xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Market Forces in Mexico City.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Market Forces in Mexico City.

I have a wonderful recording of a Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra duet, singing “Among My Souvenirs.” As I get closer to my 80th birthday I relate more and more to that song’s poignant first verse.

There’s nothing left for me
Of days that used to be.
They’re just a memory,
Among my souvenirs.

I have some memorable souvenirs of those days. I find myself thinking more and more of great days gone by. I have to be realistic.  On the bus trip of life I know that, at my age, most of the good stops are behind me. Of course, I optimistically assume there are still more great stops along the scenic route to that, hopefully, still distant terminus.

Among some of those good stops that are now well behind me, was a ten week car trip around the USA in 1963, when I was 25 years old. I was teaching in Toronto, Canada. School broke up for the long summer vacation on the last Friday in June and did not resume until the first Tuesday in September.

Early the next morning, I set off with three Aussie friends on the car trip of a lifetime. They were Mike, Tony and Murray. We enjoyed visiting Niagara, Washington, Atlanta, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale on the way to Palm Beach and Miami. Unlike the rest of us, Mike was not a teacher and only had two weeks’ vacation. He had to return to Toronto while we were enjoying life in Miami. Fortunately, he left his almost new Dodge sedan with us to continue our travels. True friendship, indeed.

From Miami we travelled west towards Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Housten. At San Antonio, Texas. we  detoured south of the border to Mexico City. After returning to San Antonio, we travelled through El Paso in the High Sierra Nevada mountains, then on to San Diego and Los Angeles. San Diego’s beautiful beaches reminded us of Perth and we became quite homesick…for about fifteen minutes.

After a week in Los Angeles, we headed to Disneyland, Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon. 2000 miles later, along Route 66, we came to Chicago and Detroit before finally arriving back home in Toronto, three days before the new school year started. This is just a brief account of some of this memorable souvenir.
New Orleans, is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. One night we were  enjoying the hustle and bustle of the happy throng in the French quarter. From every cafe, bar, club and restaurant came toe tapping jazz music. Suddenly, we came upon three young negro boys who were tap dancing for money. When they saw us they stopped dancing. The older boy looked me up and down and said,  "They's mighty fine shoes yo is a wearin', mister. For one dollar I betcha I can tell yo exactly exactly where yo got those shoes. I  can even tell what street you got those shoes in."
"He can do it, too," said his two sidekicks, enthusiastically. "Go on mister. Yo bet him one dollar he can tell yo where yo got dem shoes and what street yo got dem shoes."

Well, naturally, I smiled at Tony and Murray as I pulled a dollar bill out of my pocket. I had bought my shoes in Betts and Betts in Hay Street in Perth and there was no way that this 12 year old hustler would be able to tell me that. I held up the greenback and said, "OK. Now you  tell me where I got my shoes."

The three boys burst out laughing as the hustler smiled and said, "Why sir, yo got dem shoes on yo feet in Bourbon Street in Noo Awleans, in the grand and glorious state of Louisiana. That's one dollar you owe me." He took my dollar bill and the three of them giggled their way down the street.

Come in, sucker!
After leaving New Orleans I told Tony and Murray that my Aunty Tassie had given me the name, address and telephone number of a lady who lived with her family in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll call her Marie. Marie was the daughter of my Aunty Tassie’s next-door neighbour in Mt Lawley. Marie had met, fallen in love with and married an American naval officer stationed in Perth during the Second World War. I’ll call him Al.

After some discussion, it was agreed that I would telephone Marie and maybe we could drop by for morning or afternoon tea to mingle with real Texan folks for a while. However, when we arrived at Marie’s house, she welcomed us as long-lost sons and was happy to hear news of Western Australia. She even had beds made up for us and it was clear that she expected us to stay for a lot longer than a brief morning tea.

Marie said that they had arranged for a barbecue for the next night so that some of their friends could meet some young Australians. Much more importantly, she also told us that she worked in a pharmacy and one of the young girls who worked in the pharmacy was coming around at 5-30pm with two of her friends. It seems the girls were also keen to meet some young Australians. We all thought that this was a brilliant idea.

Marie thought that the girls would show us the sights of San Antonio, including the famed Alamo, and that we could then take the girls to dinner at a restaurant on the banks of a river that flows through the city centre. We did all of these thing. In the warmth of a summer breeze, we  enjoyed a great Al Fresco meal by the river in very pleasant company, while a Mexican mariachi band and some fine singers drifted past serenading the diners on the bank. Quite a memorable evening.

Marie’s husband, Al, was equally welcoming. He spoke fondly of his days in Western Australia and the friendly people in Perth. He told us that he knew we young West Aussies  would want to go surfing. Al said that in the morning he was driving us to Corpus Christi, on the Gulf Coast, so that we could swim in real surf and not the local swimming pool. We were overwhelmed by this Texan hospitality. Corpus Christi was about 120 kilometers away.

