Mexico, California and Arizona/Chapter 17

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Mexico, California and Arizona  (1900)  by William Henry Bishop
XVII. Puebla, Cholula, Tlaxcala

XVII.


PUEBLA, CHOLULA, TLAXCALA.


I.


You turn off from the junction of Apizaco, on the Vera Cruz railway, to go to the large, fine city of Puebla. It is the capital of the state of the same name, and has a population of about seventy-seven thousand. Many prosperous fábricas (factories) are seen along the fertile valley of approach; then the forts, attacked and defended on the great Cinco de Mayo, appear on the hills, looking down, like Mont Valerien and Charenton above Paris.

Certainly everything out of Mexico is not Cuatitlan. Puebla is very clean, well paved, and well drained. The streets are not too wide, as many of them are at the capital. I thought our hotel, De Diligencias, which was very well kept, by a Frenchman, much better than the Iturbide. It had been a palace in its day, and had traces yet of armorial sculptures. Our rooms opened upon a wide upper colonnade, where the table was spread. It was full of flowers, which shut out whatever might have been disagreeable to the eye below. I am bound to admit that the remorseless mocking-bird sang all night among them. I have mentioned heretofore the tiled front of a shop, "La Ciudad de Mexico." A picturesque mosaic-work in tiles of earthenware and china upon a ground of blood-red stone abounds. Sometimes it is a diagonal pattern, covering a whole surface; again only a broad wainscot or frieze. Plaques, representing saints, which you take at first for hand-bills, are let into walls. These tiles are made at Puebla, where there are as many as ten fábricas of them, the best in the country. I visited one of these, round the manufacture cheap, and brought away some specimens. The workmanship is rude and hasty, but the effect artistic and adapted to its purpose. The most liberal example of their use, and one of the most charming interiors I have ever seen, was that of what is now the Casa de Dementes, or lunatic asylum for men, of the state of Puebla. It was formerly a convent of the nuns of Santa Rosa, and was decorated after their taste. Entrance, vestibule, stairs, central court, and cloisters, with fountain in the centre; balustrade, benches, tanks and bath-tubs, kitchen furnace, and numberless little garden courts, are all encrusted with quaint ceramics. It is like walking about in some magnified piece of jewelry. The blue-and-yellow fountain in its court is as Moorish as anything in Morocco.

There are forty-two patients in this institution, with an attendant appointed to each ten. The rich among them pay $16 a mouth, the rest nothing. Another one, San Roque, contains thirty-two women, also maintained by the state. The general hospital, of San Pedro, another large convent, with a nice garden, was clean, cool, and well ordered; and—curious feature to note—departments for allopath and homœopath arranged impartially side by side. These governments take, officially, no sides with either, but give them both a showing.

The Cathedral at Puebla is equal in magnificence to that at Mexico. There is the usual Zocalo, full of charming plants, before it. The large theatre, "De Guerrero," entered by a passage from the portales, had but a scant audience on the evening of our attendance, but was itself worthy of inspection. It had four tiers of boxes and a pit; the decoration was in white and gold, upon a ground of blue-and-white wall-paper, the whole of a chaste and elegant effect. The peasant costumes of women in each of the provinces vary in colors and material, though the same general shapes are preserved. At Cordoba, white and striped cotton stuffs were in order; at Mexico, Egyptian-looking blue-and-black woollen goods. Those in all this part of the country I thought particularly pleasing; and the great market and gay Parian, or bazaar, where they are principally displayed, were not soon exhausted as a spectacle. The men are usually bare-legged, and in white cotton. In the warm part of the day they carry their bright-colored serapes folded over one shoulder, and when it is cooler put them on, by simply inserting their heads through the slit.

