Monthly Archives: February 2019

All in The Family

Melva Medina welcomes us to her family’s gallery which features her and her husband’s work as well as that of their daughters

Melva Medina and her husband Abel Vazquez are artists who live, work and teach in an lovely restored colonial mansion in downtown Merida, Mexico. It serves both as their home and their gallery.  Their studio and workshop is just two blocks away. We visited the Nahualli Casa de Artistas on a walking tour organized by the English Library in Merida.  

Generosa Existencia or Generous Existence by Melva Medina- note the corn at the left side of the drawing- the Mayan creation story describes how human beings were created from an ear of corn

A bronze sculpture version of Generosa Existencia or Generous Existence by Melva Medina

Melva told us about her work which centers on themes of female strength and empowerment.

Do Not Touch or No Lo Toques by Abel Vazquez

She also talked about the work of her husband Abel which explores the connection between human beings and nature.  Some of Abel and Melva’s pieces reminded me of similar works that are part of the Inuit art collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and show people transforming into animals and animals into people.  When I mentioned this to Melva she told me that it was exactly that idea that inspired the name of their family’s gallery. On the gallery website she explains that the origin of the word nahualli means unseen, the hidden, what is deep within.  She says that many first peoples in North America from the Inuit in the north to the Mayans in the south believe that every person at birth already has the spirit of an animal(nahual) that is responsible to protect and guide them through life and help them accomplish their mission. I was enthralled by Abel’s life- like sculptures of women that graced the pool area of their home. This one reminded me of a piece we have at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Linda by Elizabeth Wyn Wood. The colorful and provocative work of Melva and Abel’s daughter Alma Citalli was also on display. My very favorite piece was near the front door. It was called Pensamiento or Thought.  From each angle and at different distances you were captured by yet another aspect of the sculpture’s beauty.  Thoughtful or thought provoking would be a great way to describe many of the pieces at the Nahualli Casa de Artistas.  In fact on their website they say they hope their House of Art will be charged with energy, inspire deep thought and foster a spiritual experience.

Note: I was so taken with Nahualli Casa de Artistas that my sister and I went back to visit it another day and were privileged to be given a guided tour of Melva and Abel’s studio and learn about a very special exhibit Melva created with her second daughter Aura Meztli Vazquez that addresses the issue of sexual abuse. I  will need some time to process that experience and will write about it in a later post.  

Other posts……….

Jaguars in the Bathroom

A Violent and Bloody History

Another Creation Story



Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Mexico

A Spark of Light

The current challenges facing abortion rights in the United States made Jodi Picoult’s novel A Spark of Light a timely read for me. 

In the story an angry father who believes his daughter had an abortion at a women’s center goes on a shooting rampage there, killing staff members and patients and taking hostages. Will he kill more people?

Picoult introduces us to several women that have had abortions. Their stories remind us of pro-active things countries can do to reduce their abortion rates since history shows us that criminalization of the procedure has proven to be very ineffective.

One of Picoult’s characters is an insecure teenager named Beth. She comes from a very religious family and has her first sexual encounter with an attractive Ivy League college student who flatters her with his attentions on a one- time visit to her community.  When asked why she didn’t use birth control Beth says she’d heard from a friend at church you couldn’t get pregnant the first time you had sex.

This kind of misinformation is a result of a lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, an education that should introduce high school students to many forms of birth control not just abstinence. As Picoult points out in a scene in her novel, ironically it is often the same religious groups that are anti-abortion who want to limit sex education in schools.

It is probably no coincidence that the Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in the world. All secondary schools there have mandatory comprehensive health education programs that address sexuality and many forms of contraception. Teens in the Netherlands have wide access to confidential contraceptive services.

Joy, another character in Picoult’s novel is a struggling university student. She has several part time jobs. That means her employers don’t have to provide health care or maternity leave benefits. Joy finds herself pregnant despite the fact she was using birth control. She knows she can’t get a good job unless she finishes school. How will she study, support a child, and care for it properly?  She can’t afford prenatal care or health care for her child once it is born. Her partner won’t help. Joy herself was a product of the foster care system and doesn’t wish that fate on her child. So she opts for an abortion. 

