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on the street—the grand saloon being generally the length of the whole house. On the ground-floor are the porter's lodge, offices and carriagehouse. From this, a flight of steps leads to an entresol, devoted to the domestics, while the upper story is universally the fashionable and best
Here the family dwells in perfect seclusion from the street and neighbors, and the arcade which fronts their doors is filled with the choicest fruit and flower-trees in constant bloom. Above all this is the azotea, or flat, paved roof, a delightful retreat on summer nights. The front windows of the houses are all guarded by balconies covered with gayly. colored awnings; and on days of festival, when filled with the gay throng of Mexican women, and hung with tapestry and velvet, they present a most brilliant appearance.
The carriage, and ever-harnessed mules, stand constantly in the courtyard below; and the postillion is ready to mount and sally forth at a moments' notice until after dark, when the large front gate is ed, locked and barred; and the house becomes as quiet and secure as a castle, with which no communication from without is permitted, until you tell your name, or signify to the porter the object of your visit. Until this ceremony has passed, no bolt is drawn in the wicket or latch raised to admit you;
and the caution is extremely necessary, on account of the frequent robberies that have been committed by allowing unknown persons to enter after dark.
It has been said that “cleanliness is a virtue," and I think that politeness should be classed next to it. Cleanliness does not always proceed from the mere love of personal or domestic purity, but is often a mere evidence of respect for the opinion of the world. The same, perhaps, may be said of politeness. Be it what it may, however, it is one of the most agreeable sacrifices of social intercourse. The "old school seems to have taken refuge among the Mexicans. They are formally, and I think, substantially, the politest people I have met with. Bowing and shaking hands are common all the world over, and in our country we do it stiffly, and often grufily enough. Savages salute one another with a grunt, and the Chinese touch noses. But, in Mexico, there is something more than mere nonchalant nods of recognition and farewell. If you enter a Mexi. can's house, there is no rest among the inmates until you are made per. fectly at ease, and your hat and cane taken from you. The lady does not sit on the sofa-nod when you come in as if it were painful to bend or rise—talk with you about the weather as if your rheumatisms made you a species of walking barometer--and then expect you to nod again, and take yourself off as a bore; but a frankness and a warmth are immediately thrown into the manner of the whole household as soon as you appear. No matter what they may be engaged in, or how much occupied; all is forgotten in a moment, and they are entirely at your service. Here, in the United States, I have paid fifteen or twenty visits on a morning with a fashionable lady. To do so in Mexico-a man would be set down as an oddity. A visit is a visit—it is intended to be something.
People feel that they can see, look at, and pass each other in the street ; and they think a stare of five minutes from a chair, as meaningless as a stare on one's legs in the highway. In the saloon, they regard it proper to devote much time to the interchange of opinions sociably; and they look upon indifference or a distrait air, or what would elsewhere be called fashionable case, as little better than rudeness.
Upon entering a room, after any unusual absence, if well known to all the members of a family, you go through the process of an embrace, and the health and occupations of every member of your family are minutely and affectionately inquired for. After a while, if there are girls in the house, a little music will be given, or their drawings, embroidery, or other pretty works displayed, as you are supposed to have an interest in such things. And if you are a particular favorite, the lady of the mansion, who indulges in a cigarritto, will take a delicate one from her golden etui, light it, touch it to her lips, and present it to you.
At parting, the ceremony is very formal. You bid good-bye with an embrace, or, if less acquainted, with a profound bow to each individual ; you turn at the door of the saloon, and bow again; the master of the house accompanies you to the head of the stairs, where you shake hands and bow again ; you look up from the landing of the first flight of stairs, and find him ready with another; and as you pass through the court-yard below, (if he like you, or you happen to be a person of consideration) you find him gazing from among the flowers over the balustrade, and still gracefully nodding farewell! Before this finale it is not very safe to put on your hat.
There are few things more beautiful than the salutation of a Mexican lady. Among themselves they never meet without embracing. But to men and strangers, on the street, they lift the right hand to near the lips, gently inclining the head toward it, and gracefully fluttering their fingers, send forth their recognition with an arch-beaming of the eye that is almost as bewitching as a kiss.
The universal conclusion of the day with a fashionable lady in Mexico, is the theatre. She begins with mass, to which she walks in the morning with her mantilla gracefully draped around her head, and falling in folds of splendid lace over her breast and shoulders. But the night must end in full dress at the opera or theatre. It is as regular and as much a matter of course as her meals.
