Fragrance in Travel Literature-Mexico

Mexican trails; a record of travel in Mexico, 1904-7, and a glimpse at the life of the Mexican Indian (1909)
Kirkham, Stanton Davis, 1868-1944

You may stroll time and again down
the long shady walks or along the walls
which shut out the world, and meet never
a soul. It would seem to have descended
to the rose and the pomegranate, this gar-
den of New Spain ; they to bloom here
for each other and for the wandering bee,
and to lavish their fragrance upon the
heedless air. Surely the oleander does
not blush unseen, for there lives here a
great white butterfly, a vast tropical in-
sect, and all day she floats like a thistle-
down, ghost-like in the shadows where
the coffee blooms, venturing now and again
into the brilliant sunlight to visit the beau-
tiful oleander. Her broad wings expand
more than six inches, and are as immac-
ulate as virgin snow, save for some
pencillings of black. So buoyant and in-
consequent is her flight that she appears
merely to float upon the air, as the pearly
nautilus upon the sea, wafted hither and
thither by the breezes. There are butter-
flies here of the hue of heliotrope, and
others whose tawny wings are striped like
the tiger, but the white mariposa is the
queen of them all.

Shafts of light strike aslant the vast
grey interior, and fall on the old onyx
pulpits and on the dusky gold of the great
altar with its pillars of malachite. Six
priests in vestments of violet, of scarlet,
and gold, stand before the altar, and boys
swing silver incense-burners, the incense
rising higher and higher and mingling at
last with the shafts of light. The onyx,
malachite, and gold, the rich wood carv-
ings of the choir, the old vellum books
dimly seen within, lying open on antique
stands, the flickering candles in the shad-
owy distance, and the gorgeous vestments
of the priests create one superb harmony
of tone as of some marvellous old tapestry.

These quiet lanes, leading anywhere
and nowhere, invite you to ramble with-
out so much as a purpose or destination,
to saunter in fact. Vistas of rich old
gardens appear, of venerable mangoes
and lemon-trees and pomegranates. Red
coffee-berries intermingle with feathery
sprays of peach-blossoms, and jasmine and
rose scent the air.

The rambler in Mexico (1836)
Latrobe, Chas. Joseph

The surface of the canals of Chalco and Izstacalco,
which enter the city from the Paseo de las Vigas, was
daily crowded with canoes, laden with the most beautiful
flowers, the produce of the chinampas, or floating gar-
dens of the Indians, on the border of the lakes. The
great market was filled with palm branches, and all the
altars and shrines of the city were perfumed with the
sweet fragrance of the bouquets with which they were
tastefully adorned.

How beautiful appeared those green and wooded
shores — how delicious the perfume from the scented
mimosa bushes on the banks — how welcome the sight of
the firm land and its habitations !

No traveller, ancient or modern, has failed to notice
the beauty and singularity of position of Chapultepec
— the hill of the grasshopper — at three miles distance
from the city. It is an insulated rock of porphyry,
springing up upon what was the margin of the lake, and
now surrounded on all sides by fields and meadows over-
spread by luxuriant vegetation. That it was a favourite
place of resort of the Aztec monarchs, there is no doubt ;
and its foot is still clothed with an ancient garden in which
they sought repose and solace from the heats of their
shadeless city. And though, at the present day, neglect
and ruin are evident on every hand ; and their pleasant
palaces are all destroyed, their fish ponds and baths
broken down, and scarcely discernible — though their
aviaries, and thickets of sweet-smelling flowers and me-
dicinal herbs, have disappeared, and their shady groves
are despoiled of many a noble tree ; yet there is still a
majesty in these shades, all tangled and neglected, and
overgrown as they are, which is exciting to the fancy,
and dear to the imagination; and no one will enter these
thickets, shaded by the graceful pepper tree, and linger
at the foot of those giant cypresses, without recollecting
the strange and sad fate of him who was here accus-
tomed to pass his hours of retirement.

