There is something about walking quietly on the streets of México that captures and holds my heart. The distressed walls or new vivid colors take me away from the pervasive black and white world of North American function. The smell of corn masa tortillas and frying pork lard seem to permeate the country. I hear music everywhere.
“Once you have the dust of México on your clothes, it will never come off,” was a proverb my uncle gave to me as a young child. And so my walks in México help me contact his angelic presence.
But maybe it is the sleeping sense of history that made me fall in love with México.
Walking in Mérida, the capital city of the Yucatán, is a special treat. At one time one of the wealthiest cities in the world because of the production of rope in the late 19th century, the city boasts the Champs Elysées of México, the Paseo de Montejo.
The Paseo de Montejo sustains the dream of Mérida as a powerhouse city. The avenue got underway in 1904 and goes north south. It was widened in 1926 and the rest is history. The French had a knack for tree lined boulevards in the tropics, something I know well from years spent in Việt Nam. And unlike any other city in México, in Mérida one feels a French influence. And in fact it was easier to sail to Paris than travel overland to México City until the mid twentieth century.
It’s an easy Boulevard to walk, even if the temperature is hot – and in the Yucatán there is an excellent chance you’ll experience tropical heat. But that is not as fearsome as it sounds. Like the ubiquitous habañero chile found in many Yucatecan dishes, the heat in Mérida is broken by billowing clouds that often block the sun. Cooling breezes soar through and across the entire peninsula from both the Gulf of México and the Caribbean Sea. And the trees of Paseo de Montejo keep you insulated from becoming sunburned.
I will let a photo gallery give you a taste of México’s Champs Elysées.
But the splendor of the Paseo de Montejo is just one part of Mérida. As I started my walking tour, I passed a paint shop on a small adjacent street from my hotel. The entire neighborhood smelled of fresh paint being mixed. Guajillo reds, chocolate browns, blazing whites, Chaya greens, marigold orange, cobalt and sky powder blues, rose pinks, the color swatches on the wall predicted what I was to see walking in this up and on the move city in the Yucatán.
And then there are the markets. Deep red achiote flavors most Yucatecan food and it is easy to find at the Mercado Lucas de Gálvez. Yes it stains.
And of course, there is the color of Yucatecan food. Good to know that this cuisine was the favorite of composer Aaron Copland. Gaining weight can be fun!
So we’re just getting started on Mérida and the Yucatán. I’ll return soon with a post dedicated to one of Planet Earth’s great cuisines.
My friend Ricardo Gallardo of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble was right. I would be dividing my life before the Yucatán, and then after the Yucatán.
Best, best, best,