Saturday, 24 March 2018

Whackamoling Meals in the Art Hub of Yucatan

rida, Mexico, February 9th to 13th 2018

You know the whack a mole -game? No? Google it.

It is quite similar to find an open restaurant in the cities I visited in Yucatan. If there is information on the opening times of a restaurant online, it most likely is not connected to reality. One shouldn't trust the opening times on doors, either. Or count on the restaurant being open at the same time you saw it open yesterday. Or at all. And, if the pronounced opening times do match real opening times, they most likely are bizarre. Like from after lunch to right before dinner. or opening after dinner time. The breakfast might be served way to the afternoon and, accordingly lunch only after breakfast. I ended up eating two breakfasts per day quite often. Not complaining about that, though. My advice is to eat whenever you see a nice restaurant open. Just whack it while you can!

One of my favorite restaurants in Mérida, the lebanese Cafe Alameda, open till 5 pm [sic].

In Merida,  I did feed my soul, too, with art. It was easy, since Merida is the capital of Yucatan, also in terms of art. There are several art galleries and institutions there, I'll list some below.

On the grounds of the 10–15 exhibitions I visited, the Mérida art scene is way more playful and colourful than the North European one I'm used to. Modernism is alive and well to the point that sometimes a painting from five years ago looked like one from the fifties. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Also, women in art were mostly portrayed as mysterious and super feminine, which was kind of boring for me. Then again, the gender roles are a tad different in Mexico and Finland I guess.

OK, let's start with galleries!

Gallery Nahualli presents mainly two artists: sculptor Melva Medina and painter Abel Vázquez.
The space is beautiful and so are the art works.
Location Calle 60, between Calles 43 and 45,

La Sala exhibits up and coming Mexican artist, for example the style chameleon
Alfredo Romero and gray scale expert Miguel Rodriguez Sepúlveda
Location almost next to Nahualli, Calle 60, between Calles 43 and 45,

La Sala also has the most beautiful tile floors.
Galeria Eskalera is a charming two floor gallery, presenting local artists, including later settlers.
Eskalera was the most avant garde gallery I visited, with works of surprising materials and
laconic humor. It's located at Calle 70, between Calles 57 and 59.
Eskalera in Facebook
A crocodile art piece by the big name of Eskalera, Joseph Kurhajec

Unlike in Valladolid, here the vernissage was not an illusion and I was invited!
SoHo Galleries had an charity exhibition Art with Heart with loads of artists,
international but emphasizing Mexican and Cuban talents.
Located at Calle 60, between Calles 41 and 43,
One of the most interesting artists of SoHo galleries was Jorge Aguilar Jaar, 
combining traditional imagery with contemporary style.

El Caimito is a small gallery, with an emphasis on trading art,
also from other artists than currently exhibited.
Located at Calle 54 between Calles 39 and 41,

There was a couple more galleries and studios near La Eskalera I was told about by Eskalera's Janet. Unfortunately I didn't find them right away and had to rush to dinner errm to very important meeting and missed them. People with more strength, ask again and visit! Another missed gallery was Galerie Mérida at Calle 59, between Calles 52 and 54. Based on stalking from the windows, a place worth visiting!

And then to the art institutions!

Centro Cultural La Cupula presents art and design in a stylish, white cube
and folk crafts combining large gallery space. At the time of my visit there was
the super interesting exhibition De-Construcciones by Demian Flores on display.
Located at Calle 54, between Calles 41 and 43,
Nice floor tiles here, too
Museum Fernando García Ponce aka MACAY presents both modern and
contemporary art, not that the line is that clear. Located at
Pasaje de la Revolución, between Calles 58 and 60,
Pictured here: Haiku by Wendy Ross
Centauro by Mario Martín del Campo
The scale model -like atrium exhibition space presented works by Georgia Chahuras
The accidental light art piece in the corridor, on display in sunny afternoons.
At the front a work by Jorge Yazpik.
Jorge Marín's dynamic-corporal statues
Pia Seiersen Lorenzana's exhibition Oscilaciones was a rare specimen of minimalism.

In addition to architectural and cultural interest, Palacio del Gobernador falls also into the art sector. Pretty much like in Valladolid, the mansion was decorated with large murals about the history of Yucatan. That's not a beautiful history, as it rarely is in colonial areas. The use of art as a way of information is pretty well done here, I think, and the murals have an independent artistic value, too.

Making it in Public

Using local public transport is always a challenge for me, since the habits of paying, stopping a vehicle and getting out of it are different everywhere. A risk of an awkward moment of  mistake making is all too present. In Mérida, however, I gathered all my courage and asked the hotel receptionist, how to act in the local bus. Here's what I learned.

There are no official bus stops, except somewhere in the central area. You just wait and hail the bus anywhere by its route. Enter and pay the price of the trip to the driver. The price is the same, no matter the lenght of the trip, 8 pesos in Mérida, 6,5 in Progreso, other cities I have no idea. When you want to exit the bus, go and say so to the driver, although it did seem to be enough just to go and stand by the door and/or driver. If it's full, shout "Bajan!" as you want to stop. Playing by the rules, one should exit from the back door, but the front door seemed to be the preferred way out.

I was warned that the bus drivers might be a little macho and unpolite, but all the drivers I met were quite nice, except the one that shouted after me "Your Ticket!", just as I had nonchalantly given my coins without waiting for one. Like a local. Luckily, no one did that after the incident. Also, my dabbling bajan-por-favors were aptly understood as "Hello, I'm a tourist, let me out".

Sunday Stroll on Wheels

Paseo Montejo, the super long boulevard of Mérida, is hugely overstated. Just being long is not that interesting, unless the topic is killer snakes or pay check, and the "many interesting houses, cafés and restaurants" along the boulevard, advertised by tourist guides, are really not that numerous, either.

An actually interesting building along Paseo Montejo.
Zebras on sale!
On Sundays, though, the boulevard comes alive, when half of the lines are closed from cars and reserved for bikes and vehicles remotely reminding bikes. There are a lot of vendors hiring out bikes and I rented one for an hour. There was a childlike joy in riding a bike with no destination, among all the other people, I must say! Mind you, this is not a sports event, more like flaneuring on wheels. There are kids learning to bike, friends having conversations while driving so abrupt changes in directions are likely. Be careful!

Francisco de Montejo the Younger shows when it's time to turn back

Mental Upgrade/Downgrade

I stayed in a hotel which was a fresh reminder of Scandic style simplicity (in Mexican scale). I soon realised that the ground floor rooms were actually converted from a garage, the yellow parking lines still visible. I admired the quite hipster design decision, just wondering why the rest of the ex parking area wasn't used as a lounge – not that I'd resent the empty space, either, all breathing and zen. Oh my golly, my designer friends would be so jealous to hear what an extraordinary place I'd stayed in! 

Imagine my disappoinment waking up the next morning to find two cars in the after all not so ex garage. Matter really matters: those two cars had downgraded my super hipster hotel room to a room in a back of a garage, with quite a peculiar view.

A room with an ex view
Other than that, the hotel was beautiful, quiet, clean, well connected and affordable. Next time I'll demand a room on the first floor, though.

Pieces of Information
• Mérida in Yucatan Today
• Other people exploring Mérida: Food Fun Travel, Hippie in Heels, Aye Wanderful, Prince & the Pear, Sillä välin maailmalla (in Finnish and English)

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