Vagabond life in Mexico (1856)
Bellemare, Louis de, 1809-1852

Alternately parched and inundated, the Bajio pre-
sents at all seasons an aspect singularly picturesque.
During the rainy season, the winter of those favored
climes, the sky, which loses its blue without losing its
softness, floods the plains with fertilizing torrents. For
several hours a day the Bajio is a vast lake, studded
with tufts of verdure, with blue hills, with groups of
white houses and enameled cupolas. On this sheet
of water the green summits of the trees alone reveal
to the traveler the capricious meanderings of the inun-
dated road. Soon, however, the thirsty soil has im-
bibed the moisture through the innumerable cracks
that eight months' drought has left in its surface. A
layer of slime, deposited by the heavy rains and the
torrents from the Cordillera, has enriched the impover-
ished earth. The heavens are clear and. cloudless as
before. The springs, freed from the crust which ob-
structed them, gush out more abundantly from the foot
of the ahuehuetl* The Peruvian-tree, the gum-tree,
the golden-flowered huisache, amid whose blossoms
the scarlet-plumed parrots scream, shade and perfume
the now consolidated roads. The songs of muleteers
and the bells of mules resound in the blue distance,
mingled with the shrill creaking of cart-wheels. It is
the time when the Indian laborer returns to his toils.
Like the shepherd in the Georgics, with his leathern
buskins, his short tunic, and bare legs, he lazily goads
the oxen at the plow. And such is the fertility of this
soil, that splendid crops cover the ground which the
plow has scarcely furrowed.

Still Don Bias did not think that any danger was
to be apprehended by this division of our forces, He
forthwith proceeded to reconnoitre one of these roads,
and I accompanied him. However, when we had pro-
ceeded some distance from our comoanions, his ardor
seemed suddenly to cool. He stopped his horse, which
was before mine, and proceeded to expatiate upon the
beauty of the landscape with the cool indifference of a
dissatisfied tourist. The sun had dissipated the mist
which had till now enwrapped us. The sky was clear
and without a cloud, and a pleasant warmth soon made
us forget the sharp and piercing cold of the preceding-
night. A slight perfume of guava, that the wind waft-
ed along at intervals, Avas now and then mixed with
the sharp and pungent odor of the pines. This was
like a harbinger of the beautiful azure sky of the hot
regions, and the magnificence of their luxuriant vege-
tation. We were now separated from the first of our
party by several miles.

The two horsemen then spoke in a low tone, and I
could only catch snatches of their conversation. I
was soon drawn away from the distraction into which
I had been betrayed by the beauty of the landscape.
We were just over San Miguel. From this elevated
point the eye wandered over a charming valley, encir-
cled by a belt of foggy mountains. The Naocampa-
tepetl,* an extinct volcano, which has the appearance
* In the Indian tongue, the square mountain.
of a square block of stone, is the highest eminence in
this range. At the foot of the peak of Macuiltepetl,
upon a beautiful carpet of verdure which covers the
valley, in the midst of orange-trees in full blossom, of
lofty palm-trees, and bananas loaded with fruit, stands
the town of Jalapa, set as in a garland of flowers.
Placed between the icy fog of the mountains which sur-
round it and the hot atmosphere of the sea-coast, Ja-
lapa is only visited by breezes laden with perfumes.
The thick vapors, which hang like a curtain over the
plain, lend to it a delicious freshness. Viewed from
the top of the hill, where nothing was near but gloomy
pines and a stunted vegetation, similar to that of the
north, the valley which now lay at my feet seemed
more enchanting from the contrast which it afforded.

Round the mountain on which it is built
stretches, in a long, waving belt of verdure, a forest of
cedars more than a thousand years old. A fountain
bubbles forth at the top of the mountain ; its brawling
waters leap down into the valley, where they are re-
ceived into an aqueduct, and thus conducted into a
large and populous city, to supply the wants of its in-
habitants. Villages, steeples, and cupolas rise on all
sides from the bottom of the valley. Dusty roads
cross and recross one another like gold stripes on a
green ground, or like runnels of water interbranching
through the country. A tree, peculiar to Peru, the
weeping willow of the sandy plains, bends its long,
interlaced branches, loaded with odoriferous leaves and
red berries, in the evening breeze, and a solitary palm-
tree rises here and there above clumps of olives with
their pale-green foliage.

