If you’re tired of mawkish depictions of a quaint and charming Mérida, it will be refreshing to know that today, a new article paints the city as a homely, pissant backwater whose faded beauty has been salvaged by a “clutch of creative insiders.”
Here’s how the T Magazine piece starts out: “On arriving in the sleepy Mexican town of Mérida…” It didn’t take long to detect trouble. Now, I’ve always thought of Mérida as a fairly bustling city, where people party all the time. Then again, I guess these things are relative. But it’s definitely not a “town.” Es una ciudad. Then come the backhanded compliments, bordering on snark. “…the handful of modest-looking restaurants in town can certainly serve up a decent bowl of lime and tortilla soup.” I’ll let another person address that one later in this post. She continues: “… there’s not much to shake a stick at here in this remote corner of the Yucatán.” This is when I get the impression that the writer spent no more than a long weekend here, confined to haciendas outside of town. (Where the nightlife is certainly “sleepy.”) One photo of the Centro is captioned: “The town’s historic district remains quiet even at nightfall.” I guess I can cancel that order of double-paned glass. It’s never noisy in the Centro!
The reporter also gives herself away by saying you might “unload some pesos” by buying an “embroidered blouse.” Oh, is that what they’re selling in those shops? Embroidered blouses? No fewer than two former fashion models are quoted in the article, so I’m sure the writer has a keener eye about these things than I do.
It helps to know that it was written by a former creative director at Domino (a shuttered Conde Nast shopping magazine). Her husband, an interiors and fashion photographer, took pix. She writes without irony of a “supernaturally good-looking group of artists and actors lunching poolside” and of one expat being “the town’s social conduit, and if he likes you, he might bring you to a late-night Mayan soiree. At the very least, he’ll let you know where there’s a Mescal tasting.”
I don’t recognize the city in this article, and judging from some of the howls emanating today from the Internet, lots of expats don’t recognize this Mérida, either. “Go away, New York Times, and don’t come back,” a friend wrote on Facebook. David Sterling left a diplomatic but pointed critique on the Times’ website, where he was the first to comment:
“While this piece gives an image of a sort of ‘desperately hip’ scene lurking somewhere behind a truly boring facade – the reality of living in Mérida is actually quite different,” writes Sterling, proprietor of the Los Dos cooking school. He goes on to cite the city’s high points before concluding: “No, this is not New York or Paris where fabulous art, fashion and food can be found on any corner. And, yes, you do have to know where to look. But Mérida has abundant cultural riches – riches far more spectacular and accessible to the public than those that might be found in the hermetic mansions of the ‘glitterati’ described in this article.”