URUAPAN’S boom never came to life again during my stay of four weeks. This was due to the heavy and continuous rains and to repeated washouts on the railroad, which prevented the running of trains, without which no boom can survive. Despite the daily downpour, the mornings were usually fine, and I seldom missed an early ride, often returning as fast as my horse could run in a warm, drenching rain. The storms are sudden and violent, and while Uruapan has a temperate and quite ideal climate, it is situated on the edge of the hot country, which it in some ways resembles.
I began to long for Mexico City, and feeling rested and refreshed by the balmy air and constant out-of-door exercise, and with nerves relaxed by the lower altitude (Uruapan’s altitude is but 5,500 feet) I resolved to re-turn to Mexico. I had heard that the road-bed was being repaired, but as rumors were vague as to when the trains would go through, I engaged a mozo, with saddle and pack-animals, to convoy me in the direction of the capital, with the agreement that he should not desert me until he saw me on board a railway train. This gave me an opportunity to see the rich coffee plantations, through which we were riding all day. Fortunately for me the rains held off, and I enjoyed the journey, which was marred by but one accident. The mule that was carrying my trunk got mired in a mud-hole and sank rapidly until only her head and the top of my trunk were visible. The mozo jumped off his horse and leaped in after her and I feared both would be lost. But at that moment a number of pack mules came in sight, from the opposite direction, and the two Indians who were in charge of them jumped off their horses and into the mud-hole to help my mozo. It was a funny sight but for them doubt-less a common occurrence. With grunts, whistles and cheerful ejaculations, among which was the familiar ” Andale! ” they half-shoved, half-lifted the mule out of the mud-hole. A more good-natured bit of ” lend-a hand ” work I never saw, and while I gave them money, it seemed a poor return for their prompt and friendly aid. The best of all, though, were the compliments exchanged between them and my mozo on parting, when they gravely lifted their hats to each other.
Shortly after sundown we arrived at the railway junction of Acambaro, where I found the road intact, and where I shared the kind hospitality of the American foreman who was living in a box-car, and who made me welcome to supper and a bed. The following morning I got a train for Mexico City, arriving there late that night.
I now began to appreciate the pleasures of friendship with the Mexicans. Don Juan, my other fellow-boarders, and my hostess received me so kindly as to make my return seem a veritable home-coming. They plied me with questions about the cities I had visited, and I then observed what always impressed me while in Mexico, namely the manifest pleasure of the Mexicans in the enjoyment of visitors to their country. After several weeks at the pleasant house in Calle San Agustin, which I soon came to regard as home, and which I made my headquarters throughout my stay in the country, I decided to go on another journey. My friends now advised me to visit Queretaro, the capital of the state of the same name, famed for its fine churches, and Guadalajara, capital of the state of Jalisco, which for its many charms is often called ” Pearl of the Occident.” Don Juan, whose vacations were near, invited me to visit him at his home, which was in Lagos, a city I must pass through in going north. This was my first invitation to visit the home of a friend, and I accepted it with pleased anticipation. We accordingly agreed that after a month spent in visiting Queretaro, Guadalajara and Guanajuato, which the Howards had told me was the quaintest, most picturesque city in Mexico, I should proceed to the city of Lagos, where Don Juan would meet me at the station. And such was my trust in Don Juan’s loyalty I had no more doubt that I should find him there at the appointed time than that I should be there myself.
Don Juan further showed his interest in my travels by accompanying me to the train, which left for Queretaro at nine A. M. The custom of seeing friends off in Mexico is immutable. The time has been when a Mexican friend would rise before daylight to accompany me to the train and I knew protestation would be vain. It is customary between friends. It would have been the same to Don Juan had the Queretaro train left at midday or at midnight. With a hearty hug, which I now participated in as naturally as hand-shaking, we said ” Adios ! ” and ” Hasta luego ! ” which means ” Until soon!” and I was once more en camino (en route).
