Friday, July 15, 2011

Shakira drops in

The blinds for our front windows are now installed, after several months of bare windows, and they do look nice in the pictures our architect Victor sent. It's one of those small details that preoccupy my mind beyond any real importance. When you're a worrier like me, there's always some small thing to stress about, such as the long-distance logistics of getting some chairs paid for and delivered, or getting water for a few parched plants in the back patio.

Still, it's a big relief. The house now seems more finished, and much less exposed.

Now our neighborhood is about to get a whole different kind of exposure. After months of publicity and preparations, Saturday is the big outdoor concert by Shakira. Up to 150,000 people are expected to attend. It's free, sponsored by some local business people, though you have to get tickets.

I'm not too familiar with Shakira's music, but she's a huge star, especially in Latin America. She did the 2010 official World Cup theme song, Waka Waka (This time for Africa), perhaps the pinnacle of fame for any star.

It's clear that this is a big deal for Mérida:

The free concert takes place in the old railway yards just a few blocks from our house. Shakira's impending visit has prompted some major improvements on that site, known as "La Plancha". The name apparently translates as "the Iron", though I think it means "the flats" rather than a reference to iron rails.

News stories in local media, such as this one in La Revista, describe the rehab of the railyards. The area was abandoned, overgrown, strewn with garbage. When workers started on the work they found a seriously injured man, near death, in an empty building on the site. Another story on the Sipse site says they removed 200 rail cars and 220 tons of trash in the cleanup. Here's an earlier Yucatan Times story in English. Victor says people are starting to use the new public space and it's a real improvement in the area.

The city's mayor describes the La Plancha project as part of an overall urban renewal plan for central Mérida. The Columbian superstar herself seems to be getting a lot of the credit for the transformation. It's her image on the billboard proclaiming the La Plancha renewal project, in silhouette, bent over a microphone, whipping her hair. So, thanks Shakira! I'm glad our windows are decent for your visit.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parque Mejorada

I got to know this area better over many internet-deprived days during the last few visits to Mérida. I'd sit on the slatted wooden benches until my butt got sore, or until the laptop ran out of power; whichever came first.

I grew to like this park, in many ways, better than the busy Parque Grande about half a dozen blocks to the west. No one pestered me relentlessly to buy inferior hammocks, or tested pick-up lines while I tried to work ("Hey that's a really small computer...where you from?") No aggressive panhandling, which I experienced in Parque Santa Ana. It seems in those parks if you sit around too long you attract uninvited attention, like mosquitoes.

I found myself hanging out more and more in Parque Mejorada. A smaller park with fairly busy streets on two sides, but otherwise peaceful. As an added attraction it's pretty close to our house.

On my first few visits I felt like Mejorada didn't have much going on. Perhaps that's because there are no sidewalk restaurants like the ones surrounding Parque Grande, or market food stands as in Santa Ana. It's also not a location for any of the regular public concerts.

Over time I got around to exploring beyond some of the striking facades. I followed the sound of music to find a school with a band practicing in interior courtyard of one old building. Another day I ducked out of the afternoon heat into the museum of popular art. It was holding a spectacular exhibit of work related to Day of the Dead. On earlier visits we toured the Museum of Yucatecan Song, which is dedicated to the icons and history of the indelible Yucatecan music that you hear in the public concerts and on the radio. I have yet to explore the school of architecture which stands next to the cathedral, or the ancient cathedral which is the source of much street activity. Of course the famous Las Almendras restaurant with its Yucatecan cuisine faces the park as well. One day I was able to peek into the expansive green spaces of the Centro Cultural del Nino Yucateco, which lies behind the imposing walls across from the southeast corner of the square.

I took a bunch of pictures of what I found behind some of the grand facades, but in my current state of disorganization can't seem to find most of them. Here are a few from the Museo de Arte Popular and the music school.

I also found this link with info about the park and a few of the places around it. I'm looking forward to discovering more about the neighborhood now that the initial busy-work of renovations is done.