Now comes by a woman in white, with a red cap and girdle; now two girls of fourteen, all in white, hurrying swiftly along under heavy burdens. Here are women in embroidered jackets, others in chemises, with profuse bands of colored beads, or rebosos of rayed stuff, like the Algerian burnous. Skirts are of white blanket material, with borders of blue, or blue with white, or yellow. The principal garment is a mere skirt of uncut goods, wrapped around the hips and kept in place by a bright girdle. Above this is whatever fantastic waist one pleases, or a garment with an opening for the head, after the fashion of the serape. To all this is added a profusion of necklaces of large beads, amber, blue, and green, and large silver ear-rings, or others of glass, in the Mexican national colors, green, white, and red. There is a universal carrying of burdens. The men accommodate theirs in a large wooden cage divided into compartments. The women tie over their backs budgets done up in a ` rug of coarse maguey fibre. Often they carry a child an earthen jar in it; or, when full, pile a large green red water-jar on the top.

Affording so abundant material for the artist, they ere excessively suspicious of any attempt to turn it to account. There were traditions among them that bad luck would be encountered should they allow pictures to be taken. It was to take away something from themselves, and they would be left incomplete—probably to waste and die. Nor could their costumes be bought from them except with great difficulty. Much as still remains, there has been a great change, and disappearance, since the close of Maximilian's empire, of local peculiarities in dress. There has been a disappearance, too, with the advent of machinery and imported notions, of many pretty hand-made articles that formerly adorned the markets. Among these were carvings in charcoal, once of a peculiar excellence. Of those that remain still of great interest are life-like puppets, in wax and wood, of figures of the country, costumed after their several types.

On the evening of May 19th, as we sat at dinner in the hotel corridor, down came the rain in the court. In a few moments a row of long gargoyles were spouting streams which were white against the blackness, and crossed one another like a set display. "Va ! for the rainy season!" said the host. It usually begins by the 15th. "Voilà ! ten months past in which we have had scarcely a drop!"

As almost any desired climate can be had by varying more or less the altitude, the rainy season is of variable date in different parts of the country. At Mexico it is very much later. I did not find it, either here or elsewhere, so incommoding as might be fancied. It rains principally at night, and the succeeding day is bright and clear. In Mexico, as in California, the rainy season means that in which rain falls about as with us, while the dry season is that in which there is none at all.

II.

Have any forgotten the tragic advent, and preliminary agitations, of the entry of Cortez into the sacred city of Cholula? He assembled the caciques and notables in the great square, and at a given signal, turned his arms upon them and slew them, to the number of three thousand. He had discovered an artful plot among them for the destruction of his army, and it was his aim in this way to strike such a terror into the country that he should have done with such things once for all. The god worshipped at Cholula was a far milder one than the bloody war god at—Mexico the peaceful Quetzalcoatl, God of the Air. He instructed the people in agriculture and the arts. His reign was a golden age. Cotton grew already tinted with gorgeous dyes, and a single ear of maize was as much as a man could carry. To his honor the largest of all the teocallis and temples was erected. He was represented with painted shield, jewelled sceptre, and plumes of fire. Could Cortez have waited till now (such are the changes of time) he might have gone into Cholula from Puebla, to the foot of this very pyramid, in a beautiful horse-car. A tram-way, ultimately to be extended, and operated by steam, reached to this point, a distance of six miles, and our conveyance was a horse-car with a glass front (New York built) which I have never seen equalled elsewhere. The driver of it was a Tennessee negro, who had married an Indian maid and settled, much respected, in the country. He had formerly been body-servant of a Mexican general, had travelled with him in the United ` States and Europe, and picked up several languages. He called upon us afterward at our hotel, to politely inquire our impressions of his tram-way.

The principal features of the trip were exquisite views of Popocatepetl and Ixtacihuatl across yellow grain-fields; a dilapidated convent turned to an iron foundery; an old aqueduct crossing the plain; a Spanish bridge, sculptured with armorial bearings, across the river Atoyac; and a fine grist-mill; and farther on a cotton-mill, turned by the water-power of the same river.

