Sunday, October 9, 2016

My First Trip to the Real Mexico

My wife is on the Board of the Spanish Colonial Society and Museum and she never does
 anything halfway so she has immersed herself in Spanish Colonial art and its history.

We were in Mexico once about 15 years ago but it was at an Eco (ecological) resort meaning
that there was no internet and you went to sleep when the sun went down. There were a
 minimum of modern conveniences, in other words, a total rest! But it could have been pretty 
much anywhere.  There was, however, always delicious fresh fish which was brought in by the
local fishermen.

Penelope studied Spanish, and still does, so she went to Mexico for two weeks for an intensive 
Spanish course a number of years ago. This time, however, she decided we would share in a
tour offered by the Spanish Colonial Museum. We are only going on one of the two tours offered
and that starts off in the Yucatan state in the city of Merida. One of her fellow trustees owns a
house down there and arranged for a native guide who speaks English. Also, the museum's 
curator, Robin Farwell Gavin, who is an authority in the field and also speaks Spanish was there
to fill in the gaps.

Robin Gavin Discussing the Mission Church
in Mani, Yucatán

The guide's concept was not just to show us sites but to explain the culture from the social,
 Mayan and historical points of view. Therefore, the first day we were taken to different districts 
in Merida including where the foreigners live and the commercial districts. The shops are very 
small and plentiful and in the tourist areas each shop has its hawkers and owners yelling for you
 to come into their shop. A man sitting in an outdoor cafe decided that I looked like a smoker and
wanted me to buy the cigars he was selling. When he started to follow me I had to yell, "I
 DON'T SMOKE" so that he would go back to the table with his buddies.

There are a great many abandoned houses and we learned that if you want to buy one of them, 
they are not expensive but cheaper if the "For Sale" sign is in Spanish and it is best if you send in 
a local to negotiate with the owner.

Because of the poverty it is difficult to keep the economy going in the smaller villages and they
 have found artificial ways to continue and in some towns it is through fashion. Though the
 pattern may remain the same, each year the women are expected to wear a new dress in a
 different color. These dresses can cost as much as U.S. $250 which can represent 6 months
 salary for someone if they do not have a seamstress in the family. Those who cannot afford it 
and wear last year's color are marked as of a lower class. The plus side, though I am sure the
 impoverished don't feel so, is that the ones who could afford the new dresses are also expected
to pay more to the Church. Someone in our group asked if one moved to a new village would
 you be accepted, the reply was, only through marriage. It is the same everywhere, the keys to
 success and social acceptance are marriage and money.

In the villages the Mayans live in thatch roofed houses which allow the air to go through them 
giving cross ventilation since they cannot afford air conditioning. Only sleeping is done indoors 
as cooking and most activities remain outside. Many of the gift shops sell beautiful hammocks 
and they also hawk them at the outdoor restaurants in the tourist area. But it surprised me to
learn that 80% of the local population still sleeps in them.

Hammock on wall
 hook in a wealthy persons home

We visited a number of churches one dating from 1549 in Mani, Yucatán, most of the paintings
 and sculptures were replaced in more modern times, but here we saw 17th and 18th century
carved painted and gilded altarpieces. Many were built on top of what had been Mayan
pyramids, reusing the same stones. As these were Missions, impressing the Indians with the
vast vaulted spaces was part of the effort to convert them. Mexico today is still mostly Catholic 
but I had not heard before that there has been a large Evangelical movement in recent years.

Mission Church in Tecoh, Yucatan

The trip will continue and I will report more as time goes on.

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