Travels with Grace: Culture and Art in Mexico

Posted on September 24, 2019 by

This week’s entry for our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace, continues her trip through Mexico. To read more of Grace’s travels, click here.

Aztec Sun Stone at the National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City, Mexico. By Juan Carlos Fonseca Mata – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mon. July 15. After going to the bank to get some money we visited the National Archeological Museum where we saw many interesting things, the star attraction being the famous Aztec Calendar Stone which the guide explained minutely. The idols and other relics of the Mayan and Toltec civilizations were most interesting. As we were leaving, I ran into Bessie Moses from Baltimore who recognized us first. We saw the main retail district, the federal prison, the Government Palace and Senate, for the Federal District a sort of Civic Center, then we rode out to Teotihuacan where we saw a very old monastery, a farmer’s market was in progress here and then to the Pyramids, a unique monument of ancient times similar to the Egyptian pyramids.

Temple de Quetzalcoatl, Teotihuacan, Mexico, c. 1940s vintage postcard. Via.

Here we visited another smaller but even more interesting museum, with fine pictures, pottery shards, stones of all sorts. We ate our Sanborn lunches here and Milton climbed to the top of the Pyramid, 360 steps, and said the view was wonderful. On returning to the city we visited the Basilica of Guadalupe credited with miraculous cures. I have seen finer churches but never one with such a profusion of magnificent flowers banked on the main altar, their fragrance mingling with the aromatic incense was really something to smell.

Palacio De Cortes, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, 1930-1940s. Via.

Tues. July 16th. Started at 10 for a trip to Cuernavaca a very pretty and interesting ride over the mts. reaching an elevation of over 10,000 ft. Cuernavaca is a beautiful resort city reminding me in many ways of towns in the south of France. The flowers are luxuriant and there are many beautiful hotels. We visit the old Palace of Cortez where we see many beautiful pictures by Diego Rivera and Tarascans and hear a band of young Mexicans play Straus waltzes and Spanish airs. We also saw the room which the Emperor Maximillian used as an office with beautiful pictures of himself and Carlotta and their court.

Hotel Marik Plaza, Cuernacava, Mexico. Via.

We then go to the Hotel Marik where we are the guests of [Baltimorean] Lillian Greif for lunch. She and Beulah Reitzenstein seem very glad to see us. After riding around to see the country club and various places of interest (an old bridge with ornamental foundations and 2 huge Spanish laurel trees was a particularly attractive spot), we continued on our way to Taxco, a perfectly fascinating town built on the side of the mts. Here are the govt. silver mines and the town is governed by the National Dept. of Monuments. All buildings have to conform to a standard color and architecture which produces a pleasing effect. We visit the silver shops and the Cathedral and walk along and ride over the winding cobbled streets with many views thru arcades, patios, and cliffside gardens a perfectly fascinating place which reminds me a little of the hill towns of Italy only much warmer and more colorful.

Hotel Rancho Telva, c. 1940s. Via.

We come to the Rancho Telva a perfectly delightful hostelry with real Spanish atmosphere, airy clean rooms, charming vistas from every window, a central patio and dining tables on an upper and lower terrace. There is a parrot here which sings (only the old Spanish care-taker can make him do it) but I have never heard anything like it and would never have believed it possible. He sings operatic arias and has a coloratura range.

Mexican ladies hand washing clothes in Taxco, Mexico, c. 1940s. Via.

Wed. July 17th. We rode around fascinating Taxco all morning going up steep, narrow, winding cobbled roads which the car takes like a bird. Little boys and girls just able to toddle sell their wares, mostly baskets, others a little bigger herd their sheep and donkey carrying heavy paniers of wood, charcoal, etc. thru the streets. Some ride thru on horses and ponies. It is a motley sight. Indians in serapes and women with their babies tied in rebozos. The poor people work very hard and always carry heavy burdens. But even the poorest houses are bright with flowers and the colors blend so beautifully. On the way home we turned on the radio and got the most enjoyable concert from the B.B.C., Beethoven’s piano concerto #4 which combined with the heavenly scenery made the ride as perfect as anything could be.

Benito Juárez Hemicycle. Via.

Thurs. July 18th. Started out this morning to see the glass factory. Saw the broken glass which boys collect in the street, they sort it by color and melt it. We saw them fire it, blow it into bottles and pitchers which they shaped on a stick and the[n] twisted a piece of glass into a handle for the pitchers and snipped it off with pliers. They had a lovely glass exhibit in a show case which represented a typical Mexican [unreadable] scene, trees, flowers, people, animals, birds, even butterflies, also home and scenic background which was planned for the N.Y. World’s Fair but wasn’t finished in time. Another exhibit showed an orchestra of frogs, each holding a different instrument, the leader wielding the baton. They also made very artistic vases and tableware. On the way we passed the monument of Benito Juarez magnificently decorated with huge floral designs, this being the anniversary of his death, and a huge crowd of young girl scouts were parading in front of it with bands of music.

