Travels with Grace: Culture and Art in Mexico

Posted on September 24th, 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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Travels with Grace: The Bullfight

Posted on September 10th, 2019 by

This week’s entry for our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace, continues her trip through Mexico. Today’s post requires a content warning – below Grace describes the bullfight she attended and some readers may be disturbed by the imagery and discussion. To read more of Grace’s travels, click here.

Sun. July 14th. This morning at 10 we went to Xochimilcho (Land of Flowers). It was a beautiful ride and on the way we got a clear view of Papo and the sleeping Lady crowned with snow. They weave a fanciful Romeo and Juliette sort of legend around them. We see several of the leading moving picture studios of Mexico and several beautiful monuments including that to the Commoner President Obregón. At one place we saw a number of charros on horseback with wonderful tooled leather saddles, fancy bridles and embroidered felt sombreros. Also, a woman in a gorgeous sequin studded skirt who was queen[?] of something or other. Sunday is the day for weddings here and we passed several churches elaborately decorated with flowers. Outside the churches are side-walk markets where we saw food, dresses, underwear, pottery, linens and of course the usual baskets and bouquets. At Xochimilcho is another and much larger market of everything imaginable. (Here on Sunday women are washing in a public through.)

We boarded a little boat, a cross between a gondola and a skiff each with its own name picked out in flowers on the canopy and we sat on little rush bottomed chairs for the trip up the lagoon, one of the most unusual things I have ever seen. The boats are pushed with a pole by the boatman who stands in the back and there are large and small ones, some holding as many as 20 people. Some still larger were power driven. The smaller ones could be rented by the hour or day and families bring their lunches and have long tables on board. There are boats with cameras to take your pictures, boats with soft drinks on ice, boats with all manner of edibles, boats full of musicians who serenade with native instruments and everywhere boats of flower venders with lovely corsages of orchids, gardenias, roses, pansies, sweet peas, carnations and many others filling the air with fragrances, others selling postcards and souvenirs. At the head of the lagoon on an island is a large and attractive looking restaurant for those preferring to eat on terra firma. There are little canals opening from the big lagoon where the boats turn in to park a while if they so desire. Altogether it is a most beguiling scene which I am sorry to leave.

We return to the Maria Cristina for a very good Sunday dinner and at 3:30 six of us, excluding a young man from Jacksonville with whom we got acquainted and who bought one of the block of tickets I had to get for a box, started out for the bull fight. The crowds of automobiles and pedestrians leading from all directions to the stadium reminded me of Preakness day at Pimlico only more so. The stands seat 50,000 and the arena is 160 ft. below street level. A band was playing as we entered (it was quite a feat to push me thru the gate) and the stands were about half filled. The crowds and multi-colored costumes look like a vast tapestry in perspective. At 4 promptly a black garbed man on a black horse comes out of a door and rides across the arena to the judges stand, sweeps off his hat, bows, then backs his horse in reverse across the arena. This is the signal for the show to begin.

Toreo de la Condesa. Via.

Three matadors in lovely gold and silver brocaded costumes, 2 picadors on padded mounts, and a variety of bandellerios, toreadors, etc. come out and parade around. They go in and when the arena is empty the bull comes out. The first 5 bulls were coal black, the 6th almost white. The toreadors wave pink capes, the cape work is one of the highlights, and make passes at the animal, then the picadors come up with their long spears and each is allowed to stick the bull 3 times. Then the bandellerios stick 2 bandelleros each into his neck and then the matador starts to work with his sword wrapped in a bright red scarf. It is very interesting to watch their foot work, quick and graceful. Sometimes they change swords several times and when they stick it in the wrong place which happens often the toreadors pull it out by catching the hilt in their capes.

Several times we saw the picadors unseated and the horses roll over when the bull charges them. The first matador was thrown and injured slightly. They put a patch over his eye. But he got up and continued thru 2 rounds. The third one was the best and the crowd cheered him wildly. He received many bouquets and cloaks which he threw back and handkerchiefs waved madly, a sign of high approval, but being a [noise???] the judges would not allow him an ear. At the end however he was borne out on the shoulders of a wildly cheering crowd. When the bull finally drops to his knees foaming at the mouth and covered with blood one of the toreadors gives him the coup de grace and then 3 mules, a gray between 2 blacks are brought out by boys in red suits who hook the carcass to the drag and the mules run like mad. Sometimes they are so frightened that they run around several times before the boys can get the gook on the bull. Before the last bull was speared many from the audience ran out into the arena and crowded around the matador and the others but did not seem to embarrass them.

