The bus dumps me in Merida, Mexico
by Rick Beaty
with my expensive back pack and burnt white skin.
Sweating against heat you can see and touch
A taxi hails me down.
I say with my bad grammar and eloquent pronunciation
to the driver “take me to La Casa de Huespedes Penicci.”
We funnel through the noisy lanky streets,
against the Mexican radio blaring,
in a loud Volkswagen screaming.
Along streets deep with people,
hot with a thick old car exhaust air
I see through the taxi window how far away home is.
We pull up to a gorgeous Spanish
200 year old courtyard and rocking chair hotel,
forgotten for the past hundred.
Tall colonial columns tether the courtyard
The verandah spilling out an overgrowth of green
the courtyard stark empty and blind with sun.
I exchange misunderstood words
with the desk in the corner of the courtyard
pay my rent and get shown my room.
The doors to the room twelve feet high,
glass swinging doors creaking and in despair,
the ceilings even higher, paint peeling and stained.
A cockroach scurries across the floor under the bed naked of sheets.
I get settled under enormous ceilings and cobwebbed antiques
and pad lock my doors to explore the city note pad and pen.
Its sunny and hot coming on midday
and I walk through the heat straight towards the “Zocalo”
The center of the city.
The meeting place for local discussions and socializing,
the coolest place in the city romanced by shade.
I find a bench sit down
and watch the busyness and beauty around me unravel.
I read my travel books
watch street vendors young Mexican women
and think of poetry and paintings,
vendors calling at me “Amigo, buen precio, buen precio”.
I go to the Palacio Municipal
across the street from the Zocalo
where huge murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco hang.
The history of the Mayan people in 27 enormous paintings.
I shuffle through the huge marble museum slowly hands behind my back
along with local Sunday families strolling.
I take pictures.
Paintings bigger than I can see all at once.
I take another picture face to my camera
and a man approaches me and in English says hello.
He couldn’t of been a day under fifty,
with his silver hair that hung from his forehead.
He looked at me through his huge fake tortoise-shell glasses,
thick lensed that had the dirt and grime of years around the edges.
His skin sagged and hung off his face like a sad old dog.
I look at him there for a moment
standing in front of me five foot five
and finally I say “hola, como estas? ”.
“Where are you from” he asks in English
and my bad grammar tries to explain
looking at his teeth half rotten and his stained white shirt.
“No, talk to me in English, I am a professor of English here in Merida” he says.
“Its not often I get the chance to speak English, I love your language”.
We speak of the museums I should see while staying in Merida.
I ask him about the huge open market I was told to visit
and about where to eat and drink.
“Don’t go there, El Marcado is way too expensive this time of year.”
“One thing you should do, ” he says
“is buy a hamaca while here in Merida.”
“They are the cheapest in the Yucatan.”
“As a matter of fact I have a friend who owns
a hamaca shop not far from here,
I could get you a good deal” he says.
that’s something I was thinking about buying here anyway” I say,
brushing it off,
taking the conversation elsewhere.
“Let me show you where it is my friend, we can walk”, he says
lifting his arm as if to follow him.
Together we walk out the Palacio Municipal
past the armed guards and little Mayan girls selling chicle,
in great conversation about English and Yucatec poets.
He wore old leather sandals, gray socks with holes in them.
A white Guayabera shirt untucked creased and buttoned
with brown trousers, brown stains.
His walk was stiff and from side to side.
Like a penguin he hobbled down the street,
pointing out the historical buildings, telling me their story,
explaining the quality of hand made hamacas
from above his huge belly.
We walk through the Zocalo,
across streets, through thick car exhaust.
I ask him “how much further is this place? ”
three blocks into the walk.
“Just up here.” he replies.
“How much are these hammacas anyway? ” I say,
not really even wanting to but one.
“You have to haggle” he says as we cross the street.
“haggling is a great tradition, you never pay the real price, you haggle.”
“Cause, I don’t have money on me right now” haphazardly I tell him.
He looks at me with an irregular face.
“Okay, I’ll make you a proposition” he says.
“Well go to my friends place,
I’ll pay for the hamaca,
then we go back to your hotel
and you could pay me back the money there.”
“Gracias Senor, but I really didn’t want to spend the money today,
but if you could show me where it is I can certainly come back.”
He looks at me with a strange eye.
Confused and almost angry he stops.
With a huff and a frustrated look
starts walking back towards the Zocalo.
“Are you upset with me” I ask, following him,
”because I didn’t want to buy a hamaca today? ”
“I am Mexican” he says in an angry tone, “we do not act that way! ”,
as he steps into the street to pass people on the skinny side walks.
“I offer to you....” he shakes his head not finishing his sentence.
Not knowing what next to say
I ask him where the open market is.
“Somewhere over there.” He points towards nowhere.
“Listen I’m sorry if I offended you, but I am on a budget
and was planning on doing no shopping at all today anyway,
that’s why I left my money at home.” I lie on.
He turns to me looks me strait in the eye
with his two inch thick stare
shakes my hand and says ”It was nice to have met you.”
and storms off fast as a penguin.
I stand there shoulders sunk.
