort. Pick up rental car at airport. Drive home. Drive back to airport. Wait at YYJ for flight to Vancouver. 15-minute flight is 1 hour late. Wait hours at YVR for flight to Mexico City. Five hour flight. Aeromexico serves light meal an hour in, at midnight, but nothing, not even coffee, before landing. Encounter a thousand people ahead of us in line for passport control. Take anti-stress pill. (Hey, I made it through two flights without one.) Wait hours at MEX for flight to Merida. 90-minute flight to Merida. Taxi to house in central town. Struggle with complicated door locks. Survey the colourful house. Take nap. Walk to store to buy drinking water (not needed, later we find the casa has potable water). Walk to restaurant to order pizza. Wait for pizza. Take picture of passing horse-drawn carriage. Carry dinner to house on Calle 54.
¡Finalmente, nosotros comemos pizza en Mexico!
As to the photo, there are lots of horse-drawn carriages on Merida's streets and while I like the clop clop clop soundtrack of the horse hooves on stone I don't know quite what to think about this, the horse-drawn carriage thing. Is it bad for the horse? Does it enjoy pulling a carriage in car traffic, or would it rather be out eating grass? I'd guess the latter so I won't encourage the practice but I will take the occasional picture.
After a good sleep we woke refreshed and spent the day exploring the town and picking up some groceries. We passed through the city's main square, Plaza Grande, where we caught a glimpse of the cathedral. We also saw a lot of colourful buildings along our way.
We looked at a couple of artisan markets featuring colourful items, many with a Dia de Muertos theme. We especially liked the wood and ceramic masks. Then, waiting at a traffic light, a fellow talked us into checking out another market, which seemed fine at first, except he quickly handed us off to another fellow who clearly wanted to see us take home some art by the end of the day. The whole experience soon began to remind me of a Ephesus carpet salesman who used everything from Van cats and flirts to get us into his store in hope of sending us home with a Turkish carpet. In both cases the salesmen were disappointed as we didn't buy anything.
For dinner we went to a neighborhood Mexican restaurant/bar that features botanero, which is like a Mexican version of tapas. In addition to our entrees Paul ordered a beer, and the beer order came with a tableful of small plates of food. When the waitress brought our order we thought she had the wrong table, it was so much food.
This morning we had breakfast at a cafe on the Paseo de Montejo, a wide boulevard which was closed to traffic for bicycles, what they call Bici-Ruta and held every Sunday. There were bicycles (and bicyclists) of all shapes and sizes, tandems, tricycles, chrome cruisers, covered 4-wheelers, even a bathtub-like bike. Lots of families and lots of dogs being walked, too. Accompanying this was very good live jazz music.
Later in the day we were on the main square which was turned into a market. On one side of the square there was more live music with lots of dancing going on. I'm really liking the music.
Like a lot of homes in Merida ours is flush up to a narrow sidewalk and has little street presence, just a door and a window. But inside is a different story. It's largely stone and polished cement, with tall ceilings, attractive furniture and art, swimming pool, fully equipped kitchen, potable water, laundry, built-in barbeque, three giant flatscreens, and what appears to be every television service.
The location is great. I buy my morning cappuccino at a cafe within a minute's walk, and there are three four trendy restaurants (grasshopper guacamole, anyone?) just as close. Merida's central square is about seven blocks walk.
So overall I've no complaints, except for the climate, which could be cooler. I can't imagine visiting Merida in summer.
Merida didn't make a great first impression on me. It was like when our bus entered Atacama after crossing the Andes, I looked around and asked myself why am I here? I certainly didn't entertain my usual traveling thought, would I want to live here? But I have learned to give it time, to acknowledge first impressions but not hold them too tight.
It started as the plane appoached. Merida is tabletop flat, its roads ruler straight. Then there's the heat and humidity, it's not Bali but I was soon sweaty, even in my poly pros. And close up it's no better: most blocks look the same, a row of low, disheveled cement buildings punctuated by the occasional gentrified home, the narrow crumbling sidewalks, and the rusty collectivos spewing brown exhaust.
But my attitude is evolving. The Meridians are super friendly, even to gringos like me. The sidewalks may be uneven but there's little trash laying about. The drivers, while lacking Canadians' fervent respect for pedestrian crosswalks, stay in their lanes and stop at red lights. And the colours of the buildings and the details in their facades are helping to win me over.
The large mural is behind the bar on the patio at Catrin, a restaurant that backs up to our house. Their grasshopper guacamole --- yep, real grasshoppers --- is very good.
We were drawn to Merida by a TV show, believe it or not; it introduced us to the local architecture. And it has certainly lived up to expectations. Lots of often-colourful old buildings fronting beautiful interiors with lush inner courtyards. This design language combines street-level privacy with a gradual reveal and then surprise as one enters a building. I like it.
