Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 7
however, ride mornings and evenings. Among them are to be found the most graceful and daring riders in the world. Their outfits are gorgeous; true Mexican, saddle trimmed with gold and silver, graceful flaps of the finest fur on bridles finished with numberless silver chains. The riders are superb in yellow goatskin suits, ornamented with silver horse shoes, whips, spurs, etc., with silver braid on the short coat. A handsome sombrero, finished in silver, with silver monogram of the owner, revolvers, and proud, fiery, high-stepping horse completed the picture. The ladies' habits are similar to those now in the States, except the fine sombrero which replaces the ugly, ungraceful high silk hats.
All day Sunday is like a pleasant Fourth of July, but after eight o'clock the carriages become scarcer and scarcer, the people go to the theaters and to their homes, the poor seek a soft flagstone, where they repose for the night, and by nine o'clock the streets make one think of a deserted city.
Mexicans do not go half way in the matter of style. At one o'clock Sunday afternoons policemen in fancy uniforms, mounted on handsome horses, equipped with guns and lassoes, ride down the Boulevard. They are stationed in the center of the drive one hundred yards apart, every alternate horse's head in the same direction. There they remain, like statues, the entire afternoon. Sunday is a favorite day for funerals and change of residence. Men with wardrobes, pianos, etc., on their backs are seen trotting up and down the streets like our moving wagons on the first day of April. They mean well by work on Sunday, but it would appear awful to some of our good people at home. There is this advantage, at least: they have something better to do than to congregate in back-door saloons or loaf on the streets.
A HORSEBACK RIDE OVER HISTORIC GROUNDS.
A Sunday in Mexico is one long feast of champagne, without a headache the next day. When the first streaks of dawn appear in the east people bob out from this street and that, hostlers hurry horses off to private residences, gay riders whirl by as if eager to catch the shades of night as they are sinking in the west, and by 6:30 it looks as if Mexico was on horseback. Ladies wear beautiful costumes, dark habits, short skirts, silver and gold buttons, and broad sombreros. Men display greater variety of costumes; some wear yellow buckskin suits trimmed with gold or silver, others have a drab skin suit artistically trimmed, still others wear light cloth suits and high boots, buttoned at the side, and reaching the knee. A belt holding a revolver, and a Mexican saddle to which is fastened a sword complete this beautiful riding suit. And then what riders! It is the poetry of motion; they are as but part of the perfect horse they ride. Take the beautiful horses, artistic outfit, grand eyes glancing at you from beneath a pretty sombrero, and you have a Mexican scene which is irresistible. Even Americans are a thousand times handsomer when they don this outfit, and it is safe to wager that if the men in the States would adopt the Mexican riding-suit, there would not be a single man left after a two months' trial.
After searching the whole city over we at last found a woman we knew, who owned a habit. "Certainly you may have it, with great pleasure," and we thought what an angel she was until the time we needed it, when she sent a reply: "My riding-dress is, as I told you, at your service any day in the week but Sunday. I am surprised that you find need of it on that blessed day." That evening on going to a house for dinner we found her there, dressed to the height of fashion, discussing the people who had attended church in the morning and telling what a lovely drive she had on the paseo in the afternoon. She is a missionary.
However, as the sun was creeping up trying to catch night unawares, I mounted a horse, clad in a unique and original costume, to say the very least, which the gallant young men, however, pronounced odd and pretty, and wanted to know if it was the style of the States. The boulevard of the Reform looked as cool and sweet as a May morning in the country, and finer than a circus parade with the hundreds of horsemen going either way. "Vamos?" (Let us go). "Con mucho gusto" (with much pleasure), was our reply, and away flew our willing steeds, bearing us soon to the paradise of Mexico—Chapultepec.
