Tag Archives: merida

A Chocolate Evening With Beatriz

Getting to know Beatriz the mainstay of a family business called Fela Chocolate was the highlight for me of a chocolate workshop we participated in one of our last days in Merida, Mexico. Beatriz is a highschool teacher, mother of three, grandmother of two and she runs chocolate making workshops for tourists. The business was the brainchild of her son who studies business and economics at a university in Idaho. Her son’s fiancée, Lisbeth, who is an elementary school teacher, helps her future mother-in-law by welcoming guests to the Fela Chocolate establishment, a business that has only been in operation for about six months. Lisbeth showed us pictures of Beatriz’s mother and grandmother. It was Beatriz’s grandmother Fela on the left in the photo who taught Beatriz how to make chocolate and the business is named in Grandmother Fela’s honor. Neither Lisbeth or Beatriz spoke much English but Elias arrived soon after we did and told us he was an engineering student at a Merida university and would be providing the English translation for our tour.

Dave and Rudy listening to Beatriz

You could tell Beatrice was an experienced teacher because she led an excellent, interesting and informative workshop complete with numerous relevant visuals, the opportunity to ask lots of questions, plenty of hands on involvement and a collection of interesting artifacts for us to explore. Here she is explaining that the cacao fruit grows on the trunks of trees not their branches. The colourful  fruit which is actually quite tasty is harvested for its seeds which are used to make chocolate.As Beatriz taught us about the cacao seeds we each had some spread out in front of us and were encouraged to experience them with our five senses. Beatriz gets her cacao seeds or beans from the Mexican state of Tabasco. Cacao is grown in the Yucatan but on farms owned by European business people. They ship the beans home to their own countries to make chocolate and don’t sell their cocao in Mexico. Beatriz talked to us about how important chocolate had been to the ancient Mayan inhabitants of the Yucatan. They made a drink from the cacao beans that they believed had many health benefits.  Beatriz told us the first step in the chocolate making process was roasting the beans.

Beatriz shows us the flat stone and other artifacts Mayan women would have used to prepare beans for chocolate.

Mayan women would have roasted the beans on a flat stone with a fire built underneath it.

Our friend Rudy stirs the roasting beans as another workshop participant Chris who hailed from Ohio looks on.  

We roasted our beans however in a small pan on a hot plate. Beatriz had us keep sniffing the air as the beans roasted. The smell of the roasting chocolate changes three times and when Beatriz gets the tell tale whiff of the third aroma she knows the beans are ready. Now it was time to husk the beans and remove the outer skin. This wasn’t as easy as it looked.  Beatriz asked us to save the husks because she uses them to make a delicious tea. She provided a sample for us to try.There are numerous ways to make the chocolate beans into a paste.  Our friend Rudy demonstrates how Mayan women would have done it long ago using a stone called a matate. Berniz also gave us each a mortor and pestle to use as an alternate method of crushing the cocao beans into a paste. She provided cinnamon, sugar, sea salt, pepper, almonds, peanuts, and chilis as things to add to our chocolate. Eventually Beatriz brought out an electric blender which made quick work of creating a paste out of all of our chocolate beans.

Now it was our turn to work the paste with our hands, adding sugar to taste. Beatriz told Dave not to worry about the chocolate on his hands. Chocolate is actually great for the skin and there are places in Merida that will give you a chocolate massage.Next we used moulds to make three or four little rounds of chocolate to take home. While we worked Beatriz served us hot chocolate and chocolate pastries. Later I bought a few chocolate samples made by Beatriz from the attractive display in the shop entrance.  I have friends and two daughters-in-law who love chocolate and I wanted to get some of Beatriz’s products for them. Since the official workshop was over Beatriz and I had time to chat through the interpreter about our teaching, our grandchildren, our children and some of our interests.  It was lovely to get to know this enthusiastic, warm woman who has all kinds of irons in the fire to try and make life better for her family. We parted with hugs. 

The workshop was great and I loved learning more about chocolate but the best thing about it was getting to know a grandmother in another country, who isn’t so very different than I am, and realizing how easy it can be to establish connections and cross-cultural understandings when we share our life experiences.  

Other posts………..