Many studies prove countries with free health care, generous paid maternity leaves, subsidized post- secondary education, affordable daycare services and high minimum wage levels have lower abortion rates than countries that don’t offer those advantages.  Apparently about 75% of American women who have abortions cite economic factors for their decision.  They say they can’t afford a child because it will interfere with their work, studies, or their ability to care for the children they already have.

Ironically in the United States the Republican Party, supported by evangelical Christian groups that favor stricter anti-abortion laws, is also the party that wants to get rid of the subsidized health care system established by President Obama. They seem bent on reducing the number of government social services in their country even though it is those very services that would reduce abortion rates.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jodi Picoult interviewed hundreds of of anti-abortion activists, pro-choice leaders and women who’d had abortions before writing her novel. She found them all very sincere and caring. She discovered whether people are pro-choice or pro-life they desire the same end result- fewer abortions. They just don’t agree on how to make that happen. Picoult hopes her book will open a dialogue that may allow the two sides to work together to meet their common goal.

Other posts………..

Tolerating Other Christians

Abortion and Summer Jobs

Blaming Satan is Misguided and Dangerous

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

A Bloody Violent History

Since I am spending two months in the Yucatan I wanted to learn a little more about the history of the area. What better way to do that than through art?  

Visiting Chichen Itza in 2007

On previous visits to Mexico I had been at two different Mayan archelogical sites and learned about the early history of the Yucatan.  Last Thursday I went to the Governor’s Palace in Merida and walked through a room full of huge murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco that provided a window into the country’s history from 1500-1900. It is a bloody and violent story indeed. 

The Yucatan was ‘discovered’ in 1517 by a Spanish explorer named Cordova. A decade later a fellow named Fancisco de Montejo arrived to conquer the Yucatan but was sent packing after a bloody conflict with the local people. Fernando Castro Pacheco conquest of the yucatanHe would need to make two more military forays before he could successfully establish a capital city at the site of present day Merida in 1542.  

Of course once the military have established ground in a conquered country the religious folks are sure to follow close behind. Meet Franscican monk Fray Diego De Landa who build thirty convents in the Yucatan and tried to convert the Mayans to Christianity. In 1562 he ordered all Mayan books and artworks and statues destroyed.   The oppression of the Spanish caused starvation amongst the natives and the diseases the Spanish introduced to the Mayan population killed nearly two million of them by the mid 1600s.  The Mayans tried to fight back repeatedly. Jacinto Canek led an indigenous rebellion against the government in 1761. He and his supporters fought fiercely but were defeated and Canek was ordered quartered and burned with red hot knives and pokers in the center square of Merida.  A demand for inexpensive binder twine in the United States and Europe in the 1800s created a huge demand for the sisal plant which grows in the Yucatan.  Employing the Mayans as slave labourers Spanish families made fortunes.  During the 1800s  the Yucatan struggled to remain independent from Mexico and the native Mayans continued to revolt against the Spanish ruling class in a fifty year conflict known as the Caste Wars. In the 1900s reformers like Salvador Alvarado who was the governor of the Yucatan from 1915-1918 began to make important changes. Alvarado became known as the ‘liberator of the Mayan slaves’  and tired to bring about reforms in education, treatment of women and strict class distinctions. 

Visiting the governor’s palace and seeing the art there was a good way to get a crash course in some four hundred years of Yucatan history. 

Other posts…….

Ten Things About Tulum

Visiting Chichen Itza

Fish For Lunch

1 Comment

Filed under Art, History, Mexico

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

I chose to read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine because my niece gave it a positive rating on Good Reads and I trust her instincts about books. I was quite taken with the story and finished it quickly.  

gail honeyman

Gail Honeyman

As an author hoping to get a book published for the first time I will admit that the ‘dreams do come true’ story of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine author Gail Honeyman probably influenced my appreciation of the book.  This is Gail Honeyman’s first novel and she wrote it as an assignment for a writing course she took while working full-time as a university administrator. She would write her novel on her lunch breaks. She entered the manuscript in a writing contest and one of the judges, who happened to be a literary agent, liked it and decided to take her on as a client.  Gail’s book was just named Book of the Year in Britain and Reese Witherspoon is turning it into a movie. 

I liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine because the heroine perseveres despite the fact that she leads a very lonely existence and has been dealt a horrible hand in the game of life.  I liked the story because it shows how a little kindness and personal interest can go a long way towards making a difference in someone’s life.  I liked the book because Eleanor is so straight forward and honest that many of her observations had me laughing out loud like……….

“I have often noticed that people who routinely wear sportswear are the least likely sort to participate in athletic activity.”

eleanor oliphant is completely fineSome critics say the transformation that takes place in Eleanor Oliphant’s life in this book is unrealistic.  That may be, but I was charmed by Eleanor and intrigued by the way she manages to finally open herself to other people.  This is a sad story that turns out better than one could have imagined. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is ultimately a hopeful book and I think right now many people are looking for just that kind of story. 

Other posts………


All Things Consoled

Coop The Great

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Writing

Jaguars in the Bathroom

jaguar in a hotel lobby in merida

Jaguar vase and jaguar figurines in a hotel lobby in Merida

The jaguar is an important symbolic animal here in Mexico.  Archeologists have discovered stone and jade carvings of jaguars that are more than 3000 years old. Mayan rulers showed their power by wearing jaguar skins, claws and fangs.  Images of jaguars appear in ancient Mayan hieroglyphic texts and there is a Temple of the Jaguar at the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza.

jaguar in a gift shop merida

Jaguar art piece for sale in a gift shop in Merida

In Mayan mythology the jaguar was the ruler of the underworld. Mayan sorcerers could transform into jaguars to face their fears or confront their enemies.

jaguar folk art museum merida

Jaguar by Gabriel Perez Rajon at the Folk Art Museum in Merida

After the Spanish take over of Mexico the local Mayan people used the jaguar as a symbol of their fight against colonization.  Because of all that history and symbolism I see jaguar images everywhere here in the Yucatan and I mean everywhere!  In the last few days I have even found jaguars in bathrooms in two different places.

Alberto Bautista Gómez jaguars in the bathroom merida folk museum

Jaguars by Alberto Bautista Gomez

The Folk Art Museum in Merida is located in an old home.  Each room of the house features artists from different provinces of Mexico.  There happens to be a bathroom in the section of the house featuring artists from Chiapas and so two jaguars created by artist Alberto Bautista Gomez are on display there posed just in front of the urinal and toilet. jaguar in the bathroom meridaOn Friday I was on an art gallery walk in Merida and asked to use the washroom at the Soho Art Gallery.  I was sitting on the toilet and looked up and lo and behold there was another jaguar looking right at me!jaguar mural bathroom merida
If you visit the Yucatan province in Mexico be prepared to see jaguars everywhere! Including in the bathroom!

Other posts…………..

The Most Beautiful Bathroom in Winnipeg

Pop Up Toilet

Gender Neutral Bathrooms



Filed under Art, History, Mexico, Nature

Movie or Book?

After I finished reading the book The Hate U Give I watched the movie of the same title.  I  liked the book better.  One of the themes of the story is  black lives matter.  Starr the African American heroine witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her friend Khalil after a routine traffic pull over. Her friend is unarmed. Starr must decide if she will appear as a witness before a Grand Jury. The jury will determine whether the officer will be charged with a crime in the shooting.

Starr’s uncle is an African American police officer and in the book his character is explored in much more depth than in the movie.  This gives the book more balance so that we get a well rounded picture of a positive member of the police force and can see things from the police officers’ point of view too.

Starr’s Dad who has been heavily influenced by the teachings of Malcom X has taught his daughter to be proud of her racial identity and her black community

Starr’s father is a devoted follower of Macolm X.  The principles of the Black Panthers guide Starr’s upbringing and are more completely explained and discussed in the book.  This helps us better understand Starr and the choices she eventually makes.

