Undoubtedly, while looking for a particular place, asking locals, or simply observing the streets (calles) of Mérida, you have noticed that some are named with numbers (Calle 60, for example), and others are named after some illustrious person, such as Paseo de Montejo. Still others, including some street corners in the Centro Histórico and adjacent areas, are called by nicknames that serve as a reference point for locals and visitors. Behind each of those nicknames is a story, a legend, anecdote, or reference, converting the central quadrant of the city into a live link with the past, continuing to tell, and make, history.
Today, the most famous street corners are easy to spot. There is a plaque that has been placed on each one that identifies the name of the corner. Some have their roots in Colonial times, including “El Huracán” (the hurricane), “El Ciclón” (the cyclone), “El Pato” (the duck), “La Tucha” (the monkey), and “La Estrella de Oriente” (the star of the east). Others, including “El Venadito” (the little deer), “El Chévere” (the ‘cool’), “Los Dos Toros” (the two bulls), “La Chaparrita” (the short woman), and “El Imposible” (the impossible) had later origins. For those who did not know how to read words or numbers, these references were the most common way to find their way around the city, while others were named as a way to remember an important event which had taken place near a specific street corner.
The legends or anecdotes connected to the street corners are still remembered, even after a building has disappeared. One of the most well known stories is about two street corners: “El Degollado” (the slain, at the corner of 60 and 67) and “La Veleta” (the fickle one, at the corner of 65 and 66). This was the scene of a tragic event. A barber, who had his business at the first corner, ended his life by slitting his own throat with the shaving razor when he was shunned by a woman who lived at the second corner, and who was being courted by the then governor, Lucas de Gálvez.
The story of “El Elefante” (the elephant, at 46 and 65) comes from the fact that the house owner decided on a whim to place a metal elephant on the roof terrace; “El Monifato” (at 65 and 42) is a stone monolith with the figure of the king Fernando VII of Spain which, it is said, makes fun of the king. The corners of “El Limón” (the lime, at 52 and 55), “El Almendro” (the almond, at 63 and 76) and “El Tamarindo” (the tamarind, at 45 and 50), refer to trees located there. “Los Dos Camellos” (the two camels, at 49 and 66) refers to a Lebanese immigrant who brought a pair (male and female) here with the hope that they would reproduce, but without success. “El Polvorín” (powder keg, at 60 and 103) is so named because it is the location of an explosion of a gunpowder warehouse.
So if you are walking anywhere near our historic street corners, look on the buildings there or ask at the nearest corner store about the name. Without a doubt you will hear a fascinating story!
By Violeta H. Cantarell
With information from Ayuntamiento de Mérida and the website Mérida de Yucatán
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