Giving Something Up For Lent

Chocogasm

Cooking Up a Storm in the Yucatan

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Dave Driedger Nature Photographer in Mexico

dave with cameraA few years ago Dave, who isn’t always very enthusiastic about taking photos suddenly took an interest in using my old Canon to capture nature shots.  He’s taken some lovely pictures and so on our vacations now I do a post with his photos.  Here is the Mexico 2019 version. iguana yucatan

red bird merida

lily pad mexico

turtle le ceiba

bright yellow bird mexico

berries mexico

iguana head

blue birdmerida

ceiba tree mexico

IMG_4963

a black bird in merida

bougenvalias mexico

flamingo mexico

 

kiskadee yucatan

Other posts………

Dave Driedger Nature Photographer in Costa Rica

Dave Driedger Butterfly Photographer

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Silent Prey

Women’s heads and shoulders are fastened to wooden plaques displayed the way a hunter might exhibit an animal they have killed. On my first visit to the Nahualli Art Gallery in Merida I saw some sculptures titled Trophy that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Each of the Trophy sculptures featured women with different kinds of horns. Their faces were eerily similar.  I was to find out later that artist Melva Medina used her daughter Aura Metzli as the model for each piece. Aura is a fashion designer and her jewelry inspired the items in the Trophy sculptures. The women’s  jewelry looked like it might be giving them pain.  In this piece one imagines the thorns from the roses jabbing into the woman’s skin and scarring it. As I looked at the trophy sculptures I thought about the message they sent.  Although the feminist movement has tried to change the way we view women they are still so often regarded as possessions, as trophies to be hunted like prey, captured and displayed by men.  Just think about the common phrase ‘trophy wife’ and the casual, crude way the current president of the United States joked on a recording, about the ease with which he could possess a woman’s body and take advantage of it. Think about his succession of ‘trophy wives’ each one younger than the last.  While researching the Trophy pieces online I discovered they had been part of a 2016 exhibit at the Museo de la Ciudad de Merida. The exhibit was called Silent Prey or in Spanish Presas del Silencio.  It included many of Melva’s sculptures as well as fashion and jewlery pieces by her daughter Aura Meztli. The Silent Prey exhibit was meant to draw attention to the ongoing physical and sexual abuse of women and young girls. There seemed to be little information about the exhibit online so one afternoon I asked my sister to return to the Nahualli Gallery with me so I could take some more photos.

Meeting Melva, Aura and Abel Vazquez on my first visit to the gallery

I hoped I might even have a chance to talk to Melva or Aura, both of whom we had met along with their husband and father Abel on our previous visit to the gallery. As luck would have it Melva was at the gallery and genuinely pleased about our interest in the Silent Prey exhibit.  Would my sister and I like to go over to her studio just a few blocks away and see the other pieces from the exhibit she had in storage there?  As we walked to her studio Melva told us that prior to creating the work for Silent Prey  she and her daughter Aura had spent eighteen months doing research by visiting and working at shelters and safe houses for abused women and children. When we entered Melva’s studio the first thing we noticed were these sculptures that certainly explained why the exhibit had been called Silent Prey.  My sister and I stood mesmerized and moved as we stared at a dozen naked female torsos with shaved heads bowed and eyes and mouths shut.  Their sorrow was palpable. The mantillas or prayer shawls on some of the women’s heads and the candles in front of them certainly implied the women were praying.  Did they pray for healing because they had been the prey of the men who abused them? Were they praying for the courage to tell their stories?  Later I saw some photos of the art installation when it had been on display at the Museo de la Ciudad de Merida.The women were arranged in a circle and all were draped in the mantillas traditionally worn by women to Catholic mass. The lighted candles in front of each sculpture flickered eerie shadows onto the women’s faces.  The religious connotations of the exhibit made me think of the centuries of abuse women and children have suffered at the hands of clergy, abuse that has been allowed to go unpunished and unrecognized in so many churches. 

