Monday, November 28, 2011

Back to school

In the past I've said that I am done with school. No more studying, exams or writing papers. No more prodding myself to remain disciplined and focused. When I retired, it would mean pursuing only those things I deemed to be fun, interesting and without deadlines or proficiency requirements. No more yearly competency exams ( the same dozen or so modules with the same test questions year after year ) required for my job. I would be free to ignite my long suppressed creative energies. It can be difficult to allow those energies to surface, even when needed to help alleviate the stress,  if saddled with a highly stressful job that can leave one so completely drained that days off and brief vacations are needed to simply recover.

Two years ago, when I decided to cut back on my job to half time, I began to dabble in painting with acrylics. I never had any professional training, just a desire to see what I could accomplish trying my hand at abstract pieces. I've found painting to be fun and relaxing, although I'm not so certain that I'm really any good at it, outside of a decent understanding of color and texture.  I'll continue painting when we get to Mérida on a permanent basis, but I've also uncovered an old dream of learning photography.

I finally purchased a decent digital single-lens reflex camera which is a huge step up from our old point and shoot camera. A highly rated DSLR, the T2i is not a professional camera but is quite good for a "serious" hobbyist. A good camera is needed for exceptional photography although the essential ingredient is the artistic ability of the photographer. My artistic nature, long dormant, has begun to surface and I am excited about photography. However, the mechanics of digital or film photography is about as foreign to me as quantum physics.  Canon T2i for Dummies is not sufficient to teach me all that I need to know

Enter The Photography Institute. I'm possibly in over my head, but I enrolled in a 24-week course in professional photography. It's online, so I can pace myself and take up to a year if needed to complete the course. This will most likely slow down my blogging, but I should have some interesting photos to share from time to time. And I might even discover a way to make a little income when we finally get to the Yucatán. You know, enough for a little travel to places like Palenque or Xalapa.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The waning days of Autumn

Fall is a beautiful time of the year in Virginia. The light is spectacular and the colors amazing. The brilliant gold of the incomparable ginkgo now lies mostly on the ground. The drab gray days of winter will soon be here and I will dream of warm, sunny days in the Yucatán.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Living in Mexico

When we tell friends and colleagues that we will soon be retiring and moving to Mérida, the reaction is usually "that's wonderful!" "Where IS that?" and "why Mexico?" What I want to say, but don't, is that "you probably wouldn't understand  unless you've been there." Most of our professional colleagues are younger, upwardly mobile suburbanites with children, new homes and vacation dreams of ski resorts and luxury cruises to tropical islands in the Caribbean.

Not that there is anything wrong with all of that, but those kinds of places have never been on our radar.
Give us fascinating history, glorious architecture, diversity and a rich cultural heritage. Our first visit to Mexico was a few years ago when we visited two friends who were staying the winter in the wonderful colonial city of Oaxaca. Arriving late at night, as our taxi drove us through the dark, deserted streets of the city, we were both thinking that this would not be a place where we would feel safe. We met our friends, settled in for the night and when the morning greeted us with bright sunlight, we discovered what so many others before us had found. We began to dream of moving there and living in one of the old colonial homes. Once back home in Virginia, we realized that this was not the time and Oaxaca was not the place for this dream to materialize.

Fast forward a few years to Mérida. We began the research a year before actually visiting the city, using the internet to read everything that had ever been written about Mérida and the Yucatán peninsula. We discovered all the good things people had to say as well as 'more than we needed to know' about an unfortunate situation within the expat community. Through the various blogs, however, we started getting to know some of these folks and discovered the valuable and useful information they have shared about their lives in Mexico. They are truthful about the difficulties of living as a foreigner in this country, but also marvel at the opportunity to be a part of this magical place. Were it not for these bloggers, who chronicle their daily lives in Mérida and other cities across Mexico and who tell the truth about Mexico,  our decision to make this huge transition might not have been made. It is with anticipation and great joy that we have begun this journey. Hopefully, along the way, other potential wanderers will read of magic and truth in these pages and strike out on a similar journey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Buying unrefrigerated eggs

We bought our very first eggs from the small supermarket on calle 60.  We've read quite a few comments on various blogs about the fact that, in the Yucatán, eggs are not refrigerated prior to selling. We eyed the shelf displaying eggs in the typical container, without a top, sealed with a clear wrap. I noticed a few people picking up the carton of a dozen eggs and reading a label attached to the package. I assumed they were checking the expiration date. On further inspection I realized that the date (fecho) on the carton was the date the eggs were packaged and presumably hopefully laid. I say this because the dates on various cartons were anywhere from one to three days prior to the current date. I picked a carton with the previous day's date (the freshest), we finished shopping and headed home.

How could millions of people in Mexico eat these unrefrigerated eggs day after day without some horrendous gastrointestinal disturbance? From what I've read about this issue, once you refrigerate them, keep them that way. If out at room temperature for more than a couple of hours, the eggs will sweat and this allows bacteria to enter the egg through the shell.  Look for a date no more than three days from the current date and you should be fine.

By the way, the eggs had a deep golden yolk, tasted fresh, and were delicious.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taking the bus in Mérida

Last week we joined a friend for lunch at a favorite local restaurant in Campestre, a Fraccionamiento on the north side of Mérida. We called Juan, our trusted taxi driver and Spanish teacher, to drive us to the restaurant. I say Spanish teacher because he will ask us a question in his fairly good English and when one of us answers, he repeats the answer in Spanish and then waits for us to speak. He'll be driving along and will read a sign out loud and then wait for an answer. I've teased him that we should come down for a month and pay him to drive us around all day teaching Spanish while he practices his English.