Before what happened sinks in,
I’m funneled into the market streets by the passing crowd
looking around, bewildered, overwhelmed
I think to myself -
I’ve come to this man’s country and he offers his help
he has been the friendliest person here in Merida
the first and only person I’ve talked to since I’ve been here,
and I piss him off, in his country,
I’m the foreigner,
I have no idea if I have in anyway disrespected this man,
if I should feel at all indifferent.
I cant believe it
I am the only white face in this crowd of hundreds going about their day.
I hate these street vendors shouting at me to buy.
I have this money belt strapped around my chest
that could be a years pay for half these people around me
buying baskets and pastries, something’s wrong.
I feel alone, feel uneasy.
“Amigo! ”, someone screams at me
and I get sucked in to this tiny shop full of blankets sombreros and onyx carved pipes
“you like that/How much you pay? the store owner asks me repeatedly.
Before you know it I get smooth talked
into paying way too much for a Mexican blanket.
I walk out the tiny shop into the thick streets,
the vendor behind me holding up his pesos like winnings to show his friends,
and my new blanket in a bag by my side.
All I could think about is somewhere else and somewhere quiet.
constantly wiping my forehead
so I head back to my hotel in the shuffle of Merida foot traffic.
Through the sounds of busses horns honking and shouting vendors.
I walk and I see him again
on the corner, Senor from the Palacio Municipal.
I stand there with my shopping bag in hand
and he gives me a filthy look and keeps on walking.
Ugh, how horrible I feel, dizzy choking on hot Merida smog.
I go back to the hotel and collapse on the bed.
Finally safe finally quiet and cool.
An hour or two passes.
I study the ceiling from the bed,
its cracking peeling paint reminds me of the interior of this city.
Complete silence finds me there.
My stomach growling finally forces me to venture back out side.
My first thought is food.
I walk through the sun now weak with four o’clock.
I look for a restaurant, at every turn looking over my shoulder.
I find the shade under the singing birds of Parque Hidalgo.
I sit there at a plastic cafe table
drinking Dos Equis, writing poems, observing the beauty of the city and its small marvels.
Beside me a French couple on vacation hear the entire pitch of a struggling vendor.
He goes through every hamaca he has slung over his back,
fanning them out showing them how big and long each are,
and they still don’t buy.
“You work hard” I tell the vendor
after the French couple leaves,
while he ties back up his hamacas.
“If I didn’t, I’d die” he says in Spanish.
I sip on my Dos Equis
scribbling in my notebook
amazed at this world I’m in.
The waiter brings me another cerveza, pours it and I thank him.
I look back to talk with the vendor and Senor is standing there
eating peanuts, talking to the vendor.
“Hola” I say.
He flicks his peanut shells at me and grunts as he leans against an arrogant face.
-This guy is crazy- I think to myself
I flag the waiter down get my check and leave.
My walk gets fast and frustrated as he watches me walk away.
I don’t know what to do, where to go
I cut through parking lots and schools
find a small park to relax in under bird song and shade.
Away from mad Mexican men with too much time.
I finally settle swing a glance around
and I see him again walking my way.
-I don’t think he saw me- I think to myself, running around the Merida noise.
I manage to walk close to the edge of town.
running away from Senor going as crazy as he is.
Cussing in Spanish to myself, avoiding him.
I find another museum and hide.
Hours later after Merida has turned dark tired of fidgety eyes,
I see him yet again by the Zocalo standing like an old arms-crossed oak.
I m about to pull out my hair.
I march through the dusty streets of dilapidated Merida my heart loud like traffic.
I don’t want to go to the hotel, too lonely there with its squeaky bed and peeling paint.
I don’t want to wander the streets,
Merida’s darkness is cold.
I see this restaurant on the second floor
with red balcony tables that overlook the park spilling out golden light.
I wind up the marble stair case
and the waiters hide me in this quiet dark dead restaurant
at a balcony table overlooking the park.
Finally quiet finds me again watching over everything,
at my red table, hating Merida, trying to forget this town, head in my hands.
I order some tequila, something to make Merida’s visit easier.
I pull out my travel books and look for another town somewhere far away.
Something nothing like Merida.
“Solito? ” the waiter shouts over to me standing next to this tall German woman.
He shuffles her over to my table as if he knew something was wrong,
and walks away, leaving her there in front of me.
She has skin white like sunlight
eyes of Caribbean color, jaguar confident.
And with her tight dirty gold curls she sits down.
Surprised, I didn’t know what to say.
She smiles and stretches out lips long like white infinite sands huge gorgeous lips.
“Como estas? Tu viajas solito? ”
she says in her broken Spanish asking me where I’m from, am I traveling alone,
with her horrible pronunciation but perfect grammar.
-ah, someone to talk to, that isn’t crazy- I think to myself.
“Como te llamas” I ask her.
“Renata” she says..
And over and over in my head Renata Renata Renata.
We order food and eat together, talk about traveling, guacamole, Mexico, and home.
She’s from some unpronounceable town in Germany
slinging her hammock wherever she can,
traveling from Mexico City down through Chiapas up to the flat of the Yucatan.