Melva told us that all of the sculptures in the exhibit had been inspired by drawings her daughter had done. She then opened a portfolio of her daughter’s pieces and leafed through them one by one. The horrific story of the abuse of a young girl they detailed literally took our breath away.  I almost wished Melva would stop turning the pages in the portfolio as one terrifying and tragic image after another was revealed. In many of the pieces the girl’s lower body was a cage. In others it was clear to see that the perpetrator of the violence had seduced the girl and covered up his deathly evil intent with beautiful words.In this image he appears to have used music to trap her and leave her heart and body a tortured prisoner unable to escape. After looking at her daughter’s sketches it was clear their vision had been directly translated into Melva’s work. I couldn’t stop looking at the sculptures like this one where the girl’s heart is hanging, dangling and damaged inside the cage her body has become. She holds a skeleton’s head in her hand.  Is she contemplating death?  Look at the hair ornaments which are obviously instruments of torture and pain.  My sister and I were both moved to tears as we stood looking at Melva’s sculptures. My sister is a former nurse and I am a former high school teacher, and in those areas of work there is no escaping the fact that you will be witness to the stories of women and girls who have experienced violence and abuse. Later my sister and I would talk about how hearing stories of abuse and physical violence is difficult, but that seeing it in the visual way Melva and her daughter have portrayed it was in some ways even more disturbing.

Because the person telling the story is not right there you aren’t intent on helping them and listening to them.  The artwork has in some way more permanence than an oral story, and lets you focus and think and contemplate the horror of the womens’ experience. It transforms their stories into another medium that speaks to people in different ways and allows you to almost viscerally access the emotion the women feel.In this sculpture the young girl is literally split in two.  Melva said when it was exhibited a pendulum hung between the girl’s legs illustrating how she vaccilated about whether to choose death as a way to end the torture and escape her abuser. 

Melva told us after Silent Prey was intially exhibited she tried to look for other opportunities to display it but that has been difficult.  She believes people would still like to ignore the reality of physical and sexual abuse.  

While I was thinking about Silent Prey and preparing to write my newspaper column about it, Pope Francis was meeting in Rome with the heirarchy of the Catholic Church to discuss the issue of endemic abuse and violence against women and children by priests and clergy in his denomination. I kept wishing Silent Prey could have been on display at the Vatican during that meeting.  Artwork like Melva and Aura’s needs to have an important place amongst the masterpieces in the Vatican’s twenty billion dollar art collection as a visible sign the church is taking sexual abuse seriously.

There is a spiritual dimension to the work Melva and her daughter did to create Silent Prey. Melva believes the exhibit is the result of divine inspiration and guidance from God.  She feels she and her daughter are part of something bigger, a worldwide effort to protect the innocent.  Their stunning artwork inspires the viewer to support that cause in any way they can. 

Other posts………

King David Was A Rapist

Laughing at the Suffering of Others

Women Were Honored? Think Again John Kelly

 

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Second Cenote Swim

A cenote swim was included in the recent tour we took of a henequen plantation near Merida. I had already been swimming in an open cenote near a Mayan archeological site we had visited. This cenote was different.  We climbed down a long flight of stairs through a small opening on the surface and descended into a fairly deep cave. The cave was full of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. The water was warm and lovely and refreshing especially after a couple of hours touring in the hot sun. After enjoying our swim in the ancient cave my sister and I capped off our cenote experience with a couple of delicious margaritas.  

Price of day long tour including cenote swim- $60.  Price of margaritas- $2.50.  Great time with my sister- priceless!!

Other posts about our henequen plantation visit……….

Mule Train Adventure

Green Gold

Antonio

Hacienda Visit

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Visiting A Hacienda

 

henequen plant

Behind Dave you can see a field of henequen plants. These plants made the elite classes of the Yucatan very wealthy at the turn of the century.

We did a tour of a plantation that grew henequen, a plant from the cactus family used to make rope and twine.  The heyday for the henequen industry in the Yucatan was between 1880 and 1930 when henequen fibre was exported around the world to be turned into a sturdy twine that could be used to bind crops together into bundles or bales.

wealthy home merida

One of the restored homes of the wealthy plantation owners in the city of Merida

The thriving henequen industry made the elite class of the Yucatan incredibly rich.  Here in the Merida area where we are staying these wealthy people all had mansions in the city.  You can still see many of them because they have been restored. hacienda don peronHowever they also built beautiful homes or haciendas on their henequen plantations near Merida.

frog fountain hacienda

Frog fountain in the hacienda front yard

The plantation owner might come to the hacienda more regularly to attend to business but his family would join him on the weekends.

on the porch hacienda

Standing on the porch of the hacienda with our guide Juan

We toured one of these haciendas on a plantation that was called Sotutua de Peon. It was established by a man named Don Peón in the late 1800s near the village of Tecoh and was one of thirteen plantations owned by the Peón family.

tile design hacienda

This beautiful tile pattern adorned the lower half of the entire balcony.

