Book review : In the Yucatan, by Earl Shorris

This is a book about the power of community using the leverage of love to challenge injustice.  The writing is elegant without being showy.  The story is grim, taking place mostly in a filthy and brutal jail cell in a pueblo in Yucatan, over more than a month.  It depicts a union struggle against all the usual power players in league with each other:  police, politicians, union bosses, owners, the elite.  Yet the message is uplifting, tender, and especially revealing of the mechanical advantage of resolve, and of love, to overcome the structural greed which often victimizes the poor.

The author demonstrates exceptional insight into the culture and history of the Maya in Yucatan, while also shedding light on certain protections and flaws in the Mexican Constitution.  A young union leader and his American lawyer (married to a Mayan woman) are both imprisoned in the same cell, along with 21 union members held separately in the same jail, for attempting to form a rogue union. Anyone who wants to understand how oppressed people retain their dignity in the face of economic victimization will be edified by reading this exquisitely rendered story.  (The Maya remain unconquered, in spirit.)  The book is shelved in the special collection room at Merida English Library.


wikimedia traffic light


[No joke]:  A bus and a pedestrian, moving parallel to each other, in the same direction, both approach an intersection with a green light.  The pedestrian looks back at the bus, steps off the curb and onto the yellow stripes of a cross walk.  The bus suddenly, without even signaling, turns the corner and blasts his horn at the pedestrian.  ¡Only in Merida!

I’ve traveled the globe, and only had this happen here. Repeatedly.  Clearly, the driver “knew” I was wrong.  ¿How dare you slow me down? he intones with his horn. (Bus drivers are not the only offenders ; beware of any driver, as turn signals are rarely used here.)

Yes, I’m a small, weak peatón – a pedestrian.  But, we are all pedestrians.  Some of us also drive.  If we don’t respect our universal condition, there is grave danger to all.  Yet asserting a right can leave us dead right.  Apparently there is no respect for pedestrians here.  Only size matters.  Aside from those walking on elevated crossings, where there are stiff fines for drivers — yellow stripes and green lights mean nothing in Merida.  Driver education, and enforcement, are seriously lacking.  Yucatecos are mostly lovely, courteous people, until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle.  

Until this enlightenment arrives, that pedestrians walking in the direction of the green light have the right of way on the yellow stripes, maybe the city should save money by removing all  traffic lights and posting signs at each intersection saying CROSS AT YOUR OWN RISK.  This is such a friendly, peaceful city.  Walking here should be more fun, and safer.  We could call it civilization.


¡¡ NAFTA IS DEAD !! (and the buying public is bleeding)


King of the castle surveys the kingdom

Hear ye, Oye, Hear ye, the great commercial treaty is no more


While NAFTA may still exist on paper, in practice it appears to be quite dead.  Let me illustrate:  we recently bought a laser-printer at Office Depot in Merida, made by Hewlett-Packard.  Weeks later we went back to buy toner.  Not in stock. So we went to the HP store nearby.  Nope.  That package not available in Mexico.  So I looked online at Office Depot for Mexico.  The package is listed as toner negro #30a, but not available at any of our branches in Mexico.  So I went to Amazon Mexico.  No.  But Amazon US has plenty that CANNOT BE SHIPPED TO MEXICO.  

This is not an isolated instance.  I’ve put much effort into searching for items that can’t cross this so-called FREE TRADE boundary.  (This is the second copier – first was an Epson – that has been rendered useless due to “protected” supplies.)  And it isn’t just Amazon.  I’ve seen similar situations regarding cross-border provisions with WW Grainger.

So, what gives?  Is the buying public being gouged by commercial interests?  In November, friends booked seats on a new route from Miami to Merida with American Airlines, but they were greatly inconvenienced when the entire route was cancelled without notice.  It certainly appears that “market forces” are favoring BIG CAPITAL over consumers somewhere in this picture, rather than honoring a treaty between the people of  three nations. (OK, I just checked Amazon Canada, and they won’t ship this item to Mexico, either.)

UPDATE: Solved!  Although the firm’s website said there wasn’t a single package of toner for this machine in any of its branches in Mexico, a store employee found one for me at the main branch right here in Merida.  It was the only one on hand, so of course we drove there immediately.  Sometimes information can be stranger than fiction.  (I asked the branch staff to replace the one I bought, so there is hope I can get another in the future!)



Urban swamp, c.37, x60y62

Urban swamp, c.37, x60 y 62

¡¡ FIXED !!  The post below went up a few days ago.  Today I showed up at the gym to see this long-standing puddle emptied and dry.  This has me wondering if a friend or reader maybe contacted the right desk with the city – or perhaps somebody with the city reads my blog?  Whatever the case, I’m grateful.  Wow!   Original post:


The city has done a superb job this year controlling mosquitoes.  But there is still room for improvement – witness the persistent puddle above, and many like it around town – leaking from the municipal water supply.

I know a Canadian couple who didn’t winter here this year because their experience with intense mosquito pressure last year was so great that they decided not to come.  But friends have commented to me that this year has been a season of few bites.  The city should be proud.  (And now somebody should get busy sealing this leak!)



This isn’t about politics!  In Mexico, when a car ahead of you activitates a left turn signal, there is much ambiguity.  ¿Is the driver signaling a left turn, or telling us to go around, (to pass, to overtake)?  It’s impossible to know!  In this country, it could be either.  This is what logicians and computer programers call insufficient argument (something which can’t be decided based on the evidence at hand).  It’s dangerous, and dysfunctional; yet it persists, and is unlikely to change anytime soon.

If you mistakenly believe the driver ahead of you is inviting you to pass, but instead the car turns left while you’re passing, both vehicles could crash.  If you believe the driver really is about to turn left, you may be stuck behind a slow vehicle for a long time, maybe even until the signal does finally mean left turn.  

Ambiguity on the road is one of the crazy things about this culture.  It’s easy to misread. Why the culture refuses to recognize the danger of ambiguity is impossible to understand.  “It’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Yet, signaling a right turn always means go around me (if the road ahead is clear).  Why is confusion preferred over clarity?  Why is danger chosen over safety?  Dunno!  Those who refuse to use logic will contribute to greater risk. (Signaling a right turn always indicates a slowing vehicle.)  I like to think that good thinking is infectious, perhaps enough to effect change; but I suspect it will be a long time coming.  


Photo credit: LibraryAngel

Photo credit: LibraryAngel?

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. […] It thrilled [Scrooge] with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the mask there were eyes staring at him.  A Christmas Carol, 1843, ~Charles Dickens


…God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift. ~2Cor 9:8,15