Friday, September 30, 2011

Urban scenes II

I know... this is not Mérida, but it's all I have to work with at the moment. 
30 days and counting!
Stars and Stripes Reflected

Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Ghent, Norfolk, VA
St. Paul's Episcopal Church and Graveyard

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Downtown, Norfolk, VA
Embedded cannon ball fired by Lord Dunmore, 1776

Reflections I

Reflections II
P.S. Double click on the images for a closer look.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Urban scenes I

A sample of my latest photo project... Urban Churches

Tower, St. Mary of The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
Downtown, Norfolk, VA
Entrance, First Presbyterian Church
Ghent, Norfolk, VA

First Baptist Church
Downtown, Norfolk, VA
Christ & St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Ghent, Norfolk, VA

Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't stop dreaming

Every so often I return to these two videos. They have been around for a while. I've never been a fan of the reality talent shows that have been popular for a few years. Some of the performers have talent and have gone on to great commercial success in pop music or hip hop. Not particularly my type of music. Occasionally, however, someone comes along with a totally unexpected, goose-bump producing performance like .....




                                       It's never too late to realize a dream.


I have lots of questions about where I want to go with Los Colores de Mérida. I'm hoping that some ideas will come from the 4th Annual Latin American Bloggers Conference which is being held on November 5th in Mérida. I first discovered a Latin American blog when we began exploring the possibility of buying a place in the Yucatán and retiring there. I found blah...blah...blah...Ginger! to be an interesting and personal journey of two women and their beloved animals as they settled into their lovingly restored colonial home in the Centro. Then I found Moving to Mérida, a blog coming from a young Houston couple as they begin their dream of buying a home, renovating, and eventually moving to this wonderful city. Over the course of almost two years, I've discovered plenty of other Mexico-based writers who mostly chronicle their respective journeys from the United States and Canada to this vast country south of the border. The writing style varies, but all of them have something unique to say to their readers. With the newer blogs, including this one, the emphasis has been on chronicling the joys and pitfalls of purchasing and/or renovating a colonial home, discovering good restaurants, or simply elaborating on the successes and frustrations of dealing with Mexican bureaucracy. Some of the older blogs, like An Alaskan in Yucatán, have a beautifully written personal and reflective tone, and an occasional social commentary. Others take a light-hearted approach or provide a detailed and well photographed account of their travels throughout Mexico and the rest of the world. You will find the list of Blogs that I regularly follow on the sidebar to the right. 

When we are finally settled in our new life and adventure in Mérida - when the proverbial polvo has settled - I can see myself blogging about a trip to Oaxaca or Palenque with beautiful photographs detailing the magnificent sites, or ranting about the crazy drivers in the Centro, or swooning over the fabulous new Lebanese restaurant. I can see myself letting go the angst of  political shenanigans back in the United States and commenting in a more detached manner, and I can imagine describing to readers the secret spot we have discovered and displaying photos of our dogs gleefully playing on a secluded sunny, sandy beach...

Perhaps I've already answered my own question.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Royal Tour....

....of only a few of the famous sites in Mexico ( Chichen Itza and Palenque to mention two) and a few of the not-so-well known, was nonetheless a bright star for the country. In addition, it has perhaps made a 'star' of President Felipe Calderón. He comes across as a fun-loving and fearless adventurer and an admirable family man. His lovely wife and three children accompany the President and CBS travel news producer Peter Greenberg on this fast paced helicopter tour of only a few of the 31 Mexican states. I found it unusual and quite nice to see the First Lady on the ground leaning over the edge of a deep cavern taking a phone photo of her husband and Greenberg descending from a rope into the depths of this vast chasm. He manages to let Greenberg go first and yells "it was nice to know you" as he stands at the precipice looking down. Behind the business-like facade of Calderón is a great sense of humour and a great sense of pride in his country.

One of the highlights for me was a brief stop-over in Morelia, the President's hometown and where his Mother and other family members reside. It was funny when asked by Greenberg if Calderón was a good student as a young boy and she replied with the "so-so" hand gesture. You know where he gets his sense of humour.

About all we saw of the Yucatán was Chichen Itza. There was a scuba dive in a cenote, but I'm not sure where it was located. A boat ride down a river in Chiapas with a few Mayan guides led to a sacred spot probably few have ever seen.

It is too bad that the program could not have lasted another hour and we could have seen more of the vast and breathtaking vistas of Mexico. I imagine that PBS will show this during one of their frequent "pledge" drives, so there will be a lot of exposure.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Finally....for you Leonard

Today, members of the U.S. Army began receiving a memorandum signed by Army Sergeant Major Raymond F. Chandler III, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Army Secretary John M. McHugh that announces the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"Today marks the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' The law is repealed. From this day forward, gay and lesbian Soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve."

There are still forces at work to overturn this repeal, but at 00:01 9/20/2011, DADT is no more.

