Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 14

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uncomfortable chairs are alone procurable, and, all in all, the house is about as filthy as one can find in Mexico. It is rumored that Sarah Bernhardt is to come to Mexico next December with a French troupe, and as French is as common as Spanish here, she will doubtless have large houses. It is to be hoped the managers will awaken to the fact that the house needs a scrubbing down and fumigating before that time.

As stated before, young men do not need to keep back their washerwoman's money to be able to take their best theater. A gentlemen and lady are never seen alone; even husband and wife, if they have no friends, take a servant along.

Mexico supports a circus all winter. They have an amphitheater built for the purpose, and it is the best lighted and cleanest spot in the city. It is open afternoons and evenings, except Monday. The seats are arranged theater-like—pit, boxes and balconies. Some very good performing is done, but Spanish jokes by the clowns and very daring feats on horseback are the only acts which gain applause from the Mexicans. The menagerie, for which they charge twenty-five cents extra, is not well attended, as the people can see more in the museum for nothing, and they prefer the beasts stuffed, to being stuffed themselves or stuffing another man's purse for the sight of a lion, monkey and striped donkey.

 

 

CHAPTER XIV.

 

THE FLOATING GARDENS.

 

Of course, everybody has heard of the famous floating gardens of Mexico, and naturally when one reaches this lovely clime their first desire is to go up to La Viga. I wanted to visit the gardens, and with a friend, who put up a nice lunch, started out to spend the day on the water. The sun was just peeping over the hilltops when we took a car marked "La Viga," and off we went. We spent the time translating signs and looking at the queer things to be seen. The oddest sight was the slaughter shop. The stone building looked like a fortress. Around the entrance were hundreds of worn-out mules and horses, on which men were hanging meat. They had one wagon, but the meat, after rubbing the bony sides of the beasts, was just a palatable as when hauled in it. It was built like a chicken coop, and elevated on two large wheels. On each side of the coop and lying in a large heap on the bottom, was the meat. Astride the pile sat a half-clad, fellow, and in front, on the outside, sat the "bloody" driver. Trudging along in a string of about forty were men with baskets filled with the refuse, from which the blood ran in little rivers, until they looked as if they had actually bathed in gore. We were glad when our car passed, and had no appetite for the lunch in our basket.

When the car reached its destination we alighted, and were instantly surrounded with boatman, neatly clad
Nellie Bly-6m-in-Mexico-18.jpg
in suits consisting of white linen blouse and pants. Everyone clamored for us to try his boat, and the crowd was so dense that it was impossible to move. As there is no regular price, we had to make a bargain, so we selected a strong, brown fellow, who, although he pressed close up to us, had not uttered a word while the rest had been dwelling on the merits of their boats. We went with him to the edge of the canal and looked at his little flat, covered with a tin roof. White linen kept out the sun at the sides and pink calico edged with red and green fringe, covered the seats. The bottom was scrubbed very white and the Mexican colors floated from the pole at the end. We asked his price. "Six dollars" he answered. "No," we said; "it's too much." After more debating and deliberating he set his price at one dollar, which we accepted. Sunday is market day, and La Viga was consequently the prettiest sight we had yet seen in Mexico. It was completely filled with boats containing produce. Some were packed full of fresh vegetables, some contained gay colored birds, which the Indians trap in the mountains and bring to market here, and others were a mass of exquisite flowers. While the man piloted his boat over the glassy waters, the ever busy woman wove wreaths and made bouquets from the stock before her. Such roses! I can yet inhale their perfume, and how they recalled kind friends at home. Daisies, honeysuckles, batchelor buttons, in variety unknown in the States. And the poppies! Surely no other spot on earth brings forth such a variety of shade, color, and size. They are even finer than the peonies of the States.

But this boatful has passed only to bring others, ever the same, yet always new. They look at us with a pleasant smile, and we answer their cheerful salutes with a happy feeling. Along the banks we see people decorating their straw huts with a long plant, which contains yellow and red flowers. They plait it at the top in diamond shape, and not only put it on their homes, but use it to decorate the pulque shops and stretch across streets. The most disagreeable sight was the butcher at work. Every here and there along the shore are large copper kettles filled with boiling water. One man held a little brown pig down with his knee and cut its throat, while another held a small bowl in which he caught the blood. Still further up we saw the first work completed, and on sticks, put in the ground around a large charcoal fire, were the different pieces roasting. The flies were as thick as bumblebees in a field of clover, and we realized for the first time that summer, with all its pests, as well as its glories, was on our heels.

