About Me

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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


The only scheduled event on Thursday was an evening wine tasting, and while my first thought had been to find my way to Merida early, that did not happen. Instead, I enjoyed an early morning walk on the beach, showered, and decided on the adventure of using only public transport and my feet to explore (despite the kind offer of the property caretaker to have his son drop me at the bus station in Progreso if I wanted to wait an hour or so before leaving).

First lesson of the day: ankle-length palazzo pants are not good when walking on sand roads in sandspur country, at least not if one has a tendency to meander toward the margins to see which pollinators are attracted to which wildwood weeds. Said trousers pick up lots of burs, which then blow against unsuspecting legs. But at least waiting for the bus gives a little time for removing burs from fabric.

Second lesson of the day: the buses that run the length of the coastal road are actually a series of buses. The bus caught at the end of our street ends its run in downtown Chicxulub Puerto, at which point one catches the bus to Progreso. If I were heading to the western towns, I would pick up a different bus there. This fact is inconvenient, but I cannot begrudge the drivers or these little companies the 42-cent fare.

But after only a slight delay, I was on my way to Merida. With a few hours to fill before meeting up with my wine-tasting companions and having forgotten to eat lunch, a light repast was the first order of business. Getting off the AutoProgreso near Parque Santa Lucia, I opted for La Chaya Maya, known for its Yucatecan cuisine and the place that last year introduced me to a local drink known as Chaya con limon. Chaya is a plant sometimes called "Mayan spinach, " and the drink involves blending it into lightly-sweetened, lime-infused water. That green color is all natural.

And while I could probably have been satisfied with the complimentary botanas (fresh chips, salsa, and two kinds of beans) that came with my beverage, I ordered the vegetarian salbutes, lovely puffy tortillas topped with a variety of things.

La Chaya is housed in a fun space. My table was in a high-ceilinged room with murals,

but the building also has the interior courtyard typical of colonial buildings in this part of the world.

The afternoon was gorgeous, so I opted to sit and read in the park for a while. Besides the ubiquitous European rock doves (AKA city pigeons), a few Mexican white-winged doves joined the crowd hoping for handouts.

With nothing to feed the birds and no desire to purchase anything from any of the park vendors (hammocks, blouses, embroidered purses, and hats were popular that day), I opted to burn off some calories by walking. Merida is a great city for pedestrian exploration, and I ducked into the Teatro Juan Peon, a Beaux Arts building dating from the early 20th century. This week the theater's gallery is featuring a display by contemporary artist Sandra Nikolai, mixing vibrant, joyous paintings of ordinary people with reminders of the poverty of many rural residents and senior citizens, like this portrait of an old woman begging, entitled "Por Una Vida Digna."

The juxtaposition of Ms. Nikolai's paintings with the enormous, elegant, built-from-scratch colonial home where the evening's wine-tasting fundraiser was held is likely to stay with me for a while.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

(Some of) the truths of travel

While not everyone believes it, I am basically an introvert, having no difficulty entertaining myself or spending significant chunks of time alone, and in need of daily quiet to recharge the batteries ( no doubt a major reason why I never had any desire to rear children). But I am discovering that travel, particularly solo travel, activates a different skill set.

First, as addicted as I am to natural scenes (and I am loving the nearly-uninterrupted view of the Gulf of Mexico from the covered patio where this is being written), I notice people, particularly women alone. Striking up conversations is easy, and everyone has a story. (Of course, in Merida's centro, handsome young men tend to wander up wanting to practice their English, and then attempt to steer one toward the only authentic shop in the area, which always happens to belong to a friend, but that is a whole 'nother experience.)

People reach out. Random strangers share important information, like the best restaurants for fish, the best bus, or the cleanest public restrooms. A compliment to a chef who spoke no English brought the revelation of his secret ingredient for the best marinara sauce I had ever eaten. Chatting up another solo female elder on the beach yesterday resulted in an invitation to stop by the house she and some friends bought a decade ago when they realized that they would not be able to afford Vermont winters on their pensions.

Friendships tend to happen quickly; you find yourself sharing personal details with people you just met. A chance encounter at a lecture on architecture last January led to three sixtysomething women taking an impromptu bus trip to a city several hours away, where we wandered 18th-century streets, toured a museum on pirate history, and made a spectacle of ourselves flagging down a taxi and then running madly along the malecon to find exactly the right spot for sunset-watching. Tonight the three of us will meet up with my birding buddy from last year for a wine-tasting event sponsored by the Merida English Library; tomorrow we are meeting the owner of last year's guesthouse for lunch at a favorite French cafĂ©. Because I am staying at the beach and they are in different Merida neighborhoods, we are doing overnights in each other's rental homes. When is the last time most of us had people we (if we are completely honest) barely know spend the night?

What seems to be true: even in this ugly time, most people can still be trusted.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Settling In, 2018

My second winter in Mexico is shaping up to be quite different from the first. While last year I spent the first month in a lovely guesthouse in a 19th-century neighborhood of Merida, this year some friends and I rented a beach house. Unfortunately, the friends were unable to travel at this time because of medical problems, so for now I am inhabiting a gorgeous three-bedroom, five-bathroom house on the Gulf of Mexico by myself, with property caretakers whose English is even more limited than my Spanish.

It's tough.

 The street address of the house is Calle ("street," for those with no Spanish) 15, but the entry is actually off of Calle 17, pictured below.

Yes, this is a part of the world where sand streets still exist. I had not walked on one since a long-ago Florida girlhood, but today I followed Calle 17 to Chicxulub Puerto's downtown. This village is welcoming to tourists, as evidenced by the many elegant houses found along the waterfront, but it is still a small town of a few thousand inhabitants. Visiting the central market after a morning spent on an editing project, I discovered that the loncherias were all in the process of closing at 1:00 PM. 