Greeting the guards at the gate, we entered, riding under trees which sheltered Montezuma and his people, Cortes and his soldiers, poor Maximilian and Charlotta, where Mexican cadets laid down their lives in defense of their country, where the last battle was fought with the Americans, and where now is being prepared the future home of President Diaz. Around the castle and through the grounds we at last emerged at the opposite side. Here a scene worthy of an artist's brush was found. In a small adobe house, faced in front by a porch, were half-clad Mexicans dealing out coffee and pulque to the horsemen who surrounded the place. One had even ridden into the house. Awaiting our turn we viewed the scene. On our left were mounted and unmounted uniformed soldiers guarding one of the gates to Chapultepec. At our back were trains of loaded burros, about 200, on their way to market in the city. They stood around and about the old aqueduct, the picture of patience. Some few had lain down with their burdens and had to be assisted to their feet by their masters. Numerous little charcoal fires, above which were suspended pans and kettles, were being fanned by enterprising peons, who had started this restaurant to make a few pennies from their fellowmen. One fellow cut all kinds of meat, on a flat stone, into little pieces, which he deposited together in a kettle of boiling water, and picking them out again with a long stick sold them, half-cooked, to the waiting people. Some women were busily knitting, weaving baskets, etc., as they waited for this dainty repast. At last our turn came, and we turned our back on the outdoor restaurants while we endeavored to swallow a little bit of the miserable stuff they called coffee. As we started we saw the people adjust the burdens to their backs, take up-their long walking-poles, and start their burros toward the city. They had feasted and were now ready to continue their journey.
Leaping a ditch we left the highway and traveled through the fields, stopping to gather a few pepper berries with which to decorate ourselves, admiring the many colored birds flitting from tree to tree. Another ditch, which the horses cleared beautifully, was left behind, and we were once again on a highway, with dust about a foot deep, which made horses cough as well as their riders. "This is bad," one of the gentlemen managed to say at last. We were only able to give a sympathetic grunt and then had to gasp fifteen minutes before we could regain our breath. "There is a hacienda near where we will get a drink and change roads. Vamos." Off we went, leaving the dust behind, and were soon in the shaded drive leading to the hacienda.
Here, at Huischal, we soon forgot the scorching sun and blinding dust and gave ourselves up to the pleasure of the moment, watching the ever picturesque people gathered in groups beneath the shade. Under the trees were droves of horses, which were taken two by two, and led into a large walled pond. A peon walked on the wall, holding the bridle of the tethered horses, who swam from one end to the other, covered all but the head. After the bath the horses were rubbed well until they glistened like satin.
Climbing the hill we passed all kinds of Indians and huts. There were homes built entirely of the maguey plant, where straw mats served for beds. The people were all awake and engaged in various occupations; some women were washing, some were making their toilet—combing their hair with the same kind of brush they scrub with, and washing their bodies with a porous soapstone common to the country. Very few of the children had any clothing at all, but happiness reigned supreme. We passed several plain wooden crosses with inscriptions on them, asking travelers to pray for the deceased's soul. It brought forcibly to mind Byron's "Childe Harold!"
Quite on the top of the hill, and facing Chapultepec, gleams a marble monument erected in honor of the Mexicans killed while defending Casa de Mata (the house of the dead) and El Molino del Rey (the mill of the king). The Americans discovered, while encamped near here, that cannon, etc., were being manufactured at El Molino, so they decided to storm the place; they found the work more difficult than they expected. The Mexicans were fighting for a country they loved, and for which they had been compelled to fight for generations. Their walls were strong, but at last they gave way before the heavy artillery of the Americans, and their dead covered the battlefield. Casa de Mata is now a garrison, and the soldiers march back and forth with sad faces. El Molino del Rey now furnishes flour for the city. It shows no trace of the assault. Near by is a foundry for the manufacture of guns and munitions.
The city of the dead, Dolores, lies to the back of the mill. Funeral cars and draped street cars were just returning from the cemetery, and as the people are not allowed to ride or drive along this carway, we crossed into a plantation of pulque plant. It is a resentful thing, and a whole army in itself. It ran its sharp prongs into the legs of the men, endeavored to pull the skirts off the women, and played spurs on the horses; but we finally emerged at the entrance of the cemetery, alive, but wiser from our experience.
Mexican cemeteries have a certain peculiar beauty, and yet they are ugly. No one is allowed to ride or drive through; coffins are carried in and everybody is compelled to walk. Beautiful trees are cultivated, even the apple and the peach being reared for ornament. The walks are laid out nicely. Spruce trees are trained to form an arbor for long distances. Where they are divided or meet another walk, flowing fountains with large basins and statues grace the spot. One statue, which looked rather singular, was apparently carved out of wood. It represented a man with flowing locks and beard, clad in a long gown and holding in one hand a round ball. Time had its hand on heavily, and the wood was seamed and browned. Altogether it was a disreputable-looking thing. The keeper said it represented Christ with the world in his hand. Not a sprig of grass is permitted to grow in any of the graveyards, and they are swept as clean as our grandmother's backyard used to be.