There has been a controversy as to whether the great mound was natural or artificial in origin. I do not see how there can be doubt about it now, for where numerous deep cuts have been made in it, for roads or cultivation, the artificial structure of adobe bricks is plainly visible. Such a place as it is to lie upon at ease and dream and go back to the traditions of the past! You may cast yourself down under large trees growing on the now ragged slopes, or by the pilgrimage chapel on the crest, where the God of the Air once reared his grotesque bulk. There is a sculptured cross, dated 1666, at the edge of the terrace, and rose-bushes grow out of the pavement. I know of no prospect of fertile hill and dale, scattered with quaint villages, in any country that surpasses it. An American was there that day with the purpose of buying a hacienda, if he could find one suitable, and I for one thought there were many plans much less sensible. Cholula had four hundred towers in its pagan times, and it may have had round about it almost as many spires when the Christian domination succeeded. Let me recite the names of a few of the villages seen from the top of the great pyramid, all with their churches, by twos and threes, or more: San Juan; San Andres; Santiago; Chicotengo; La Santissima; La Soledad; San Rafael; San Pablo Mexicalcingo; San Diego; La Madalena; Santa Marta; Santa Maria; San Isidoro; San Juan Calvario; San Juan Tlanutla; San Mateo; San Miguelito (Little Saint Michael); Jesus; San Sebastian.

One of the old churches lying deserted in the fields might be purchased, no doubt, and utilized for the basis of a picturesque manor-house. Suppose we should take yonder one, for instance, down by the Haciendita de Cruce Vivo—the Little Hacienda of the Living Cross? A cloud is just now passing over, marking the place with a dark patch. A brook is leaping white through the meadow, trees stretch back from the walls, and the rest lying in strong light is divided by patches of an exquisite cultivation with the regularity of market-gardens.

We dined, at Cholula, at the clean Fonda de la Reforma, in a large, brick-floored room, invaded by flowers from a court-yard garden. No people can fashion such charming homes without excellent traits; so much is positive beyond dispute. We were admitted, I think, to the residence portion of the house, the owner of which was a doctor, and we examined, while waiting for our repast, a lot of his antiquated medical books, some dating from 1700.

The plaza is as large as at Mexico, but grass-grown—for the place is of but modest pretensions now—and lonely, except on market-day, when the scene is as gay and the costumes even prettier than at Puebla itself. In the centre is a Zocalo; at one side a vast array of battlemented churches. That of the Capilla Real, consisting of three in one, is now decayed and abandoned. On the other is a fine colonnade devoted to the Ayuntamiento, or town council, with the jail. What a pity it is that we have so scant accounts left us of the life of Mexico when all this feudal magnificence was in full blast! `

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Prisoners Weaving Sashes At Cholula.

I cannot say just why I visited so many prisons. Perhaps because they were always under the eye, adjoining the public offices, and the prisoners were a cheerful lot, who did what they could to attract attention. At Cholula we found them weaving, on a primitive kind of

hand-loom, bright sashes of red and blue, which are sold in part for their own benefit. Their accommodations compared favorably with the barracks along-side. When we asked questions about them they stopped work and listened attentively. The guards, I fancy, thought we were trying to identify some persons who had robbed us not—conceiving of such a visit for the pure pleasure of it.


III.


When I inquired the way to Tlaxcala there was such an ignorance on the subject at my hotel, at Puebla, that it almost seemed as it I was the first person who could ever have been there. A luxurious Englishman abandoned me at this part of the expedition, claiming that nobody knew whether there were conveyances from the junction, whether there were even inns. It seemed to him a case of sitting on a Tlaxcalan door-step and perishing of hunger, or being washed away by the torrents of the rainy season. I found, however, that there was a choice of two trains a day, and went on alone. What then? I suppose Cortez did rather more than that. Tlaxcala was the most undaunted and terrible of all his enemies. He made his way to it after insuperable obstacles, and it was only by the alliance of the warlike Tlaxcalans, when he had finally won them over to his cause, that he effected the conquest of Mexico.

The recollection had involuntarily given me rather dark and depressing ideas of Tlaxcala, as a place of gloomy forests and gorges suited for martial resistance. Who that has not seen it, I wonder, has the proper conception of Tlaxcala?


IV.