We found our house, which follows this design, via Trip Advisor and we're happy with it. The one hiccup, no propane, was quickly addressed by the property manager. The gas company arrived the next morning and a plumber came soon after to re-light the pilots. You really appreciate hot water when you don't have it.
We are steps from several elegant restaurants, Oliva Enoteca for Italian, 130 Degrees for steak, Micaela Mar for seafood (ate there last night, excellent), Catrin for Mexican, Latte Quatro Setta for lattes and fresh pastry, and La Morena, a high end food court/bar. Wouldn't be surprised if there are more, hiding behind the stone and cement facades.
But there's one unfixable issue with the house and that's noise. It turns out at least two, Catrin and La Morena, have live music until the wee hours. And it's outdoors, in their courtyards. It's great music, but it is loud and some nights, like last night, we decided to close the windows and turn on the a/c just to get some sleep. Yeah, I know, first world problem. Now I understand why a few properties around here have hung signs saying "Basta de ruido. Queremos dormir. Necesitamos solucion hoy." So, it's a great neighborhod for our short visit, maybe not so much for a long term stay.
Today we visited Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city about an hour out of Merida. We hired a driver, Alex, to take us. He and his wife Joanna own Destino Merida tours.
Alex picked us up early in the morning so we could see the ruins while temperatures are at their coolest (least warm might be more descriptive) and when there would be few visitors. As promised, when we arrived we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Once at Uxmal he handed us off to a local fellow who guided us through the town. Afterwards Alex drove us to the charming Hacienda Ochil for a Yucatan lunch. Ochil was once a working plantation and it is well preserved; it's complete with extensive beautiful grounds, artwork, railroad, and even a cenote. As we talked with Alex we learned more about Mexico and the Yucatan and, this being US-election eve, we even talked a little politics. Alex is very informative and we had a nice tour. I'd highly recommend him.
For dinner tonight we walked all the way to the end of our block --- in other words, we barely moved --- where we ate at the Italian restaurant Oliva Enoteca. It's the fourth restaurant we've visited on the block. Each has been stellar.
We got up early today, Ubered1 to the Merida airport, then flew to Mexico City. There we were met by a Bajiogo shuttle. We quickly discovered it was piloted by Mad Max. So I put in some earbuds, listened to the last chapters of a Trollope2, and kept my eyes averted from the road and threatened carnage ahead. After several hours of pedal to the metal, dodging between cars, trucks, and construction zones, Max suddenly slowed. We'd arrived in quaint, cobblestoned San Miguel. This is looking very different from Merida.
Our driver left us at the door of a striking ultra-modern glass and cement architectural delight. From what I've seen so far, of the house and the colourful city, it looks like San Miguel will be a visual feast.
In the meantime, we gotta eat. So we stocked up the fridge from a nearby grocery then headed out for dinner. Tired, hungry, we'd not eaten since breakfast at the airport, we resorted to our fave cuisine, pizza. Yeah, I know, pizza in Mexico, why would one eat pizza in Mexico, but why not? And they had my numero uno, a thin crust Margherita with anchovies.
Upon leaving the aptly named Neapolitan Pizza, which by the way was excellent, we found ourselves refreshed and surrounded with murals and I love murals. The first time any murals caught my attention was in Valparaiso. The colourful public art transformed the town, the seaside setting being beautiful but the architecture not. Turns out, San Miguel de Allende has murals, too, though they are just an added bonus to the charming architecture. I've a few mural photos below.
1We'd not used Uber prior to Merida. We quickly became fans of the no-cash-needed service.
2Trollope's stories of life in Victorian England are absolutely nothing like Mad Max.
Despite what many assume, civilized coexistence in a culture of tolerance is not always the norm, or even universally desired. Democracy is a hard-won, easily rolled-back state of affairs from which many secretly yearn to be released. Uki Goi, an Argentinian writer, in the New York Review of Books
A discouraging thought, but I figure it's better to face the reality that we aren't all on the same page as to how best we should live. The recent election has driven home the point. It should have been a blue blowout, instead it was a draw. I'm left wondering how half the electorate could be such idiots.
We're having a wonderful time in SMA (San Miguel de Allende). The weather is great, with clear skies and comfortably cooler than the Yucatan, the food is good and nicely priced, the music is everywhere and pleasing to the ears, and the town is full of eye candy. Topping it off, the house we are staying in is an architectural work of art --- we've even befriended the architects, but more on that in a future photo-filled post.
SMA has a reputation as a gringo town, and while there is a large community of ex-pats plus tourists, it's still overwhelmingly non-gringo, which is a good thing. As in Merida, the locals are very friendly and helpful, they are always ready with a smile and a buenos dias, and they take my feeble attempts at Spanish with good humor. This certainly contrasts with my experiences in France.
