This Garden

Yesterday afternoon,  I filled a tall glass with ice cubes, and poured hot mint tea over top. The crisp pops and snaps made by the fissuring ice sounded like a promise – a refreshing moment soon to be savored. Taking the drink in one hand, I used the other to pull up the latch of the screen door and swing it open. I wanted to enjoy the last half hour of the Saturday sunlight.

My husband had just finished watering our garden and the spicy smell, unique to Yucatan, floated up from the soaked red soil. It swirled around the leafy orange tree where my chair waited. But before settling down, I picked my way around the perimeter to check on the plants’ progress and wellbeing.

Every year I try coaxing a few non-native species to adapt to life in the tropics. The success is spotty. In this hot, humid climate, they struggle – much like many people I know. The magnolia bush has not budded yet this year, but to my surprise, the dusky blue pom-poms on the hydrangea seem to be holding up. They bring forth memories from the garden I knew as a child – my mom had banks of them along one side of our North Vancouver home. The baskets of multi-colored petunias are thriving but the poor tulip – a gift from my daughter – has completely given up. So sad.

Meanwhile the endemics are thriving. Lilies – the deep coral-colored ones, the white with red stripes, and the delicate-looking ones with long skinny white petals are in full bloom. The Desert Rose, Crown of Thorns, and red hibiscus are also flowering at peak this March. The magenta  bougainvillea spilling over the top rim of the high front wall is a prolific marvel of nature. Basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano aloe, lemons, figs and oranges are as delicious as they are pretty.  But the showpieces of our garden are the orchids.

Orchids are amazing, and most of ours have made their home in the branches of the very tree where I sit to drink my tea.

This garden soothes me and helps me put problems into perspective. I vow to spend more time out here. Life is too short to dwell on issues that are (fairly or unfairly) beyond my sphere of influence.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr

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Have we reached critical mass?

Merida officials at downtown residents’ meeting

Yesterday I attended a meeting convened by Merida’s city administration. The officials present were:

  • Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo: Office of the Mayor
  • IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Police
  • Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Director of Urban Development
  • CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Development

A wide cross-section of approximately 80 people showed up – all had an agenda. Private homeowners, assorted business owners, bar and restaurant operators, professionals such as lawyers, an audio engineer, and hotel owners all had their turn speaking. The group included native-born citizens of Merida, Mexican nationals who have moved to Merida from other parts of the country, and foreign residents.

The bar and restaurant owners basically said:

  • We have the right to operate our businesses.
  • We have licenses to stay open late and have live music playing.
  • Bars and restaurants are an important feature of the downtown area.
  • We employ a lot of local people and the lives of our employees matter.
  • It is unfair for the residents of downtown to expect utter silence.
  • It surprised them that only a few native Merida residents were in attendance, and it seemed to them that the complaints are all coming from foreigners.

The homeowners and business people, whether local, national or international:

  • All agreed that bars and restaurants are important to the downtown area.
  • They expressed dubiousness at how the licenses to operate were obtained.
  • All are sympathetic and supportive of the employees – they recognize that everyone needs to work, and they have the right to safe working conditions and salaries that allow them to support themselves and their families.
  • But they want the bars and restaurants to better-manage the noise levels.
  • Many homeowners said they get little sleep because of the noise from the music and revelry.
  • Many business owners said the noise has affected their businesses in a negative way. In fact, several guest houses have closed, or are on the brink of closing, because no one will stay in noisy rooms.
  • Homeowners also object to new bars and restaurants getting permission to operate right beside their already established homes.
  • The homeowners and business owners ask why they have no say in the kind of neighbors they get. They object to having the noisy ones foisted upon them.
  • They say there should be forethought and consultation with all affected parties when a new business opens.

One resident made a very important point. She reminded the Merida authorities that our city enjoys a wonderful reputation as a cultural destination, but if the current situation continues, the international press will learn of it – Merida will get bad publicity – and everyone will lose.

I know I start a lot of posts with, “When I moved to Merida 41 years ago…” but this does give me perspective, and please forgive my repetition of the point. But at the time, the downtown area was a decaying mess – block after block of neglected buildings. Meridanos were moving to the north. As soon as the malls were built, many businesses moved there too.

The renovations and improvements to Merida’s Centro were started 30 years ago, mostly by foreigners who bought the empty, derelict homes. They restored them and once a significant number had been improved, the City and State administrations also began their campaigns, just as the city of Campeche had already done.

The sustained efforts of private homeowners, the city and state governments, laid the groundwork for the beautiful and vibrant downtown area we have today. Then the bars and restaurants started opening (or re-vamped their image)a larger scale.