After lunch we decided to take a bus back home and asked our friend how to go about selecting the correct bus. Her response was that most of the buses heading south pass through the Centro. She then demonstrated  how to stand at the edge of the street, extend an arm outward as if hailing a taxi, and have an earnest look on your face in order to convey that you intend to get on that particular bus. Hey, it works. For six pesos ($0.45) the bus took us within about three blocks of our house. The cost is a small fraction of a taxi ride and because most locals take the bus, one is certain to pass by every few minutes.  In addition, the ride is more comfortable than sitting in the back seat of one of those mini-size  taxis.

Thursday, mid-afternoon, I remembered that I needed to get to a fabric store to get either pillow inserts or the Poly-Fil to "do-it-myself." I was told that there was a large fabric store just past the new underpass on Paseo de Montejo. I walked over to calle 60, extended my arm and with an earnest look on my face, hailed the next bus headed north. I took a seat and rode for a while when I suddenly realized that this bus was not going where I needed to go. As the bus approached a stop light, I saw a sign for Prolongación  Montejo to the right. I stepped off the bus, headed east and after about three blocks, as luck (or fate)  would have it, ended up on the north side of the underpass and just a few blocks more to the fabric store.

"Do-it-myself" Poly-Fil in hand, I saw a bus headed for the Centro and jumped on. This time it was standing room only and I was carrying three meters of Poly-Fil that I had stuffed into a rather small plastic bag. Holding on to that bag with the other arm extended overhead grasping the hand rail for support was a little tricky. When the bus finally stopped downtown, everyone got off but me. The driver looked back as if to ask why I was still waiting and simply said "Centro" which meant I should get off.  I had no idea where we were and did not recognize the street, but I got off and started walking - even numbers north and south, odd numbered streets east and west.

Several blocks later ( I lost count), walking in a very gusty late afternoon breeze, I made it home where I had a glass of tea and stuffed my pillows, knowing that I must  re-read Yucatan Living's article Taking the Bus in Merida -2.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Colonial facades in Mérida

There are many beautifully restored colonial and mid-century modern homes in the Centro, but there are also homes that are abandoned and neglected.  The variously colored facades are nice to look at , but I find that some  of the homes which have not been restored exhibit their own special color, texture and beauty. They can provide an interesting subject for the photographer. Layers of peeling paint can expose a myriad of soft, faded colors and crumbling plaster reveals interesting spots of exposed mamposteria, the thick limestone walls which defy destruction in this intense tropical climate.
All images taken in Santiago. I think these all were abandoned homes, but if someone is living inside,  please excuse the intrusion.  Double click on image for a larger view.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Latin American Bloggers Conference

Rubber tree leaf from Alberto's
Close-up, simplicity, eliminating the unnecessary
Search engine optimization, tight focus, 1-2-3 photography, "work the scene", editing software, monetizing. We spent an entire day of our brief and valuable time in Mérida at the 4th Annual Latin American Bloggers Conference. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Not only did we receive useful information and tips on a variety of topics related to blogging, the icing on the cake was the opportunity to meet many wonderful fellow bloggers from Yucatán and at least one other state ( Mazatlán, Sinaloa).  I can say in all sincerity that it was a pleasure to meet everyone. Newcomers were warmly welcomed into this diverse community of bloggers and lovers of Mexico.

The day began with a few of the attendees meeting for the breakfast buffet at Cafe Chocolate, a popular eatery for expats and locals. As soon as we sat down at our table we met Debbie and Malcom from Virginia Beach, who are now living out at the beach near Progresso. It is indeed a small world.  There are a few other expats from our corner of Virginia and we hope to meet them as well.

The morning session consisted of Marc's presentation on enhancing your blog site with great photography, a presentation by Barry on a useful editing software that can be used to set up the post and  directly publish to the blog site, and a panel of eight or so bloggers who answered questions and offered advice.

After lunch we divided into two groups, Blogger and Wordpress, then shared information and received tips from some of the more experienced bloggers. The day passed quickly and, truth be told, we were a little tired after absorbing so much information. The evening was pleasant, a couple of friends dropped by for a brief visit, and we ended our day with a walk to Gran Plaza for our favorite sorbete.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back home to Mérida

After what seems like a long, ho-hum summer, we are finally back home for a visit. If "back home" sounds a little strange, well.... it is. We are not yet here permanently, but coming for one of our semi-frequent visits seems like coming home. After a long 12-hour day in three airplanes and four airports, we arrived in Mérida at 7:53 PM. Our flight from Houston departed IAH at 6:40 PM, so we arrived in just over an hour although the flight time is approximately two hours. This is all thanks to Mexico for initiating Daylight Savings Time a couple of weeks before the United States. DST fools the mind but not the body.

We had been in the house about 15 or 20 minutes when Alan suddenly noticed that these two mirrors were missing from the front sala. We've been burglarized, I exclaimed!  We were puzzled that nothing else appeared to be missing. I immediately placed a call to Ruben, our faithful and extraordinary property manager. Oh, the mirror to the left of the entrance door fell and the glass was broken. He had removed the other mirror and had taken both to a repairman to attach a heavier guage wire and brackets.  I will need to speak with the owners of the store where the mirrors were purchased. An employee of the store installed them and one would assume that it would be done properly.

After we calmed down a bit, we headed out for a late dinner. We ended up at a new Taco place down at Calle 60 y 59.  I can't remember the name, but something about "spinning top" (La Trompo??).  These are not your Tex-Mex tacos, but Yucatecan style and quite good.

Full stomach, fresh linens on a comfortable bed - all we needed for a good night's sleep..