A couple more kudos which also apply to Meridians: they have the queueing thing down, all you have to do is see how they line up for the collectivos. And I rarely smell cigarettes, when I do the source is usually a gringo. A big contrast with, say, Italy and Greece where it feels like everyone chain smokes.
Complaints? Hmm, the sidewalks could be wider. But it's an old town, there's only so much space, so aside from banning cars I don't see a solution. At least the sidewalks here and in Merida are clean and in reasonable condition. As I've written previously, Buenos Aires retains the crown for crappiest sidewalks, both in terms of disrepair and dog poop.
I'm listening to War/No More Trouble by Playing for Change.
We ubered out to Galeria Atotonilco to see Mayer Shacter's collection of Mexican folk art. An impressive collection, with so much on display that at first it's a bit overwhelming. The building, which doubles as Shacter's home, is by Cathi and Steven House, the same architects for our home. It's about 20 minutes from SMA. Most of the artwork is for sale, with prices in the range of about 1,000-75,000 pesos.
If only the universe could pause for awhile, to extend the duration of the evening light. I know, the soft light offers itself twice a day, but I've not the dedication most mornings to catch the early one.
This shot captures the typical narrowness of the sidewalks in the two Mexican towns I've visited.
Vicente Fox, president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, spoke in San Miguel this evening. A member of the National Action Party (PAN), he was the first president to break the hold of the International Revolutionary Party (PRI) since 1929.
Fox talked on a broad range of political, economic, and humanitarian topics, took questions from the audience, and then concluded with a discussion of one of the nonprofits he is working with, CRISMA, a therapeutic service for low-income families in SMA.
Coming into the evening I knew nothing of Fox other than he held office as president of Mexico and that he was in an over-the-top video announcing his candidacy for president of the United States.
Fox shared his thoughts on everything from the European Union (he considers it hugely successful), referendums (BREXIT and the recent cancellation of the new Mexico City airport, both of which he's in strong disagreement), NAFTA, the wall (the US will have to waste its own money if it wants one), the migrant caravan (refugee problems are best solved at the source), drug trafficking and its associated violence (he favours legalizing all drugs), populism (dangerous but hopefully the pendulum swings back soon), and whether running a government is the same as running a business (it isn't).
Fox made no effort to hide his disdain for the current occupant of the White House. Fox came across as rational and pragmatic, and a bit right of center. He gave short shrift to the problem of income inequality, preferring to focus on wealth creation versus redistribution. But he took challenging questions in stride, such as the correlation between Coke consumption --- Fox was once a Coke executive --- and obesity.
Curiously, there was no visible security for the ex-president. As far as I could tell Fox had no secret service and there were no metal detectors for the audience, he was just a guy on stage giving a talk and answering questions from the audience. Um, who said Mexico was a dangerous place?
I'm listening to David Sylvian's Nostalgia.
Our house, Casita del Maguey, is one of two houses squeezed onto a narrow city lot on Calzada de la Presa1 In San Miguel. The architects, Cathi and Steven House, live nearby and use the casitas as rental property and as an exhibit for architecture students. Shortly after we arrived a class of Cal Poly students were here, exploring both of the homes. The Houses are both super friendly and helpful and we've run into them numerous times in town, such as at last night's address by president Fox.
The one bedroom, one and a half bath casita is visually stunning. It has tall ceilings, walls of glass, cantilevered walkways, multiple decks, comfortable modern furniture, and tasteful colors and art. It also has in-floor heat plus whole-house potable water so you can drink water from any tap. It shares a small pool with the next door house. The wonderful blocks-long maze of the Mercado de Artesanias, which reminds me of Istanbul's grand bazarre, is just steps away and the shops and restaurants of central SMA are within a few blocks.
Cathi and Steven designed the house to be light and airy and to feel more spacious than it really is. Interesting architectural details abound. It is a feast for the eyes as well as being a comfortable place to hang out while visiting SMA.
The house has downsides. This is not a place for those who like privacy. Being so open inside, you can't, say, listen to music in the living room and have someone sleeping in the bedroom. The house has so many lights and so many light switches that I find myself going up and down the stairs searching for the switch that controls that last light left on before going to bed.
But the biggest problem is the house seems to be unheated2. I figure the in-floor heat --- first floor only --- isn't up to the task. The interior spaces, the single-pane glass walls and skylights that run the length of the house, and the gaps around the exterior doors, all is too much for the heating system. Outside it's just above freezing, inside we are wearing long johns, winter coats, and wool hats.
But it sure is pretty.
1Calzada de la Presa has several other names: Chorro, Barranca, Murllo, and Nuez.
2Steven House is looking to address this, so maybe the house does have heat.
