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Home and Away

It’s good to travel widely within your own backyard, and it is also quite satisfying to connect with millions of your countrymen without leaving your living room. We spent Saturday night experiencing the gluttonous glories of Carnaval in Merida and Sunday afternoon watching the Superbowl at home in Chelem. We’re back at work but the party continues for countless Catholics and Giants fans alike.

After feeling on the periphery of last year’s celebration we knew we wanted to get deeper inside the parade and partying, that began last Wednesday with the burning of the bad moods, and doesn’t end until Feb 6 (Ash Wednesday). We got a room in town, enjoyed a late lunch at La Parilla and decided to nap until 7 when we’d go find a spot on the route. It was the beginning of bedlam when we set foot in the street. Tiny metal folding chairs were three and four rows deep on each side of Calle 60; children, and in fact entire families were in costume and clowns were entertaining the crowd. We hadn’t purchased tickets in advance, we’d been so busy coordinating dogs, office doors, rental cars and Western Unions last week and boy, did we regret it. It was clear that we would have to act fast to find a good vantage point. He who hesitates gets fewer tacos for the eyes.

Even though we had noticed reserved seats at La Parilla we didn’t think it would be so packed. The sidewalk cafe tables from La Belle Epoque to the corner below Piedras de Agua were already crowded with tourists and other North American types. We thought we’d try our luck closer to the plaza grande, where there were bandstands and booths set up. The sneaky meseros at Mr. Banderas tricked us into finding our way around the fences and up into their restaurant, where there were actually no window seats without a reservation. The situation along the parade route and surrounding environs was locked down, with armed policemen acting as sentries at intersections down the length of Calle 60 and at the very narrow openings where ticket holders could snake in and where we slipped out. When we realized we would have to head back uptown, desperate for any position available, we flexed our hotel key and were allowed to pass back into the zone. There was a moment when Malcolm was on the other side (outside) of the fence with families and gunmen between us, and even though it was fleeting and totally innocuous, it gave me a small fright just the same.

We ended up back in front of the Hotel Los Aluxes (a basic family hotel like any motel you stayed in as a kid in America) and realized with a lump in our throat (we’re just sharing one these days), that we were trapped. Foiled again! Our only option was to stand about 5 rows back from the street and on tiptoe point and shoot the camera. To lift our spirits, we lifted some spirits inside the hotel bar (not bad, if too bright for those channeling Bukowski), and couldn’t help but get just a little excited about the ever louder celebrations going on outside. When we couldn’t Grinch it any longer we joined the gyrating throngs.

And it was spectacular. The floats depicted the New Wonders of the World with Chichen Itza leading things off, of course. They were gorgeous, as were the bikini clad and bare chested dancers aboard. The people went wild, dancing with arms upraised in order to catch whatever was being hurled into the night (this jettisoned items included candy, cups and hot dogs, I kid you not). Speaking of kids, let me be quite clear that Canaval in Merida is no bacchanal. Like every aspect of life here, it is a family affair even on the most risque night. There were children participating in the parade, dancing, playing drums and all wearing dazzling sparkly costumes.

We felt a little dejected about not having the up close and personal experience we craved so we formulated a plan to walk deeper into Centro when the parade had ended. We followed the last float, being carried along by the collective body, all of whom, it turns out were headed home. There were a few people, mostly Americans, still hanging out drinking at La Parilla. We couldn’t keep still and didn’t stay long, deciding instead to walk up to the Paseo, where we knew the Sol Amazons had been stationed and where we thought perhaps we could get a late night marquesita.

Not so. It was the same everywhere, that “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” kind of a vibe, like when they start to sweep the streets in New Orleans’ French Quarter. It keeps things orderly, safe and honest, which keeps the quality of life here high. We were not quite as immersed or enmeshed in the Big Show as we might have liked, but we did better than last year and have a few photos to share. Expect to see those later. It is always super fun to hang out on the street with the people in Merida.

When we got back home on Sunday we immediately fulfilled our annual American gastronomical obligation by crafting a tidy little seven layer dip, you know, beans, cheese, sour cream, what have you, and sticking it in the fridge to set. We counted our beers and flipped through the guide and found the game broadcast on the Fox Sports Network, on our Sky TV. Unfortunately for us, there was only Spanish commentary and no commercials or half time show. Football never held much interest for me, but my family always liked the Giants and there’s something about living in a foreign country to make you appreciate these big, unifying events. You know that all over the world people have gathered, are eating and drinking and reacting with the same enthusiasm, all focused on this one important game. It’s a comfort to be a part of the collective, whether in person or remotely. It’s nice not to feel so isolated.

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