Another riff on ‘Don’t look up’, but in this case, ‘Do look up’. For high on some street corners you’ll often see a red and white plaster plaque with a whimsical image. Animals, people, household Items, unique events or legends that relate to that very place.
When the Spanish colonised Mérida they laid the city out on a numbered grid, but because of the high illiteracy rate, the city government attempted to simplify things by giving street corners their own unique identifier, hanging painted wooden signs of familiar things so that locals could find an address and locate shops and services. So instead of meeting at say Calle 53 between 62 and 64, you’d plan to meet at “El Gallito” (The Rooster) or “Los Tres Alacranes” (The 3 Scorpions) and everyone, including the illiterate, would know where to go.
One sign near our casa reads “La Tucha” or “Tucho”, deriving from the Mayan word “xtuch” which is the word for monkey. But it can also mean ghost, sometimes used to scare young children: “Be good or else the tucho will come”. It can also be a derogatory term for a person. Legend has it that in the house of the Tucha there once lived a Cuban singer who had a bad reputation amongst local women for being ‘too attractive’ to men folk.
On another corner near us is a sign that reads “El Dzalbay,” which in the Mayan language refers to a herbaceous plant called a ‘Piñuelilla’ in Spanish, but you’d hardly notice it, being high up on the wall opposite the far more noticeable Dzalbay Cantina, a live music Jazz & Blues club.
Now that I know these signs are there, I’ll be hunting some of the more obscure ones down on my morning walks. I’m intrigued by “Dos Camellos” (Two Camels) – the corner getting its name from two Arab merchants who carried out illegal activities on camelback. Or “El Degollado” (Cut Throat) about a broken-hearted barber who took his own life after his lover left him for the governor.
On my walk this morning I discovered these ones:
“El Gallito” (The Rooster)
“Los Tres Alacranes” (The 3 Scorpions)
“El Ramon Grande” (Big Ramon)
“San Juan Dulua” (Saint John Dulua ?)
“El Foco Electrico” (The Electric Focus)
“El Toro Agachado” (The Crouching Bull)
“La Mascota” (The Pet)
“Las Grullas” (The Cranes)
“Los Asoldados” (The Soldiers)
“La Jardinera” (The Gardener)