"When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
                                                            Words on the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich
                                                                  Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient

Narco Thriller

A post from David Lida recommending the new Mexican film Miss Balla peaked my interest and sent me looking for more about the film. Here is a trailer for the film which tells the story of a girl in search of a beauty queen title who gets caught in the middle of the drug violence ravaging through Mexico.  I don't know if it will make the rounds here in my part of the US, but I would expect to see it in our Art Repertory theater (NARO) which is where most of the foreign made films are shown. Maybe we will be lucky and find that it is playing in Mérida during our November visit. It looks as though it is not a movie for the faint of heart or those eschewing violence. I generally tend to avoid this type of film, but David seems to think that it should not be missed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

AARP likes PV

I ran across an article on the AARP site ( yes, I've been a member of that organization since I was 50 because they persisted in sending me membership forms) recently on retiring in Mexico. I did not look any further for additional articles, but this is what they had to say.

Living the good life in Puerto Vallarta
With its profoundly rich Indian and Spanish culture, its spectacular beaches and charming colonial hill towns, its real estate bargains and its proximity to the United States, Mexico is the undisputed number one destination for American retirees. It boasts thriving expat communities in Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara; San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato; Baja California; and Cancún, in the Yucatan. They all have their attractions, including a low-cost, laid-back lifestyle, but our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast.

 I have no argument with their choice, it's an opinion, but I'm wondering why Mérida was not mentioned as a "thriving expat community." Could it be that no one from AARP has visited our wonderful city? Do they think that most retired people want a home in a ritzy, tourist town? No offense to ritzy, tourist locales.
A July evening in Plaza Grande, Mérida
While I have not visited any of the aforementioned locations, I will venture to say that Mérida will match any of those places in terms of history, culture, cost of living, quality health care, and safety. I left a comment on the article suggesting that they take a look at Mérida. If it turns out that AARP has featured this cuidad de paz in the past, I'll have egg on my face.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Latin American Bloggers in Mérida en masse

Little did I know that the day we purchased tickets for the next trip to our home in Mérida, the announcement and date for the 4th Annual Latin American Bloggers Conference would be forthcoming. I was surprised and delighted when I saw that the event would be held on Saturday, November 5th. We will be arriving on 1 November for a 10-day visit. Not only will we finally get to meet many of the "seasoned" bloggers, but it looks as though several of us newcomers will be in town as well. This could not have worked out more perfectly.

There will be presentations on Blogger and Wordpress formats, as well as moderated discussions on various other topics of interest. I'm looking forward to a fun and instructive conference.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Belize - a bit British, a bit Mayan, & a lot Caribbean

Toucan- state bird of Belize
While we are dreaming of photographing Chichen Itza, I have my eye on another site for some great photos. Since we are retiring to this corner of the world, I've gained an interest in learning more about our neighbors to the south. Belize, formerly British Honduras, is the only country in Central America where English is the official language, although only a small percentage speaks it as their first language. A small nation-state, Belize has a population of about 333,000 (2010 est.) and is the only nation in the region with a British Colonial Heritage. In fact, Queen Elizabeth is the official head of state and appoints the Governor-General. The British parliamentary system is led by the Prime Minister, who exercises executive authority.

Located approximately 330 miles south of Cancún, Belize is bordered to the north by Mexico, the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea.  Before Europeans arrived, Belize was occupied by the Maya and there are recovered ruins as well as those still in the jungle.

Mayan ruin in Belize

Of course, there are many other incredible places to see that are in Mexico. It's hard to decide where to go first. If you haven't seen some of the videos produced by Mexico for the bicentennial celebration last year, you should take a look. They are breathtaking. I've linked to them on my blog before, but here is the video for Chiapas. I would like to, one day, post my own photos of this beautiful place. Then there's Veracruz, Sinaloa, Oaxaca....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chichen Itza - photographer's dream

Google wallpaper image
As I have mentioned before, we have explored very little of Yucatán outside of Mérida proper. It's not that we haven't wanted to see more, but there has been so much to do on each all-too-brief trip. Just learning our way around the Centro and out Paseo de Montejo to the shopping areas has taken up considerable time. When we have stopped to rest, puttering around the house seems to be about all we have managed. However, with my new camera, I can hardly wait for our first visit to Chichen Itza. I am primarily interested in photographing architectural elements and landscapes. For those following this blog who might not be familiar with one of the "new seven wonders of the world," Chichen Itza is a pre-Columbian architectural site built by the Maya civilization. The ruins of this site "exhibit a multitude of architectural styles that are reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico and the Puuc Maya style of the northern lowlands." The presence of these non-Maya styles is viewed as the result of "cultural diffusion."
But no matter the reason, the details of these ancient ruins are truly eye candy for the photographer.

Google wallpaper image
Chichen Itza ( you can check out Wikipedia for the correct pronunciation) is an easy drive from Mérida. There are tour buses that leave daily from the Centro. I prefer to go by car so that we can take our time, stay as long as we like, photograph until the battery goes dead, and eat somewhere really nice. There is even a much touted hacienda if one chooses to be a bit extravagant, although I'm certain there are multiple quaint and less expensive accommodations. 

