WE went to Mexico on the advice of our friend George Biddle, the artist. He said that Indians had no time sense and that we ought to see the murals of Diego Rivera. Having just completed two moderately exhausting if not exhaustive studies of life in the machine age, I was impressed by both observations. I wanted a rest and I wanted to see paintings to which no process of reproduction in black and white can do justice. I went, then, for relaxation, but it is difficult to relax at seven thousand feet above the sea, the traveller's mean altitude. I stayed-and a few months later went again-because so many things excited me-volcanoes, the raw violence of the scenery, pyramids with plumed serpents marching across their bases, great crumbling cathedrals, native handicrafts, the frescoes of Rivera and Orozco, gold mines at the end of burro trails; and above all the way of life in the free villages, where I saw a handicraft economy functioning much as it did in the middle ages, and so a bench mark with which to compare my machines.
We remained altogether about five months. One of us learned to talk some Spanish and the other to understand it, after his fashion. We went wherever we chose in perfect safety-our only fear the wildness of mestizo drivers on certain motor roads. Bandits were reported from time to time, but, somewhat to our disappointment, never bothered us. Once we drove to Puebla with some friends, and that night on the way back alone they clipped their Auburn clean through a wire cable strung from tree to tree. There may have been highwaymen behind the trees; that was our nearest contact with bandidos. We liked the food and drink; we lived hard but well, our greatest discomfort the bitter cold of the nights on the high plateaus after the blazing days.
We kept away from the border states, and so far as possible, from Mexico City. The interest and excitement lay in the smaller towns and villages of central and southern Mexico. Here the Aztec and Maya traditions prevail with least corruption; here a handicraft culture may be best observed. We went to the peninsula of Yucatan and visited the ancient Maya cities of Chichen Itza and Uxmal. We cut across the spinal column of the continent from Vera Cruz on the Gulf to Acapulco on the Pacific; with many side excursions and stops, including Orizaba, Puebla and Cholula, Pachuca and Actopan, Teotihuacan and the great pyramids, Tenayuca, Tepoztlan, Cuernavaca, Cuautla, Ameca-meca, Taxco, Xochicalco, the silver mine at Xitinga, Iguala, the Balsas, and the Nevado del Toluca, fifteen thousand feet above the sea. We saw the great spring fiesta at Tecalpulco, the eve of the patron saint's day at Guadalupe, and the Tiger Dance at Taxco. Our transportation included train, plane, motor car, motor boat, horse, burro, and human feet, no little of the latter.
Turning south from the capital we went down into Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-hah-ca) and explored with Ford and saddle part of that amazing state. Turning west from the capital we went into the lake country of Michoacan to Patzcuaro, Tsintsuntsan, the ancient Tarascan capital, where fishermen still wield their lollypop paddles in dugout canoes, and to Uruapan, whence comes the finest lacquer work. Finally, we flew from the capital to Brownsville, Texas, on perhaps the most admirably operated air transport line in the world.
We were met everywhere with courtesy and kindness, from poorest Indian to highest official. Even Americans and Europeans grow mellower in Mexico. Of the many who gave us invaluable assistance, both material and spiritual, I desire to thank particularly William Spratling, Dr. and Mrs. Eyler N. Simpson, Ambassador Reuben Clark, Rene d'Harnoncourt, Ernest Gruening, Moises Saenz, Dr. Manuel Gamio, Frances Toor, Frank Tannenbaum, Mr. and Mrs. B. C. Hill, Carleton Beals, Emma Reh Stevenson, Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Darby, Frederick Davis, Mary Doherty, Eyvind Verner, Salvador Bonilla, Martin Bazan, Salvador Solchaga, Paul Van der Velde, Franz Blom, Jose Reygadas Vertiz, Porfirio Aguirre. Without their help, this book would have been infinitely the poorer.
Table of Contents | Chapter 1