We reached Queretaro in the middle of the afternoon. I was tempted to believe that the cargador who hailed me, saying, ” Here I am, my chief!” had run all the way from Mexico he looked so natural. I have heard strange tales of these Indians traveling across lots and beating railway trains. He held up his badge to show me his number, assuring me I could trust him, so I handed my traps through the window. A street car ran from the station to the center of the city and on reaching the terminus, the driver, who was Indio legitimo, wound the reins round the brake and politely escorted me to my hotel. Centavos are but slight return for such courtesies as these.
It was at the hotel, however, that I discovered my star was really in the ascendant. I had long heard of Doctor S as a charming and cultured man who, after traveling the world over, had settled on Queretaro for a home. I thought I might venture to introduce my-self on the strength of our having a mutual friend; but resolved to be most discreet. Foreign residents, in good standing in Mexico, do not as a rule suffer from any lack of visitors. Judge of my amazement then when the doctor, after regarding me searchingly for a moment, asked, ” Are you the man who likes Mexico?” I put on a bold front and answered, ” At your service.” Then I cast a surreptitious glance over my shoulder half expecting to see a gendarme at the door. What had I ever said about doctors? But the doctor did n’t turn me over to the authorities. He took me under his benevolent wing then and there. As a result I had an opportunity to view the art treasures of this ancient city, as only one with a friend at court can do, and to hear the world-reminiscences of a most interesting man.
Our first visit was to the Governor’s palace. The doctor said he had business at the palace, asking with an apology if I would mind waiting for him a few minutes. He led the way into the reception sala and called my attention to the magnificent chairs and tables of solid mahogany, beautifully carved, and the great mirrors in their superb gold frames. Then a gentleman appeared in the door at the end of the sala and bowed. The doctor arose and asked me to accompany him. We passed into an adjoining room and I found myself in the presence of the Governor of Queretaro. Had I realized the honor before me I should have been a bit nervous and tried to think what I should say. My anxiety would have been needless, however, for no visitor could be ill at ease with Governor Cosio. Like many distinguished men, he possessed the courtesy and kindliness that are reassuring and delightful to strangers. He at once addressed us in English and paid us the compliment of speaking English throughout our visit. He was a very handsome man in the prime of life, elegant, dignified, yet singularly unassuming. I shall remember our visit as a most delightful experience.
We afterwards saw the palace. The museum, which occupies one of the smaller salas, is an impressive and significant exhibit. There are the relics recalling the tragic end of a dream-empire, and the sad fate of Maximilian, Miramon, Mejia and Mendez. One of the most interesting objects is the rusty lock, through whose key-hole the famous Corregidora (chief magistrate’s wife) Dona Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, a prisoner in her own house by order of her husband, sent a whispered message to Hidalgo that his plans were discovered, thereby precipitating the grito (cry) of independence and the revolution. A portrait of this noble dame shows a strong” commanding face, suggesting the patrician, but above all the fearless, patriotic spirit, ready to do and dare all for her beloved country.
Queretaro’s churches are superb. They are quite different from those of Mexico, Puebla and Morelia. It was here that Tres Guerras lavished the wealth of his wonderful genius. One need not be an attist to be affected by this man’s work. The church of Santa Rosa, with its lovely tower and dome and quaint flying-buttresses, all distinctly Oriental, is startlingly beautiful. Much of the interior is by Tres Guerras’ own hand. The main altar has been destroyed, but the side altars with their magnificent gold and green ornamentation are still left. The paintings are Tres Guerras’: the exquisite crucifix is his: and all are perfect. The end of the sacristry is filled by a large canvas showing the old convent garden, with the nuns at their duties among the flowers. From the church, where we had been received kindly by the good padre, a gentle and courteous man, we wandered into the old convent gardens and through the orchard, under drooping boughs and trailing vines. On every side towered masses of solid masonry. The convent is now used as a hospital but it is so extensive that a large portion of it is necessarily unoccupied.