Our plan was to drive to Mexico City from San Antonio. However, Al, was very much against this idea. “Catch a Greyhound Bus,” he said. “Don’t take your car to Mexico City. Where are you going to park? Wherever you park it, when you come back the wheels will be missing. It will be damaged. Take the Greyhound and catch taxis if you need transport.”

We followed Al’s advice and took the overnight Greyhound bus to Mexico City and booked into a downtown hotel. Mexico City, even in 1963, was a huge, bustling Metropolis, more than one mile(1.6kms) above sea level.

We found this out very early on. We had taken the lift to the top of Mexico City’s tallest building. It was called The Tower of the Americas and looked a lot like New York’s Empire State building, though not as tall of course. While we gazed out at the scenic views a tour guide showed a group of tourist around the building.

“Who know which is the highest building in North America?” asked the guide.

“The Empire State building in New York City,” replied several of the US citizens in the group.

“No! Not correct,” answered the guide. He waved his arms about and said, “Before this building was even built it was already one mile high.” (Mexico City is 2200 metres above sea level, so it is well over a mile, or 1600 metres, above sea level.)

Mexico City impressed with its grand Cathedral, its huge square and its artistically decorated public buildings and gardens. Over the next few days we took taxi rides to the cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Floating Gardens of Xochimilico and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan. After scrambling up the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon we told our taxi driver that we had to be at the Mexico City Opera House at 2-00pm, as we had tickets for a matinee performance.If we were late we would not be allowed in to the performance.

This led to the most hair-raising ride I have ever endured. The taxi driver drove at breakneck speed through stop signs, traffic lights and between and around slow-moving vehicles. Let’s face it. At his speed, every vehicle was slow moving. It had taken us about forty minutes to drive to the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. The return journey took about half that. Of course, I did not see a lot on the return journey. For most of the time I had my eyes closed.

But it was worth it in the end. The Opera house in Mexico City is, or was, famous for its glass curtain. When the magnificent, ornate curtain folded back at 2-00pm that afternoon we were privileged to see a wonderfully moving performance by the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. It was stunning. In pulsating dance and song, it told the story of Mexico City from Aztec times, through the Spanish Conquest to later battles for independence from Spain.

When we returned to our hotel I told the friendly fellow at Reception about our harrowing taxi ride. I observed that all the traffic in Mexico City seemed to travel at break neck speed. I added, “Yet, despite the speed, I have not seen any accidents.”

“Si, Senor,” he replied. “It is Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the Patron Saint of Mexico. She protects us from accidents.”

“Even so,” I said, “I did see some cars that had some dents and scratches.”

“Ah, si, Senor. They are the Protestants.”

On our last day in Mexico City we went to the Plaza Del Toro to see the bullfights. The Plaza Del Toro in Mexico City is the largest bull fighting arena in the world. It is a bit like the MCG in Melbourne in that it is a high, circular building, around which are many statues. Of course, the statues are of famous matadors. There are even a few statues of famous bulls.

Our friendly hotel receptionist told us that in Mexico City the bullfights always start at 4 o’clock, no matter what the time is. Apparently, if there is a delay, the officials stop the large clock overlooking the arena. They start it again when the Grand Parade of Matadors, Pescadores and Picadors commence their musical and dramatic march into the ring. This always happens with the clock just ticking over to 4-00pm.

We arrived about 2-30pm, as we wanted to soak up some of the atmosphere and wander around the building a look at the statues. When we got out of the taxi an old man pulling a portable coat rack full of clear plastic raincoats greeted us.

“Raincoats. 40 pesos. Raincoats, 40 pesos”

We said no thanks and set off exploring the exterior grandeur of the Plaza Del Toro. We were just about all the way around the arena when it started to rain…as it always does, briefly, at about 3-00pm in Mexico City in the summertime.

We raced over to the old man with the hat rack and were surprised to hear him spruiking, “Raincoats, 80 pesos. Raincoats, 80 pesos.”

“Hey, hang on!” I protested. “Half an hour ago you said that raincoats were 40 pesos.”

He smiled as he offered me a raincoat, “A half an hour ago, Senor, it was not raining.”

Ah, yes, Those days that used to be, are just a memory, among my souvenirs. But, a very happy memory.

 Abraham Lincoln and Murray at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Address is printed on the metal plaque.
Me and the shoe shine boy.Mexico City. August 1963. The very same shoes I wore in Bourbon Street, New Orleans.The shoe shine cost a dollar, too.

Me looking down from the Tower of the Americas.
Murray and Tony outside the cathedral in the grand square of Mexico City. 
Murray and Tony. Where the heck are we? Time to change drivers on the road to Las Vegas.
Mike with his brand new Dodge sedan. Actually, this is near Hyannisport on Cape Cod.

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