Men were busy digging graves, and new ones were completely hidden by fresh flowers, and the flowers on others were withered and dead, as if the one so lately buried was already forgotten. The monuments are quite fine. Some have little altars on which candles are lighted on certain days. The prevailing style of marble shaft is coffin shaped. Some graves have miniature summerhouses built over them, the framework covered with Spanish moss. The effect is beautiful. The poor have only black and white wooden crosses to mark their ashes. One family had built a cave, formed of volcanic stone, over the grave, the effect being quite pretty and unique.
After partaking of refreshments at a long, low building, just outside the cemetery gate, we rode across the country and into Tacubaya, an ancient city once the home of Montezuma's favorite chief, where the American soldiers were encamped, now the home of Mexican millionaires, the site of the feast of the gamblers, and the prettiest village in Mexico. The gambling feast has ended and the town has been restored to its usual quietness. In the center plaza a band was holding forth, as is the custom in every Mexican village on Sunday mornings. People had gathered in sun and shade listening. The markets were in full blast; the thousands of luscious fruits looking fresh and inviting as they were spread on the ground awaiting buyers. The native ware was so peculiar and the "merchant"—half-dressed, brown and pleasant—was more than we could resist, so buying two small cream jugs, made after the style in vogue fifty years ago, we paid him two reales (fifty cents) and departed, leaving him happy.
Once again the willing horses climbed the hill, and reaching the summit we inspected the waterworks which have so faithfully supplied the city for years. A weather-beaten frame house hid the well or spring that has given such a generous supply. A wooden wheel as large as the house itself, moved slowly, as if age and rheumatism had stiffened its joints. The water flowed gently through an open trench into another building, whence it rushed, white, foaming and sparkling, into the ground, leaving only high brick air-pipes to mark its course to the aqueduct.
By the side of the trench a woman was doing her wash with poles across their shoulders and buckets suspended from either end, were carrying water to the houses down in the valley. An old cow with curly horns gazed at us in astonishment as we invaded her private meadow to get a view of a paper mill, which is built in the shape of an old English castle, down in a deep ravine in a nest of lovely green trees. The old cow had evidently come to the conclusion, after deliberate reasoning, that we were intruding, and she charged our horses in a first-class "toro" style. There were no capeadores to attract her attention, no bourladeras for us to hide behind, so we thought it best to fly, which we did with a Maud S speed. I did not mention I had lost my hat in the retreat until we were over the trench, and one of the young men gallantly started to recover it, against the protestations of the entire crowd. We expected to see him killed, but the cow stood watching him as he dismounted for the feminine headgear, gesticulating with head and tail and beating the earth with her fore legs. Remounting, he saluted her, then putting spurs to his horse he cleared the ditch, leaving the baffled and angry cow on the other side.
La Castaneda, the great pleasure-garden of the Mexicans, was next visited. Beautiful flowers, shrubbery and marble statues grace the well-kept resort. Neat little benches, cunning little vine-draped nooks, sprinkling fountains, secluded dancing-stands, deep bathing-basins, are a few of the many attractions. Shaded walks and twisting stairways would always bring us to some new beauty. Music and dancing are always held here every afternoon, and although it was nearly noon they had not even, so much as a cracker in the house. In Mexico nothing in the line of edibles is kept in the house overnight.
At Mixcoac we visited the famous flower gardens, and viewed the site where the American soldiers were garrisoned during the war. The Mexicans have found a new thing—a pun, and they are enjoying it heartily. It is not very brilliant or very funny, but it is traveling over the city, and every person has to repeat it to you. An American wanted to see Mixcoac—pronounced "Misquack." The conductor failed to let him out at the place, and turning to the Mexicans he said: "We have mis-t-quack." But it was funnier still to an American who was being showed around by a Mexican who spoke very little English. "I will take you to see "Mis-quack," said the Mexican. The American expressed his pleasure and willingness. "This is all Mis-quack," said the Mexican, pointing around the entire town. "Indeed," ejaculated the astonished tourist; "Miss Quack must be very wealthy."
Down the dusty road we came, passing natives