Wednesday, August 22, 2007

50 Years Ago Today....Part 2

Metropolitan Cathedral - Mexico City. Image from Wiki

At the end of part one of my story of our adventure to Mexico, I left M and me on the mountainous road headed to Mexico City, dreading the CAMINO SINUOSO road signs. As we made our way to the city, we noticed that the brakes on the car did not seem to be gripping normally. The condition gradually worsened, and there was no place that we passed through that seemed a likely spot to stop to have the brakes checked, so on we went. We shifted into low gear, which helped a good bit, although we took a few descending curves a little faster than we wanted to - driving like Mexican drivers.

As we reached Mexico City, the brakes were barely holding, so before going to our hotel, we drove to a large Chrevrolet dealership to have them check the brakes. We did not plan to drive the car in Mexico City itself, because the traffic was so wild and because taxi's were cheap, so we left the car there.

When we checked back with them about the problem, we were told that there was no brake fluid at all left in the car when we dropped it off. It was bone dry. God was with us.

From our hotel window, we looked down on the Zócalo, the old square. I see that the Majestic Hotel is still there, with the same name, operating under the Best Western umbrella. Other buildings situated on the square are the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, and city hall. AAA had found us a very nice hotel, indeed, at a reasonable price. I remember we ate at the roof-top restaurant there.

On Sunday, we attended mass at the cathedral. I was a Roman Catholic back then, and I remember liking the familiarity of the Latin mass in a foreign country. In those days, wherever in the world you went, if you attended a Roman Catholic mass, you found the same Latin mass as back home.

We did the usual tourist activities in Mexico City, visiting the cathedral, the art museum, the Tiffany glass curtain. We took a taxi out to the volcanoes, Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl - I suppose our car wasn't ready yet. It cost us a good chunk of our money, and when we arrived at the site, the volcanoes were covered with clouds. We felt cheated, that somehow the taxi driver should have known about the clouds, and we argued a little with him, but we paid him, and he took us back to the city.

I really wanted to see them, because in one of my school books, I had read the legend of the two lovers, who came to an unhappy end and who gave their names to the volcanoes.

We had been warned about drinking at the high altitude, so we took nothing alcoholic for three or four days. We had decided we would splurge and eat one meal at a fancy restaurant while we were in the city, and we had chosen 123 - yes, that was the name - a restaurant recommended in our guide book. We decided that we were acclimated enough that we could have a drink along with our top-rated meal. We both ordered old-fashioneds. We ate our delicious meal and drank our drinks. About halfway through hers, M realized that her drink was having a rather powerful effect on her, and she stopped drinking. I drank the whole drink and soon began feeling really drunk. I got through the meal, by the hardest, without skidding my meat out of my plate onto the table or the floor, but as we neared the end of the meal, I told M, "I don't know how I am going to manage to get up and walk out of here?" She became a somewhat alarmed. We sat a little longer to see if the inebriated feeling eased up, but it did not. It was such an elegant place, and I could see myself falling flat and dying from embarrassment. Finally, we got up and began to walk out. M was eyeing me apprehensively as I walked very deliberately and carefully. On a couple of occasions, I had to steady myself on one of the tables as we passed. Yes, I did. I hoped the folks at the tables didn't mind, but what could I do?

Since this is not a travelogue, but an adventure story, I will give a list of the places we visited, either in Mexico City or within a day trip's drive.

Palace of Fine Arts - murals by the four great native artists, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco - YES! Magnificent!
Tiffany glass curtain - Underwhelming. I think that the lighting was supposed to represent the sun rising and setting on a picturesque scene, but it didn't move me.

Chapultepec Castle and the lovely surrounding park

Bullfight at the Plaza del Toros - Yes, I'm ashamed to say I went. We did not really want to go, but people had told us that we could not go to Mexico without going to a bullfight. Despite all the pageantry, I did not like it at all. I pitied the bulls the entire time.

The Pyramid of the Sun - a marvel to see. We climbed the pyramid. I remember that going up was fine, but coming down the steps was frightening to acrophobic me - an adventure, indeed.

Xochimilco - the little Venice, with its canals and floating gardens instead of gondolas

Taxco - picturesque town with red tile roofs and wonderful silver bargains and extremely narrow streets to navigate in a car

Cuernavaca - Cortes' palace and old cathedral


I believe that we covered the territory pretty well in the six days that we stayed in Mexico City. During these travels we had two more flat tires, but mercifully none on the road, plus we were informed at a service station along the way to somewhere, "La tubería de gasolina se gotea," which, of course, required another car repair.

On one of our day trips, we visited the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, which houses the image shown below of the Virgin Mary, which is said to have appeared miraculously on the cloak of Juan Diego, a humble peasant, at Tepeyac in 1531. The link gives the history of the area and the story of the apparitions of Mary to Juan Diego.

I was quite moved by my visit to the shrine. To see the numbers of people there, many ascending the rough steps on their knees, was a sight to remember. Whatever you may think of the many claims of appearances of the Virgin Mary, the people at the shrine were obviously full of faith and genuine in their devotions.

We did not attend a Mass of the Roses, but from its description, it sounds lovely:

The Mass of the Roses blends all of the Mexican cultures - Indian, Criollio, and Mestizo. The music is interspersed with the beat of native drums and dancing. The crucified Jesus hangs alone on his cross above the main altar, which is elevated on a platform. Behind the altar to the right is the tilma of the Virgin, underneath a large cross on the wall. The aroma of roses fills the air. Love and tears fill the faces of the people.

On the way home on the Pan-American Highway, we spent the night in Morelia, although the city was in the wrong direction for heading home. We wanted to visit because it was well-known as a beautiful old colonial city. Our hotel was lovely, an old, but well-cared for building, filled with antique furniture.

We headed home on the Pan-American Highway. As I look at the maps, the only city on the map that looks familiar is Cuidad Victoria. If we stopped somewhere between Morelia and Cuidad Victoria, I don't remember where, nor does my companion on the trip.

Altogether it was a grand trip. We marveled that in 18 days, we had only a couple of minor disagreements, which we quickly moved past. Since we were both strong-minded women, we were a little concerned that we might come away from our travels no longer friends.

M went off to Columbia University to study French. While she was there, I visited her in the tiny dorm room that she shared with her roommate. I believe that I slept on a cot or on a mattress on the floor, but I had another grand time in New York, a city that I still love and visit as often as I can.

Here endeth the story.