Here's hoping my photos will be somewhat better than these "loaned" images.

Friday, September 9, 2011

We're going to have 'green cards'

This past May, Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed a new Migration Law ( Ley de Migracíon) affecting all foreigners in Mexico. The new law is "designed to favor the human rights of migrants regardless of their nationality." "The law favors migration to the country in a more orderly and safe manner, and procedures are simplified for the stay of foreigners in Mexico," President Calderon said, adding, "The Mexican government is doing what we have long urged of the United States."

Supposedly, the new law will completely decriminalize migration into the country and measures have been established to oversee the conduct of all immigration authorities. Primarily, the law calls for new rules for the issuing of visas or permits to foreigners or expats who are in Mexico either temporarily or permanently.

Here are a few of the new rules/regulations that I have been able to glean from various internet sites:

The visitor visa, which is the one all tourists entering Mexico complete during the flight, restricts visitation to 180 days. After this period of time the visitor must leave the country but will be able to return. This does not seem any different from the previous rule.

Those expats who already have FM2 or FM3 visas will retain their status and will be able to obtain the yearly extensions. Those holding FM3's (temporary resident) will have the initial application plus three annual renewals. Renewals must be processed 30 days prior to expiration. If abroad, 60 days will be allowed without penalty.

One significant change involves the designation of the visas. They will now be called "green cards," or Tarjeta de Residencia. Those people holding the current FM3 will switch to the new card on the next renewal. One site states that "the new system will not contain information about the person's reason for being in the country," so you might have to provide additional paperwork to immigration officials.

There are now four categories for staying in the country: Visitor, Temporary Resident (the old FM3), Temporary Resident Student, and Permanent Resident (the old FM2).

More detailed information can be found on the Instituto Nacional de Migración web site.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dreaming of our tropical garden

When we purchased Casa de Las Lechuzas last February, the garden had been fully planted and was really beautiful. Lush, green, well-tended. Between February and July, when it was quite dry, even with an irrigation system the weather took its toll on many of the plants. Alan and I were there in May and the plants, especially the variegated croton, were scorched and lifeless. The vine that had been planted to cover the walls was dry and had stopped spreading. The leaves of our tall banana tree were brown on the tips and had been shredded by the wind. The ginger plants along the wall beside the pool fared better and had to be trimmed because the lower leaves were almost in the pool. It's nice to swim under them in the middle of the day because they provide shade on one side of the pool and also help to keep the water cool.

When I returned in July, the rains had begun again and everything looked better, with the exception of the crotons growing in full sun. The hymenocallis were blooming and are really quite striking. The vine has almost covered the entire wall and is thick and green. The palm beside the fountain had grown a couple of feet, but the lower fronds make it difficult for workmen to get to the pump and well.

Hymenocallis (native to Mexico)
We are already thinking of changes we want to make. We will probably need to consult someone (?) who has experience in what does well in our climate and what to avoid. Maybe something like this. (see photos 17-29).We want to avoid adding any chemical fertilizers which drain through the limestone into the water table. Do we make our own compost or is there good compost available for purchase? We want lots of dark green foliage, but some color as well. We only have so much space for planting. Which plants, shrubs, palms do well in large containers? The walls covered in green look really nice, but does this cause problems? We've already noticed some crumbling plaster on an area of the wall that is not covered.

Lots of questions. And dreams of a beautiful, lush, tropical garden with sweet scents to enjoy in the cool evening breezes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Banamex robbed

photo from Grupo Sipse
Sipse Yucatán reports that a lone gunman hijacked a car, drove to a Banamex on Calle 60 Norte at Circuito Colonias, robbed a teller and drove away with 80 thousand pesos (approximately $6500USD). The SSP obtained images of the suspect on camera and now have photographs to aid in his capture. I have a feeling that the highly efficient Yucatán police will locate this robber. A few of the local readers have differing opinions.

I attempt to read the Sipse articles in Spanish before I click on the 'translate' button because the translation to English is not very accurate. Once I read the poor English translation, I can go back to the original article and make sense of what is being reported. I usually read the comments, as well, and the translation there is considerably worse. From what I can tell, some of the comments blame this robbery, and other crimes as well, on Chilangos, a derogatory term used to describe an outsider who has moved to Yucatán, or anywhere for that matter, from Mexico City. These people are considered corrupt and prone to crime. Others blame the police or the current government. One commenter asked another to look to the history of his own state before blaming outsiders.

Despite the occasional random crime, I still feel safer in Mérida than in my city in the United States. On a recent trip there, when we rented a car and drove from Cancún, I once made a wrong turn and to get back to the street I needed, I cut across two lanes and through an entrance to the street running parallel. At the time, I thought that what I did was not legal, and sure enough, once I was moving in the right direction, a police car was behind me with lights flashing. I pulled over and they pulled up beside me. They just looked at me and asked if we were OK.  I replied, Sí, gracias. No demand for license and registration. They just nodded, smiled and drove away.