Not-So-Beautiful Campeche | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Not-So-Beautiful Campeche

Don't get me wrong. I love Campeche. It's one of the best ever Mexican cities.

But all cities have problems, and Campeche has some that are disfiguring and avoidable. A city that has done so much restoration and beautification should not allow lapses to spoil the ambience.

For example, our hotel is no beauty.

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A expansion project has left it looking like a scene from Bagdhad. The work is stalled—no workers are on the job. As is so common in Mexico, the money ran out, or the permit was capriciously revoked. The top two floors are finished and inside they're quite nice. One of our room's windows appears just below the lowest palm frond on the left. We have a balcony around the corner overlooking the málecon and the ocean.

The design of the hotel is utilitarian and has a sort of Stalin-era Soviet feel somewhat mitigated by the brick-red paint. It's definitely not going to win any architectural awards. But there are worse buildings here.

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For sheer ugliness in a major downtown building, this one stands out. How any city would allow something like this to be built is beyond me. It would be condemned in Newark, New Jersey.

And those antennas! They loom over the historic center, marring the skyline to the south. We have similar antenna problems in San Miguel's Centro Histórico, but nothing as massively ugly as these. Mexicans gotta have their cell phones and walkie-talkies, so they gotta have antennas and they apparently don't care if they make their cities look crappy so long as they can stay connected.

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It's hazardous to swim in the Gulf of Mexico: a real shame in a city with such a gorgeous waterfront.

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Raw sewage discharges into the bay. Near the city center, the sewer lines run far out into the gulf so that inshore waters seem clean. But at the edges of town, rivulets of nasty fluids run down the mud flats and into the Gulf. The stench is overpowering.

Campeche does not have a sandy beach, just a rocky shore and mud flats. People throw trash off the seawall. It's best not to look over the edge while walking on the málecon.

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Some time ago, this sign was erected to encourage cleaning the shore and keeping it litter-free. It failed to reduce the amount of plastic bottles, styrofoam takeout containers and general garbage dumped here. The sign itself is rusting, deteriorating into another piece of shoreline trash.

While we're on the subject of hazards, take a look at these power meters.

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These are so wrong. First of all, my shoulder brushed against these wires as I walked by. The electrical tape is unraveling and it's just a matter of days before hot, uninsulated wires will be exposed. Secondly, somebody is blatantly stealing power. Apparently the power company or the police or whoever is supposed to care about this is so corrupt that you can do this kind of thing right out on a busy street with impunity.

Remember that gilded altar I wrote about yesterday? The restoration work is perfectly lovely. And the Church is asking the parishoners to support the work. Fair enough.

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But this notice seems a little pushy to me. It's implying that Jesus is personally tracking your contributions. Sounds to me like we're just a couple of steps away from going back to indulgences.

The real crime here is that the pressure will affect poor, ignorant people the most. Educated, well-off parishoners know better and won't be pushed around. But those who can least afford to contribute will do whatever they have to to avoid the displeasure of the Lord.

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I've written about bad civic art in these postings. Campeche has some doozies.

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You got to have your inspiring monuments at the entrances to town. This one is at the south entrance to Campeche. A huge naked Mayan is erupting through the pavement, holding a torch which is burning his fingers. Looks to me like a still from a horror movie. They Came from Beneath the Earth.

If that isn't bad enough, check out the Mexican eagle with the snake in its beak.

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Why this modern sculpture is incongruously placed beside a 17th century bastion is beyond me. But juxtaposition aside, this sculpture is just simply bad. Probably some mayor's nephew went to art school for a couple of semesters and then was awarded a cushy contract to create this unnecessary and execrable work. I mean, surely nobody who actually knows something about civic monuments had anything to do with this piece of crap, did they?

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Lastly, we try to keep 'em out, but it's like trying to stop cold germs. There's no truly effective defense.

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No American city has allowed one of these to be built in the last 30 years, I think. I hope. I know McDonalds got their ears pinned back when they tried to put a few feet of neon lighting on the roof of their otherwise wine-country-esque store on the outskirts of Sonoma.

City governments everywhere are at best, semi-functional. Bad decisions get made every day. Influence is peddled. Campeche is no different than San Miguel or Sonoma in this respect.

Despite what seem to be almost deliberate efforts to ruin the city, Campeche's beauty prevails. Efforts in the past 10-20 years appear to be turning the tide against creeping ugliness. Good for the campechanos.

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