It seems the New York Times has always promoted Yucatán, but this travel piece from 1970 just now caught my eye. It reveals not only how much Mérida has changed in my own lifetime, but how society (or at least male newspaper writers) saw and described things. The reporter’s tone and occasional word choices are as striking as the city he witnessed, seemingly frozen in time for a hundred years.
The story starts out innocuously enough. Flying in, writer Jack McDonald sees “countless thousands” of windmills everywhere. He was able to get an incoming flight during daylight hours, and see the Centro from above. That must have been quite a sight. I don’t see so many these days. There are easier ways to draw water now.
Also everywhere are buggies pulled by a special Yucatecan breed of horse, as opposed to the burro you might see elsewhere in the country. McDonald writes:
“These buggies are not window dressing for tourists. They are a vital means of transportation, and cheaper than taxis if the drivers are firmly bargained with.”
“In and around the main square, one hears as much Mayan as Spanish. The language has a quick, choppy rhythm and an oriental cadence. It is less musical than Spanish.”
“Talk in the square is gay and animated. Native maids hurry past on their way home from the market, huge baskets balanced on their heads. Most of them wear a huipile (pronounced eepeel), a gaily embroidered sacklike dress of white cotton.”
“The huipile does not enhance the female figure; instead it gives the effect of a maternity dress. A visitor in the plaza gets the feeling he is surrounded by hundreds of pregnant women, as indeed he may be.
“Mayans are an exceptionally clean race. The Mayan wife has a bath ready for her man every night. Under Yucatecan law, her failure to do so gives her husband the right to punish her.”
“A specialty is the ‘matrimonial hammock,’ a spacious thing wide enough for four wives to sleep in.”
The writer also seemed pleased with the number of hotels and the “varied” nightlife, which surprises me a little. But that’s before more hedonistic, modern Cancun came along and altered the tourist landscape not long after this article was written.
But his talk about and fertile “native maids” and wives squeezed into a hammock, and condescending talk about a “clean race” … wow. Right out of “Mad Men.” I’m grateful for the more sophisticated and eloquent travel writers and editors of today, who are earnest and respectful of both the “natives” and the readers.