Now the bars and restaurants say that foreigners are not “respecting local traditions”.  They say that Merida has always had noisy bars and entertainment venues, and this is true. But, but, but– this issue is one of degrees. The sound equipment currently available is much more potent and loud.  The bars and clubs are open late six nights a week. No one would get in a knot over some noise, some of the time. Why don’t the antros behave in a respectful and neighborly way? Why don’t they police themselves?

Now there is even a movement that urges locals to resist the “gentrification” of Merida. That is a broad term. I don’t think improving the aesthetics is gentrification. The antros and clubs charge plenty for their cool hipster atmosphere. That’s gentrification.

Several people at the meeting said that these transgressions happen because bribes to the officials are an accepted modus operandi. The authorities denied this and seemed offended by the allegations.

The authorities asked for our understanding, and gave a lot of excuses as to why they cannot act more forthrightly. They say regulations are not in place. When a resident showed a printout of a federal law pertaining to noise levels, all the officials claimed this law does not apply – that local regulations are necessary.

A lawyer from Merida pointed out that if the laws and statutes do not apply or are outdated and ineffective, they must be changed – the sooner the better.

The lack of native-born Centro residents attending the meeting was mentioned again and again by the bar faction. The person beside me whispered that this was probably because they all knew the meeting would be fruitless and did not want to waste their time.

The discussion got ugly towards the end, and this is when the director of tourism said that there would be another meeting in three months. She promised there would be progress in reviewing the regulation of noise levels.

Everyone dispersed with no sense of consensus. The residents were disappointed with the authorities’ lack of resolve. I think the authorities were surprised that the residents were so vocal and at times, disrespectful. But everyone is angry at the current mess.

To sum it all up, we got the same old run-around as always. All the officials present basically said the same thing:

  • I am sympathetic, but I can do nothing.
  • The appropriate laws are not in place.
  • The guidelines are not current.
  • I cannot act just because I want to.

If you want to contact the city officials who took part in the meeting, here is their contact information:

Lic. Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo:  Office of the Mayor   guibaldo.vargas@merida.gob.mx

IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Policemario.romero@merida.gob.mx

Ing. Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Directo of Urban Developmentaref.karam@merida.gob.mx

CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Developmentcarolina.cardenas@merida.gob.mx

If the authorities do not act, we will have an even bigger mess in Merida’s Centro. I do not think it is too late, but I seriously question whether or not the authorities care to change the status quo.

I think this noise issue has reached critical mass.

Consider this

 

Yesterday I wrote about residents’ concerns over the noise level in downtown Merida. From the comments on social media, I conclude that a number of people do not fully understand the situation. Some wrote that the residents who are complaining are “intolerant” and  “un-cool”.

Fine, I guess that everyone has the right to an opinion. But, consider this scenario…

I know a young man (born in Merida) who purchased a derelict carpentry shop on a beautiful lot… 10 meters by 52 meters. It is located in Santa Ana, about 12 blocks northeast of the main square. When he took possession of the property, it was overgrown with 20 years of weeds, piles of rubble, and old shacks; there was no septic tank…  He has spent the past 8 years cleaning, repairing, planting trees and a garden. He built a 2 bedroom home. He is now married and has a child. The young family LOVE their home, especially because so much of their own hard work (and all their money) went into creating it.

Then a huge empty building, right next door to them, was bought by a group of wealthy investors from Mexico City. They are turning this property into a multi-venue eatery, with live music every night. The developers claim it will be a “happening” place… a great “attraction” for Merida.

The young man’s home and the restaurant share a 52 meter common wall. He asked the new owners to somehow soundproof. They said this would be “impossible”… a synonym for “expensive”… The restaurant complex is currently under construction, and jack hammers pound all day. The dust makes it impossible to go outside to the garden or open the windows. The toddler has a cough that won’t go away.

And once the business is up and running, the young family can expect typical restaurant prep noise all day long… kitchen banging, cooks swearing, delivery trucks coming and going, tables being dragged into place… Not to mention the vermin that propagate wherever food is stored.

And at night there will be live music, people whooping it up… it will be IMPOSSIBLE to live in the home they love.

This couple does not have the money to move, and they can’t sell. Who will buy their property with the monstrosity next door? They have been completely SCREWED – OVER.  Sorry, but there is no polite way to put it.

The one hope they have is the meeting to be held today at 4 PM in San Sebastian. The authorities have promised to show up and listen to the residents’ side. The young couple is praying that someone will help them out of this mess.

The residents who are complaining about noise are not just “whining expats”. They are also Meridanos whose families have lived in El Centro for generations, and they are not asking for anything outlandish. They are not “intolerant and un-cool”. They are people who have rights and they need to be heard. We should show them respect and support… not dismiss them.

Because think about this… if proper zoning and noise ordinances are not enforced, anyone’s home could be the next to be invaded. I don’t think anyone would like that.