Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Drive Through West Virgina

It is the Friday of Mother's Day weekend. We enter West Virginia from  Kentucky, first traveling east and then turning north towards Pittsburgh in the midst of a 5 day road trip. I was to witness,as we drove through the state that afternoon, a place of stunning natural beauty juxtaposed with some of the worst poverty I have ever experienced in the U.S.

The highway took us along a high ridge affording us an expansive view of the mountains cloaked in their lush, thick velvet green of spring. Creeks and rivers alongside the road had limestone beds that as they cracked and settled created not rapids but a series of diminutive falls as the water flowed, dropping from one ledge to the next.

It was when the road led us into the valleys between these mountains that the poverty became apparent. In many the trailers serving as homes were old and in varying states of disrepair and decay, seemingly inadequate to shelter the inhabitants against the winter cold. Jobs appeared scarce and the people resigned to their economic status.

As the road carried us up we would escape this scene and once again encounter the grandeur and intense beauty of the green mountains. We stopped at a sandwich shop in one small town to get our lunch. The teens behind the counter, as teens do at this time of year, were discussing their upcoming prom. As we returned to the car we reminisced about our own proms. Mine was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. I considered what one would be like in such a small town so isolated from a city.

We stopped at a scenic overlook to eat. The view was bucolic. By the wood rail fence bordering the overlook ran a river. Across the river, at a bend, stood a mill, it's large wood wheel being turned by the water rushing over a long limestone ledge.We continued towards Pennsylvania with the soft rumble of the waterfall in our ears.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memories of Merida - Conclusion

On Sundays the streets in the town's center are closed to cars to accommodate a weekly festival. Vendors set up stalls and carts. Some people lay blankets in the street with a catch-all of items for sale. We purchased silver bracelets, antique books and a 1910's bank note printed "Bank of Merida". Stages are erected and the people, in their Sunday best, dance and salsa in the streets.

Among several structures of note outside of the central square is the Opera House, whose lobby is open to the public. It is a lovely Beaux Arts building whose slightly waterstained walls, like much else in the city, show the ravages of the hot, wet, topical climate. A short distance from our hotel is the former Governor's Mansion. It now houses the History Museum which, while small, did contain several interesting exibits and gave us  more detailed information about the sites we had visited earlier in the week.

There are other places I wass not able to get to. Among these is Uxmal, one of the largest and best preserved Mayan sites, and Campeche, notable for being a fortified city, a rarity in Mexico. I hope to return and add these places to my memories of this overlooked, charming, historic city.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Memories of Merida - Part 4

It was Saturday morning. On our city map was what appeared to be a quaint marketplace just outside the historical center. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast, we started off on foot. On the way we saw, across the street, a group of men and women in traditional Mayan dress walking towards a large crowd marching down another street a block away. We decided to investigate. A woman in the crowd told us they were marching in support of a political candidate for Governor named Ann Rosa. A woman running for this high a political office is unusual in Mexico. The crowd was a cross section of people. Young, old, gay, straight, traditionally dressed Mayans, business people, all chanting her name as they marched. Even though she was in Mexico City working at the time this did not seem to diminish the fervor of the crowd. The air seemed electrified with the crowd's enthusiasm and support for her. Experiencing the march was one of the magic happenstances of traveling in the manner that I do.

As we neared the market we found ourselves in an area of narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks. We passed stores with roll down garage door shutters in lieu of walls teeming with fabric on bolts, athletic wear and plastic household goods sharing space with inflatable toys a miscellaneous selection of shoes, imitation oriental rugs and cheap tapestries. It being Saturday, the streets were full of humanity. We weaved our way through the sea of people, found an entrance into the market and went in.

It was chaos within. However, in contrast to what we had just witnessed outside, it seemed exceedingly well organized. There were aisle after aisle of stalls. The first would sell plumbing supplies, u joints, faucets, faucet handles, various lengths and sizes of pipes all thrown helter skelter into bins. The next stall sold baby clothes, the next large cooking pots. Behind a low half wall, in full view of the multitudes that walked by, a woman sat in a beauticians chair getting a perm. As we turned a corner we encountered massive burlap bags of animal feed, standing open, with scoops inside waiting to fill your order. Across the aisle were an assortment of chickens, ducks and rabbits in wire cages. I noted that I didn't think they were meant to be pets, I think they were meant to be lunch. We considered, briefly, becoming ecoterrorists and releasing them into the crowded marketplace, just to see what would happen but our better judgement took over and that plan was put to rest. We moved on. Eventually, we found and exit and went from the surreal; enviorment we had just witnessed into the  bright, hot Mexican midday sunlight. As we meandered back to the normality of the city square I remarked on what an interesting and illuminating glimpse of a different culture the mornings adventure had provided us with, how, glad I was that we had had the chance to experience it and how I never wanted to have that experience again., A pitcher of Sangria an lunch soothed our nerves and we returned to the hotel to relax in the pool and prepare for dinner and a visit that evening to one of the few gay bars in the city located some distance away. This was due to, we were told, harassment by the Catholic church which holds great power in Mexico.