Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 17

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$10,000 and $20,000, but notwithstanding this one house made $200,000 the first ten days. Electric lights enable the players to keep the game up all night, and unique torches furnish just enough light in the gardens to show the way and fascinate the sentimental.

Tired at last, we wandered forth and visited the beautiful old cathedral which all Mexican towns possess, walked through several plazas and examined the fine fountains, flowers and monuments, and at last traveled to the top of the hill in order to view the country around about. Seated on the eight-foot bank of the military road, we watched the Indians going to and from the city. First came a drove of burros walking quite briskly, as if they feared the load left behind might catch up and insist again on being carried. A number of women wrapped up in a straight piece of flannel and a piece on their heads in the style of the peasant girl in the "Mascot," passed by. On their back were huge bundles of wood and scrubbing-brushes. "Buenas noches, senora; buenas noches, senorita; buenas noches, senors," they cried out pleasantly as their bare feet raised enough dust to encircle them. Their black eyes gazed on us in a friendly manner and their lovely white teeth glistened in a cordial smile. "Poor human beasts of burden! Give the little one some money," we whispered. "Here, this is yours," he called, in Spanish, holding forth a silver dollar. The smile faded from her face. "Gracias, no, senor!" and she quickly passed on, too proud to accept what in all probability was more than she ever owned.

The sun had long gone down; dark clouds draped the "White Lady;" Chapultepec looked dim and hazy. With regret we left our prominent position, passed the handsome palaces of Escandon, Mier y Celis and Barron, walked through one of the handsomest villages in Mexico—Tacubaya—and in a few moments reached our carriage, homeward bound, leaving the "Feast of the Gamblers." just in the height of its glory.

 

 

CHAPTER XVII.

 

FEAST OF FLOWERS AND LENTEN CELEBRATIONS.

 

If they had put both in a kettle and, after constant stirring, poured the contents out, there would not have been more of a mixture of religion and amusement than there was during Lent; to a sight-seer it looked as if the two forces were waging a battle to see which would predominate. It was very interesting, more so from the fact that in no other place on earth is Lent celebrated like it is in the City of Mexico. I think I told you how the carnival season opened, with balls, picnics, and driving in full dress on the paseo; then suddenly everything collapsed, and the city put on somber robes. Bells tolled forth from morning until night, and every other day was a saint's day, when Catholic or otherwise, we were compelled to fast; the stores closed, and everything came to a standstill. All the night previous fireworks were set off, and revolvers cracked until one's wildest wish was that their inventors had never been born.

One morning I was surprised to learn I could not have any coffee—the solitary cup which constitutes our dainty, delicious breakfast here. My limited Spanish prevented my giving vent to my feelings, and so I nursed my righteous wrath while I took observations. The whole house was closed and darkened, the mirrors were covered with purple cloths, and every little ornament, which had hitherto decorated the house, was missing. All the people of the household were dressed in black, talked in whispers, and walked around on their tiptoes. Dinner-time came and we sat down to a bit of dry toast (butter is an unheard-of thing), black coffee, chile, or red pepper, and beans. By this time I began to get "shaky," especially as they did not talk and pulque was dispensed with. After saying: "Some one must be dead;" "They must have gotten into some kind of trouble, and are trying to make believe they are away," I decided to quit "guessing," and try to find out the true cause of these strange doings. Finally, I decided to see if any of my Mexican "bears" were visible; and, going through the parlor, I opened the window leading to the balcony. Just as I had removed all the monstrous bars, my landlady came rushing to me, with a burning candle in one hand and beads in another, and in louder tones than she had spoken before she besought me not to open the window. Completely mystified and feeling sure they had done some terrible deed, I closed the bars, with one longing sigh to my "bears," and then catching her by the shoulder, asked, in trembling tones: "Tell me, what have you done?"

"No comprehende," she ejaculated, looking at me as if I had lost my senses.

"Porque?" I asked, pulling her around, and pointing to the bare tables and cabinets, the draped mirrors, the barred shutters.