I have written of Santa Rosa because it is the crowning glory of Queretaro. Every one will tell you that. Even the Indian of whom you ask the name of another church will inquire anxiously if you have seen Santa Rosa. Another splendid building is the old convent of the Augustines, now the Federal Palace. It has the finest patio I have seen, with a lovely old fountain and corridors of the rose-colored Queretaro stone, magnificently carved. The gorgeous tower of the church, seen from the patio, never finished yet grand in its incompleteness, adds the sadly poetic note common to Mexico’s ancient edifices. Santa Clara, San Felipe, Santo Domingo and many others are also very imposing. I know little about building but revere it above all the other arts, and realize dimly its influence on humanity. Not all pictures nor all music are for all people; but buildings are. I felt this as never before when the Indian inquired so anxiously, ” Have you seen Santa Rosa? ”
Another example of wonderful building is the great aqueduct which brings an abundance of crystal-clear water to Queretaro. First you must see it by day. Note its seventy-two arches, the center one more than sixty feet in the clear and its great length of over six hundred meters. Then go again at moonrise. The arches cast their long shadows across the quiet valley and the ruined hacienda lies white and silent in the moonlight. Aqueducts lend a certain stateliness to a city, like that given a mansion by a long approach between rows of trees. They are monuments to courage, skill and untiring labor and they confer on the city to which they pay tribute, all the dignity that these terms convey.
Queretaro owes her aqueduct to her noble benefactor, the Marqués de la Villa del Villar del Aguila, who gave $88,000 from his private purse. The total cost of construction was something over $131,000. It was begun in 1726 and completed nine years later. In the Plaza de la Independencia there is a fine statue of the Marqués by Diego Alamaras Guillen. It is beautifully carved from native stone and its noble proportions and life-like pose mark the sculptor a man of genius. The pedestal rises from a fountain basin, begun in 1843. The original statue was destroyed by a cannon ball during the siege of ’67.
The lineal descendants of the last marques and the direct heir to the title is Dr. José Fernandez de Jauregui, a resident of Queretaro, whom I had the pleasure of meeting. Among the heirlooms in Dr. Jauregui’s possession are the gorgeous costumes worn by his ancestors, the marqués and his lady. They are more than a century and a half old, yet the gloss of the velvet, the sheen of the satin are undimmed by time. There is a wonderful gown of emerald green velvet heavily embroidered in gold, with a little shoulder cape brilliant with cut stones and embroidery. There is a dress of apricot satin, wrought with silver and one fancies the rich beauty of the marquesa at its best in this setting. The marqués was just as resplendent in velvet and brilliants and gold embroidery with a silken montera (net) to hold his long tresses which have left their mark on the coat-collars. By favor of Carlos V the family were allowed to employ the royal coat-of-arms in their decorations; and in the collection are a dozen or more medallions of silk and gold, which were used on the backs of chairs and divans. There are also some black pearl ornaments which are priceless.
I like Queretaro. It is not only charming and picturesque but spotlessly clean. The air at this elevation, somewhat over six thousand feet, is mildly invigorating. I had always supposed the city’s fame rested on its churches and its historic interest. In future I shall never tire of praising its perfect climate and its delicious waters. The baths of Patche in the suburbs are medicinal and peculiarly efficacious in rheumatism. The favorite bathing resort, however, is the beautiful Canada, forty-minutes’ ride by street car from the center of the city. I wish I might write more at length of Queretaro, of its hospital, orphanage, and schools, especially the fine state college, with observatory and museum attached.
The young people have every educational advantage and among them are many brilliant musicians. That night we heard in rehearsal the ” Pilgrim’s Chorus ” from ” Tannhauser,” by a full orchestra, accompanied by pianos and organ played by four fair young Queretanas. We were in the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia. The place was flooded with moonlight; the fountain was splashing softly; and on the still night air came the glorious strains of Wagner.
The second evening we climbed el Cerro de las Campanas (Hill of the Bells) to watch the sun go down and see the mountain shadows fall upon the city. Austria’s emperor was erecting a little chapel there in memory of his brother Maximilian, and the Generals Miramon and Mejia. The place was freighted with tragic memories; but the quiet beauty of the scene and the contented hum of voices (the hill was covered with people) made wars and unhappiness seem dim and far-off.