Wash day, like everything else in the labor line here, comes on Sunday. Under the drooping willows were crowds of men, women, and children. The men were nursing the babies and smoking the pipe of peace, while the women were washing their clothes. They were not dressed in the height of fashion; they were in extreme full dress—a little more so than that of the fashionable lady of the period, for none of them possess more than one shirt, and they have no bed to go to while that is being washed; so they bask in the warm rays of the sun. The nude children play in the dark waters of La Viga like so many sportive lambs on a green lawn, while the ever-faithful, industrious wife and mother washes the clothes on a porous stone and dries them on the banks—happy, cheerful, and as contented as though she were a queen.

I think I have stated before that Mexico cannot be entered except through its city gates, which are not only guarded by soldiers, but also a customs officer, who inspects all the things brought in by the poor peons and puts a high duty on them. A poor man and woman may travel for days with their coops filled with chickens, pay duty on them and have but a few cents extra for all that labor and travel. Could one blame them then if they were lazy and live on what nature grows for them without cultivation? They are not lazy, but their burden will not be lightened until this outrageous taxation, which goes to line the pockets of some individual, is removed. Even on La Viga they have the customs gate to pass. The officer examines everything, and not only charges the price, but always takes from the load whatever he wishes gratis. In one day's collection he not only has enough to run a hotel but has plenty left to sell. When a boat is packed with vegetables a long steel prong is run through them to make sure there is nothing beneath.

La Viga is from thirty six to twelve feet deep, and about thirty feet wide. On either side is lined with willow and silver maple trees. It starts from Lake Tezcuco, about eight miles from the city, forms a ring, and goes back to the same source. The floating gardens, so called, are found just above the Custom House. From the name we naturally expected to see some kind of a garden floating on the water; but we did not. "Boatman, where are the floating gardens?"

"There, senorita," he answered.

"What, that solid, dry land?"

"No, senorita. With your permission we will take a canoe and go in among them."

"Con mucho gusto," we replied with Harry's so-called "greaser talk," and getting into a little dugout we were pushed, at the risk of being beheaded, under a low stone bridge by our boatman, who waded in the water. We saluted the owners of a little castle built of cane and roofed with straw and went on, impatient to see the gardens.

In blocks of fifteen by thirty feet nestle the gardens surrounded by water and rising two feet above its surface. The ground is fertile and rich and will grow anything. Some have fruit trees, others vegetables and some look like one bed of flowers suspended in the water. Around in the little canals through which we drifted, were hundreds of elegant water-lilies. Eagerly we gathered them with a desire which seemed never to be satisfied, and even when our boat was full we still clutched ones which were "the prettiest yet."

On some gardens were cattle and horses, sheep and pigs, all of them tied to trees to save them from falling into the water. The quaint little homes were some of the prettiest features; they were surrounded by trees and flowers, and many of them had exquisite little summer houses, built also of cane, which commanded a view of the gardens. The hedges or walls were made of roses, which were all in bloom, sending forth a perfume that was entrancing. The gardeners water their plots every day. On the end of a long pole they fasten a dipper, and with it they dip up water and fling it over their vegetables in quite a deft and speedy manner. No, the gardens do not float, but a visit to them fully repays one for their disappointment in finding that they are stationary.

Undoubtedly many years ago these same gardens did really float. History says they were built of weeds, cane and roots, and banked up with earth. The Aztecs had not only their gardens on them, but their little homes, and they poled them around whenever they wished. Old age, and perhaps rheumatism, has stiffened their joints and they are now and forever more stationary. Joaquin Miller said: "Now Nellie, the gardens do not float, but please do not spoil the pretty belief by telling the truth about them." But either our respect for the truth or a desire to do just the opposite to what others wish, has made us tell just what the floating gardens really are.

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