Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XII.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
"We have been much impressed and amused," said Fred in a letter to his mother, "with the Mexican, or, rather, the Spanish, forms of politeness. Whenever we are introduced to anybody, he immediately says, 'Remember that your house is at No. — on —— Street,' notwithstanding that we may have told him we are comfortably quartered at the hotel. In one day a dozen or twenty houses were offered to us; and ever since then, if no more than two or three are tendered between sunrise and bed-time, we think it is a very poor day for business. Sometimes the form is varied by saying, 'My house and all it contains are yours.' It would be better if they would send us the title-deeds to the establishment, with a bill of sale of the furniture acknowledged and receipted before a notary; but thus far nobody has gone as far as that.
"It is a form of politeness, and nothing more," the youth continued, "and the people who offer us their houses are about as sincere as Americans
[Pg 180]
 are when they say, 'Delighted to see you,' or, 'Happy to meet you,' to the people they are introduced to in their own country; or as the New York hostess who says to a departing guest, 'Must you go so soon?' when she has really been wondering to herself why the visitor tarried so long.
"It seemed very odd until we got used to it and learned the real meaning of the words, to be told on entering the dwelling of a man we had not known five minutes, 'You are in your own house;' or that we were the masters, and he was the humble guest. Doctor Bronson says they really mean to have us make ourselves at home, and they certainly show great hospitality; but it would be a sad mistake to take them literally and act as though the place belonged to us.
"Every time we admire anything—a piece of furniture, a garment, an article of jewellery or bric-à-brac, or anything else of value—we are immediately told that it belongs to us, and, if it is portable, that we can carry it away with us. If we should be so boorish as to accept the offer, the person who made it would not display any annoyance, however much he might feel; he is too polite for that.
"'What would they do under such circumstances?' I hear you ask. I can best answer by telling a story we heard yesterday.
"An English lady who had just arrived, and had not learned the forms of Mexican politeness, one day admired a set of jewellery, which included a very costly necklace of diamonds and other precious stones that had belonged to the family for two or three hundred years. She was told that the set of jewellery was hers, and believing they meant what they said, she took it away with her when her call was ended.
"Of course the story was at once told to the friend who had made the introduction, and the latter at once went to the guileless stranger and explained the situation. She returned the jewels immediately, with the explanation that, on reaching home, she had found they did not match the dress with which she expected to wear them. She added that she had a fine set of jewellery which she thought would be an appropriate present for one of the young ladies of the family, and she would send it with great pleasure. A polite message was returned declining the offer, and hoping it would be in the power of the family to render the English visitor some distinguished services during her stay in the city. In this way the whole difficulty was bridged over, and the parties were good friends.
"A similar story was told us regarding an American lady who visited Mexico several years ago, and, through her ignorance of the local forms of politeness, accepted the offer of a rare and beautiful shawl. Mutual friends
[Pg 181]
 arranged the matter amicably; but the fair American was greatly mortified when she learned the mistake she had made.
"Doctor Bronson says there used to be a harmless lunatic in San Francisco, and afterwards in New York, who went about the streets dressed in the old Continental costume. With his long and snowy hair, and quaint costume, he was a noticeable figure. He was under the belief that he resembled Benjamin Franklin, and he used to exhibit a photograph representing himself standing at the base of the Franklin monument in Boston.
"His passage by steamer was paid from San Francisco to New York
[Pg 182]
 by some friends, and during the voyage the vessel spent a day at Acapulco. 'Uncle Freddy,' as he was called, went on shore with other passengers, and was introduced to the Governor. The Governor made him the usual offer of his house and everything it contained, and when the hour came to go on board the steamer the recipient of the offer refused to accompany the other passengers. He declared that the Governor had given him the house, and he was going to remain and enjoy it for the rest of his life. Explanations were useless; and after vainly trying to induce him to change his mind, the passengers seized Uncle Freddy and carried him bodily in their arms to the boat which lay in readiness to take them to the ship. It was necessary to lock him in his room until they had left their anchorage and were steaming outside the harbor.
"Of course you will naturally infer that the Spanish people are insincere in their politeness, and certainly appearances are against them. But they do not mean anything by it any more than the people of the United States do in their polite ways of speaking. There is this difference, that we do not go as far as the Spaniards in saying empty words, and that is about all. Doctor Bronson says there's a good deal of hollowness in society everywhere; that people could not get along at all together, and there would be no society at all if everybody spoke exactly what he thought at all times.
"Think what would happen if Mrs. Smith should remark to Mrs. Brown when the latter is leaving the house after a prolonged visit, 'I'm
[Pg 183]
 glad you're going; you've staid too long,' instead of saying and acting exactly the reverse; and think, too, what would happen if Mr. Jones, on being introduced to Mr. Robinson, should say, 'I don't care a straw whether I know you or not,' instead of 'Glad to make your acquaintance,' or something of the sort."