Slowly the sun dropped back of the mountain, and then came the ethereal blue twilight over the city. The people were going home and we soon found ourselves quite alone save for one Indian, who, remained motionless, looking intently across the valley, while a pet kid, that evidently belonged to him, went frisking about, like a dog, among the rocks. There is a strange interest attached to these dark-hued sons of the soil that I can never resist. What was he brooding over? we wondered. At last we asked him about his goat. It was very gentle, he said; just like a little dog; it followed him everywhere. He and his pet were born on the same hacienda, but now they had left their old home and come to work near the city, gathering hay for the senores of Queretaro. Hours were too long on the hacienda often from two in the morning till eight at night and only 18 cents a day. Now he had his little house, with his wife and one nino (baby) and his goat; he sometimes earned fifty cents a day, ” and.” he added, ” one can rest a little.” At present he and the goat were out for a walk. He had a bright face and seemed to enjoy telling his little history. As we said, ” hasta luego,” we asked him casually regarding the chapel. It was for three generals he said, who were killed at the siege. One was Miramon, the other Mejia, and the other quien sabe, he was a foreign general who came ” walking” in the revolution. We pressed him in vain for the name. No, he could not remember. ” He was a strangerwho knows his name?” “But,” he added solemnly, ” when they were shot, the country remained at peace.” Then he said, ” May you go well!” and with a bound was off in the darkness followed by the goat.
After a pleasant week spent in seeing Queretaro I took leave of my new friends and went on to Irapuato, where I changed cars for Guadalajara which I reached in the early evening. Guadalajara is simpatica. What a delightful word that is! It expresses much in little as no other word can. It is essentially Latin. We northern peoples think it but seldom say it. In fact we have n’t just the right word for it. We say a city is beautiful but that does n’t mean the same; a climate is delightful but that is n’t it; a person charming, fascinating, magnetic, and even then we have n’t said the equivalent of simpatica. To my mind the nearest thing to it in English is, ” I like.” In Mexico if we like a place and its people we say they are simpaticos and that tells the story. I had always heard this of Guadalajara. At the last, some of my friends in Mexico, whose homes are there, began to caution me. ” Don’t expect too much,” they said, ” you may be disappointed.” But I had a feeling I should not be disappointed. Do we find what we look for I wonder ! Not always ! But the chances are largely in our favor. If we look on things in a friendly way we get the ” glad eye ” in return; but a supercilious stare is apt to encounter el ojo de vidrio (glassy eye).
The first thing that impressed me was a homelike feeling. I was not unprepared for this for my friends had said, “You will see when you are there the zaguan doors open till late at night, the patios filled with flowers and electric light, the senoritas promenading in the plaza and much music everywhere.” It was just as they said. The air, though rather warmer than in Mexico, was fresh and pure. It had rained in the night and the day was like a northern day after a shower.
The Plaza de Armas is very like that of Mexico in its surroundings. At the north is the Cathedral with its pointed, oriental-looking towers; the Governor’s Palace, a beautiful edifice, is on the east, and at the south and west are portales as in Mexico. The garden is crowded with palms and flowering shrubs and the walks and benches are shaded by orange trees heavy with fruit. On Sunday morning a fine military band was playing and the seats were comfortably filled. With the flower-scented air and the golden fruit overhead I found myself quite astray as to the time of year. I could not get used to summer atmosphere when it should be fall. While October and November are delightful months in the north, they are always attended by the realization that their beauty is not for long: the decay of the year is always sad, and while the spring awakening more than atones, we know there is another autumn coming. The feeling that Mexico’s delightful weather is going on and on gets us into easy ways perhaps, but I like it.
I looked in vain for the promenaders on the plaza Sunday morning. Then I went and explored the portales. The west portales were thronged with Guadalajara’s fair ones, while all along against the store-fronts, were rows of chairs where people sat laughing and talking. Such lovely faces, glorious eyes and dainty costumes as I saw under the west portales !
