Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Neighbors/Vecinos: Bob and Diane

11/10/2010 The morning after our first night in the damp, noisy, smelly home, I found a handwritten note tucked into our front gate. It was from Diane and Bob, who had recognized our house from the blog posts and pictures. In fact they even viewed the house when it was languishing on the market. Their house is just about two blocks away from ours.
We dropped by to say hello to and were greeted by this friendly couple from New York. They have transformed their compact house on a narrow lot into a jewel with polished black concrete surfaces, high ceilings and abundant light. Familiar Yucatan and Mexican elements are used in surprising and delightful ways. They call it their Merida brownstone, because it has a lot in common with their brownstone in Brooklyn.
Our visit was cut a bit short because half a dozen tradespeople were due to show up at our house to give estimates. But it was wonderful to connect with our gracious neighbors and it made me feel a little less like a stranger in town. Brother Doug really enjoyed the visit too. He is able to recognize the potential in a building that would appear to most as a run-down old rock pile - his house in Manitoba used to be one - but seeing what Bob and Diane have achieved, he says he now really understands what we're trying to do.
I didn't take pictures of the interior of Bob and Diane's house because we were too busy enjoying their company to get around to asking how they would feel about that. But it was a highlight of the trip to meet them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Merida moments: banking problems and getting a phone

11/10/2010  Much of my first full day in Merida (Doug's third) was taken up with getting a local cell phone (me) and dealing with banking problems (Doug). Doug spent much time on payphones with banking reps who couldn't find a reason why the city's bank machines wouldn't process his cash withdrawal. (The problem magically disappeared the next day.)
Somehow (embarrassing admission) I have never had my own cellphone before, though I borrow other family members' phones as needed. I figured this made me less tethered, freer, and there was one less bill to pay. My new Merida cell phone will be for local calls and texts. I plan to leave it at the house, so it can also be used by anyone else who is staying there. It seems to be something people do here, where a land line can take a long long time to get. The phone was only about $30, and while calls are fairly expensive for the first year, the rate drops significantly after that.
It took a long time to get the new phone to work. I am trying to become more of a technical person but remain clueless about some of the most basic things. I had to take it back to the young people behind the counter at the Coppel department store where we bought it. There, much discussion, fiddling, and conversation with someone on the other line ensued. Finally it was working. But it only spoke Spanish. Not the people on the line, but the prompts and instructions. Tuesday I received a prompt; I thought it was about turning up the volume of the ringer, but when I pressed "si" it started a game of Spaceball, whatever that is.
After a couple of days I've managed to change the phone to English and now am constantly checking for messages, adding new contacts, texting like a teenager (only much slower). It already seems to be becoming a comforting extension of of my very being.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shadows on the wall

Returned to Victoria and Fallingdowne this week,  with lots of unposted blog scribblings due to time and connectivity challenges during Merida stay. So I hope you'll indulge me as I do a bit of catch-up.
11/13/2010 Tom suggested staying in a hotel instead of the house, which does make an awful lot of sense. Chairs and internet are objects of great longing these days. There seemed to be a point to be made about occupying the place. I think the point has been made, but I still stay after brother Doug has gone, not sure whether it is inertia or sheer cussedness. There's not much to see in the house these days - two hammocks, and a lot of tiny biting ants that swarm any food item that is left out for more than a few minutes. But there are these cool shadows on the kitchen wall in the morning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Street dogs: no se tocarlo

On previous trips I never saw them. Okay, maybe once. I saw a city worker carry a sick-looking bassett-hound type out of the Plaza Grande and deposit him in the back of a pick-up truck. I guessed the dog was on his way to a quick euthanization.
I thought it must be an exaggeration (or my own mistranslation) when I read in the local paper that there are thousands of abandoned dogs on the streets of Merida. But in the past few days I've been seeing them in my neighborhood. A brindle-coated one. A border-collie type, very dirty, that followed me most of my last block home last night.
Tonight this  little one approached along the sidewalk on the busy side of Parque Mejorada ("mi oficina"). A tattered piece of what might once have been a leash dangled from his collar. Dirty, hungry, skittish. I feared he would run into traffic so I called him and he approached. He reminded me of our Mickey. I couldn't help it: I scratched his poor ears and he promptly curled up at my feet. (I couldn't get him to look up for a picture; he startled at the camera flash.)
Then a religious procession started near the end of the block across from the cathedral. When he heard fireworks he panicked and took off across the park.
Not long after that I noticed my hands, arms and elbows were getting very itchy. When I realized the dog probably had something to do with it I quickly packed up the netbook and headed for the nearest pharmacy to buy a bath-sized bottle of that sterlizing hand stuff. Doused my hands, arms, neck (which I had scratched), then went into a restaurant bathroom and furtively soaped my hands and arms up to the shoulders. Feeling better now, but pretty stupid. What did I expect from petting a street dog?
Quite a few of the Americans and Canadians living here have taken up the cause of rescuing and seeking adoptive homes for these poor creatures. My friend Debbie works with one such group, YAPA . I have figured that as a non-resident (for the foreseeable) I didn't have to think much about the plight of Merida's abandoned or mistreated animals but at the very least I need to find out what useful thing I can do when I come across them, beyond sharing their mites, or whatever it was.
No se tocarlo means "don't touch them," I think. In Spanish today I was learning about direct and indirect pronouns. It's kind of difficult to get my head around the rules so it might not be right, but I'm supposed to practice.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My office/mi oficina

View from mi oficina, Parque Mejorada
If you've been anywhere near me for the past week  you've heard me complain (quijarse - a new verb I learned) about the torture of staying in a house without internet or easy access to coffee. It's my own fault of course for being so stubborn about staying in our house with nothing except a few lights and fans, plumbing that kind of works and two hammocks. Internet cafes exist but I've been opting for the public squares where Merida's government has installed free wifi. (I wonder why our wealthy cities north of the 49th  parallel haven't done it yet.) Despite the thoughtful provision of service, it has not been working all that well for me. It was hard to fit in trips to the squares during last week's busy schedule. Night falls hard at 6 o'clock so it's a little difficult to see the screen after that. And power is a challenge. This year-old netbook has about an hour of battery juice, and though there are a few electrical outlets around the squares, they don't always work. Unfortunately you don't find that out until the computer shuts down suddenly.
So this blogger has been mostly unplugged this week. But I think I'm getting it figured out. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(Slight) Fright Night

Brother Doug - our first guest!
Here we are again. Came in on the flight from Houston this time. I've been trying out all the travel options for getting here and back. A plane full of young teenaged girls apparently returning from a Justin Bieber concert, clutching stuffed toys and copies of the 16-year-old Canadian's insipid new biography.
Brother Doug arrived a couple of days earlier, catching the bus from Cancun. First time in Merida, first time in Mexico. My first guest. He spent a couple of nights getting eaten by mosquitoes in a nice hotel before I arrived. Sunday night was the first night staying over in the house for both of us.
Last trip I rented a room elsewhere because I didn't know if the electricity and plumbing worked, and a proper lock was needed on the front entrance gate. I wasn't sure if the house was habitable, but by the time I left it definitely seemed to be so. But Sunday night we both had doubts about whether it was fit for even the most rudimentary kind of habitation.
The house was damp and sour-smelling. This was in part because the plumbing for the kitchen sink was leaking. We had water all over the floor (again). I'll be glad when that plumbing's replaced. The dampness was probably also due to the heavy rains seeping through the roof that needs repair. It hasn't had the chance to dry out with the house all closed up. Cracks showed where I hadn't noticed them before. All the rooms seemed smaller.
Tired, jangled, having pissed off the airport taxi driver by asking him to drive an extra 10 blocks, everything seemed wrong. I couldn't sleep. Every sound was frightening. What were the neighbors' dogs barking at all night? It was one of those occasional what-the-hell-have-I done kind of moments.
One good thing: there were no mosquitos in our house the first night we were here. I guess they figured out there hadn't been a meal in the place for going on two years. It didn't take them long to notice fresh prey. In the morning we opened the windows and back door to air and dry out the house. Immediately they followed our carbon-dioxide vapour trails inside. Later, whenever we disturbed any of our papers or clothes, they rose in little clouds from their hiding spots.
Monday morning started better, with the shower water in the hideous bathroom nicely heated by the new stationary gas tank, and tasty, cheap panuchos and fresh juice at the market stands down the street. Some challenges regarding internet and bank machines commanded much of the day's attention. But when we got home the house felt different, dry and fresher.
Tonight (after an inaugural trip to the new, nearby mall for some basics like towels and anti-mosquito artillery) we just sat around on the bare floor, talking reading, eating cheese and crackers and learning how to do things on computers when you don't have internet. And everything seemed just fine with this place.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mi casa mexicana

Published in Victoria Boulevard magazine, November/December 2010:
by Deborah Wilson

It can start with a vacation.
The city of Merida was well off the beaten track when I first saw it in the early 1980s. A sense of torpor and graceful decay pervaded all. Horse-drawn calesas clip-clopped along empty streets. An old man slowly mopped tiles under the grand arches of our ancient hotel.
A quarter-century later, returning for a family vacation, Merida had changed. Public squares thrummed at night with live music and dance. Colonnaded buildings and private homes had been restored to their original grandeur.
Odd details stick in your mind: The grace of an elderly couple dancing to music in the square; a particular shade of blue on the walls; the riotous noise of birds in the trees at dusk. Back home, you search the online real estate listings and lurk on forums where expatriates share tips about scorpions and septic systems. You realize you can buy a house in a nice neighborhood for as little as the price of a kitchen renovation here at home.
That's how I ended up earlier this year holding the keys to our own,  slightly dilapidated,  century-old casa mexicana. Along the way I learned that a lot of Canadians and Americans are doing the same thing. Some are also from Victoria.