The hacienda fell into a state of disrepair after the henequen industry crashed due to the invention of plastic twine.

kaaren and me hacienda

The large hacienda has been restored beautifully. My sister and I are posing to show how the rooms open one into the other no doubt to make it easy for a breeze to blow through the house and keep it cool. Look at the beautiful chandeliers . 

Some fifteen years ago the plantation was purchased by a German man Adolfo Lubke who restored many of the buildings, built others and turned the plantation into a hotel and tour destination for visitors to the Yucatan.

accounting tools hacienda don peron

My brother-in-law who is an accountant was interested in these old business machines in the room that served as the Don Peron’s office.

typewriter hacienda

As a writer I was interested in this old typewriter. Check out the ornate desk!

Our tour guide Juan didn’t spend nearly enough time in the hacienda or plantation house as I would have liked.

diningroom hacienda

The hacienda diningroom

I wanted to know more about the family that originally lived there as well as more about the period furniture, dishes and linens.

sitting room hacienda

There were at least four different sitting rooms in the house. See the woman in traditional Mexican dress on the wall? Note the simple wooden frame around the door and two other unique light fixtures in the adjoining rooms. Also see the pattern hand painted on the wall separating the two different colors.

endless sitting areas hacienda

In this sitting room look at the heavy wooden doors, and the beautiful floor tiles. 

Still is was quite something to see the luxury in which the family lived and I wondered if the haciendas on the other dozen plantations they owned were equally elegant.

hacienda bedroom

This bed didn’t look comfortable but see the lovely edging on the bedspread as well as the madonna in the case on the stand by the bed. There was a picture of Jesus over the bed looking down on the people sleeping as you can see in the next photo.  

sewing machine hacienda

This treadle sewing machine reminded me of one my grandmother had. Check out the tile pattern on the floor. 

studebaker hacienda

My sister and I had to take a picture by this antique Studebaker in the hacienda stable since our grandfather once owned a Studebaker.

We spent the day on the plantation and I will do future posts about the making of henequen twine, the Mayan employees/slaves who worked on the plantations, our rides from place to place on mule pulled wagons and the beautiful cenote on the site where we went swimming. 

Other posts…….

The Symphony Mexican Style

To Market To Market

Cooking Up a Storm in the Yucatan

 