Guadalajara is more of an evening city than any I had yet seen; that is there is more out-of-door evening life. The nights are warm and windows are left wide open. You hear the chatter of voices, the music of guitar or piano and catch glimpses of richly furnished rooms in passing. There is music on the plaza four nights in the week and it seems a general breathing spot for the people. The class line does not seem quite so strictly drawn there and all grades meet on the plaza. The young peon in a zarape holds the blue-rebozo-girl’s hand in the shade of the banana palm; the more settled ones smoke calmly on the benches; ladies promenade bareheaded, arm in arm, and the babies romp about, with ayes at their heels. One evening it was growing dark when a small fairy in white, with a cloud of dark hair and big black eyes, detached herself from a flying band of companion fairies and did me the honor to alight beside me; that is she sat down on the same bench and began swinging her feet. Finding myself tete-a-tete with so lovely and extremely young a senorita I thought I might venture to speak to her. She was tired of playing, she informed me, and had left her friends to rest a moment. Oh, no, they were not stronger than she, a little larger that was all. I expected every moment to see a dark guardian in black shawl and white apron swoop down upon her, but nothing happened; and she sat and trilled her baby Castilian at me till suddenly that flying band appeared again. Then with a cunning little bow and a sweet ” con permiso ” (” with your permission “) she flew away.
While these children were frolicking after dusk on the plaza the outer walk was crowded with Indians, listening to the music. It is enough to make one like the Indians to see how unreservedly children can be trusted among them. The peon class impresses one as distinctly superior. The people are cleanly and intelligent and there seems to be little drunkenness. Is this the reason they are allowed more privileges or is it a result? A certain recognition by their betters must certainly make the serving-classes more self-respecting. Another tribute to their good behavior are the few gendarmes. I missed the lanterns of the gendarmes at every crossing that we are used to in Mexico City.
Guadalajara is an easy city to go about in. The streets are continuous instead of broken, as in Mexico City, with a different name for every square. The names of Mexico’s streets are trying. When I have once left the Zocalo, I never know whether I am on Plateros or San Francisco: nor when Avenida Juarez ends and Patoni begins. Guadalajara is clean. Its great market always has the appearance of having been swept and tended. There seemed a scarceness of flowers, or perhaps I visited the market on an off day. The display of vegetables and fruits was fine. Camotes, the Mexican sweet potatoes, are abundant in these parts, but their Irish cousins are small as everywhere in Mexico.
The population of Guadalajara is somewhat over one hundred and twenty thousand. The altitude is about six thousand feet. Among public works nearing completion were new waterworks and modern city drainage. The waters of the Rio Grande were being utilized to the end of supplying from four to five thousand horse-power in electricity. The canal for this work was already finished and I was told that in less than five years the city would have more than ten thousand horse-power in electricity, at a cost of from one-third to one-fourth of the present cost of steam. Guadalajara’s greatest improvement, however, is the new railroad connecting this city with the Pacific port of Manzanillo, making Guadalajara the second city in commercial importance in the republic.
Guadalajara oranges are famed for their delicious flavor. And here may be tasted in its perfection the noted vino de Tequila, a pleasant but heady beverage, which is made principally near the town of Tequila, a day’s journey from Guadalajara. One large hacienda produces from fifty to a hundred barrels of tequila a day for export to Central and South America.
The great charm of the country is its unending variety. The cities and their peoples retain their individuality to a surprising degree. In each place you encounter ways and customs quite different from any you have seen, and in each you hear of other places where the customs are still different. You naturally desire to visit these as well and there seems no end to the interest of traveling. In going from the capital to Guadalajara, you will notice a marked contrast in the customs of the two cities; but it takes time to appreciate the many little differences. These are largely due to climate, I think; for instance after sunset, when the air in Mexico City is rather penetrating, in Guadalajara it is just fresh enough to make one wish to be out of doors. There was comparatively little driving. I saw some stylish turn-outs but the people as a rule seemed to prefer walking.
The streets are most attractive in the evening. The ladies go for a stroll in the cool of the day, just between daylight and dark, and you see them sauntering about in light summer gowns, and frequently with heads uncovered. The portales are a favorite evening promenade. They are brilliantly lighted, and there are always chairs to rent if one cares to rest. The Sunday evening paseo, which is the event of the week, might justly be called, ” A Dream of Fair Women.