"I am sad because it is my saint's day and my mother's day," she explained, and she took me into her room, where everything was draped in somber colors. Below the picture of her mother were a number of burning candles placed around a large cross. Before this cross the rest of the family were on their knees, and as I slipped out and closed the door I saw her sink down beside them, with a look of submission on her face. I have nothing more to say, except that I am glad that before a similar day rolls around I shall be over the Rio Grande and doubtless at home.

Holy week began on Piernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrow), April 16. As early as 3.30 in the morning the bells began to toll, and people flocked to the churches. At five o'clock we started for La Viga, where this day is celebrated by the Feast of the Flowers, or Paseo de las Flores (Flower Promenade). Even at that hour the way was crowded with people laden with flowers. When we reached La Viga we found it filled with canoes and boats burdened with beautiful flowers of every description. As far as we could see up La Viga it was the same—picturesque people paddling their equally picturesque boats in and out and around the crowd. Some of the boats were ready for hire. They had awnings made of cane covered with ferns and flowers. Very few could resist their inviting appearance, and by nine o'clock there was not an empty boat to be found.

Along the fragrant, grassy banks sat flower girls surrounded by heaps of ferns, creamy lilies, delicious pinks of hundreds of shades, geraniums and fuchsias of wonderful size and color, and roses whose colors, sizes and perfumes bewildered me. Honeysuckles, roses, lilies and poppies were woven into wreaths, which people bought and wore on their heads and around their shoulders. Eating-stands were about as plentiful as the flowers, and everything that was ever made in Mexico was here for sale. They did a big business, too. Gay crowds would sit down on the grass and take breakfast off of a straw petate as merrily as if in the finest dining-room. Some of these booths were fixed up with canvas covers and flower sides; other long booths were fitted up in the same manner, hung with the Mexican colors and filled with chairs, where the tired could pay a medio (six and one quarter cents) and sit down. Three bands in holiday attire sent forth lovely strains, alternately, from similar booths; the trees on either side kept the paseo shady. It was filled with people riding and driving; the riders, who numbered many ladies, formed a line in the center and the carriages drove around and around, down one way and up the other. Most of those out driving alighted and mingled with the masses. It was certainly a most enjoyable scene.

At several places we found things for sale which looked like dahlias, with a strange mixture of colors. None could determine just what they were, but presently we found a man and woman manufacturing them. They were nothing more or less than long radishes, which with his penknife the man turned into all kinds of flowers, as well as crosses and other designs. The woman delicately touched one part one color, another another, until they formed one of the most beautiful of the many strange sights on La Viga. There was quite a rush for them, and the happy purchasers triumphantly carried them off, while the less fortunate looked on with regret. I got a number, but before the next morning their beauty had departed forever, and their perfume was loud and unmistakable. Of course there were plenty of venders and beggars there. The venders had wax figures representing ballet dancers, rope-walkers, angels—any sort of female that was skimp in her wearing apparel. Others had men fighting bulls, monkeys on horseback, baby dolls made of rags, and every little thing which could be invented.

This feast lasted until Sunday evening, and there was not a moment from three o'clock Friday morning, until twelve o'clock Sunday night, but what the place was crowded worse than-Barnum's show in its brightest days. The prettiest sight was when the people returned to town. Every carriage, even to the driver's seat, was filled with flowers. The horses and riders were decorated with wreaths, and in this manner they all returned to their homes. I must describe one rider to you before I leave La Viga. He rode a beautiful black horse. The Mexican saddle was a bright, deep yellow, covered with silver ornaments, and a bright sword dangled at the side. The bridle was entirely of silver, even to the reins, and silver cord and tassels decorated the horse's neck. The rider's pants were black and fitted as if he had been poured into them. A row of silver buttons, at least the size of pie plates, reached from waist to knee, where they were met by high side-buttoned boots. An immense silver spur completed that part. His vest was yellow velvet, his coat blue, and his wide sombrero red, all heavily trimmed with silver, while at the back, peeping beneath his coat, were two mammoth revolvers. He was the most gorgeous butterfly I ever saw, and attracted attention from Mexicans as well as myself.

