Merida en Mardi en Kukulcan

18 10 2012

I’ve been a little bummed up with knee pain.  Too much basketball in the long ago has left me without cartilage in the knee that wasn’t operated on.  Next on the agenda is a trip to an orthopedist who speaks English.  I don’t want to make things “muy complicado” than they already are as my friend Vicki would say when she tries to “explain me” in English her emotional depth that goes pretty damn far.

On with Merida en Mardi.  We have Merida en Domingo on a weekly basis but Tuesday of this week gave me a glimpse of a Merida I hadn’t seen before.  Alejandro Sanz performed at the Kukulcan Estadio to an audience of 5000+.  Pretty good-sized crowd considering the cheapest seats were $400 pesos.  I don’t know what some of the audience had done to get the money to see one of Latin music’s most popular performers but I hope it wasn’t harmful to them or anybody else.

I didn’t know of Sanz or his music until I came to Merida.  Pop music is not at the top of my list for music but as Duke Ellington said, There are 2 kinds of music – good music and all the rest. My first knowledge of Sanz’ performance in Merida came by way of a post in the Yucatan Living calendar. 3 Grammy’s for Latin music (the most ever won by a Latin artist) and more records sold than any other Latin singer piqued my interest. Oh!!!  On the ride from the airport to Merida there was a large billboard picture. Muy hermoso. My first stroll down Paseo Montejo included another sighting of his mug on the El Conquistador Hotel. Then in one of our early conversations Vicky almost fainted at the sound of his name exclaiming, Oh I love him!!! 

Monday night Vicki and I were doing the Google translate version of a Skype call. What are we doing tomorrow? was the question of the moment put to me. A vague memory surfaced from my sub-conscious. Isn’t that Spanish singer tomorrow?  I checked the Internet. Come Mardi and my budget allowed the purchase of 2 tickets. Trundled to El Conquistador (remember the knee issue?) and the deal was on.  Claro, Vicki was ecstatic.

My only knowledge of the place is from a blurb in the LA Times about former Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela’s son playing here plus it’s named after the Maya serpent whose temple is built at Chichen Itza. Vendors line the dirt parking lot plaza outside the Stadium hawking an unfathomable array of food.  Vicki shakes her head, NO, NO, NO!!! I get it – not to be eaten. I’m not hungry anyway.  Once in the ballpark I’m searching for a seat number while Vicki heads somewhere as if she knows where she’s going so I follow.  At least 1/2 the seats are General Admission which down here means first-come-first-served. We’re 90 minutes early so a seat in the first row behind home plate is available. The ground level seats range from $750 pesos to $3000.  Maybe those rumors about Mexico’s drug lords living in Merida are true.  The stage is set up in center field maybe 120 – 150 yards away. We’re prepared with a set of binoculars.

Vicki and I spend the next hour and 45 minutes talking more than we ever had.  9:15 a shadow appears walking behind three illuminated curtains draped like KKK headpieces at the front of the stage.  The howls of the mostly feminine crowd tell everyone what we already know. He’s here. The next 2 hours are a world-class performance by a superstar.  The light show is the equal of the best with the exception possibly of a Madonna production.  I am most impressed by two things.  First, Vicki morphs into a teenage girl shrieking or singing almost every word.  Second, she is not alone; I survey the stadium to see and hear 16 to 60-year-old women singing every word along with Sanz.  He stops occasionally and extends the microphone to allow us to hear the crowd singing the lyric that he has stopped singing.  I’ve spent many evenings in jazz clubs bemoaning the lack of silence and attention given the artists, but this is really good pop sung with flamenco feeling(Sanz grew up in Cadiz, Spain and is Andalusian) that alters the term sing-along in a way that Mitch Miller and I never imagined. Talk about soul food these folks have alma in abundance. Just ask Billy Joel he came back to the States after Mexico saying They’re crazy down there they know all my songs and dance and sing like mad. The truth of it doesn’t matter but Ganz, as a consummate performer and songwriter should, seems genuinely impressed by Merida’s knowledge and response to his music. All in all a triumph for him and the people who came here to see and listen to him.

Miercoles I download 50 songs of the best-selling Latin singer ever and drench myself in his music.  How could I(a self-styled afficionado de musica) not have known about this guy?  I do now and so do you. Vive Sanz, Vive Merida!!!


The Night was young and the moon was yellow and the rain came tumbling down – where oh where is my ATM card?

11 10 2012

Tuesday night at Hennessy’s Open Mic I read 600+ words I wrote about what it’s been like to make friends with locals who don’t speak my language when I don’t speak theirs.  Most of it had to do with how a man and woman I know speak the universal language – the language of love.  As I looked over the room in those 5 minutes of returning to what it’s like to be a teacher/actor my sub-conscious went into overdrive.  It was October 9, the first day of my 2nd month in Merida, and sitting around the room were 5 people I could already call friends. It was later that the sub-conscious passed back what it stored away.  Coupled with having made several other new friends at the Open Mic on Tuesday I’m in shock.   I haven’t made that many new friends in the last 2+ years living in LALA-land.