There was practically no begging in the streets and I was forgetting how to say, ” Que le vaya con Dios!” (” May you go with God! “) which a Mexican friend told me gratified the average beggar quite as much, if not more than centavos; and which I found far less expensive. You hear little of lack of bread here. Every night the street before the cathedral is thronged with little kitchens, doing a thriving business, and there is food to burn judging from the odors. There are no empenos or ordinary pawn-shops in Guadalajara, there is only a monte de piedad and two branch offices. There is a respectable air to these places that dispels the romance. It is in your dusty, ill-smelling, sure enough pawn-shop on an out-of-the-way street in Mexico City, where the Gachupin in attendance does not deign to notice you and can with difficulty be persuaded to name a price, that the thing becomes deeply, intensely interesting, and you not infrequently find a prize.
El Baratillo in Guadalajara is as large as Mexico’s, Plaza Mayor. It is wholly unlike any other place. There are the usual collections of old iron, crockery and miscellaneous junk, and besides there are vegetable and fruit stands, restaurants, and places where they sell a pint of charcoal or a single stick of wood. The latter is displayed in little pyramids of four puny sticks, at three cents for the lot which I consider dear. The two extremes of city and country meet in the Baratillo. You see the dingy collector of old clothes and scrap-iron side by side with the fresh-looking ranchero, who has tramped since sunrise the day before, behind his little train of burros laden with sugar cane, and come to sell his wares in the plaza. The former recognized me at once as his lawful prey and began producing rusty spurs, candlesticks, and old jewelry. The latter stared in open-eyed wonder, but when I inquired about the calla he promptly chopped off a hunk and invited me to try it. It is quite customary for all hucksters to ask you to prove their wares and their patrons as a rule seem hard to please. The woman with boiled calabazas (pumpkins) for sale is most obliging. She has them loaded on a burro in two great baskets or panniers. When a customer appears, she jabs a knife into one of the pumpkins and presents it for trial. The customer tastes, smacks her lips and shakes her head. The vendor jabs another which does n’t quite suit either and so it goes on, till one is found with just the right flavor. The man who buys sugar cane gets a lot for his money. Fancy six to eight feet of long-drawn-out sweetness for five cents. When I see a peon trudging homeward with one across his shoulder, I always picture Mrs. Peon and all the little Peones seated in a row before their hut, complacently chewing.
The street vendor’s cry is as different from that of Mexico City as though it were of another country. You miss the monotonous yet musical chant of the Indian women that we hear in Mexico, especially those that sell the little reed birds whose name is something like chichicuitote. Here, while everything imaginable is hawked through the streets, the vendors are nearly always men. The ice-cream man is first on the scene and last to retire. He appears often at seven o’clock in the morning, with a tall wooden pail balanced on his head, and stopping in the middle of the street roars, ” Helados por un centavo ! ” (Ices for one cent). He then enumerates the various flavors. His voice is harsh and guttural, as are those of all his class, and you hear him on his rounds till late at night. The man with baked camotes carries them on his head in an oblong wooden tray; and I saw fine fresh fish from Chapala sold in the same manner. At night, the tamale men are out and one occasionally hears a woman’s voice.
English is decidedly in vogue. Many speak it readily and you constantly hear, ” All right!” ” How do you do?” ” Good-by ! ” etc. It is amazing how the Mexicans acquire our language and employ it with comparative ease, without leaving their own country, when so many foreigners live in Mexico for years and never get beyond the “present indicative” verbally.
Guadalajara is the home of the charro horseman, but even there he is becoming infrequent. When in evidence, he wears his attractive costume with peculiar grace, as though to the manner born. Although many of the suits are richly ornamented, all have a certain distinctive air as though made for service. Some are of brown or gray cloth, with nothing to mark them save the short jacket and tight-fitting trousers. The young men affect severely plain riding suits as a foil for their richly mounted saddles and trappings. One fine-looking fellow was dressed entirely in black without so much as a silver button. His fiery little Arab was coal-black. But the saddle was the most superb thing I had seen, with dazzling silver decoration and heavy box-stirrup, apparently of solid silver. Add to this a gorgeous, rainbow-hued zarape, tightly rolled at the back of the saddle, and you have a very splendid figure. Among the many picturesque sights of this picture-country, the charro horseman shines preeminent. In my own little collection of the mind’s eye, one of the choicest bits has for one figure a handsome young charro, with all the attendant bravery the name suggests. And the other is a girl with wonderful dark eyes, and a classic profile, half-hidden in the folds of a black shawl.
