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A Peek Behind Merida’s Shutters

sunny 33 °C

At first glance most of the city streets of Merida appear to be a Mexican version of the Victorian terraces of working-class England; meager two up/two down houses with a communal bathroom at the end of the street and an open sewer running down the middle. There are no open sewers, (or public bathhouses), in Merida today, but there are blocks after blocks of innocuous, even ugly, concrete terraces jammed tight to the narrow sidewalks. Every street the same; thousands of seemingly identical single-story houses crammed shoulder to shoulder without an inch of space for trees, lawns or flowers. Cement grey and whitewash are the predominate colours although the drabness is occasionally broken by a sun-faded pastel, a brightly hued door, or a touch of inartistic graffiti…
Unlike its distant neighbor, Izamal, Merida has never been tarted up to welcome a regal visitor, but some of the householders have broken ranks and put on a bit of a show…
However, we had heard tales of magnificent Spanish villas; of opulent mansions oozing with colonial features and simply bursting with objets d’art and antiques from the old world. But we roamed the city’s narrow streets in vain as we looked for stately homes. We imagined lofty houses, shaded by flame trees and banyans, sitting majestically behind massive wrought iron gates. Merida was built by Spaniards, (albeit on the ruins of a Mayan city), so we expected to find wonderful and whimsical architectural treasures like those that line the great boulevards of Madrid and Barcelona. Where could all these magnificent houses be? In desperation we enquired at the English Library where for a donation and some of James’ novels we were taken on a city tour and found an incredible hidden world. Behind the simple stark facades of the city’s streets are expansive houses complete with swimming pools in tropical courtyards …
…huge bedrooms…
…fabulous bathrooms…
…massive, high-ceilinged, reception rooms
And even a replica of a traditional Mexican street scene complete with a fountain and artistically arranged litter…
It was significant that all three houses we viewed had been restored by American owners and it was evident as we looked across the city from the rooftop patios of these grand houses that not all of the buildings have been so well taken care of. Rusty corrugated iron, spalled concrete and rampant vegetation is still the norm, but as we again walked the stark streets we saw them in a different light. Never judge a book by its cover for, as Shakespeare wrote, So may the outward shows be least themselves; The world is still deceived by ornament.

Posted by Hawkson 10:32 Archived in Mexico

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Those places are beautiful. they remind me of Socoro in Colombia where Laura and Kelly are now living. the Houses are right up to the street and have beautiful gardens inside the walls with an opening in the roof. Kelly has painting their place yellow. Jean

by Jean

My understanding when my mother moved to San Miguel many eons ago was that the street frontage was kept deliberately shabby so mitigate against high taxes. That could possibly still be true.

by Abigail Gossage

We noticed this when we were in Guanajuato years ago. The entrance to the world famous Don Quixote museum there was a narrow door into the most nondescript old building. Without the locals directing us I don't think we would have ever found it.

by R and B

As someone who lives in Merida, I will tell you that a crumbling and fading facade here is probably only evidence of a year or two of not painting. Thing fall apart quickly here. There are often beautiful houses behind ugly facades... not only a way of avoiding taxes, but unwanted burglars as well.

by Ellen Fields

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