A cold morning in San Miguel, it is 0° (32F) outside and 13° (57F) in la casita. Hoping for some sunshine. In the meantime we are heading out to look for a cafe that has some heat
La Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel, the current parish church of San Miguel, is unique in Mexico and the emblem of the town. It is one of the most-photographed churches in Mexico and the two tall towers of its neo-Gothic facade can be seen from most parts of town. The church was built in the 17th century with a traditional Mexican facade. The current Gothic facade was constructed in 1880 by Zeferino Gutierrez, an indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect. It is said Gutierrez's inspiration came from postcards and lithographs of Gothic churches in Europe; however, the interpretation is his own and more a work of imagination than a faithful reconstruction. Wikipedia
The inside of the church is well done, but it's the exterior that is so striking. The pinkish-orange colours and the three-dimensionality of the steeple are like a Disney fairy castle.
A willing if untalented gardener, he collages cuttings in pots in strange combinations, confuses weeds and plants. He's not much of a painter, carpenter, or plumber either, though he does a little of all of these things: milusos, as Mexicans say, a thousand uses, a handyman. Tony Cohan, On Mexican Time
My hands are freezing as I write this, I can only drink so many cups of coffee to keep warm, I'll be jittery if I don't stop. We emailed Steven last night regarding the heating problem and in short order he was at our door. I didn't share my thoughts on the construction of the house. He assured us the heat should be up to the task and said a serviceman had been called. I just hope by serviceman he doesn't mean Alejandro, the friendly caretaker who makes me think of Hilario, the handyman in Cohan's book
Steven stayed awhile, he's a bit of a raconteur, a person who finds talking easy, who dominates conversation, but fortunately his talk is interesting.
My mother used to say avoid the word "I" in conversation if you want to be considered a good conversationalist, and it's stuck with me, as I listen to others I find myself counting the I's in their sentences. It's a word I work to avoid, but avoiding the word doesn't guarantee anything, you still need something interesting to say. Steven is free with the I's but he still keeps my attention.
He saw my battered copy of Cohan's book and brightened, Tony is a friend and client. I probed for an answer to the location of Calle Flor and Steven confirmed my suspicions, Calle Flor is a made-up name, the author's perogative to change a name to protect something. Tony's house was on Jesus, a three-block street between Tenerias and Umaran, now that makes more sense, it aligns with the descriptions of neighborhood shops, intersections, and views of the cathedral from the rooftop. Walking Jesus will have to be on today's itinerary.
Steven talked of his travels and his photography. We pulled out one of his books that is sitting in the casita, Mediterranean Villages. It's chock full of beautiful black and white photos and drawings made by Steven and Cathi. Paul and I have been to many of the same places, we have similar favorites, the Greek islands, Santorini and Monemvasia, and small Italian hill towns. It's a coffee table book I'd consider, unlike Kramer's coffee table book about coffee tables.
Alejandro comes by. He studies the thermostat, he changes the batteries, he studies it some more. He touches the floor, caliente he says, well it's been mildly caliente all along, but not enough caliente. I don't have high hopes for heat.
We have a similar in-floor system in Otter Point, though ours is far more complex, with two floors and eleven zones. It took us awhile to find someone who could diagnose our heat issues, even the company that installed it couldn't fix it. I've come to think in-floor heat is one of those technologies that isn't quite ready, it takes almost a degree in engineering to understand the settings, and even when you understand it it is problematic. It's slow to heat, it's inflexible as it's embedded in the concrete floor, and the systems have a Rube Goldberg nature, or Wallace and Gromit, with obscure settings and sensors and actuators and pipes and so many, many wires, it's a wonder when it works.
I'm listening to Patty Griffin's Heavenly Day.
We checked out the Bellas Artes to see the beautiful building, study some art, snack on cheesecake and cappuccino, and attend a book signing/talk/slide show on West Africa. The Bellas Artes is housed in a former convent. It has a large central courtyard around which are exhibit spaces, an auditorium, and workshops for a wide range of arts, from music and dance to weaving and painting. Entrance to the building and exhibits is free, like most of the Mexican museums we've visited, which is great as it makes it accessible to everyone.
A couple of minutes from our house, just past the tortilla factory and the gym/pilates/yoga/etc. studio that fills the morning air with the sounds of pulsing, energetic music, is the Mercado de Artesanias and the adjacent food market, Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, a three-block-long meandering pedestrian street lined with merchants. Fresh vegetables, cooked foods, meats, bicycles, clothing, zapatos, pewter ware, and on and on, every imaginable type of good is available for sale. There are metalsmiths making jewelry, women roasting corn, and butchers cutting meat. It's clean and neat and the merchants are friendly. There's no pressure, unlike, say, the similar Istanbul Grand Bazaar. We walk through the Mercado at least once a day.
San Miguel is chock full of stores, beautiful, artistic, eye candy stores, as you walk down the narrow sidewalks almost every turn of the head fills your eyes with another tempting place to shop, and we do, but I keep going back to the Mercado, for the variety, the pricing (I don't bargain), the friendly no-pressure merchants, and the ambiance.