There are few towns in Mexico which can not boast
of having an Alameda ; and, as generally happens in
the capital city, that of Mexico is decidedly the finest.
There is no promenade of this sort in Paris. Hyde
Park in London most nearly resembles it. The Ala-
meda of Mexico forms a long square, surrounded by a
wall breast high, at the bottom of which runs a deep
ditch, whose muddy waters and offensive exhalation
mar the appearance of this almost earthly paradise.
An iron gate at each of its corners affords admission to
carriages, horsemen, and pedestrians. Poplars, ash-
trees, and willows bend their branches over the prin-
cipal drive, and afford a leafy shade to the occupants
of the carriages and equestrians for whom this beauti-
fully level road is appropriated. Alleys, converging
into large common centres, ornamented with fountains
and jets cTeau, interpose their clumps of myrtles, roses,
and jasmines between the carriages and the pedestri-
ans, whose eyes can follow, through the openings in
those odoriferous bushes, the luxurious equipages and
prancing steeds caracoling round the Alameda. The
noise of the wheels, muffled by the sand on the drive,
scarcely reaches the ear, mingled as it is with the mur-
mur of the water, the sighing of the wind through the
evergreen leafage, and the buzzing of bees and hum-
* Alameda, a general name for a puhlic walk ; literally, a place
planted with poplars, alamos.

The day on which I went to
the canal was the last Sunday in Lent. On reaching
the road, I found the habitual promenaders of the Pa-
seo and Alameda crowding every spot of the ground
in the Viga ; but it was not the crowd which chiefly
attracted me, it was the canal itself. On that day, the
reeds on the bank, ordinarily so still, waved and jos-
tled to and fro under the continual motion of the wa-
ter, produced by the passing and repassing of num-
berless fleets of boats. Launches, canoes, pirogues,
were constantly coming and going ; some conveying
to Mexico, for the Holy Week, immense quantities of
flowers, which diffused a most delightful odor around.
Other boats followed, crowded with light-hearted, mer-
ry passengers, wearing wreaths of wild poppy and
sweet pea, and dancing on the deck to the inspiring
strains of harps, flutes, and mandolins. Light-hearted
Cyprians, in gamesome mood, scattered upon the breeze
the purple buds of their wreaths, and trolled out cho-
ruses of lascivious songs. The clear sky, the dazzling
brilliancy of the different costumes, and the soft, sweet
melody of the language, brought to my mind the na-
tional festivals of ancient Greece ; while the canal,
which seemed at times suddenly transformed into a
carpet of flowers, generally had the appearance of a
moving mass of canoes, which shot past one another
in all directions ; groups of people, lying lazily on the
bank, bantered the boatmen as they passed. Farther
off, under the green arcades formed by the aspens upon
the road, which shook under the roll of carriages and
gallop of horses, paraded the gay fashionables of Mex-
ico. Parties of high-spirited, wild-looking cavaliers,
dressed in the national costume, sauntered up and
down amid this gay throng as if protesting by their
rough manners against the whimsical appearance of
the dandies habited in French style.

A family flight through Mexico (1886)
Hale, Edward Everett, 1822-1909; Hale, Susan, 1833-1910

From the early ' time of the Aztecs, the Mexicans have retained
their fondness for flowers, which play a prominent part in all their
festivals. This occasion is a sort of May-day, or celebration of
Spring. Fragrant heaps of flowers were everywhere, and the
Indian girls wove garlands or crowns of carnations, poppies, bluets,
for their heads ; they were most picturesque, with brown skin,
flashing black eyes and white teeth, and two long braids of black
hair hanging behind, with the universal rcbozo thrown over their
heads and around their shoulders. The broad avenue bordered by
trees was crowded with every kind of vehicle, and on the canal
were hundreds of canoes large and small, filled with wreath-crowned
girls, merry parties of foreigners, Spaniards strumming guitars. At
the booths, cooling drinks were sold, as in Spain ; of the Mexican
love of color even their beverages partake ; a bright-colored liquid
is always conspicuous on the counters; sometimes with bands of
different colors in the same tumblers, and jugs, shelves, awnings
are decorated with flowers, trailing green interspersed with sweet-
peas, poppies and carnations stuck about everywhere.