Sunday was observed by the churches as well as on La Viga. It was Palm Sunday, and the Indians had made pretty things out of dry palms which they sold to the people for from a real (twelve and one half cents) up to cinco pesos ($5). The devout took these to church and had them blessed, and after carrying them home they were fixed to the bars of windows, the balconies and above the doors, where they will stay for the whole year. They say they keep the devil out, and that is their reason for using them.

Excursion trains were run in from all the connecting points, people appeared in the most gorgeous hues, and venders had no trouble in selling the effigies they carried. Holy Thursday came and the bells tolled from early morning until ten o'clock, when every one was silent in sorrow for the crucifixion. Mass was said in the morning, and all turned out to attend divine service. In the Alameda, Zocola and paseo bands, to the number of three or four, delighted their hearers. It seemed rather strange to stand within the church door and hear the voice of the priest repeating mass, the piano playing a soft prelude (no pipe organs are permitted during holy week), and the band mingling the lively strains of some light opera, or something equally ridiculous, with this solemn service. The altars were all hung with squares of silver or gold tinsel, which were constantly in motion. Thousands of candles lighted up the gloomy building, and Christ and the Virgin were the only images in sight. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon they brought in what they said were the oldest and most neglected of beggars. The priest washed their feet, and after making the sign of the cross with holy oil upon them, they were allowed to depart. I noticed these men's feet had been washed recently, and also that there were dirtier and poorer people in the audience. However, the washer took good care not to touch the feet without an intervening towel. At night the churches were brilliantly illuminated. It would be hard to give an estimate of the candles required, but I fully believe that in some of the big edifices 20,000 would not be a bad guess. The devout were all on their knees, and everything was as silent as death, except the piano, which still kept up its soft, soothing melody.

On Good Friday all the men and women were dressed in black, and every church was draped with purple. The Virgin was dressed in heavy black velvet. The poor Indians laid flowers, money and candles around the image, and they could not have been more deeply touched had the crucifixion taken place then instead of so many hundred years ago. They kissed her feet, her garments, and the floor before her, and showed in a thousand humble ways their love and devotion.

The ceremony of the Tres Horas (three hours) was celebrated in Texcoco. First a lot of masked men ran around the yard with sticks, beating the bushes, trees and flowers as though in search of something. Then one of the men who was far from representing Christ in form, feature or complexion, took a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders and walked into the church, being lashed with a leather strap by the masked men. When he fell the people covered their faces and groaned. He fell three times before reaching the altar, where an effigy was nailed to the cross. The sounds of the hammer and groans and cries of the people made one feel as if somebody had dropped a piece of ice down their back. Finally, amid the most heartrending cries, the cross was raised and the ceremony was over.

All day wagons, horses, boxes, everything in the toy line, with a racket in them, were sold to the people. All the venders were located around the cathedral and Zocolo, and the din could be heard several squares away. These are called matracas. When Christ was on earth, they say, they had no bells with which to call the people to mass, so these matracas were made, and a number of men would, promenade the streets, swinging them around to keep up the incessant cracking. The men would cry out, "The hour has come for mass, the hour has come for mass," and the faithful would hurry away to count their beads and say their prayers. A foreigner told me this custom was still in vogue in some parts of his country, France, during holy week. Hideous effigies, called Judas, were for sale. Little ones made of lead were bought and tied to the button-hole, the parasol, the bracelet, the belt, or any other convenient place. Some made of plaster of Paris and paper, from three inches to twelve feet long, were bought by old and young and carried home for Saturday.

Sabado de Gloria (Saturday of Glory) came bright and sunny. All along the streets were strung long Judases, some having pasted on them the thirty pieces of silver for which he betrayed Christ; the image was made in the most horrible form—as a negro, devil, monkey, half beast, half human, every form that could possibly be thought of. At 11 o'clock the bells began to ring merrily, as though rejoicing over the fate of Judas, and a match was applied to every image in the town; they were all filled with powder, and with one accord there was a universal bursting and tearing and rejoicing throughout the city. As fervent as had been their devotion to the Virgin, just as strong was their hatred of Judas—even the smallest scraps they tramped upon.