The title of this post is also the opening of the collective poem Jonathon Harrington had us write as part of Open Mic’s playfulness. You might be puzzled by the combination of Lloyd Price’s lyrics, the true story of Staggerlee and the mundane question at the end saying to yourself WTF ?

My ATM card had gone missing and so began my first not-so-good (alright I’ll be honest and say it downright %^&$ing bad) lesson about customer services in Merida. Having panicked the next time I tried to use it I realized I left my card in the ATM machine over the weekend.  My first quick trip to the bank to retrieve it ended with the bank calling the company that services the machine.  They would be there in 3 hours at 2PM.  Panic attack over – I spent the next few hours with a friend staying at Rosas y Xocolate, Lisa Collins at Bodega41 and drinking Eddy’s wonderful coffee at Cafe Creme.

Back to the bank.  – Oh, we’re sorry there’s been a delay.  Maybe try 6PM.  My – Maybe?  Responded to with an apologetic look.

6PM. – A passcode is needed to open the machine try tomorrow.

Tomorrow. – Sorry, sir but you see the company that services the machine is in Mexico City.  You will have to wait 2 weeks to get your card when they come back to open the machine.

Lucky for me a friend has offered to bankroll me while I transfer funds from my account to his.

I still love the people of Merida but there is more than a nagging suspicion that I’ve been treated with a disdainful attitude that includes it’s too much damn trouble to get the passcode to open the machine.  If you’ve been paying attention you might be aware I like it here.  However, whether it’s a bank in Merida or a bank in LA I question if all employees hand in the membership in the human race card when they go to work in the morning.  Lesson learned; be more careful with my ATM card or I might be faced with the choice that Staggerlee made when he shot the cabbie down.

Merida en Domingo

8 10 2012

The day began with a Skype call to Washington, DC where Son #1 was visiting Son #2 and we would make the best of seeing each other and talking with the new generation  – the two little girls of  Son #2(Anya and Maya are 8 and 5) . The funniest part of the conversation was when Son #1 pressed his unshaven face against the monitor in DC to show his nieces how to plant a kiss on Grandpa.

Gilmer and his friend Alejandra showed up at 11:15 for the visit to the controversial new Maya museum at Siglo XXI. Originally they were to come by at 10:30 but I made allowances now that I live on Mexico time.  However, in this case I was the culprit, they had stopped by and heard me on Skype with my noise-deafening (maybe for me the earphones are just plain deafening) Bose headphones and whiled away a half-hour trying to contact me on my unregistered cell phone before returning to the front door. BTW the new Maya museum is controversial because it’s been quite an expensive project, behind schedule and built by one of Mexico’s leading gangsters as Gilmer so bludgeoningly put it.

A long queue had formed in the plaza outside the museum by 12 Noon when we arrived.  After about 45 minutes standing in the heat and humidity of mid-day Merida a new Queuing Management Theory(most engineers and computer programmers are familiar with the term) was discovered by Merida’s museum security.  The line had lengthened by 12:45 so that it was spilling out onto Prolongacion de Montejo.  In order to ease traffic and pedestrian flow Security came up with an ingenious idea. Take the second half of the line and form a second queue and alternate entry into the museum in groups of 25 from each queue since the museum was choked by visitors and they could no longer allow free-flow entry. I turned away to look to see if the water bottle supply had been replenished and as if by magic our wait had been extended by double to get in. The members of Queue #2 were now going to get in in half the time it took us in Queue #1. Had the people in my queue been New Y-a-w-k-e-r-s or Philly boys there would have been rioting in the streets. But Yucatecas grimaced and  huddled with their kids in those tight family circles that charm me no end. The final wait time clocked in at about 90 minutes.  Mahvellous, dahling simply mahvellous!!!

Controversial or not the museum was a positive experience, particularly since the exhibits were accompanied by explanations hung on the wall in Maya, Spanish and English and there was creative use of technology to educate museum visitors in Mayan culture and lifestyle.  As I stood slack-jawed in the first room in the exhibit hall, a docent approached: “Are you interested in speaking Maya?” Awakened from my stupor by such a preposterous question I dodged the bullet – “I’m reading the Spanish and English together. Still not too good with my Spanish. Thanks” – and hurried away to avoid any further embarrassment.

Gilmer had a slightly different reaction to the Museum saying that he had been to another Mayan museum that was broken into 3 levels which corresponded to the Mayan way of thinking about the world. I’m going to go back to Merida’s new museum plus I’ve made a mental note to ask Gilmer the name of the place he was talking about since I’ve forgotten it. The bottom line for me is that I now have a better understanding of the place I’m living in since I have had an upfront and personal lesson about the history and culture of the Maya in the Yucatan.