Detail from The Legend of Quetalcoatl Mural by Diego River, 1929-1930 at the Palacio Nacional de Mexico. Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton University digital imaging project.

We then went to the National Palace to see the wonderful murals of Diego Rivera and here we had a most agreeable surprise. The Hall of the Ambassadors, a gorgeous salon with rock crystal chandeliers, green velvet carpet and green brocade furniture was open for the 1st time in 5 yrs. (Mr. Piña said) and 5 minutes after we got there on the strike of noon President Comacho received the new French ambassador with all his retinue. I pushed my way up front so could hear every word the Frenchman said and then Comacho – seated – read his reply in Spanish, after which the French diplomat bowed and backed away. Then the soldiers in the courtyard played the Mexican national anthem while we looked at Rivera’s murals depicting the entire history of Mexico, a colossal work.

The Cathedral and Plaza de la Constitution on Independence Day, City of Mexico, 1931. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Then we visited the Cathedral of Mexico City by far the largest church we have seen so far, and today it was packed to the doors with people in all walks of life waiting for confirmation exercises, even tiny infants in arms and all dressed in their best. Then we went to Sanborn’s for a very nice lunch and visited the store where beautiful and artistic merchandise of various kinds are displayed. We met Mr. Sanborn himself who came up to speak to us. Then we visited a silver factory and Mr. P. explained the process as we watched them fashion cup, bowls, platters, etc. and then we saw the truly regal pieces in their showrooms. After this we rode thru the slum districts (from riches to rags) many people in this city having no other home than the street. The slum market, where every kind of junk is sold, reminds me of the Flea market of Paris. We saw a number of other markets today, one in which only shoes and clothing are sold, including the most wonderful variety of hats, but the most impressive are the fruit baskets with their unbelievable varieties and quantities of fruit. In one place they were offering baby parrots for sale which could be taught to talk. I was sorry the law forbids taking them into the U.S. In one place we saw worms of the cactus plant for sale cooked and we ate cactus pears for the first time which Mr. P had peeled for us.

Chapultepec Castle vintage postcard. Via.

Fri. July 19th. After visiting the bank and buying tickets for the opera for tomorrow night we went to the Chapultepec Castle and saw the royal suite occupied by Maximilian and Carlotta with most magnificent furnishing, bedrooms, state dining room, library, game room and even a bathroom. We saw many beautiful paintings expling the history of Mexico, portraits of the leaders of the church, the state, and the army. Upstairs we saw a most magnificent collection of jewels, fans, combs for mantillas the largest I ever saw, porcelains (Sèvres and Dresden) gorgeous silver, Florentine mosaic tables, French and Chinese furniture, shawls, etc. Downstairs is a collection of old cannon and firearms, medals and mementos of national heroes. The view from the terrace is lovely overlooking the whole city. In the middle of the terrace is a bronze fountain in the shape of a grasshopper (the name Chapultepec is Aztec for grasshopper). Then we go to the Chapultepec Restaurant, a very nice place.

Interior of the Church of San Francisco Javier. Photo by John Barreiro.

We then ride to Tepozathan [Tepotzotlán] where there is a beautiful church with much carved stone and on the outside and five golden altars inside. Next to it is a lovely walled-in garden, the trees hung with gray Spanish moss. Elsewhere we have seen a similar parasite on the trees but a bright yellow in color. On the way back to Mexico [City] we stop at Los Renedios[???] for the view over the city and here is an old aqueduct and observation tower. As we approached the latter over the brow of the hill came the oddest herd of goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys and cows and with a little boy leading them. We rode thru the suburb of Tacuba on our way back and later saw the Mexican Military Academy, their West Point.

Palacio De Bellas Artes, 1940. Via.

Sat. July 20th. We sat in the pretty garden of the Maria Cristina this afternoon. The air was delightful, cool enough for a jacket. (We met two boys from Montreal out here.) There is a parrot in the garden which talks a little and whistles tunes, but he seems very mediocre after the prima donna we saw in Taxco. Tonight we went to the Opera to hear “Otello,” a lovely performance. I particularly enjoyed the work of the chorus although the principal parts were well taken too – the stage settings were lovely, typically Mexican in design and coloring. We saw the famous Tiffany glass curtain, the lower part represents the flora of Mexico and the middle part the mts. Popo and the Sleeping Lady.

Vista interior del vitral del techo del Palacio de las Bellas Artes. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But even prettier than the curtain in my opinion is a lovely glass dome or sky light with astronomical figures worked in it. The boxes, 6 tiers, are marble trimmed in bronze and the whole interior is very impressive. A young girl spoke to some ladies in front of us and when I heard her say she was flying back to Kansas City tomorrow I asked her if she knew Elaine Manul[???] and she replied in the affirmative, introduced herself as Edith Ginsburg and promised to call Elaine when she got home. Tonight was the first time I had seen the bright lights along the Paseo and other bldgs, very gay.

Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


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