Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 30

Six Months In Mexico  (1889)  by Nellie Bly

long as the husband cares to pay for them, anywhere from three days to a month, and then, like the last scene on the stage, the curtain goes down, lights are put out, and you see no more of the actors who pleased your fancy for a short time.

The husband puts his wife in his home, which is henceforth the extent of her life. She is devoted, tender, and true, as she has been taught. She expects nothing except to see that the servants attend to the children and household matters—and she gets only what she expects. He finds divers amusements, for, according to the customs of his country, his "illusion" (what they call love) dies after a few days spent alone with his bride, and he only returns at stated intervals to fondle or whip his captive—just as fancy dictates. The men discuss at the club the fact that he has more loves than one, but they all have, and it excites no censure. But the world can never know what the bride thinks; private affairs are never made public. He can even kill her, as did their predecessor Cortes, and it will excite little or no comment. When matured years come on, she loses what good looks she had; three hundred pounds is nothing: for weight, and on her lip grows a heavy, black mustache. She cares for nothing but sleeping, eating, drinking, and smoking the perpetual cigarette. And in this way ends the fair Mexican's brief dream of the grande passion.



The City of Mexico makes many bright promises for the future. As a winter resort, as a summer resort, a city for men to accumulate fortunes, a paradise for students, for artists; a rich field for the hunter of the curious, the beautiful and the rare, its bright future is not far distant. Already its wonders are related to the enterprising people of the States, who are making tours through the land that held cities even at the time of the discovery of America.

The Mexican Central road, although completed only five years ago, offers every, and even more, comforts than old established eastern roads. Many excursionists have had delightful visits here, and at present a number of Quakers have come to see for themselves what Mexico offers. One of the party was quizzing Mr. Theo. Gestefeld, editor of the Two Republics, on the advisability of opening a mission for the poor and degraded of Mexico. Mr. Gestefeld is a first-class newspaper man, formerly employed on the Chicago Tribune, and has a practical and common sense way of viewing things. His reply should be studied by all coming to Mexico to stay. He said: "Their religion has been the people's faith always, even before Americans lived. They are fanatics, and trying to change or convert them is wasting time. Let their faith alone, and go out and buy a farm on the table lands and teach them how to farm and how to live. You will find them ready, willing, even anxious to learn. They will quickly imitate any way they know is better than theirs." The Quaker is still here, but, so far as known, has neither started a mission nor bought a farm.

Mexico is colder these last few days than the traditional oldest inhabitant ever remembered, but it is a pleasant change to the visitors who have left the snowbound country, even if a fire is an unheard-of thing.

People who read history form wrong ideas of how Mexican houses are built. They are square, plastered outside and decorated. Many are three and four stories in height. The windows, which are always curtained, are finished with iron balconies. Massive doors, on which are ponderous knockers of antique shape and size, keep from view the inhabitants of the Casa. A knock, and the doors swing open and a brown portero, dressed in the garb of his country, sombrero, serape and all, admits you to the lower court, where the stables are kept and the servants live. Beautiful flowers, rare orchids, and tall, waving palms are growing in rich profusion. Directly up through the center is a large, open square; a stairway, decorated in the highest style of art, leads to the different departments. Fine statuary, singing birds and fountains mingling with the flowers aid in making the scene superb.

Just the opposite of the States, the higher up a room is the better it is considered, and in hotels they charge accordingly, $1 first floor; $2 second; $3 thirds and so on. A room is not healthy unless the sun shines into it; and they have no windows—just glass doors.

All the hotels in Mexico are run on the European plan. They have restaurants attached where the waiters, as long as they smile, cannot do too much for their customers. Mexico has several good
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hotels, of their kind, and most of them equal, if they are not superior, to the Iturbide—pronounced Eeturbeda—but Americans who run after royalty want to stop here so they can say they have stayed at the house which was the palace of the first emperor after Mexico was independent.

Mexico looks the same all over, every white street terminates at the foot of a snow-capped mountain, look which way you will; the streets are named very strangely, one straight street having half a dozen names. Each square has a different name, or designated as First San Francisco; the next block Second San Francisco. Policemen stand in the middle of the street all over the city, reminding one of so many posts. They wear white caps with numbers on, blue suits, nickel buttons. A mace now takes the place of the sword of former days. At night they don an overcoat and hood, which makes them look just like the pictures of veiled knights. Their red lanterns are left in the place they occupied during the daytime, while they retire to some doorway where, it is said, they sleep as soundly as their brethren in the States. At intervals they blow a whistle like those used by street car drivers, which are answered by those on the next posts; thus they know all is well. In small towns they call out the time of night, ending up with tiempo sereno (all serene), from which the Mexican youth, with some mischievous Yankeeism, have nicknamed them Sereno.