Alejandra left us after we returned to the Zocalo in the free bus from the museum. Lunch time. We tried Jarana – a fairly new place. I ordered my favorite – Hornitos.  Our mesero said why not try the traditional – served chilled, but not Hornitos. Another version of Mexican cuisine? Sounded like another version of queuing theory. I mean I keep my Jarana cold in the fridge at home.  What’s so damn traditional about that.  Turns out what he meant was that they serve the Jarana brand of tequila, but never mentioned the word Jarana in his explanation. Jarana tequila served in a restaurant named Jarana is traditional I guess.  I only realized this when he brought the tequila and I realized from the taste it was Jarana. The meal was delicious.  I had grilled fish and Gilmer mixed ceviche. We shared both. I forgot to mention that our return from the museum had been accompanied by a downpour.  We were pretty damn wet eating.

Outside under the arches surrounding the Zocalo the rain had slowed and the people had gathered for the music and dancing of Merida en Domingo. It felt like I had walked into celluloid Cuba in the 50’s as the band played (can I use the word?) traditional dance music.  Dancers from their 40’s into the their 80’s showed us the steps of the cha-cha, mambo and rhumba that would have made Prez Prado proud. As Louie sang in his stone-gravelled voice back in the day: “What a Wonderful World” is Merida en Domingo.

What Makes Merida Special?

5 10 2012

Sure there’s Merida’s version of the Champs Elysee, the different barrios with their parks and churches, the monument on the Paseo Montejo, the Plaza, los confidantes to sit on and chit-chat or neck in the parks, the music in the streets at night but just like Philly where I was born and raised(we have our version of the Champs Elysee too) the ambiance of a place comes from its people. BTW Philly people are not so bad once you get to know them.

My experience of the people here – I don’t have much – has been extremely positive.  Lucky for me I don’t drive down here or I might not be writing this post.  From what I’ve seen there’s some kind of epidemic of schizophrenia resident in the autos of Merida.  A friend of mine has a theory about what happens when Mexicans not just Meridianos drive that has to do with putting power in the hands of those who usually don’t have it.  I’ll let him explain if he so chooses. Ignoring their driving habits the people of Merida for the most part possess graciousness, politeness, charm and openness that I thought was lost on this planet.  But then I’ve spent 2+ years in L A and been watching American culture degenerate with the rise of reality TV and Donald Trump.  BTW I’ve never watched any reality TV and certainly not The Apprentice.

Why Call Myself Merida’s Night Writer?

4 10 2012

Whether you’re interested or not bear with me here.  Being alone in a city without friends or family for a week kind of changed my writing regimen.  I had gotten myself to believe over the years that I was a morning person. Too many years of early morning corporate meetings that were not worth getting up for but you had to go and look interested. When I finally gave all that up and started writing full-time with a side job driving Lincoln Town Cars to and from SFO for corporate types my writing took place on mornings when I wasn’t up at 3AM to pick up a Silicone Valley geek millionaire or Ronnie Lott.

Then Merida. Not easy to sleep in a strange place not knowing anyone and struggling with language issues especially when it came to getting Servicio a Domicilio por Comida Economias. So I started revising some of my old stories while taking a  Blog Writing course and signing up for LiveMocha, an Internet site to learn any language. Besides the ambiance of Merida at night was conducive to the kind of yearning I have for life’s romance (Tag line = Night time is the right time to be with the one you love). Voila!!! No longer a morning person I became a Night Writer.

What to call the blog? I vaguely remembered having glimpses of one of the world’s worst actors in one of America’s least memorable TV series while my adolescent and pre-adolescent sons waited for their popcorn. Ah yes!!! Knight Rider was David Hasselhoff as Lochinvar with a shot-up face saving the world from crime and destruction – my alter ego. Being enamored with juegos de palabras I became Merida’s Night Rider.

A friend asked me if I knew about the Night Riders. I had a vague memory of the term and checked it out on the Internet. Holy #$%^!!! A bunch of racist KKK guys who used to truly terrorize black communities. So please don’t confuse me with them or David Hasselhoff for that matter. I’m just trying to be with the ones I love at the right time to be with the ones you love.

WS and “Sunday Morning” in Merida

1 10 2012

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

Wow!!!! The man really knew how to start a poem.  My favorite poet and I talked over coffee this morning although our conversation was not about the opening of Sunday Morning.  He asked me not to mention his dealings with Ernest Hemingway.  If any of you know what he was talking about please post.

Sometimes another anecdote about Mr. Stevens pops back in my mind when I read his stuff.  I’m not sure if it’s a figment of my imagination or it really happened.  A biographer of his went to the insurance company where WS had been an executive and was asking about him.  I’ll quote one of his co-workers roughly, “Wally was a poet?  Didn’t know that.  I guess that’s what he was doing in his office with the door closed all the time.” Reading works like Sunday Morning and the Emperor of Ice Cream I picture him sitting behind his VP desk looking out the window and the Connecticut landscape thinking up the lines complacencies of the peignoir and let be be finale of seem getting a little jealous of his talent.

At least I’m here in Merida and my friend Alejandra has sent along these photos of how Merida looks early on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe not  complacencies of the peignoir but pretty damn laid back.

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