Three months just her and her backpack,
sweating through the jungles, Palenque, San Cristobal, Zipolite, Oaxaca.
“Zipolite, ” she explains, “is the most beautiful place in all of Mexico.”
“The people.....? , ugh Zipolite.”
She was totally enchanted by Zipolite,
which she says over and over to herself under a baby’s breath;
Zipolite, Zipolite, see-po-leeee-tey,
as if she could somehow summon up Zipolite to show to me.
We talk forever between glance and unraveling glance,
dipping our eyes in each other under the hot salsa of stars.
“I’m leaving tomorrow” she says.
“Well then we have to celebrate“ I insist.
Senor gone from my mind and Merida at night lights its tall catholic candles.
Burning for hours we walk out into the tourist streets of streetlight vendors and local lovers.
Merida again finally seems beautiful.
Everything hidden in the moonlight.
The streets are golden, people walking around in their light blue and yellow Sunday dresses.
Holding hands, passing kisses like loud secrets.
She’s wearing these pants too short for her own long legs.
Unshaven, unbathed with the deep scent of a traveling woman.
I want to sink into her kiss, the thought drives me mad at the back of my throat.
We explore the wet Merida night
shoveling the moonlight into each others eyes.
She gives me the formal tour of the Pacheco paintings,
that I was unable to finish seeing earlier when I met Senor.
She explains each painting with a sense of wonder.
Very sexy unshaven with her own unique smell.
The whole while thinking of ways to sneak a picture of her
as she spoke the history of the Mayan people
under her broken German-English voice.
We catch ourselves staring at each other again and again
and decide we need cafe’ and tequila.
A reason to sit and look at each other.
We find a checkered table clothed wanna-be Italian restaurant,
the patio smothered with live Mariachi music facing the parque,
request a song and a drink,
and fall back into the trampoline of our eyes.
We talk for hours,
buy candies from five year old vendors,
speak Spanish to one another,
secretly rearranging the stars,
and the night, infant old, begins to....
Wake up its time to go home! ! ! !
“I’ll walk you back, its kind of late” I offer,
and we stroll hands behind our back watching one another
dragging our feet not to end the night
we walk the dark deserted streets
and “Hola, que pasa? ! ”
the man at the front desk shouts as we walk through her hotel to her room.
We get into her small hotel room, fresh with the smell of bad plumbing and incense.
We sit there together discussing Spanish in broken Spanish on her squeaky bed.
A tall candle burns Mother Mary’s face on the window sill.
”You always say, que onda, to me, what does that mean? ” I say to her.
She shows me in the dictionary as leans over with her smile “onda”;
-how wonderful-what ripples-what waves-
I look at her neck her lips “ugh, que onda” I say as she leans over.
I feel like a child again marble-mouthed, don’t know what to say.
Her Caribbean eyes bright like midday.
I want to attack her kiss her stay all night.
But I don’t get the right vibe,
I don’t get a bad one,
but I don’t get the right one.
Reluctantly I say “I, ah, better get going, we’ve got buses to catch in the morning, ”
Hoping she might stop me.
We end up saying our good-byes.
Like we’ll see each other again we quickly hug
and I plunge back into the silent streets damp with a nights mist.
-Renata, Renata, over and over in my head Renata-
-Ill never see her again, never get a chance to touch those lips.
I look up a couple streets ahead,
the flickering street light spreads out across the empty wet street.
It starts to sprinkle and through my head goes Renata.
Walking back to my hotel -what the hell am I going to do? -
I don’t want to stay here in Merida, people are crazy-
the best part about this town is leaving tomorrow morning.
Thank god I met Renata I would hate Merida.
-you’re never going to see her again, I think to myself
and my heart sinks and starts to swing its arms.
The moonlight spills out its loneliness further on down the street.
And there I truly feel Merida’s darkness.
I turn around and march back to her hotel.
Rolling the hamster mill of what to say round and round in my head.
Past the dark storefronts and the sleeping dogs I race heart head and feet.
Each block seems twice as long, my heart locomotive pounding.
I walk past the guy at the desk, past his Spanish late night TV and little smirk.
I knock on her door and stand there under the buzzing bug light zapping.
It seems like an eternity passes in front of her big blue door.
I hear the neighbor come and go.
I knock again, my hair dripping with rain,
my thoughts racing as fast as my heart and she opens the door.
I fumble over everything romantic, spill out everything wrong.
blah blah blahing shivering.
“You saved me out there” I say to her,
and she leans over, our eyes blur,
we start kissing crazy,
her hands through my hair.
and after a few minutes, there, wrapped in each other,
“you saved me too, I was so lonely” she says her hands through my hair.
We kiss again.
Finally those big lips, “ugh, que onda”.
“I have a plane to catch tomorrow, its four o’clock”.
She kisses me again.
“I just had to come back” I say,
“I’d better go then”.
We hug, say good-bye
and I plunge back into the streets.
Head home to my high cracked ceilings and pad locked quiet.
The rain finished with itself.
Exhausted, I go around scooping up the street and moonlight
that’s spilled out on the rainy streets of Merida.