It is very easy for those unaccompanied and not speaking Spanish to get around in Mexico. A baggage man meets the train out from the city, who not only attends to his regular duties, but gives any information regarding hotels that visitors may want. Numerous carriages of all kinds and descriptions, stand around the depot. Each one is decorated with a flag, by which the visitor may know the price without asking. White, red, and blue—fifty cents, seventy-five cents, and one dollar. The drivers often try to get the best of a tourist, especially if he speaks Spanish, and charge him one dollar for a seventy-five cent carriage. The Mexicans do not differ much from the Yankee hackman. If any, it is in favor of the Mexican. They do not cheat so much, because they are not sharp enough.

Pulque shops, where they deal out the national drink, are quite plenty. These are the only buildings in the city that are decorated. They are generally corner buildings, and the two sides have finely-painted pictures of ladies, ballet-girls, men on gayly-caparisoned horses, angels floating on clouds, etc. Numerous flags of black and red, or red and white, answer for a sign, but it is against the law to use the national flag. These saloons, or shops, as they are called, stand wide open, with no screens to hide the dirty bar and drinkers from the eyes of pedestrians. They are patronized by men, women, and children, and are kept open all the time.

"Sabe que es pulque—
Licor divino?
Lo beben los angeles
En vez de vino."

Know ye not pulque—
That liquor divine?
Angels in heaven
Prefer it to wine.

Pulque is the fermented juice of the agave, or so-called century plant, which matures in from five to fifteen years, instead of one hundred as generally believed. It grows wild here, but large plantations of it are cultivated. Just before the plant is ready to blossom the natives gather the big fat leaves together, around the bud, forming a sort of basin. The bud is then cut out and the juice from the stalk collects in the leaf-formed basin. One stalk will yield as high as two gallons a day for six months.

The pulque is collected in jars that the gatherers carry suspended from their shoulders. It is sucked out of the basin through a hollow bamboo or reed, and squirted from the mouth into the jar. A knowledge of this fact does not render the stuff any more palatable to foreigners. It is awfully nasty stuff, but they say that when you get acquainted with it you like it real well.

Mescal is a sort of brandy distilled from pulque, and will paralyze almost as promptly as a stroke of lightning. Metheglin—honey and water—is made from the honey ant; they are placed in a piece of bolting cloth and the honey squeezed out of them.

The street-car system here is quite unique. But first a few statistics may prove interesting; they run on ninety miles of rails, and carried last year nine million passengers; the company owns one thousand five hundred mules and horses, one hundred and thirty-nine first-class coaches, sixty-five second-class, forty-six platform or freight cars, and twenty-six funeral cars. They pay an annual dividend of six per cent, on a capital of $5,000,000. The Chairman of the Board of Directors, Senor Castillo, speaks Spanish and English; they are very particular about free passes, and so far this year have only issued six.

First-class cars are exactly like those in the States, and the second-class look just like the "Black Maria," except the wheels. Cars, just like open freight or truck cars on railroads, are used for hauling instead of wagons, and a dozen of these, loaded with merchandize, are drawn by one team. Movings and everything are hauled in this manner; the price charged is comparatively small. Cars do not run singly, but in groups of four and five. Even on the first-class cars men smoke as much as they wish, and if the women find it unbearable they go out and stand on the platform; there are two conductors on each car; one sells the tickets, the other collects them.

When the line was first opened an enterprising stock-holder bought up all the hearses in the city and had funeral cars made. The coffin is laid on one draped car; white for young and black for old, and the mourners and friends follow in street cars hired for the purpose. A stylish funeral will have a dozen or more cars, the windows of which are hung with white crepe, and the doors with black; the drivers and conductors appear in black suits and high, silk hats; the horses are draped, and have black and white plumes on their heads. The cost of a funeral ranges from $20 to $1500. A stylish one is a beautiful sight; the poor, by making application to the police, are given the funeral car and passage for two persons free; the low and poverty-stricken class also hire the coffins, and when they reach the cemetery the corpse is taken out, wrapped in a serape and consigned to a hired grave—that is, they buy the grave for five years, at the end of which time the bones are lifted and thrown in some corner, exposed to the gaze of the public, in order to make room for new-comers; and the tombstones—then useless—are laid in one heap by the gate. The people are no respecters of human bones; Americans always want to go back to the States to die.

Street car drivers, of which there are two on each car, are compelled by law to blow a horn at every crossing to warn pedestrians of their coming; the horns are similar, in tone and shape, to those used by fish peddlers in the States. Drivers of every kind of vehicles use the long lash whip of plaited leather exclusively, and they ply them quite vigorously on their animals; they also urge them to faster speed by a sound similar to that which the villain on the stage makes as he creeps upon intended victims when asleep, with his finger on his lips. It sounds like a whip lash cutting through the air.

