Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 9
resembling a handsome American boy, in honor of which the Mexicans have named him El Americano (the American). Their shouts are long and loud for El Americano, and presents are showered down on him. He can accomplish the daring feat of striking the bull's heart with one thrust of the sword, which he withdraws instantly. This is considered scientific, for when the sword strikes the heart it is very difficult to withdraw, and is most always left sticking in until the bull dies. In the frontier the horns are sawed off the bulls before they go in the ring, in order to make the fight fierce and bloodier. It is said they are trying to stop this cruel torture.
The fight being finished the bands depart and the people make their way to the train with reluctance, where venders earn a mint of money by selling them pulque and a mixture of crushed corn and red pepper, done up in corn husks, which is eaten with a relish. After this Mexican feast is finished the train pulls out, everybody, men, women, and children, light their cigarettes, and between puffs they discuss the merits and demerits of the fight. The homeward trip is a very joyous one, so much so that "the daisy policeman" are often called on to exert their influence in quieting the mirth.
THE MUSEUM AND ITS CURIOSITIES.
The first place tourists go on reaching Mexico is to the post-office. All one has to do when desiring to know what the latest incoming party looks like, is to take a position near the post-office. They stroll up the street, generally "goose fashion," stopping now and again to gaze at some prostrated pulque drinker; a wardrobe moving up the street on a pair of bare legs—i. e., a woman with a half-dozen babies tied to her; an old cripple sitting on the walk selling taffy, or a blind man selling lottery tickets. Amid all this they manage at last to get into the office, and we see them emerge, a half-hour later, with funeral-like faces, and woman-like tongues giving their opinions of the officials who do not understand bad Spanish, not to mention English, and of the mails which take three days and the same number of nights to come from the nearest point of the States, El Paso. For the want of something better to do we will follow to the next point of interest—the museum—which is in the same building, several doors above the post-office.
It is not the kind of a museum where you have a two-cent show for a ten-cent silver piece, but it is a place that any city might be proud of. At the top of the stairs, for the museum is on the second floor, are several large paintings of religious subjects and an immense mirror with a fine frame, which was stolen from some cathedral during one of the many revolutions of Mexico.
The first room contains a life-size portrait of Maximilian, seated on a beautiful white steed. Around are Mexicans gazing at him with admiration and awe. Maximilian is a handsome man, and the picture is said to be the finest of Maximilian in existence. If so, he was indeed, by virtue of looks, worthy to be an emperor.
In the center of the room on a table is the silver service, composed of one hundred and seventy-six pieces, used by Maximilian and Carlotta. Each piece bears the arms of the empire and the mark of the factory "Cristofle." It is massive and elegant; little silver cupids with wreaths of flowers are placed in every available spot. Many of the pieces are a load for two men. A bronze bust, life size, of Maximilian, has decorations and ten halberds, silver-mounted with blue and gold trimmings, ordered by the emperor to be used by the Palace Guard on state occasions, are all placed side by side. In a case in the same room are a number of loose pieces of armor worn by the conquerors. Two pieces, a breast plate and helmet, have the name of "Pedro de Alvarado," the Spanish captain who made the world-famous leap near Noche Triste.
Portraits of sixty-two Spanish Viceroys line the room. They were removed from the national palace here, on the establishment of the independence of the Republic. The frames are of black wood and the paintings are old style. It may have been the fashion in the day of white queues to always have one "off" eye, for one eye in nearly all the pictures goes a different direction from its mate, and in many instances the "off" eye is as roguish as a little brother, making you imagine the old rascals are going to wink, while the opposite orb gazes out in saint-like expression. The effect is ludicrous. The glass-ware of Emperor Iturbide, containing excellent portraits of himself and Chapultepec Castle, is also shown in this room. In the next room, in a glass case, lying; on a red satin, gold covered pillow, is a plaster paris cast of the face of Juarez, the much beloved Indian President; hairs of his head are still adhering to the plaster, and it is certainly the finest thing of the kind ever executed.The portraits of Fernando Cortes Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor I., Ignacio Allende, one of the earliest
The little idols perhaps attract more attention than anything else at the museum. In two long rooms the cases lining the walls are filled with idols of all sizes and shapes, made of stone onyx and marble. Some of the pottery is horribly exquisite. Beads used by the Indians, made of stones, teeth and bones, are numerous. The large objects on the pedestals come in for a share of wonder. They are adorned with names of wondrous length and non-pronounceable, and stories of horror. Izcozauhqui (the Fire of the Sun) is in ugly red and yellow clay; Huitzilopoxtli (the God of War), a black clay image, equally ugly. A clay urn with carved faces, flowers and fruits on the outside, is called the "Funeral Urn." The "Goddess of Death" is an image some fifty inches in height, with large round eyes formed of bone, and outstretched hands of the same material. Her skirts are formed of serpents and her head is a skull. Large brown earthen jars, said once to have held sacred fires, are among the collection. It may be historically correct and all the horrible tales connected with these things true, but the more one looks the less probable it seems, and after all they may have been innocent statues and flower vases used by this people in former days. It is just as likely, and easier to be believed, for how can it be asserted, when they are unearthed after centuries, that they were used for any special purpose. Of course the more sensational the story the better for print, but it is much easier to believe they were only harmless objects in some park or flower garden.
History tells us the Aztecs knew no alphabet, and used in place certain signs or figures for every subject—history, religion, feasts, wars, famines, and even poetry. The art of writing in this manner was taught by the priests, and handed down from father to son. Painters had to be frequently called to decipher the documents, and were treated with the highest consideration by the nobility. The manuscript employed was made of maguey and other plants and of skins. The Spanish destroyed the majority of these manuscripts, which would have been of great value if preserved. A few are now in the museum. From an artistic point of view they are horrid.
The colors they used in painting are nearly always indelible and very bright. One of the paintings shows a snow-capped mountain, Popocatepetl, and to the left the City of Mexico, entirely surrounded by water. A fifty foot maguey paper painted in black, contains the history of the Aztecs. How they left an island which held a temple and came to Mexico, establishing the city, with all the principal events which befell them in their wanderings. The battle of Noche Triste and the advent of the Spanish, are carefully portrayed. This is one of the famous picture writings, which are too tiresome to enumerate further.
The feather shield which belonged to Montezuma II., is in a frame in the same room with the picture writing. It is an old, worn-out, faded thing, and hangs too far away to be seen well. It was among the curiosities given by Cortes to the Emperor Charles V. He in turn presented if to the Museum of Vienna, where it remained until Maximilian restored it to Mexico.
One room is devoted to the display of Mexican marbles, stones, ores, etc. Another has petrified snakes, wood, human and animal bones. Cow horns measuring seven feet from tip to tip were excavated somewhere near Mexico. Elephant jaws and tusks which treble the size of those sported by the late lamented Jumbo are also from the historic, mysterious earth of Mexico. Among the many other things were noticed human bones protruding through a rock, and a turtle's shell which, if opened, would make a carpet for a grand salon.
Snakes, lizards, fish and crabs of all kinds fill one good sized room, divided in the center by stuffed alligators, sword fish, crocodiles and boa constrictors. This opens into another department, and here you meet the Mexican dudes occasionally. There are few collections of birds to this. Added to their own numerous beautiful and rare birds are specimens from all parts of the world. The work is especially fine, and the birds and fowls appear as if in life. One thing to be regretted is they have no butterflies. In all the museum they have but one small case, and they are the beauties which come from Brazil. The collection of beetles is somewhat larger, but still is nothing remarkable.
Monstrosities are quite plenty. One little calf has one head, one large eye in the center of its forehead, and two perfect bodies. Another has one perfect body and two heads. Two pheasants are fastened together like the Siamese twins. Dogs, cats, chickens, and even babies come in for their share of doubling up into all kinds of queer shapes. Monkeys, baboons, gorillas and a dilapidated elephant and giraffe finish this interesting quarter.
The court of the museum is planted with beautiful flowers and trees. Large idols were once standing there, but they have been moved inside of the building opposite the entrance. The idols can lay no claim to beauty, and are anything but interesting, except to people who have a wonderful amount of faith and a capacity to believe a fellow-creature's wild imagination. Scientific gentlemen with long faces and one eye-glass gaze at the images and translate, or at least pretend to, the hieroglyphics which cover them. We would not think for a moment of putting an opinion against one held by wise men since the time of the Conquest, and we would not like to say Bernal Diaz had an object in making the Indians as black as possible, but we would like to gently hint our little observations.
The sacrificial stone, where they claim fifty thousand people have been sacrificed, looks little as if intended for that bloody purpose. The stone is perfectly round, between four and six feet across and about two feet in thickness. On the upper side is sculptured the image of the sun or moon and on the sides are groups of men, fifteen in number, and fifteen in number, and fifteen separate groups. Certain hieroglyphics accompany each group. The work is fine, and must have been done with great care and patience by a master hand. Marring the top is a rudely cut hole with a shallow groove running to the edge. If these people were making a sacrificial stone would they have cut fine figures, requiring care and time, and then spoil them by cutting out a big hole? Would not the basin have been cut out finely and the carvings made to fit? I may be lacking in knowledge and faith, but I have tried to believe, have gazed on the stone with the thought, "History says the blood of fifty thousand human beings has dripped down over that stone," but proofs assert themselves, and the poor scandalized thing seems to hold up every side and the ugly marring of its beauty, and reply, "Now, do I look as if I was made for that purpose?"
Though believing it was nothing more than an innocent Aztec calendar, we will repeat the sensational legend that covers it with a bloody cloak. There existed an Aztec order which worshiped the sun, and on this stone they sacrificed human beings, calling them the "messenger to the sun." The "messenger," who was always a prisoner, was painted half red and half white. Even his face was divided in this manner. A white plume was glued to his head. In one hand he carried a gaily trimmed walking-stick, and in the other a shield with cotton on it, and on his back was a small bundle of different articles. Music was played as he ascended the stairway to the temple. There he was greeted by some high priest, who commanded him to go to the sun, present the articles he carried and deliver messages they sent. Finally, when he reached the summit, he turned toward the sun and in a loud voice proclaimed what was told him. Then they took away his bundles and cut his throat, drenching the sun on the stone and filling the bowl with his blood. "When the blood ceased to flow the heart was cut out and held aloft to the sun until cold. Then the message was delivered.It is said the Aztec calendar was carved in 1479, and its inauguration was celebrated with fearful sacrifices, but the conquering Cortes had it pulled down, and it remained buried until lowering the grade of the ancient pavement in 1790, when it was built in the southwestern tower of the cathedral. There it remained until about a year ago, when it was removed to the museum, where it now occupies a prominent position. The Sad-Indian, a statue so-called
It is quite interesting to roam around and examine this broad face and that slim one, from those of mammoth size to ones the size of one's hand. We grow to like the queer objects which certainly formed some part in the lives of those strange people who lived and died centuries before us.In one corner locked up in a cell by itself is the coach of Maximilian and Carlotta. It is one of the finest in the world, and is similar in construction and finish to that used on State occasions by the Czar of Russia. The coach was a present to Carlotta from Napoleon II. It is so fine that it is difficult to give a description of it. The royal coat of arms is on every available spot, on the doors and above, wrought in gold, and embroidered in gold on the crimson velvet which covers the driver's seat. The entire coach is gold and crimson except for the inside, which is heavy white silk, cords, fringe and tassels of the same. Gold cherubs the size of a three-month-old baby finish each corner. Chapultepec, holding its royal owners, it must have been a sight fit for kings. But it stands to-day a silent memento of a murdered young emperor and a blighted empress. All the men employed at the museum are disabled soldiers, and it speaks well of the government to give them this employment. They seem to rightly belong in among this queer stuff, for it would take half a dozen of them to make a whole man. The museum is open only from ten to twelve, and is free to all.
But our tourists are even now standing on the outside, wondering if they have not fasted enough to do penance for all the sins ever committed; and if they will get much or, else than frijoles, rice, and red peppers for dinner more properly speaking, breakfast. We know just what they will visit this afternoon, and if you care to see it also we will try, in our humble way, to show you around.