A Love Letter
In the beginning, there was only the bay, Bahia Soliman, just north of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico, in the Mayan Riviera. The reef protected the bay from storms, sheltered the coral forests, and tinted the water the most gorgeous turquoise. You could hear the wind and waves rumble at the reef. Pelicans dove, frigate birds cruised. There were fish hawks. And barricudas. At the shore there was only the most gentle undulation and the turtle grass moved like a tai chi master. The sand was smooth and white. I love the Bay. I have loved it since I first saw it many, many years ago. Back then, nobody lived there.
Later, the people came. First, my friend, Sr. Bill lived in a camper. And then Caroline built the first real house. This house. I am sitting in the house as I write this. I love this house. It is round, it has a tall palapa roof supported by a varnished tree at its center. It has no glass. The windows are wooden louvers. It has doors of wood, some with louvers, some solid. It has no air conditioning. It does not need it: it has ceiling fans and a high ceiling. It has no swimming pool. Why would I choose a pool when I can swim in the pristine water of the Bay with Eagle Rays? It is incredibly simple. And understated. It has no marble. It has no granite counters or Italian bathroom fixtures. No flat screen televisions. No microwaves. It is in a style that reflects the centuries old building practices of the Maya, who belong to this land. It is in its own way a homage to the Maya. And it has a Mayan name, “Nah Yaxche.” “Nah” means house, “Yaxche” is the name of the original tree, the tree of paradise.
I think the house is an excellent, if not the best example of what I call, “Estilo Robinson Crusoe.” Because the Bay is so compelling, the central idea was that the house should invite nature in, and it should fit in with nature. It should be virtually invisible from the sea. It should have plantings, a jungle between it and the bay. You should be able to open all of its doors and windows and invite it all in. So you could embrace it, so you could feel and smell and hear and, yes, taste it. A lot of this is the marvelous construction work of Andrew Field, our neighbor. Long ago, he built a bathroom shower that was open to the sky. I like to think that was the high point of ERC.
But as he tells me often and as my own eyes confirm, ERC is the past. It’s history. Nobody wants to do that any more. And he and I both live in museums. After the simple ERC structures, there has been a long wave of construction at Bahia Soliman. Virtually none of this is ERC, though there are sometimes a few elements that pay respect to or echo it. No, no more ERC. The newer houses are something entirely different. There is no zoning here. There is no association to decide what the aesthetic should be. People can and do build what they like. And they have. There are now many very large houses on Bahia Soliman. These have glass windows and doors, marble floors, stone exteriors, air conditioning, gorgeous swimming pools, balconies, and on and on. They are first world, luxury vacation villas. Many have elements of architecture that, to my amazement and shock, reflect the Spanish and Christian conquest of this area. And they also tend to have Spanish names. Make no mistake about it, these are lovely, wonderful homes. They are elegant and beautiful. At the same time, they are far from my aesthetic. Or ERC.
What I love most about ERC and this old house is its relationship to this place, the way it belongs here, the way it fits in the bay. As I write this, there is a small rain storm. I can hear the rain and wind and the sound of the reef. I can hear the birds and the clacking of the cocos. Louvers facing the bay are closed so that the floors won’t become lakes (don’t ask), but even though I am dry, the storm isn’t shut out, not by glass, by thick cement, by air conditioning, by anything. And what a lovely storm it is, with rain like grapes, and winds that rumble. This house is designed for that experience. The experience of nature.
On hot, sunny days the house fits just as well. All of the doors and windows are open, and the sweet Caribe breeze fills it. It is cool inside. And shady. And if the air is still, the fans can gently move it around and offer relief from high temperatures and humidity. This house is designed for that experience, too. It is designed so that you fit in nature.
But, alas, it’s really a museum. If we were to sell it, somebody might knock it down and put up yet another glass and steel mansion. That would be heartbreaking. It would be the end of a style of building with low impact on the environment, and low carbon footprint, and humility that should be continued. I love ERC, and I make no excuse for that. And I love this house. It is perfection.
Note: for more pictures of Nah Yaxhe, click here and here and, of course visit,“Nah Yaxche” on Facebook.