It is not gloomy; there are no forests; the country is open and rolling; and the name "Tlaxcala," it now appears, is fertility, the "Land of Bread." I left at 11 A.M., and arrived at the village of Santa Ana, on the railroad to Apizaco, in a couple of hours. After a time a conveyance was to be had, in the shape of a dilapidated hack drawn by three horses, in the lead, and two mules. This was run as a stage-line to Tlaxcala; and in an hour more, largely of floundering over ruts and following the beds of swollen brooks—for nobody ever thinks of mending a road in Mexico—we were there. We met, on the way, the carnage of the state Governor, an ancient coupe, improved by the addition of a boot, and drawn by two horses and two mules. I was deposited on the sidewalk at the upper side of a plaza, and scrutinized keenly when there by the shop-keepers of the surrounding arcades and loungers on comfortable stone benches.

Tlaxcalan allies, in the shape of a small boy and a larger assistant, seized upon my satchel, and we set out for a personal inspection of such houses of entertainment as were to be heard of. The Posada of Genius was altogether too wretched and shabby, as is apt to be the way with genius. The Meson of the—I have forgotten its name was too full to offer accommodation, and had a morose landlord, who seemed to rejoice in the fact. I came at last to a house where simply chambers were to be let. It was highly commended by my smaller Tlaxcalan ally, a very rapid-talking small boy, with the air of one much in the habit of dodging missiles. ` "It will be two reals" (twenty-five cents) "the night, as you see it," said the proprietor, waving a hand in an interior bare of furniture.

"Ah! two reals the night!"

"But perhaps the gentleman would desire also a bed, a wash-stand, and a looking-glass?"

"Yes, let us say a bed, wash-stand, and looking-glass."

"Then it will be four reals the night."

The larger Tlaxcalan ally, who had had nothing to do, established a claim for services by offering praise of each successive article of furniture as it was brought in, as, "Muy buena cama, señor!" " Muy bonito espejo!"—"A very fine bed, señor!" "A very charming mirror, señor!"—and the like.

V.


Now, all this is all exactly as it happened, and one should hardly be compelled to spoil a good story by adding to it. Yet this appearance of amusing stupidity is dissipated, after all, by remembering the methods of travel in the country. Many, or most, journeys are made on horseback, and the guest is likely to want only a room where he can lock up his saddle and saddle-bags and sleep on his own blankets, or, if luxurious, on a light cot, carried with other baggage on a pack-mule. This is all the accommodation provided at the general run of the mesones.

At the Fonda y Cafe de la Sociedad I supped, by the light of two candles, with a gentleman in long riding-boots, who had a paper-mill in the neighborhood. He told me that he had learned the business at Philadelphia. He was of a friendly disposition, and declared that I was to consider him henceforth my correspondent, so far as I might have need of one, on all matters, commercial and ` otherwise, at Tlaxcala. And to that extent I may say I so consider him to this day.

My room had, first, a pair of glass doors, then a pair of heavy wooden ones, and opened on a damp little court, in which the rain was falling. There were no windows nor transom, positively no other opening than a couple of diminutive holes in the wooden door, like


"The fiery eyes of Pauguk glaring at him through the darkness,"


as one awoke to them in the early morning. Another streak under the door figured as a sort of mouth. There was a clashing of swords in a corner of the shady and handsome Zocalo when I went out, and I fancied at first a duel, but it was only a couple of Rurales going through their sabre exercise under direction of an officer. The morning was bright and beautiful. Hucksters were putting up their stands in the arcades for the day's business. A new market elsewhere, consisting of a series of light, open pavilions, was one of the best in arrangement I have ever seen.

Tlaxcala recalls some such provincial Italian place as Este, seat of the famous historic house of that name. It has once been more important than now. The persons of principal consideration are the state employes. It is the capital of the smallest of the states, the Rhode Island or Delaware of the Mexican federation. I entered the quarters of the Legislature, and found there the Governor, a small, fat, Indian-looking man, scarred with a deep cut on his cheek, conferring with a committee of his law-makers. There are eight of these in all, and they receive an annual stipend of $1000 each. In the legislative hall a space is railed off for the president and two secretaries. There is a little tribune at this rail, from which the speeches are made. The members face each other, in two rows, and comfortably smoke during their sessions, after the custom of the Congress at Mexico also. The rest is reserved for spectators. On the walls are four quaint old portraits of the earliest chiefs converted to Christianity, all with "Don" before their names.

