Once again, the Merida English Library’s Annual Big Chili Cookoff was a big success!
The Merida English Library is the best source we expatriates have for English-language books. Because, though there are bookstores here, there are no books in English other than at the library. Sure, there’s Amazon, but the shipping charges are practically prohibitive. So the library is it.
The building, which is located in a good central location downtown, was donated years ago by a former resident. It is run by a group of civic-minded folks who volunteer their time to be on the board, and one underpaid (we’re sure) director. The stacks are neatly placed inside former bedrooms and salas, and there is a lovely garden out back which is often the site for meetings or cocktail parties. Membership fees are minimal and there are plenty of good and current books. The library takes in a healthy amount of donated books from the local residents and sometimes even buys new ones.
The annual chili cookoff is too big to hold at the Library itself, and so is held at a school nearby. This year there were about 15 entries, with names like Texas Prison Chili, Roadkill Chili, Yucatan Today Chili and Green Iguana Chili. All the cooks (or their designated servers) set up tables under a tent and spooned their chili into small plastic dishes for the tasters (everyone else). All but one or two were really delicious and it was very hard to vote for the winner. After a few cold beers, it was even more confusing.
At the same time as the chili tasting, there is a silent auction of donated goods and services. This year everything from a weekend at Hacienda Petac to a night at Hotel Mediomundo to salsa lessons to a dental cleaning were auctioned, as well as a painted mask, baby dresses, a handpainted chair and a number of other art pieces. The bidding gets pretty hot and heavy towards 3:00, the cutoff hour, with people good-naturedly hovering over their favorite prize, guarding it from competing bids.
The gringo community certainly seems to be growing. Besides the regulars we’ve met over the years, we met some new faces: We talked to a recent graduate of UC San Diego who’s here with his girlfriend teaching English, putting off wearing a suit and tie for another year. We also spoke with a couple who just moved here from Atlanta and who are planning to start a polo club. We met another man from New York who just moved here three weeks ago (and was brave enough to enter his New York Chili into the contest), as well as another new entrant with an Italian accent who has just opened an Italian version of a cocina economica. And there were about 250 other people we didn’t have a chance to meet.
We noticed that while there is still a healthy contingent of seemingly “retired” people in the community, there also seems to be a growing number of younger, working people who are bringing a new vibrancy to this old colonial town.
And a few new styles of chili…