Sunday, November 20, 2011

Small kindnesses

We needed a 60-meter garden hose to reach the beginnings of a garden at the back of the property. Some big lush plants, thinned from someone else's place, had been dug in there. They were looking limp.

Lucio said a place downtown called Fernandez had good prices for a manguera de jardin, a garden hose. Barato. Cheap.

Found Fernandez, parked the bike, bought the hose, and lugged it back to the parking garage. 100 meters actually, because it didn't come in 60-meter length. Did you know, 100 meters of garden hose is heavy? I didn't. I had a feeling this could be a problem to bring home on the bike.

I rigged up something to hold the hose to the rack, using the bike lock and my only bungee cord, paid the parking attendant, who wished me luck, and started home. It was precarious and the bike wobbled along the busy street. I had to go slow. A couple of blocks along a woman in a passing car pointed at the back of the bike and I looked. I was losing my load. The coil of hose had slipped halfway off the rack. I found a quiet spot on the sidewalk and tried to untangle things. Somehow in the process I had lost the key to my bike lock.

I looped the heavy hose over my shoulder and started to walk the bike and the damned manguera the 10 or so remaining blocks home, thinking of how much it was going to hurt. Then a bottle collector, a scavenger, pulled up on his tricycle - the cargo carriers that are ubiquitous here. He said something about how I should tie the hose to the bike rack - it could take 80 kilos.

I told him something like, I had tried that, it was too heavy, it had already fallen. I was feeling irritated, and was probably kind of dismissive.

Overlooking my lack of graciousness, he calmly took a skein of twine from his own bike rack and methodically unwound a length. He brought it over and expertly, patiently, bound the hose to the bike rack, looping and knotting it on three sides. Now it won't fall, he said.  Ahora no se cae. I asked if I could pay him for the twine but he refused. After I thanked him and asked his name, Juan Jose wheeled away, merged back into traffic with his collection of empties and disappeared around the corner before I could take a picture.

It was extraordinarily touching to receive this needed help from someone who surely didn't have a lot to spare. Why reach out to this foolish gringa lady who should have, could have taken a cab or something?

I made it home without a hitch and slowly untied the hose from the bike rack. The twine was a fine braid of henequen, strong and soft from long use. Such a simple object, and a simple act of kindness on a busy street. Both of them, typical of this place. Tipico.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The fair

I won't be at the Feria Yucatán x'matkuil (Yucatan state fair) this year. It opened today. Unfortunately, I have a previous engagement to sit around shivering in the wind, cold and dark of a Canadian November. But if I was there, I wouldn't go so early this time.

I'm one of those nerds who can't figure out the right time to show up for stuff. So last year, I thought I'd beat the heat and catch an early bus. Rides make me dizzy, and I try not to each too much fair food, and I wasn't interested in the night-time concerts. I mostly wanted to see the sights. Mostly I was interested in the displays of local products,such as stonework and furnishings and things that might be nice for our new Merida home. I also had read about the spectacle of kids playing in fake snow, and dolphin tanks, and suchlike things that appealed to my taste for the bizarre.

Well, at the end of an interesting bus ride from the main  Merida market, I got to the fair and the plaza was nearly empty. Most of those who arrived around the same time as me were school kids, who didn't have any choice in the matter. Many of the commercial displays I wanted to see weren't open that early in the day. But I did get to see the livestock (one of my favorite fair features) and walk around a bit. Bought a nice hammock at a reasonable price. The Mayan building near the entrance was a nice touch - you are definitely not going to confuse this with the Red River Exhibition back in good old Winnipeg.

Next time I'll go late, with friends, like everyone else.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Getting around the neighborhood

Usually when I tell people the neighborhood we're in, I get a blank response. Even people who've lived in Mérida a long time have never heard of it. Chen Bech, also spelled as Chem Bech. The house was advertised as being in Mejorada, which is better known but still not very familiar to a lot of people. I am still not sure if Chem Bech is truly part of Mejorada, or if it is in Chuminopolis, or is a separate place of its own.

I can't feel too smug about my own knowledge of the neighborhood. I hadn't heard of it either, until house-hunting a couple of years ago brought me to this place. And until now there hasn't been much time to check out the neighborhood much, with all the renovations and other things to do.

On this trip I decided to make it a priority to get off my own beaten path to the usual destinations. Some mornings, before light, I'd strap on the sneakers and go for a little run down the side streets to the north and east of our house. It's always striking to see how early people start their days here. At 6:15 and 6:30 in the morning they're leaving the house, kids in their school uniforms, adults carrying their work things. Most of the houses are modest, but there are some grand old colonials.

I follow the rhythmic thrum of machinery up one street and come upon a factory. A big one. "Hilos Agricolas de Yucatan". Here's what I learn about it online
"Hilos Agricolas de Yucatan" grows hemp, manufactures hemp yarn and other products of sisal fibers. It history dates from the eighteenth century, producing such items as beds and sacs, to the present days, in 1993 that was acquired by the state government of Yucatan."
A corner of the henequen factory.
Who knew that this link to the region's history was sitting on the edge of the neighborhood? Well, everyone who lives around here, I suppose. Heading east I pass a disused soccer pitch and then in the distance, people in white are streaming towards a large building complex. Medical staff, starting the day shift at the public  IMSS hospital. I'm told it's the biggest public hospital in the city. I didn't know it was so close to us. On the street fronting the hospital is a busy commercial strip, including at least a couple of Chinese restaurants, numerous copy and office supply stores, tacos and other handy shops.

Elsewhere on my explorations by bike and on foot I have found a campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in the stately complex that used to be a sanitorium.

 Next to it is a park with free wifi. The park is named Articulo 123 and it features a statue to an unknown (to me) historic figure. Need to study up on my Mexican history! Across the road from the park and UNAM campus is a railway museum with numerous rusted-out rail cars standing, half obscured, in tall weeds. At least one of them reminds me exactly of the train in some old half-forgotten photo with Pancho Villa or some other revolutionaries. I couldn't come up with the photo to refresh my memory in a quick online search. But it makes me want to visit the museum and find out more about where these relics came from.

 I like our neighborhood.

What is Articulo 123 and who is Hector Victoria Aguilar?