Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 31

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papers, which they fold and hold out toward passers-by, never saying a word.

The people appear just the opposite of lazy. They move along the streets with a trot, equal in speed to the burro; they never turn their heads to gaze at a stranger, but go along intent on their own affairs as if they realized the value of time and shortness of life.

Ladies in the States should import their servants from Mexico. Their hire is a very little sum; they furnish their own food; they are the most polite, most obedient people alive, and are faithful.

Their only fault—and a very common one with servants—is that they are slow, but not extremely so. To children they are most devoted; as nurses they are unexcelled; their love for children amounts to a passion, a mania. As a common thing here, a girl of thirteen is not happy unless she has a baby; but with all that they are most generous with them. Much amusement was caused the other day by an American asking a pretty little black-eyed girl if the bouncing babe tied to her back was hers. "Si, senor, and yours, too," she replied, politely.

The men share troubles of nursing with the babies, tied on their mother's or father's back, seem as content as if they were rocked in downy cradles. Babies, as soon as born, are clad in pantaloons cradles. and loose waist, irrespective of sex. There are no three-yard skirts on them. Boys retain this garb, but girls, when able to walk, are wrapped twice around the body with a straight cloth which serves for skirts.

If you ask a native in regard to the sex of a baby he will not say it is a boy or it is a girl, but "el hombre" (a man) or "la mujer" (the woman.) All efforts fail to make them say "hijo" (son) or "hija" (daughter).

 

 

CHAPTER XXXI.

 

THE ROMANCE OF THE MEXICAN PULQUE.

 

The maguey plant is put to as many uses by the Mexicans as the cocoa palm is by the South Sea Islanders. All around Mexico, even on the barren plains where nothing else can exist, it grows in abundance. Its leaves are ten and more feet in length, a foot in breadth and about eight inches thick, Of course, there are smaller and larger growths, according to their age. After collecting strength for about seven years it sprouts from the center a giant flower stalk, twenty or thirty feet high,on which often cluster three thousand flowers of a greenish yellow color. These wonderful plants in bloom along the plains form one of the most magnificent sights in Mexico. At the very least, forty have been seen at one place, each vieing with the other to put forth the most beauty.

A prince named Papautzin, of the noble blood of the Toltec, discovered some fluid in a plant whose flowering spike had been accidentally broken off. After saving it for some time, he had the curiosity to taste it, and that taste was not only delicious to him, but was destined to moisten the throat and muddle the brain of the Mexicans for generations and generations, and to cause the curious and ever inquiring tourist to do like the whale did at the taste of Jonah. This noble prince was not like an Eastern Yankee; he did not keep his mouth shut until he obtained a patent. If he had, telephones and gas wells would be nowhere in comparison as a money-making scheme. He kindly sent some to his sovereign by his beautiful daughter, Xochitl, the flower of Tollan. The noble king drank and looked, looked and drank—the more he drank the more he liked the stuff; the more he looked the more he liked the girl. So he kept her, a willing prisoner, and their son was placed upon the throne.

Generations after generations rolled by lovely Xochitl. The king, their son, and the illustrious discoverer had solved the wonderful problem. The maguey plant was cultivated by thousands, and oceans of its fluid had gone down the throats of the natives. This was the origin of the Mexican national drink, pulque. No estimate can be formed of the amount used, but it is enormous. It is simply water for the natives, and a pulque shop graces, almost invariably, every corner in the cities. As stated in a former chapter, these shops are the finest decorated places in Mexico. Superb paintings of all scenes grace the interior and exterior; flags float gracefully over the doors, and customers are always plenty. Men, women and children can be seen constantly drinking from clay pitchers of a generous size, for the full of which they pay but two cents. No respectable Mexican would enter a pulque shop, but they all drink it at every meal.

The maguey is planted at the interval of three yards apart, and in such a manner that every way you look across an estate the plants run in a straight line; they thrive in almost any soil, and after planting need no more attention until the time of flowering, which is anywhere from six to ten years. The Indians know by infallible signs just when the flowering stem will appear, and at that time they cut out the whole heart, leaving only a thick outside, which forms a natural basin. Into this the sap continually oozes, and it is removed twice, sometimes thrice a day by a peon, who sucks it into his mouth and then ejects it into the jar he carries on his back. As soon as the plant exhausts all this sap, which was originally intended to give strength and life to the flowering stem. It dies, and is replaced by innumerable suckers from the old root. Great care must be exercised in cutting the plant—if the least too soon or too late, it is the death of it.

When first extracted the sap is extremely sweet, from which it derives its name, aguamiel (honey water). Some of this is fermented for fifteen and twenty-five days, when it is called madre pulque (the mother of pulque.) This is distributed in very small quantities among different pigskins; then the fresh is poured on it, and in twenty-four hours it is ready for sale. Plants ready to cut are valued at about $5, but an established maguey ground will produce a revenue of $10,000 to $15,000 per annum. Pulque is brought to town in pig and goat skins. It has a peculiar sour-milkish taste, and smells exactly like hop yeast.

From the mild pulque is distilled a rum called mescal. It is of a lovely brown, golden color, and very pleasant to the taste. One can drink it all night, be as drunk as a lord, and have no big head in the morning. If it was once introduced into the States nothing else would be used, for no difference how much is drank, the head is as clear and bright as the teetotaler's in the morning. Nor is this the only use of the plant. Poor people roof their huts with the leaves, placing one on the other like shingles. The hollowed leaf serves as a trough for conducting the water. The sharp thorns are stripped off,

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