Undaunted, I took the recommendation of a couple of elderly gringas and visited a nearby fish restaurant, where the house special of rice and shrimp with fried plantains was both delicious and filling (if not particularly healthy). 

But the mystery of Calle 15 had not yet been solved, so I followed a side street past Calle 17, finally realizing that this is the mysterious missing street.

 Tire tracks in wet sand confirmed it,

but  Calle 15 has one little quirk.

At high tide, it's under water.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

El Norte

The Gulf Coast of the Yucatan is experiencing a periodic winter phenomenon known as "El Norte," cold winds and water that swoop down from Texas. My first reaction to hearing of this was some variation of "yeah, right," but now that I am spending a night alone in a house with waves crashing on its seawall, a few feet from where I am writing, I begin to understand why some local people dread the Norte.

Chicxulub is in the tropics, but the temperature has dropped into the low sixties, the winds right now howling so that I have actually closed the doors and windows rather than go in search of a sweater. (On the advice of the property manager, I brought one. Ohio Valley friends, try not to laugh.) No moon is visible because of the cloud cover, but the white crests of the waves are nearly luminescent as they throw themselves against the shore and the breakwater. The Gulf tonight is not the gentle body of water I remember from Florida.

We are not having a hurricane, and none are on the way, but winter is here.

On the road again

I have made it through the journey stage that still evokes the most concern for me: airport security. Why this nervousness should be, I have no real idea, but so it goes. One blessing of white hair and a history of uncomplicated travel is that security personnel seem to view me as unthreatening, so I am generally waved through with minimal screening--except for the memorable trip when I was the person randomly selected for intensive screening--on both entering and leaving the country.

As is typical of life, the best-laid plans "gang aft agley." The travel companions with whom this year's winter retreat was planned have experienced last-minute medical challenges, so I am on the road alone, at least for a while. Yesterday, during a final load of laundry to prepare for the house-sitter, the washing machine decided to begin screaming during the drain cycle, requiring a load of mostly sheets and towels to be wrung out by hand; they took a long time in the dryer. Then Mittsy's annual checkup revealed two very bad teeth (suspected, given her recent breath), so the poor feline had to be left at the vet for blood work, followed by general anesthesia and oral surgery this morning. This complication required the acquisition of soft food and arranging pickup for what is likely to be a very groggy cat.

But the overall plan proceeds. The house-sitter knows a few things about motors and will take a look at the washer (and has a Plan B for laundry in any case). Cat food has been provided, and Mittsy has a ride home. The travel companions have been in contact with their medical providers, and we are hoping that all will be well in the near future. The spouse, returning to Toledo for musical activity, accompanied me to an airport hotel, where the desk clerk was a drummer, the room was warm, and excellent Chinese takeout was available. The caretaker of our rental house will be meeting me at the airport and swinging by a grocery store before taking me to our temporary home. Most delightfully, two adventurous women encountered during last year's wanderings are in Merida and will be meeting me in Chicxulub tomorrow for an exploration of that area, followed by a geriatric slumber party.

If the winter storm just manages not to hit Atlanta until this afternoon, I should see the Gulf of Mexico by 5:00 PM.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Feeder visitors

For someone used to having a variety of birdfeeders, having to cut back has been frustrating, especially since the arboretum across the street attracts so many birds. Our in-town neighborhood is full of outdoor cats, and as fond as I am of our three felines, invasive, non-native predators on the loose are a Very Bad Thing. Unless one has a barn in need of rodent control, all specimens of felis domesticus should be kept indoors as they really do not belong on this continent. I also do not like having to collect the corpses of the cats that periodically get run over in front of our house. (Rant over. On to the actual subject of the post.)

Being unwilling to sponsor the neighborhood Hunt Club any longer, I sadly took down our birdfeeders. Fortunately, we do have a small walled patio where I was able to install one pole in a large tub that held annuals over the summer and hang two mesh sunflower feeders. Birds, not being birdbrains in the pejorative sense of that term, have found their way to the free food. Over the last couple of days, we have had
  • a pair of white-breasted nuthatches
  • chickadees
  • titmice
  • house finches
  • cardinals
  • juncos
  • at least one goldfinch
  • house sparrows (who have not gotten the memo that they don't like sunflower seeds)
and of course, squirrels.

Monday, December 25, 2017

White Christmas

Our area did not get the heavy snow that graced more northerly regions of the state and country, but when we got up this morning, the sidewalk, street, and parked cars were indeed white. I did not, however, wander outside to take a photo because the temperature was hovering near twenty degrees, and further documentation of the weather phenomenon that had been all over the Facebook feeds of half the people we know seemed unnecessary. Yes, on December 24, 2017, most of Ohio had snow.

I still remember December 24, 1983, my first Christmas Eve in the Mid-Ohio Valley, the year of the Great Christmas Blizzard. Several inches of snow were on the ground, and the temperature had been in the single digits all day. That night, it dropped to nine degrees below zero, and my poor little Mercury Comet, still acclimated to its previous Florida home, refused to start. Intrepid twentysomething that I was, I pulled on pantyhose, jeans, two pairs of socks, several shirts, boots, and an enormous wool cape with a hood and walked the frozen tundra of Third Street to a candlelight service, after which friends with a van took a small but enthusiastic group caroling to various elderly persons' homes. The cold was probably not good for our vocal chords, but no one seemed to mind.

I grew up with a white Christmas, but it was the white of South Florida sand, a very different thing. As a college student in Tampa, we knew it was Christmas because that was when the azaleas and house-high poinsettias bloomed.

For some reason, those December sights do not seem to make it onto Christmas cards very often, but I could do with white sand and palm trees about now.