The secretary of the Ayuntamiento has in a glass case in his office some few idols, the early charter of the city and regulations of the province, and the tattered silken banner carried by Cortez in the conquest. This last, once a rich crimson, is faded to a shabby coffee-color, and the silver has vanished from its spear-head, showing copper beneath. Tossed into corners were two large heaps of old, vellum-bound books from the convents. This is a common enough sight in Mexico. Treasures are abundant here which our own connoisseurs would delight to treat with the greatest respect. Apart from this there is no other museum nor especial display of antiquity. The town, kept nicely whitewashed looks rather new. It contains, however, the oldest church in Mexico. The chapel of San Francisco, part of a dismantled convent, now used as a barracks, bears the date of 1529, and within it are the first baptismal font (the same in which the Tlaxcalan chiefs above-mentioned were baptized by Cortez) and the first Christian pulpit in America.


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OLD FONT AT TLAXCALA.

The ceiling is of panelled cedar, picked out with gilded suns and the like. The approach is up an inclined plane, shaded with ash-trees. Through three large arches of an entrance gate-way, flanked by a tower, the town below appears as through a series of frames, A massive church in the ` town plaza was cracked and unfitted for use by an earthquake in the year 1800, and its ruins stand untouched, with the bells still hanging in the steeple.


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THE FIRST CHRISTIAN PULPIT IN AMERICA. TLAXCALA.

To counterbalance this a modern church, very white, and a landmark to all the country round about, has been put up on the high hill of Ocatlan, a couple of miles back. I climbed there and looked down upon the prospect. Women and girls were going up to the sanctuary with bunches of roses, on some religious errand. There were wild pinks by the wayside, the air was full of the twittering of birds, and the chimes rang musically. Looked down upon from the height, Tlaxcala was seen

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PART OF CONVENT OF SAN FRANCISCO. TLAXCALA.

to be a compact little place, flat-roofed, low, almost exactly square. The wide bed of the Zatuapan River, now very shallow, wound by it. The opposite hills, hung over by vapors and rain-clouds with changing lights among them, were now purplish and now indigo black.

VI.

On the floor above me at my lodging resided, in a comfortable way, a doctor. He had with him a friend, French by nationality but long resident at Mexico, who was at present paseando a little here for his health. This gentleman confided to me, mysteriously, that, since spending some time here, he had reason to believe that there were mines of silver and gold in the vicinity. In fact, he knew of some. "An Indian, some years ago," he said, brought to the padre of one of the churches two papers containing a fine dust. It was poudre d'or—gold dust—nothing less. What do you think of that?"

I thought highly of it—as I always do of treasure stories; nothing is more entertaining.

"There are indications, in reading history," he went on, "that much of the supply of the precious metals in the time of the Conquerors was taken from here. You aware that most of the valuable mines were abandoned by the Spaniards in the terrors of the War of Independence, and have never since been worked. Often their very location has been forgotten. I have a friend here who has certain knowledge of a place where poudre d'or or can be found.

He paused, perhaps to allow an offer to be made for an interest in the attractive enterprise, but none was made.

He continued, alluringly: "It is my intention to enter into thorough explorations, now that I have leisure, as soon as my health is slightly more restored."

I took the seat beside the driver on the ancient conveyance, going back to Santa Ana. We went along sandy lanes, in which the rain of the night before was almost dry, and between hedges of maguey. Maize on the right—tall but slender, and without the large ears we are accustomed to; barley and wheat on the left. All the country fertile. Malinche boldly in sight, and a sky of rolling clouds, as in Holland. Shock-headed Indian children, with a Chinese look, holding babies, and peering at us out of rifts in palisades of organ-cactus. Bright skeins

 of wool in door-yards, and glimpses of peasants weaving serapes in interiors. I recollect that morning as one of a few of unalloyed content. Perhaps it was because, in being at Tlaxcala, I had gratified a curiosity of an exceptional eagerness.