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To Market To Market

On Wednesday I went on a food adventure with my sister Kaaren and our friend Deb.  The first part of our experience took place in the Lucas de Gálvez’ market in central Merida where we went to purchase all the vegetables and other supplies for cooking our meal.  Before we even entered the market we stopped to get some chaya from a vendor.  Chaya comes from a shrub native to the Yucatan. It is sometimes also called tree spinach. Edgar our affable and informative guide for the day told us that chaya can be toxic if it isn’t prepared properly but cooked the right way it can actually provide you with lots of valuable vitamins and minerals.  We would use it to make tortillas and a delicious juice for our meal.  We entered  the  Lucas de Gálvez’ market. It was a huge space bustling with people. The corridors between the stands were narrow and we had to be sure not to stand in the way of the traffic flow. I think we might have gotten lost in the market without Edgar there to guide us.  You could buy live chickens and rabbits in the market but Edgar said we didn’t need to purchase any because his Aunt Bertha, who would be helping us cook, had gone to the market this morning to get the chicken for our meal. Our first stop was at this little shop where we tasteddifferent kinds of jams made with jalapeno peppers and tried coconut and licorice liquors. Edgar suggested we buy some to have after our meal.Edgar showed us achiote seeds. Achiote is a peppery spice that comes from the seeds of an evergreen shrub. The achiote seeds had been used to make this red paste.  Edgar bought a bag. While Deb was checking out the bags of red achiote paste Edgar told us we would be coating our chicken with it before we cooked it. Edgar said it was time for a snack to fortify ourselves for the rest of our shopping trip.  He ordered pork buns with onions for us.  I especially liked the huge radish that accompanied my sandwich.  Edgar told us to squeeze lime juice on it before we ate it to bring out its flavour. Edgar got cups of ice-cold lime juice to go with the pork buns. We were glad of the refreshment because it was a very hot day. Then we were back in the trenches to visit one stand after another to collect our cooking ingredients.  We bought tomatoes from this friendly woman. This vendor let us taste some ground pumpkin seed before we bought it.  Mixed together with a tomato sauce the ground pumpkin seed would make a delicious nutty dip for tortilla chips. We bought dough for making our own tortillas at this stand where we watched a machine in action that can crank out thousands of tortillas every hour. We picked up lettuce and cilantro. Edgar added a variety of hot peppers including ones called red devils to our growing inventory of purchased ingredients. He put a couple of these interesting cucumbers into his shopping bag and a half-dozen of these slightly sour oranges.  These avocados looked different from the kind we buy in the grocery store. We were squeezing them to see which ones were ripe enough till my sister saw the sign “If don’t buy-don’t touch.” Edgar showed us how by just looking at the end of the avocado you can tell if it is ripe and ready to eat. Now we were ready to leave the market.  It had been quite a shopping adventure.  Two things I noticed during our time in the  Lucas de Gálvez’ market was that every single vendor had a religious shrine of some kind in their stand and……I marveled at the pure artistry of the vendors who arranged their produce in such creative ways. The various colors of the vegetables and the way they were artfully organized was a feast for the eye. Look how these carrots have been carefully arranged!

As we left the market Edgar hailed this small ancient taxi. Squished together in the cramped hot back seat the three of us bumped along on the twenty-five minute ride to Aunt Bertha’s where the cooking part of our adventure took place.  You will have to check the blog tomorrow to learn all about that!

Other posts……….

Beauty in Ordinary Things

India Assaults the Senses

Acquiring a Taste For Jamaican Food

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Loving Uber!

We get around everywhere by Uber here in Mexico.  The rates are so cheap and there are so many drivers available that downloading Uber apps on our phones and using them for our transportation needs is a far more economical and practical choice than renting a car. Some drivers don’t speak English but others do and we have learned plenty of interesting things from them. 

Many have left jobs related to their university degrees- business, technology, innovation, architecture, engineering to drive Uber because they can make a better living here in Mexico as a driver than as a professional. 

Two of our drivers were Americans who had roots in Mexico, had come here for visits, fallen in love with Mexican women and had children.  Since getting American immigration papers for their families is almost impossible they must remain here. 

Some people drive Uber because it gives them an opportunity to have two jobs or it gives them the flexibilty to spend more time with their kids during the day. One of our drivers was a farmer and he and Dave discussed their family farms during our trip.  

One driver who didn’t speak English asked Dave in a questioning way “música?” When Dave said ‘The Beatles” the driver understood him immediately and played one Beatles hit after the other on his car sound system during our ride. 

We have only had one female driver.  She didn’t understand English but Dave and Rudy managed to convey that they wanted to stop on our ride to pick up some items from the grocery store.  While the fellows went into the store I showed her pictures of my grandsons on my phone and she showed me photos of her family and with gestures and the few words we knew of each other’s languages I learned she had five brothers and two sisters,seven nieces and nephews and that her grandmother had died last year. We even figured out that her nephew and my grandson shared the same name. 

A couple of our drivers have moved here from Mexico City  because there is so much less crime and extortion and corruption here in the Yucatan.  They gave us lots of interesting reasons why that is the case.

I especially love Uber trips I make on my own.  My last two I was lucky enough to get drivers who both spoke a fair bit of English and we had fascinating half hour conversations on our ride home from Merida. Uber is fast and convenient but the bonus for me is that I am meeting lots of interesting people and am learning so much about Merida and the Yucatan from our local drivers.  

Other posts………..

Friend For A Moment

We Placed Our Lives in his Hands

Dave the Professional Driver

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