Fortunately, although the skies were threatening all afternoon, it did not start to rain until after the 6th bull fight started, and we stuck it out till the last. Everybody started to throw their rented cushions into the arena, and it was a free-for-all. When I returned to the hotel one of the bellhops asked me how I liked the spectacle and on being told I enjoyed it very much he was overjoyed and said I was the first American he ever heard say this.

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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Travels with Grace: Crossing Into Mexico, 1940

Posted on September 3rd, 2019 by

This week’s entry for our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace, follows along as she heads over the border into Mexico. As mentioned in earlier posts, the language and prejudices used in Grace’s writing are very much of her time and may be disturbing or uncomfortable to read, for instance, her description of the indigenous peoples of Mexico leaves much to be desired. To read more of Grace’s travels, click here. 

International Bridge, Laredo, TX, 1940-1960s. Via.

Mon. July 8th. We left San Antonio at 11 AM. Reached the International bridge at Laredo about 2:30 where we had quite a long wait to get our papers O.K.’d  and our baggage examined. An insurance agent was very helpful, got us a policy to cover the car while in Mexico and helped us thru the customs. The ride was rather monotonous until about an hour before we reached Monterey when we started climbing the mts. and the temperature became more agreeable.

Vintage Postcard, Hotel Ancira, Monterrey, Mexico. Via.

Monterey is a pretty Spanish city nestling in a circle of mts. There is a square in front of our hotel the Gran Ancira where musicians sit and serenade the tourists. The Cathedral is very imposing and this hotel quite pretty in Spanish style, beautiful paintings, heavy carved furniture, iron grill work. We have a handsomely furnished sitting room next to our bedroom. The shopping section is large and merchandise well stocked. Outside the city are beautiful orange and avocado groves and attractive haciendas. In the country we pass many Mexican cowboys with broad sombreros, on horseback. Large herds of milch goats contest the roads with the cows and we have to pull up short to avoid hitting them. It is quite hot here in the middle of the day and everyone takes a siesta, some men lying in the ditches by the road-side, others, beneath their [Tuedes???] and wagons. The little burros are heavy laden with fagots of wood or hitched to loaded wagons. There are many varieties of cacti along the way small and big, some very decorative, as well as a variety of palms and banana trees.

Vintage 1940s Mexico travel poster, Mexican Tourist Association. Via.

Tues. July 9th. We leave Monterey and ride 160 miles to Victoria passing only a few very small villages en route. Many names of ranches are posted along the road. Thatch-roofed cottages and queer looking rustic animal enclosures abound and here and there one sees a handsome stucco “Escuela.” The people are very friendly and courteous, smiling salutations and going out of their way to direct us. They are working on the roads everywhere which they keep in very good condition. Arrived at the Sierra Gorda hotel (Victoria) about 4. It is surprising what comfortable modern hotels they have in these small towns (35,000 inhabitants). The only mishap on the way was when our hatbox broke its moorings on the road and scattered its contents over the road but fortunately Milton saw it in time thru the rear-view mirror and salvaged nearly everything.

Hotel Funicion Zimapan Mexico Postcard. Via.

Wed. July 10. We left Victoria at 9:30 and the ride to Zimapán was one of the prettiest and most interesting I have ever had. At times we feel like we are riding thru the African jungles. The vegetation is so dense and the natives so primitive living in their grass and mud huts thatched with palm leaves the doorways open to the passing world. We can look in and see the mud lined walls and simple woven fiber chairs. Cows, pigs, chickens, goats comprise their riches. Here and there a little adobe tile-trimmed cottage looks like a palace by comparison. As we approach the mts. the scenery becomes wilder and more majestic, the roads curve sinuously upward, the valleys show intricate patchwork patters far below. Here and there a river threads thru the valley. Corn is planted right up the steep mt. side alternating with banana groves. Horses and goats climb the mt. sides like monkeys. Bright wild flowers abound. I wish I knew the names of them but I only recognize the bougainvilla and African daisies, trumpet vines and mimosa. Quaint old Spanish churches with carved images and tall belfries mark every village. After steady climbing we reached Zimapán about 6:45 a small village but the hotel Funicion is most attractive and up to date. Like all Mexican hotels it is tiled throughout, has interesting pictures by Diego Rivera in the dining room lavishly trimmed with iron grill work. A man plays the piano quite well during dinner. Later we visit the pretty little chapel and talk for a while with the other guests on the terrace. It is moonlight, the air bracing yet balmy. There is a large swimming pool on the terrace. The proprietor gave me his own room and bath on the first floor as there is no elevator.