One of the attractions of the Mexican capital is the market-place. There are several mercados, or markets, in the city, the principal one being the Volador, which is close to the National Palace, and overlooked, as already mentioned, by one of the windows of the room which was Maximilian's favorite apartment. History says it was for a long time the property of the family of Cortez, as it happened to be on a portion of the land which he secured at the division of the spoils of conquest. For nearly two hundred years the city paid rent to the heirs of the conqueror, and only in comparatively recent times bought the site, and now owns it in fee simple.
Frank and Fred visited the market-place several times during their stay in the city; in fact, it was one of their principal sources of amusement. They were never tired of studying the ways of the natives who throng the place and offer their wares for sale, and they realized the force of what they read in one of the descriptions of Mexico, that the markets had changed very little since the days of Montezuma and the Aztec rule.
Here is what Bernal Diaz wrote of the market as he saw it in 1519:
"We were astonished at the crowds of people and the regularity which prevailed, as well as at the vast quantities of merchandise which those who attended us were assiduous in pointing out. Each kind had its particular place, which was designated by a sign. The articles consisted of gold, silver, jewels, feathers, mantles, chocolate, skins dressed and undressed, sandals, and great numbers of male and female slaves, some of whom were fastened by the neck, in collars, to long poles. The meat market was stocked with fowls, game, and dogs. Vegetables, fruits, articles of food ready-dressed, salt, bread, honey, and sweet pastry made in various ways, were also sold here. Other places in the square were appointed to the sale of earthen-ware, wooden household furniture (such as tables and benches), firewood, paper, sweet canes filled with tobacco mixed with liquid amber, copper axes and working tools, and wooden vessels highly painted. Numbers of women sold fish and little loaves made of a certain mud which they find in the lakes, and which resembles cheese. The makers of stone blades were busily employed shaping them out of the rough material, and the merchants who dealt in gold had the metal in grains as it came from the mines, in transparent quills, and the gold was
[Pg 184]
[Pg 185]
 valued at so many mantles, or so many xiquipils of cocoa, according to the size of the quills. The entire square was enclosed in piazzas, under which great quantities of grain were stored, and where also were shops for various kinds of goods."
"The description of the market by Bernal Diaz," wrote Fred in his journal, "would answer very well for to-day, so far as the appearance of the sellers and many of the buyers is concerned. They bring the produce of their farms and gardens to market just as they brought it before Columbus discovered America, and the chief difference to-day is that slaves, gold, silver, feathers, and some other things named by Diaz are not now offered for sale. The Indians bring fowls and vegetables just as of old and in the same way—in baskets carried on their shoulders or on those of their family. Since the introduction of the railway some produce comes to Mexico by train, and in course of time the old custom may disappear, but it will not do so in a hurry.
"There is a canal from the lake to the city," wrote the youth, "and it comes directly to the market-place, so that the natives bring their boats
[Pg 186]
 close to where they sell their wares. Much of the dealing takes place on board the boats or close to them, and the crowds that gather around while a bargain is in progress are very interesting. Some of the shops and stalls are at the very edge of the canal, so that the prows of the boats stick in among them, and you realize what a serious matter it would be to the market-people if by any accident the lake and the canal should be dried up and disappear. The whole system of local supply would be radically changed, and until a new order of things could be established the inhabitants of the capital might run the risk of starvation.
"The busiest day of the market is on Sunday, and the noise of the place is almost deafening. The ordinarily silent Mexican becomes very voluble in the market-place when there is a prospect of making something by talk.
"The description we have given of the market of Monterey will answer for this one, with the exception that you must multiply everything by ten or twenty, and add several things we did not see there. One part of the market is devoted to the sale of coffins; they are made on the spot, and had a specially sombre appearance to us, as they are all painted black. The shops in which they are made are in a narrow alley, and the workmen
[Pg 187]
 engaged in the dreary industry seemed as unconcerned as did the makers of furniture or picture-frames.
"We hired a canoe and took a short ride on the canal. Its banks are low and marshy; they are devoted to the culture of vegetables, and the gardens had a luxuriant appearance, as though the soil was prolific. The lake, as before said, is brackish and shallow; formerly it contained the famous chinampas, or floating gardens, but when we asked for them we were told they did not now exist, though the name is retained. We will say more about them later on.
"Disappointed in one of the objects of our journey, we settled down to an enjoyment of the sights of the canal; but our pleasure was a good deal marred by the number of smells the boatmen stirred up from the bottom.
[Pg 188]
"How old the canal is nobody can tell; it was in use long before the Conquest, for when Cortez came here the boats of the Aztecs were plying on its waters, and he observed the activity of the local commerce whe............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved