Sunday, January 2, 2011

if you have to eat on isla mujeres...

If you have to eat on Isla Mujeres…
Where have all the editors gone? Not to the MLA although that is where I usually am at this time of year to be on Chat with an Editor and various CELJ panels (Council of Editors of Learned Journals). This  year I am  back on Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun  instead, since they changed the time of the conference, and also because it was time to organize my daughter’s diezyochoiera.
Ours was a hybrid tradition, since we were not even here for her 15th, and she wanted to be in Mexico on the island where she was born for her liberation, or the year of becoming  no longer a minor. I had promised the Mayan midwife who had worked with me at my daughter’s birth to do an oral history, as a continuation of my dissertation fieldwork (see Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities) so in addition to laboring away over 11.1 in internet cafes, putting in to WisCon for our awards celebration party, here I am attempting to also engage in some field work.
First thing you notice when you come back to Isla after two and a half years is that the island has become a Tower of Babel. Coming in on the ferry you see high rises, and walking down the streets of down town, you really begin to wonder, are you even in Mexico? Israeli restaurants, Italian cafes, Asian and Thai restaurants, Argentinian  steakhouses, a French Bistro…even a Chabad House with a Chanukah menorah street lighting party.  Many of the old places are gone, both restaurants and hotels, replaced by establishments catering to the higher priced tourist. No longer a romantic place where you come lose yourself and discover who you are again, but a place where you come and stay on target with your cell phones and your wifid directories where you look up on the internet where to eat and where to go. In the internet cafes, you can overhear people skyping with their stockbrokers, or even walking down the streets past the market as they buy and cell stock via cellphone. The island has become a destination place for travelers from Australia, Norway, Japan. The old-timers struggle to connect behind the scenes at expat fundraising parties for one charity event after another—HIV AIDS prevention, the English school.
But if you have to eat, the best place to do it is a little hole in the wall across the street from the hospital called Pita Amore. Ricky the owner is from Merida and brings the pita in direct from the old Lebanese baker who doesn’t even speak English. Ricky, who studied cooking in NYC, says there have been 20% Lebanese in Merida since WWII. He serves up four kinds of sandwiches in the pitas, each for under 40 pesos which is remarkable on an island where breakfast now costs seven bucks. What has happened here seems to have been the impact of NAFTA that broke down protectionism and let foreigners have businesses, so the little family establishments with murals on their walls and open hearts have been driven out. But also, as in Bali when the terrorist explosion of the nightclub drove tourism down, those who were there had to pay and pay. The old licuado shop for years on the side of the centro is closed, but we have three high priced Italian helado shops. Perla de Caribe on the Sea Wall is shut down, but a new high rise hotel towers over and eclipses the cemetery. And those who want to stay open charge even eighty pesos for French toast…since tourism is thin, the prices go up for those that still come or remain. Why is tourism thin? Well first of all, the Mexican president told everyone not to come when the Swine Flu was happening. Then there are all those travel advisories against the killings and deaths and shootouts in Cancun. Little things like that. And the cost of the ferry is now 70 pesos each way,what with the second line opening, each line had to raise the price to stay afloat.Ricky reports the prices doubled overnight in one day, from 35 to 70 on July 25, 2009, really hitting folks without local residence cards.  All the fish in the vicinity have been plucked and the cost of gas to go far enough out to get fresh fish has gone up so high that even in Las Lomitas the economical fishing restaurant, you get charged 100 pesos for fresh fish. One of the major fishing cooperative closed, leaving only four. The cooperatives' store went out of business.  If you want to find fish to cook yourself, better have personal contacts. Or a lot of time to search out fish on the beach.
Need I go on? But Ricky’s offers a counter to all this. His place is small but he caters to the budget traveler who comes in and orders a take out to take back to Pocna, the hostel for international travelers, that now costs ten dollars a night (up from four). And to the local regulars like George who tried to open a bar next door that didn’t work who comes in almost every night with his dog, Sadie. And if you need to do some internet, Ricky will even let you use his computer.  His attitude is he is nothing without you, and he makes you feel loved. Customers can sign his wall, like a graffiti project. The chipotle and cream sauce on the pita either with meat or with chicken or purely vegetarian (the latter is what drew me there when trying to find a restaurant for my daughter’s party) is very hot and spicy. But good. And the attitude is good, and the heart.
So if you have to eat, it’s a start. .

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