Meanwhile Miss Lejeune, with Bessie and Tom, were enjoying
the most delightful days of their Mexican trip ; days which were
to be counted among the most deUghtful of their lives. They
went by tram-car to Miraflores, the home of an English family,
whose kindly, hospitable hearts had been opened to them by the
key of a letter from some mutual friends very dear to both
parties. And here for two days they enjoyed real hospitality in
the most charming country seat in the most beautiful situation.
The long, low house was overhung with vines, and banked with
geraniums and other bright flowers. An ample garden, so long
established that it was shaded by large trees, yet full of sunshine,
was a paradise of roses, in luxuriant blossom. These roses
grew on standards sometimes five or six feet high, and were of
every imaginable kind, like the most precious of hothouse vari-
eties. There were white roses, yellow roses, flame-colored ones;
deep crimson, warm rose-color, and the palest pink ; roses as large
as your open hand, and crowded with petals, single dogroses, and
old-fashioned "cinnamon roses." They grew in such profusion, that
their faded petals fell in heaps unheeded, and swept away by the
tidy gardener, while the neglected blossoms he cut off would have
made the fortune of a florist. Everybody could have all he could
possibly desire. The difficulty was to choose. Each new blossom
seemed more lovely than the rest, and when a handful was o-ath-
ered, every separate one seemed the most worthy of praise.
Bessie and Miss Lejeune were wild about the roses. They wanted
to be painting them all the time. But the roses were not all.
Heliotrope was trained up the side of the house, and looked in
at the window of their large comfortable room, — on the o-round-
floor, as were all the rooms, full of fragrant blossoms. The high
wall running round the garden, and shutting in this fairy enclos-
ure was massed with morning-glories of intense blue. Bignonia
hung from every angle, and pansies, sweet-peas, with countless
other flowers, bloomed in the beds bordered by the rose-trees.
It was an enchanted spot. Water trickled from fountains amono-
the walks, and kept the place always fresh. There were seats
under the trees, where one might look out upon the sunny wealth
of blossoms, and try to decide which rose to gather next.
When they had begun to be the least bit accustomed to the
lovely spot, and could bear to restrain themselves from exclaim-
ing, "How enchanting!" more than once in five minutes, some
one said, "Go and bring the key to the Alfalfa gate," and they
were led to a thick door in the high wall. All around them
was shade, seclusion, and the perfume of roses. The gate was
thrown open, and a broad, wide-reaching view spread before and
below them, of sunny fields glowing green with rich alfalfa (clover)
stretching far, far away, and the horizon bounded by the grand
forms of the two volcanoes, Istaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, glow-
ing in the light of the sunset which was fast approaching.
It was a wonderful view; beyond exclamations of approval, or
words to describe it. Steps led down to a broad gravel walk,
lined with flower-beds, leading around the outer enclosure of these
grounds, with glimpses of the distance between trees ; it was all
very pretty, but our travellers returned with rapture to the view
from the Alfalfa gate.
To describe this visit in detail would be to trespass upon the
hospitality which made it perfect. The guests who enjoyed it will
look back upon it rather as a dream than as a possible reality, —
as brief, as bright, as perfect dreams ought to be.

Bessie did not know what this meant, but she was ready, when
the train stopped, to join Mr. Pastor on the platform, and Tom
followed. A crowd of dark men in white garments beset the train,
with their hands full of little baskets of delicious strawberries, —
large, long, pointed, pale-tinted strawberries, heaped on each other,
fresh from their beds, with the hulls on.
"Buy all you want," said their wise companion, "for this is the
only place for them."
Bessie and Tom bought wildly of several delighted merchants,
and carried their fragrant spoil into the car. The strawberries
lasted through that day, and the next ; they were so ripe and
fresh that no sugar was needed, and they could be eaten like
the plums of Jack Horner, with finger and thumb.
At Irapuato, these delicious strawberries are sold every day in
the year to passengers on the trains.