It is then you may behold the Mexican woman in perfection. And yet, to confess the truth, I cannot say that they are beautiful according to our ideas of beauty in the United States.
You do not see those charming skins and rosy complexions, nor do you observe that variety of tint which springs from the mingling of many nations on our soil ; but there is, nevertheless, something in Mexican women, be they fair or dark, that bewitches while you look at them: it is, perhaps, a universal expression of sweetness and confiding gentleness.
There is not much regularity of features; no “Attic foreheads and Phidian noses;” no “rose-bud lips whose kisses pout to leave their nest;" no majestic symmetry to compel admiration; but their large, magnificent eyes, where the very soul of tenderness seems to dwell, and their natural grace, conquer every one. Their gait is slow, stately, majestic.
The commonest woman of the middle ranks you encounter on the streets, with but a fanciful petticoat, and her shawl or reboso, struts a queen-her feet small almost to deformity. Her figure, though full to embonpoint, you never think too fat; her lively enthusiasm always seems tempered and delicately subdued by the softness of her eye, and you feel that her complexion, sallow or dark as it often is, is yet no more than
“ The embrowning of the fruit that tells
How rich within the soul of sweetness dwells."
I give opposite, sketches of the costume of the lower class of females, as you see them constantly in the house and on the street, with and without the shawl, or reboso. Without it the dress is scarcely any dress at all : one garment—besides a petticoat–braced with a sash around the waist, while the hair falls in a long plait down the back. With it—their costume is made up. Flung gracefully over the left shoulder and passed across the mouth-you see nothing but the eyes, which are her greatest charm, and she never attempts to conceal them or neglect their power.
In speaking of the fine eyes, the beautiful feet, and the queenly tread of the Mexican ladies, and their costume, I should not forget to mention that an embroidered India crape shawl, blazing with all the colors of the
rainbow, and a painted fan, are indispensable portions of a complete dress. The fan is none of your new-fangled inventions of feather and finery, but the old-fashioned reed and paper instruments used by our grandmothers. The opening and shutting—the waving and folding of these is an especial language. They touch them to their lips-flirt them wide open-close them—let their bright eyes peep over the rim-display their jewelled hands and witching eyes, and, in fact, carry on a warfare of graceful coquetry from behind these pasteboard fortresses, that has forced, ere now, many a stout heart to cry for quarter!
THE CITY OF MEXICO.
SENTIMENTAL BUTCHER AND PROFESSIONAL BEGGARS.
It is the custom for most of the small dealers to hawk their wares about the streets, and indeed, you may thus be supplied with all the necessaries of life. The aguador brings you water.
The butcher sends his ass with meat. The Indians bring butter, eggs, fruit, and vegetables; the boatmen, fresh fish from the lake; and cakes and sweetmeats are carried daily in trays to your door. There are, nevertheless, a market and stalls, or small shops in the streets. In a large and poor population like this the competition must necessarily be very great.
One of the butchers in the Calle Tacuba always amused me. His shop is about the size of a stall, the whole front being open to the street, with a fine game-cock, tied by the leg on the sill. Suspended from the ceil. ing, and but two or three feet from the doorway, hangs the entire carcass of a beef; at a short distance behind is the counter; and, in the rear of this again, is a row of kids and delicate morsels, festooned with gilt paper and yards of sausages, hung in the most tasteful lines and curves. In the centre of this carnal show rests an image of the “Holy Virgin of Guadalupe," under whose protection he thus places his larder and his
The most interesting figure, however, in the picture, is the butcher himself; a sentimental-looking fellow, with black eyes, curling locks, and altogether a most captivating personage, barring a sort of oily lustre that polishes his skin. I invariably find him lounging romantically over his saw and cleaver, strumming his guitar to half-a-dozen housemaids, who, doubtless, are attracted to his steaks by his amorous staves. It is rare to see such a mixture of meat and music. What would be said with us at home, to see the celebrated Jones or Smith, in the Fulton market, mounted on his block, with a blue ribbon about his neck, and a dozen damsels grouped around him, listening, with rapt air, to the pet morceau of the last opera! Yet the suggestion might be useful in these days, when invention is taxed to the utmost for new modes of attracting the people. In Mexico at any rate it is characteristic, and I have, therefore, noted it.