By 12 o'clock gay colors were resumed, carriages which had been rigorously kept out of sight came forth and were flying down the paseo as if glad that the time of quietness was past. All places of amusement, which had been closed during Lent, began sticking up posters announcing a grand opening on the next (Sunday) evening. The noise of the matracas grew fainter and fainter, and gradually ceased. The wind picked up the stray pieces of Judases, played with them awhile, and then carried them out of sight. The venders who had jammed the Zocalo gradually disappeared; the music in the different parks ceased, and Lent seemed as far gone, by the time 12 o'clock rang forth, as though six months had passed. Such is life.

On Sunday the theaters, bull-fights, circus and race courses were well attended. The bull-fights were advertised as the last of the season. The one I attended was excellent. The bulls were good ones, and some very new and striking features were introduced. One man sat down on a chair in the center of the ring with two banderillias in his hand. The door was opened, and the bull rushed in and at him. He sat there, and as it put down its head to gore him he stuck the banderillias into its neck and sprung aside, while the bull knocked the chair into atoms. Everybody cheered, and threw the fellow money and cigars. After this toro had been dispatched, one man lay down on the ground and another stood over him, keeping his head between his legs. Again they opened the door and let a toro in. It rushed for the men, but the one standing stuck the banderillias into it with such force that it roared with pain and took after one of the other fighters in the ring, leaving the two men unhurt. The very daring of this delighted the people, for if the man had missed the bull both of them would have been killed without the least trouble.

One toro had horns about four feet wide, and at the first plunge it killed one horse. Then it caught another horse and threw it on its back, the rider underneath. The fighters tried to draw it off, but it stayed there until the horse was dead. All that could be seen of the rider was his head, which he tried vainly to shield with his arms. They carried him off for dead. This toro was very hard to kill. It required seven lunges of the sword to convert him into beef. One toro refused to fight, and when stuck with a sharp pica he jumped over the fence and was with the audience. Such a scrambling! Most of the people threw themselves into the ring, about the first ones to go being the guards, who are placed around to take care of the people. It was quite a while before quiet was restored, and the toro lassoed and removed.

Bull-fights have lasted longer this season than ever before, as it is impossible to fight during the rainy season. Now a man comes forward and says he is going to cover his ring and have fights all summer; this will make the light in the ring dim, and the fighters will be at a disadvantage, not being able to calculate their distances. It will also make the fights more dangerous and more interesting. It is needless to add that the people are delighted at the prospect. Last Sunday one man got so excited over the big toro's fighting that when it was to be stabbed he got down into the ring and, taking off his high silk hat, asked the judge's permission to do the work. The audience rose to their feet and shouted "Yes, yes," but the judge was unkind enough to refuse, and thereby deprived us of seeing a fellow in broadcloth gored because he thought he could kill a toro.

Congress is in full session now. The other day they passed a bill which was strongly opposed. It is to the effect that any one caught meddling with the railroads will be shot down instantly without a mementos warning, and without a trial. Doubtless many will say that it is a first-class law when they think of the wrongs committed on the railways in Mexico. But it is such a law as will allow thousands of Mexicans whose "honor desires satisfaction" to take advantage of it. The victim is shot, and after he is dead the shooter steps forward and swears that he saw him meddling with the railways, or knew he had designs on them. This is all he has to do to be freed of the murder. While we believe in dealing out unmerciful punishment to train wreckers, yet this law is fit only for uncivilized countries, and least of all for Mexico, where people shoot on the least provocation, ofttimes just for amusement, or to test their unerring aim, piercing the brain or heart every time. It is, certainly, a grand chance for those who have a desire for revenge to obtain it and go scot-free.

However, the law is only to be tried for one year, and if it proves good it will be adopted permanently. Now is the time for those who claim the country is ruined by a ring to remove some of its links, especially the key and padlock, and by doing so once again proclaim liberty, and prove to the people that the "shoot without trial law" really did some good.

Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) was the next big day for Mexico. Then they commemorated the victory over the French, and it is done in princely style. A French paper rather sensibly remarked that it would look better

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