A delightful part of Mexico is the suddenness with which fiestas drop down on you. I say ” drop down ” advisedly. A fiesta once dropped down on me and nearly extinguished me. It began on Friday and lasted over until Monday. I had not the faintest premonition that this fiesta was coming. On Thursday, I had wasted all my substance on sundry antiquities which a designing person brought me: idols, swords and the like. Friday morning, at earliest banking hours, I sallied forth to put myself in funds. The bank was closed till Mon-day. I had the munificent sum of thirty-five cents in my pocket, and as my only available friend at that time happened to be one who had frequently expressed his aversion to borrowing and being borrowed of, I passed three awful days. I determined not to expend one single centavo needlessly, and it was nothing short of tragedy to see those thirty-five constituents of a forlorn hope slowly but surely fading away. If you want to know what it really is to be ” out in this cold world,” try living three days on thirty-five cents. You can get the feeling even in Mexico. Of course I might have pawned my purchases, but it never occurred to me I had an ” uncle ” in Mexico.
A fiesta dropped down just as unexpectedly while I was in Guadalajara but luckily I had more than thirty-five cents in the pocket. I first realized the season, when I found the portales crowded, and the little notion stands converted into confectioners’ shops, with every sort of symbol displayed in sugar.
After all, the distinguishing traits of Mexico’s various cities and their peoples are in outward and really unimportant details. The same unwritten laws govern society in all parts alike. It is an odd fact that many rules of etiquette in the neighbor-republics are diametrically opposite; and I believe few of us, either Mexicans or Americans, realize this until one visits the country of the other. In the north a family who may be newcomers in a city or locality, wait to receive the visits of those who care to know them. In Mexico, they must at once send ” at home ” cards to all whom they care to know. It would be the greatest temerity, on the part of a northern man, to take the initiative in saluting a lady, with whom he had slight acquaintance. Here it is the very thing he must do. Nor is this all. A stranger in a Mexican city must bow first on meeting each and every gentleman to whom he has been presented; and if he would avoid breaches of etiquette, he must be literally lynx-eyed; for his new acquaintances will make little or no sign of recognition. They regard him with their usual well-bred composure; it remains for him to do the rest. I realized all this once while strolling with some acquaintances on a much-frequented promenade. The place was crowded and the light was that trying mixture of twilight and electricity, broken by patches of absolute darkness. It dawned upon me that I was in a delicate position. People I had met but once would not bow to me first nor could I recognize them in that light ! Ladies especially look so differently at different times, owing to a change in costume. I wondered which was worse, to bow to people I didn’t know or to fail to bow to those I did. The realization that I had perhaps been guilty of many omissions was annoying, and I begged my companion to sit down for a while, feeling that safety lay in inaction. But there was one girl who felt sorry for the gringo. Anyway she bowed, with a dignified yet gracious bend of the head and that bow more than atoned for all.
One more episode that is too good to be lost. I went into a shop one day and was served by the owner in person, a comely dame, ” fat, fair and forty.” After a few trivial remarks regarding the article I was buying, she proceeded to subject me to a rigid and searching cross-examination. Was I French, German or English and how long had I been in the country? Had I come for business or pleasure and when was I going home? Was I married or single? Had I left a novia (sweet-heart) in Mexico City? Ah ha! it was plain that I had and that I was buying a gift to send to her ! This I stoutly denied and said that on the contrary I was in search of a novia, at the same time casting ardent glances at my fair inquisitor. I might as well have languished at a stone image. Her curiosity was wholly impersonal and disinterested. She wanted to know because she wanted to know, and having satisfied herself, she took my money and said, ” que le vaya Vd bien ! ” (May you go well!) as unfeelingly as though she had not just received the sacred confidences of my inmost soul.