Thurs. July 11th. Mrs. Parks came down to my room early to bring me birthday cards from the Smith-Greenhood families. We left Zimapán about 10 after a good breakfast (and I want to record here that meals so far in Mexico have been most satisfactory and far above expectations). We could not get any gasoline when we left here (had half a wank full) and Milton husbanded it with great care closing off the ignition and coasting down all the mts. At the next village we stopped expectantly at the first filling station only to be told they wouldn’t have any in the pumps until tomorrow. So with great trepidation we decided to risk it for another 10 or 12 miles and at the next village we held our breath until the filling station attendant smilingly nodded yes to our eager question and I could have kissed him. Native men and women crowded around us with large trays of different fruits balanced on their heads (it is beautiful to see how gracefully they balance all sorts of things that way) and we bought peaches and figs.

Hotel Maria Cristina lobby, 1940s vintage postcard. Via.

The country as we rode to Mexico City is quite different, broad cultivated fields which the peasants work in the primitive way, though one sees modern machinery in this part of the country. Palm and cactus lined highways lead to the city and 2 large statues guard the entrance where officials stop us to examine the papers for the car and we engage a licensed guide who took us right to the hotel Maria Cristina where we have bedroom, parlor and bath. We are lunch in the parlor and then the guide located a room for Milton. He took us to the Mexican Auto Ass’n, affiliate of the AAA where a lot of lovely birthday mail awaited me. Then we went on a tour of the city. Visited 3 flower markets and the guide bought me 3 corsages[?] for my birthday. At 1 of the markets we saw the most tremendous and elaborate funeral wreathes I ever saw. Visited the swanky residential section, the homes being very ornate and of a modern Spanish architecture with very little if any grounds around them. Saw the business section and bought a real leather hat box for $20 which replaces the one that fell off the car roof and smashed the other day. Mrs. Parks says it’s a bargain, no tax. Saw some beautiful monuments, parks, opera house, historical bldgs., university etc. and then feeling tired called it a day. Dinner at the hotel was good topped with strawberries which grow here 8 months of the year.

Jorge González Camarena (Mexican, 1908–1980), poster for Mexican tourism, published by Tourist Department of the Mexican Government, Visit Mexico, 1940s–1950s. Color lithograph. Harry Ransom Center, Texas War Records Travel Posters Collection, 85.185.44.

Fri. July 12. I went to the International Bank to get an Amerex changed, a very busy place. WE then bought tickets for the bull fight Sun. Next we rode to Toluca, a very pretty ride over the mts. We passed an extinct volcano. It is very cool. In Toluca a bustling town of 70,000 we saw the weekly market like which I have never seen anything before. The Indians for miles around bring in their animals, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, serapes, jackets, baskets, blankets, pottery, tortillas, fruits, sweets, the most colorful conglomeration imaginable and such crowds. Our guide just plowed his way thru them with the car and they fell away to either side like the parting asunder of the Red Sea. The faces are most interesting to study, Indian, Spanish, Mongoloid in a motley attire and all ages from tiny babies to old patriarchs, some gay and friendly with smiling faces, others stolid and impassive. They have a sort of carnival in the background with the usual midway attractions. On our way back we see women washing their clothes on stones by the river and even in the dirty stinking canals. Just before going to the trout fish hatchery we rode thru a heavy hail storm the ground quickly covered with white stones. It lightened, thundered and grew suddenly cold. At the hatchery we saw the eggs, baby fish in tanks and the full grown ones in round ponds outdoors. It is a pretty landscaped park and we ate box lunches which we bought at Sanbories[?] in a little glassed-in pavilion with tiled-topped tables. From here we visited the so called Desert of the Lions an old Carmelite monastery with tiny cells and catacombs. Here the Indians are selling their leather goods, silver, blankets and laces and there is a sort of campground with refreshment stands and sidewalk tables. A beautiful ride thru a thick forest of spruce brings us out to another attractive suburb and the guide shows us an excavation in a lava mound where bodies have been exhumed after an ancient eruption similar to what I once saw in Pompeii.

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


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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