Friday, February 25, 2011
The White City
Heat drifts over the low scrub of the peninsula, wrapping itself around the whitewashed corners of the buildings that rise at the edge of the city. Merida, the white city of Yucatan, once pulled tremendous wealth from plantations scratched out of that hot, hardscrabble limestone landscape. If the land was harsh, life was harsher: to cultivate acres of rough sisal agave plants whose long fibers could be spun into a strong twine the planters kept legions of Mayan peons in quasi-slavery on haciendas across the region. That twine, prized by international markets for use in mechanized harvesters, brought riches to Merida and its proudly aristocratic planter class. Today, the flowery facades of the mansions are fading reminders of former opulence and the city has grown, a low sprawl creeping outward against the dense vegetation on the edges.
In the afternoon the tropical sun bears down on the wrinkled skin of the city, a socialite unwilling to relinquish her former fame. Sunburnt paint peels from sunburnt buildings. By 3 PM, the anesthetizing heat has dosed residents who lounge on shaded benches or under the awnings of cafes, waiting for the respite of evening's coolness. Under the dirty orange glow of streetlights, the city will reawaken, life flooding back to her streets. In that dim twilight, a guitar plinking distantly, Merida slips back into her ballgown and heads out for the night.