I am sitting in the open courtyard of the restaurant Amaro in Mérida’s centro. A superb musician is playing the guitar, and singing in a velvet-smooth, very emotive voice. I am wondering why he’s playing here, and not in some studio on his way to selling millions of copies of his next disc. He starts to sing Bésame Mucho, and I shiver. His voice carries me back to Puebla, back to Edgar, and I can’t help thinking of how romantic it would be to have him here with me as I enjoy this wonderful music and a great meal. This is one of the best renditions of Bésame Mucho I’ve ever heard, and I temporarily swoon and imagine myself in Edgar’s arms.
Suddenly the swirl of sensations and recollections is overwhelming. The past few days have literally passed by in a blur. My arrival in Mérida was to the Warmest Welcome on Earth, but little did I know that it would only get better. Joanna and Jorge have literally dropped almost everything to ensure that I have a great time in Mérida. And I have to say, these two are not to be trifled with. When they want something, they get it. As a result I have had the time of my life, though I remain overwhelmed by the hospitality. Joanna and I have hit it off, and she and Jorge have made me feel like a part of the family.
I am lost in recollections of the past few days. Tuesday I arrived. Wednesday, Joanna and her niece show me a bit of the Centro, including Joanna and Jorge’s University. We have lunch at a fantastic Lebanese restaurant. Later Joanna takes me to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, which has relocated from its former home in a mansion on the old part of Paseo de Montejo, to a brilliant new building on the Prolongación, the new, northern end of the Paseo. The structure looks a bit like the “Bird’s Nest,” of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and the exhibits take us from the extinction of the dinosaurs by the asteroid that hit the Yucatán millions of years ago, though the Spanish conquest, and beyond. At the beginning, there’s a video of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, happily living one more day. And then the meteor strikes, and changes everything. As we pass through the exhibits, my personal favorite is the reconstruction of the facade of Sak Xok Nah, in Ek Balam (a ruin near Valladolid).
Later Joanna has some things to attend to, so I’m left to my own devices for a couple of hours in the Centro. Needless to say, I go out and snap photos. The old buildings fascinate me. The people in the plaza fascinate me. The general vibe fascinates me. People are out, having fun, seeing and being seen. Between the plaza with the people, and the buildings, I’m not sure which fascinates me more. So I see a bit of everything. Next to the cathedral is a public space devoted to art, where there’s an exhibit of Jorge Yazpik’s art. Yazpik is famous for lightly sculpted volcanic rock, and the exhibit blends a bit of the old and the new in a nice enclosed space next to the Cathedral.
Next I snap the inevitable shot of Mérida’s sixteenth century Cathedral of San Ildefonso.
And of course I can’t resist snapping the charming old buildings for which Mérida is famous.
The Plaza Grande is really “Society Central” here in Mérida. Every day there’s a happening scene, with food vendors, musicians, shoe-shine guys, lovers meeting away from their families, and people simply seeing and being seen. On Sundays, the city closes off the streets surrounding the plaza, and there’s a dance in front of city hall. Unlike many plazas in Mexico, Mérida’s Plaza Grande is more of a garden than a formal plaza, with lots of mature trees for shade, hedges, and flowers. For me, it’s a nice change from a place like Mexico City’s Zócalo, which is pure stone, with no shade at all. Of course in Mérida’s heat, an unplanted plaza would be infernal.
In the evening, people dance to a small band. One of the singers announces that one of the couples dancing have been married for forty two years, and sing a tribute to them. We all applauded the longevity of their marriage, and I realize that I’ll never live long enough to be with anyone for forty two years. I wonder if they’re happy together, or have merely stuck it out. I hope they’re happy.
Alas, I have too much to for a single post. Thursday, Joanna and Jorge took me to Uxmal, probably the finest Mayan ruins extant. I am amazed at the quality of the sculptures, the urban design, and sheer size of the site. While the best buildings have been restored to a high level, many remain unrestored, and it’s hard to walk around without imagining that even more amazing treasures lie still undiscovered. Jorge, it turns out, is an expert on a lot of this, and I benefit tremendously from his knowledge. He knows the history of the city, details of the construction, and is quite knowledgeable about the sculptures. On Saturday, he takes me to Mayapán, and as he’s explaining some of the buildings, a small crowd gathers to listen to what he’s saying. Later we go to Acanceh, a small town about a third of the way to Mayapán. Right there in the middle of town sit three, somewhat-intact pyramids, surrounded by colonial Spanish buildings. And on the face of one of them, are enormous, plaster sculptures of Mayan gods, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Sunday, Joanna and Jorge host an Easter lunch for their family, and a few friends. I am delighted to join. The conversation flows in Spanish, and I’m amazed I can keep up. Later that day I reflect on my good fortune. Joanna and Jorge have truly taken me into their family, and for that I will remain forever grateful.
After nearly a week here, I can see why Mérida attracts so many foreigners. There’s definitely an international feel to the place. As I walk around I hear French, German, Russian, English and other foreign languages. There are legions of charming old buildings just waiting for someone to fix them up. The fabric of the city, particularly the Centro, is very charming, with plazas and churches every few blocks. People seem friendly, and surprisingly, the heat is not nearly as oppressive as I had feared. And of course there’s a wealth of archaeological treasures within a two hour drive of here.
Tomorrow I will have been here for a week, and I’m tentatively planning to move on. There may be one or two more things to do here, but next I’m hoping to see Izamal, and then perhaps Valladolid. Afterward, I’m hoping to get to Palenque, and San Cristóbal de las Casas. For now, thanks for reading along. Saludos!