The carts in use here are of the most ancient shape two large, wooden wheels support a big square box. One mule is hitched next to the wagon, and three abreast in front of that, and one still ahead; the harness and one still ahead; the harness baffles description. Drivers very seldom ride, but trot along beside their team with rope lines in their hands; they can trot at the speed of the mules with apparent comfort.

Mexico does not breakfast. When people go into the restaurants and order a breakfast the waiters look at them in wonder, and inform them in the most polite terms in the world that they have but coffee and dry bread for breakfast.

It is asserted that to eat breakfast will cause a heaviness and dullness for the entire day, but whether this is true or otherwise, it cannot be stated, for since our arrival in Mexico we have been unable to find any other than as before mentioned—and black coffee at that.
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Every family takes their coffee in their bedrooms. It takes at least two hours to get through an ordinary dinner.

A description of dinner in a private family will, no doubt, prove interesting to most readers, especially if they understand the difficulty of obtaining admission into a family. A Mexican will be all politeness, will do anything for you, will place his house at your service, but he and his family will move out. He will do anything but admit you to the secrecy of his house. So this experience is rare.

Dinner was announced and the gentlemen, in the most courteous manner, offered their arms, and we walked along the balcony to the dining-room. The lace-hung doors were swung open, and there before us was the table with plate, knife and fork, and a penny loaf of bread at each place. We sit down, take our napkins, and the waiters—always men— fill our glasses from the elegant water bottles that grace each end of the table. One dish, containing, perhaps, cold meat, salad, red pepper, radishes, and pickled beans, is served on plates, and the first ones taken away from us, although not used. After endeavoring to swallow some of this nauseating stuff, which the natives devour with relish, the servant removes the dish, our plates, knives and forks, and another equally strange and equally detestable dish is brought on. Thus the feast continues, meanwhile breaking the penny loaf in bits and eating without a spread.

Butter, which commands $1 a pound, is never seen from one year's end to another, and jelly is an unheard of dish. The last dish, and one that is never omitted from dinner or supper, is frijoles—pronounced free-holies—consists of beans, brown ones, with a sort of gravy over them. If a Bostonian were but to visit this country his intellectual stomach, or appetite, would be sated for once. Sliced orange, covered with sugar and cinnamon, is dessert, after which comes chocolate or coffee; the former superb, the latter miserable. With the coffee the ladies and gentlemen smoke their cigarettes.

Children are really good here, their reverence for their parents being something beautiful. When entering the dining room each one kisses its mother's hand, and when she asks them if they wish such and such to eat they reply: "With your permission." Although all are smokers they could not be persuaded to take a cigarette in their mother's presence. The pulque, which is also given around with the coffee, they refuse through respect to their mother; but they drink when she is not by, and of course she is aware of the fact, and has no desire to prohibit them from it. It is just their form of respect to refrain in her presence. A Mexican could not be compelled to eat of two different dishes from one plate. Even the smallest child is proof against persuasion on this point.

The frijoles, or beans, are served on a tortilla, a sort of corn-cake baked in the shape of a buckwheat cake. Another tortilla is folded together, and answers for a spoon. After finishing the beans it is not considered proper or polite unless you eat your spoon and plate.

Every family has at least half a dozen servants. They are considered excellent when they receive five dollars a month, and board themselves. Sometimes they are paid three dollars a month, and allowed six cents a day to furnish what they want to eat. This sum is called the retainer. Women do the cooking, and the men wait on the tables, make the beds and nurse the babies. Contrary the usual report, they are very, very cleanly. Every room in the house is swept daily;
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balconies and uncarpeted rooms scrubbed as often. Beds, which are always single iron cots like those used in hospitals, have board or iron bottoms, and iron bottoms, and the hardest of hard pillows.

Brooms are an unseen article, notwithstanding the country furnishes the most beautiful broom corn in the world. It is bought in bunches and tied to a short stick, and used in that manner, forcing the sweeper to bend nearly double. Scrub brushes are but a bunch of coarse straw tied around the top with a string, but they make the floors perfectly white. There is a fortune here awaiting some lively fellow who will bring machinery and make brooms and brushes for the natives; the straw costs comparatively nothing, and is of the very best quality.

Lotteries swarm here, and are a curse to the poor. Men, women, and children sell the tickets along the streets, and the poor have such a mania for buying that they will pawn their clothing in order to obtain a ticket.

There are no newsboys in this country. Occasionally a boy is seen with a package of papers, but he does not call out like they do in the States. Women generally