Last year, after two decades in Education, I retired from my full time career. I had many wonderful experiences working at TTT, the college my husband and I founded in 1990. However, I wanted to write more and have the opportunity for other creative pursuits. At the time, I worried that without daily reinforcement, my Spanish language skills might wither away and so when I heard about the writing group at “La 68 Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska” I went to have a look…
The name is very clever… located on the corner of Calles 68 and 55, one immediately makes the connection between the location and moniker. But “La 68” also is associated with the student and political resistance movement in Mexico. As well, the center is named for Elena Poniatowska, whose most famous work (to date) is a chronicle of opinions about the student uprising at Tlatelolco in 1968.
Actually, the first time I stepped through the door, I felt like I’d tripped back into the 1960s.
“La 68” reminds me of the coffee houses and bistros I used to frequent in my 20s… with one difference; it’s not a dingy, smoke-filled cellar but rather the open air patio of an old-style Merida home.
The director of the center is Paula Haro, a photographer who has moved to Merida from Mexico City. She invited me to join the weekly literary meeting. Along with Paula and myself, four others complete our eclectic group: Alejandro, a mathematician; Salvador, a cardiologist; Pamela, the director of the English program at a progressive elementary school and Margarita, our treasurer. We usually begin with a reading and then we discuss the writer’s particular style. During the second hour, one of us reads from his or her current work and the rest of our assembly critique it.
To put it mildly, this part of our weekly session is boisterous! Everyone talks at once and although I’m not shy, I must say it took me a while to find my footing. My English language writers’ group has a completely different dynamic… It’s a great example of how “language” is much more than a collection of words.
The members of our group feel great affection for the nurturing space where we meet. Margarita says, “The first time I entered ‘La 68’, I felt like I had gone back in time.” Looking around, she adds, “My grandmother lived in a house like this one.” Pamela told me, “The bohemian atmosphere wakes up my creative muse.” Alejandro discovered the center through his children, “My sons wanted to attend the Saturday morning art program and when I came to see about that, I found out about this writers’ group.” Salvador and I are the “senior component” and we enjoy the stimulating interaction with our younger colleagues.
Paula’s mother is Elena Poniatowska and when she is in Merida, she joins our group. She reviews our work and keeps us spellbound with her stories. We look forward to hearing about her trip to Spain where she received the prestigious Premio Biblioteca Breve 2011 de la editorial Seix Barral in recognition of her most recent novel “Leonora.”
But the Literary Group is not the only activity at the cultural center. Other workshops for children and adults are offered weekly and monthly.
As you enter “La 68,” there is a delightful gift shop where I have found some truly unique handmade pieces and books by Elena Poniatowska.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, a documentary film is shown in the center’s outdoor theatre. The films are often in English and if not, there are subtitles. The center is very open to projecting the work of all independent film makers. 60% of the admission price is paid back to the authors of the features. Lorenzo Hagerman, the administrator of this area of the center’s activities, is a film director with more than 25 years of experience. In December, (before it was banned!) I saw the controversial “Presunto Cupable” at “La 68”. I hope that Lorenzo’s own film “0.56%” (about the 2006 federal election in Mexico) will be shown soon.
A mix of cantina, cast-off dining room, and kitchen tables and chairs – topped with brightly colored cushions provide seating for about 30 in the center’s central patio restaurant-bar. Flattering lighting, cascades of plants and sensuous music create a romantic/bohemian setting where you can enjoy inventive, delicious light cuisine such as anchovy or arugula pizza or spicy chicken tacos. The serving staff is young, hip and very attentive.
When I asked Paula about her vision for “La 68“, she said, “We want to provide an inviting, warm space where culture and art are available to all.” She continued, “In the three years the center has been open, we have been very pleased with the increase in participation by every segment of Merida’s population. There’s a great mix of ages, nationalities and gender.”
And she is right about that! I have met fascinating new friends at “La 68”. If you are looking for a place to spend an interesting and intimate evening, I highly recommend “La 68 Casa de Cultura Elena Poniatowska.”