Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#4: Winter in Mérida

I’m sitting in the roof garden
of the colonial house we rented here in Mérida,
a snowbird from the dry, cold lands of the north,
listening to an anonymous neighbor play
random classical piano, the notes filling the air,
as swifts and an occasional pigeon fly above me
in the cooling evening winds.  

Our rented house is built of Maya stone.
Inside, thick-cut square blocks frame doors,
exposed walls of rubble stretch to ceilings,
fans circle slowly, and
twenty feet above me, railroad ties
hold up the roof. When it’s too hot and humid,
a dipping pool awaits.  

This house rests on history, as does the city:
in 1542, Francisco de Montejo ordered the temples of T'hó torn down,
its hand-carved stones used to build Spanish palaces,
European style, superimposed on the same square,
under the same sun;
the Maya and their children, enslaved and slaughtered,
their precious books burned,
of thousands of codices, only four survive,
as did the Maya through the rise and fall of henequén plantations.

Today, this sad history plays out on the walls of the Governor’s Palace,
Castro Pacheco’s massive murals, perhaps inspired by Diego Rivera,
teach us the brutality of colonialism.
Yet, the people,
descendants of Spaniards and Maya, mixtos,
welcome temporary visitors, expats, and short-timers.
We visit what remains of the old cities of the Maya,
stand in awe under the ceibo tree and swim in cenotes.
Museums carefully display artifacts, a replica of a codex,
weather-worn stone gods, with notes in Spanish, English, and Mayan.

Some of the old mansions in the Centro are restored, some yet crumble,
their rock roots revealed. And, as the night sky descends, 
cloud jaguars race from the west along the horizon. 

House of the Artists, Merida (February 2018)

Merida Central Plaza (February 2018)

As we come to an end of our time here in Mérida, I wanted to write a poem that captures some sense of what we have experienced here -- with special thanks to the Merida Writers' Group for their suggestions.

But I left out one of the most amazing cuisines: Yucatecan food. Mayan tradition. Delicious. Mexican pastries from the local bakery (our favorite, something we dubbed 'cheeseballs', a ball of pastry wrapped around a kind of cream cheese). And another favorite for breakfast: Motuleños. Eggs over black beans, tortillas, topped with rich goat cheese and a mild tomato sauce. This dish, prepared by the fabulous cooks at Maiz, Canela, y Cilantro, is  served with sauteed plantains.

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