It is about two miles to Chapultepec. Well outside the streets,
the country stretched away in broad cultivated plains beyond which
are glimpses of the volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Istaccihuatl, so
often, however, veiled at that season that Miss Lejeune up to this
very day pretended to believe there were no such mountains. The
long line of the old aqueduct bringing water to the city appeared ;
the arches are not so graceful, nor is the color of the stone so
warm as those of Morelia. It was a lovely drive, the dew yet
sparkling on the grass, the air sweet and perfumed. They met
one or two acquaintances on horseback returning from an early
morning excursion through the avenues around the palace ; a
favorite habit with lovers of exercise and nature in Mexico.

After the train left the dry sandy neighborhood of Vera Cruz
and began to ascend, the view from the windows was a constant
succession of rich vines hanging in festoons upon the trees and
bright with large flowers, most of which were new to the travellers.
They longed to stop the train and gather them. Some of the trees
seemed to have green leaves, but were solid masses of pink and
white blossoms. Bright red leaves (probably poinsettia) gleamed
from dark foliage, and whiffs of rich perfume reached the platform
of the car as they flew by.

After that, the hot walk back in the sun, — then delightful well-
earned repose, much dawdling on balconies. The afternoons had
each its plan for an excursion. It was .growing dark always as
they went to dinner ; before the cathedral tlamed torches of the
street-vendors of fruit and candy. The fading sunset was before
them, and as they came back they often stopped to listen to the
band playing in the Zocolo, while the strong scent of datura was
wafted over the garden beds.

Mexico as I saw it (1902)
Tweedie, Alec, Mrs

The country houses also are^ wonderful — often old
monasteries changed into sumptuous mansions. They
contain corridors, patios and cloisters in abundance, and
such flowers ! Hardly in gardens, for the lovely blooms
practically grow wild, only the grass borders, lawns and
roadways requiring attention. Southern Mexico is indeed
the land of flowers, but, alas ! they perish in a night.
" You pluck the flower, the bloom has fled."
Armfuls of gorgeous roses, huge bouquets of wonderful
flowers are an everyday sight ; but they have little scent,
and die in their vases ere morning. Exquisite masses of
colour, wondrously brilliant blossoms, but almost all without
perfume and strangely perishable.
The people loved and tended their flowers in their
floating gardens in the days of Cortes, and now, five hun-
dred years later, they are doing precisely the same thing.

During the last hours of its life, the bells of the
City tolled a sort of melancholy wail for the old year and
departing century. At midnight I attended Grand Mass
in the Cathedral. It was an imposing ceremony from its
strange contrasts. The Cathedral is a fine structure,
standing where the old Aztec Temple stood hundreds
of years ago, and that night it was crowded. Some
of the richest and grandest folk in the land were there,
ready to receive Holy Communion after the elevation of
the Host, together with some of the very poorest, and, oh
dear ! they can be poor in Mexico City ! As we entered
dust and incense caused the place to look as though filled
with fog ; a sort of weird mystery pervaded the whole
scene. In front on a red velvet cloth lay a massive wooden
cross, probably twelve feet long ; at its foot was a silver
tray to receive alms, and all round were ranged enormous
lighted candles. Thousands of persons passed before that
cross on the last night of the nineteenth century, and
kissed the wood of which it was made. It reminded me
of that long line of worshippers on Easter Sunday who
filed past to kiss St. Peter's toe in the Church of that
name in Rome. We were thousands of miles away from
Rome, yet here was a similar ceremony enacted by others
of the Catholic faith.

There was something very wonderful in the sight of
those ruins by moonlight. There stood those three great
temple fronts, each with its triple portal, and flights of steps
leading to the courtyard below. Fancy could picture the
priests of yore, issuing forth on just such a night, followed
by their acolytes and choristers, and in solemn procession
descending those steps to the scent of the wafted incense,
made from copal, such as is used in the churches of Mexico
to-day, and accompanied by the chant of human voices.
We seemed to see them crossing that great square court,
pausing finally before a sacrificial stone, similar to that
which is now in the Mexican Museum ; we saw the human
victim led forth, bound and fettered, and then !