The character of Starr’s white boyfriend is more fully explored in the book as well and I liked him more in the book than I did in the movie. 

One character in the book, DeVante is left out of the movie completely. That’s too bad. DeVante is a young black man Starr’s family tries to help escape from the clutches of a drug lord and gang leader. Although Khalil, the young man whose death Starr witnessed is dead, and Starr’s family can’t help him any more, they can help DeVante find a new life.  I think this provides an important piece in the family’s healing and makes the story in the book more balanced. 

I thought Amandla Stenberg did a great job of playing Starr in the movie

The movie ends differently than the book in a way that I thought was contrived and unrealistic. 

I read The Hate U Give  because I am doing a presentation on it for my writer’s group when I get back to Winnipeg.  I have to analyze the book using a fourteen point plot outline for how to write a good novel.  Ironically the text about novel writing we are using is a sequel to one about screen writing that was hugely popular. I think maybe the screenwriters and producers for The Hate U Give needed to read that text so the movie they made would have been as good as the book it was based on. 

Other posts…………

Now I Really Want To Go To Botswana

Winnipeg and Mennonites in Gone Girl

Don’t Trust the Trailer


Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Writing

Cooking Up A Storm in the Yucatan

My sister Kaaren and I and our friend Deb went on a cooking adventure in Merida Mexico.This is the beautiful table of food we helped create. How did it happen?   Well first we went on a shopping trip to a large neighbourhood market to gather the ingredients for our meal. I wrote about that part of our adventure in yesterday’s blog post.  

This lovely lady is Aunt Bertha and we were in her home for the cooking part of our adventure.  Bertha who used to be a cook for the public health department had pots bubbling on her stove when we arrived. One was for chicken. She was boiling it in water spiced with cinnamon and cloves. While Bertha roasted peppers and made a sauce with the tomatoes we had bought at the market, Edgar our guide for the day got the three of us right to work. Deb cut up peppers and limes My sister Kaaren chopped onions and I was given the job of peeling  oranges.  Edgar told me I needed to try to keep the peel in one piece as I removed it because for each time I created a perfect peel it would signal one marriage in my life.  I managed to keep five orange peels whole but said I had no intention of being married more than once. Next I had squeeze the juice out of all those oranges with my hands.  Edgar said we put our love into food when we touch it. In the meantime my sister Kaaren was busy peeling cucumbers which would be cut into thin half-moon slices and marinated in coriander and lime juice.  Deb was stuffing panuchos with black bean paste. I got to work chopping chaya a leafy kind of spinach that would be made into a drink and used to flavor tortillas. Kaaren was given a press to make tortillas. She had a good laugh about the first tortilla she made which was very small.

But eventually she got the hang of it. Bertha fried the tortillas and they puffed up and looked light and beautiful. Now the chaya I had chopped was added to more tortilla doughand Kaaren and Deb patted it into little round cakes and then…….. while Edgar and I were pulling apart the chicken which had been roasted in a red achiote paste Bertha finished frying up the three different kinds of tortillas we had made. Edgar demonstrated how to put together the salbutes and panuchos – first a lettuce leaf, then some pulled chicken baked in achiote paste, then a few slices of marinated cucumber, some tomato and finally a couple of slices of avocado.  We were quick learners and soon the plates looked like this. Salbutes in front, panuchos behind and to the right of the panuchos the chaya tortillas with tomato paste and up in the corner of the picture a nutty dip for tortilla chips made with tomato sauce and pumpkin seed powder. Edgar was pleased with how well we had done under his instruction. By the way throughout the experience we were drinking a delicious iced tea made from dried hibiscus flowers. Our meal started with some wonderful soup de lima and then……..we enjoyed all the other dishes!  Before we left Bertha had her grandson take a picture of us and asked us to write our names and some comments about our meal in her notebook which was full of anecdotes and accolades from folks from all over the world who had cooked at Bertha’s house. 

We were full and tired and ready to head home but we’d had a great Mexican cooking adventure we wouldn’t forget!

Other posts……….

An Interesting Field Trip

Tattoos or Sky Diving?

Desert Walk

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Mexico