And the Post Office Made Three

And the Post Office Made Three

By Margaret Van Every

Over the Border

woman diary

 

January 15-16. Here we are in stunning Monterrey, 146 miles from the nearest US post office. No mistaking, we’re in a foreign country. We’re happily settled in the Regina Courts with a comfortable bed, shower with hot and cold water, and gas heater for chilly mornings. We’ve traded in the blizzard for landscaped grounds with palms and bouganvilleas. This morning we visited the cathedral in the central plaza, and after getting our shoes shined and photographing the miracle of orange trees loaded with fruit in January, we discovered the modern federal building, which houses the post office. Of course we snapped another picture. In a rare romantic concession, Ted bought me gardenias from a street vendor “practically for nothing,” he marveled. 

We dined at the Gran Hotel, followed by dancing at the Jardines Terpsicore. The Mexican women have an alluring natural beauty and sense of style—their hair, complexion, makeup, and sinuous moves on the dance floor enchanted me. Without seeming the slightest bit self-conscious, they flaunted their beauty in silky form-fitting gowns, daringly cut in front and back, and oh how gracefully they executed the provocative intricacies of the tango, which was everyone’s favorite. I was the only woman without a formal gown but forgot myself in the happy moment. We sat out quite a few dances but enjoyed watching almost as much as doing. I only wish Ted had found time in his life for dancing lessons.

January 17. We traveled over abominable roads through heavenly mountainous scenery and took a side trip to Horsetail Falls on our way to Valles.  Stopping in Victoria for lunch, we met a couple driving a Packard coupe bearing an Arkansas license plate. We had noticed this same couple at the Falls earlier that day. At lunch I caught this man staring at me appraisingly. Not bad-looking himself. We checked into Ericson’s Tourist Camp for the night (not so hot).

Jan. 18. Today we passed through the Tropic of Cancer, a virtual jungle in which I saw thousands of wild orchids and parrots of bright plumage, but no reptiles. I’m at a loss to describe the grandeur and beauty of the sierras as we drove above the clouds. Along the way we ran into that couple from Arkansas again, who introduced themselves as Mr. Roger Browne and his niece Mrs. Gallishaw. We finally arrived in Mexico City.

Jan. 19. DF. We rented a furnished apartment on the beautiful Paseo de la Reforma, a boulevard laid out by the Empress Carlotta and patterned after the Champs Elysée of Paris. There were tempting bridle paths alongside the streets and I dearly wanted to be in the saddle but had not packed my jodhpurs and boots. We visited Chapultepec Castle and later attended a jai alai game. It was here that for the first time Ted finally showed some enthusiasm. 

Jan. 20. We teamed up with “Uncle Roger” and Mrs. G. to motor in their Packard to Puebla and Cholula, where we savored delicious local dishes with excellent wines at an ex-hacienda. We visited churches, murals, and markets. At times I feel so alone on this honeymoon, as though I’m the only one having any fun. Occasional surreptitious glances from Roger, which I confess to surreptitiously enjoying. He’s a man who relishes sensual tourism like I do—the food and wine, color, music, art, antiquities, and churches. Topping all was the rosy glow of the snow-capped volcano Malinche at sunset. During this crowning moment of nature’s splendor, when Ted excused himself to visit the men’s room, Roger Browne winked at me—it was as though he was saying he understood my loneliness and was with me. We returned to DF dead tired and ate at Sanborn’s.

Jan. 21. Ted tried to find an interesting place for breakfast but gave up so we returned, defeated, to Sanborn’s. We visited the old cathedral, now badly in need of restoration. A sign in the vestibule  warned, “Beware of pickpockets.” In the afternoon we shopped for silver, and in the evening saw Aida at Palacio de Bellas Artes. The opera lasted until 1 a.m.  Ted slept through it, but I was enchanted throughout. It was such a pleasure to sit in a lavish, modern theatre and admire the gorgeous Tiffany curtain depicting the two volcanoes. It is made out of a million pieces of iridescent stained glass. The walls had murals by Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros. Palacio indeed!

Jan. 22. Today we drove our landlady, Uncle Roger, and his niece to Toluca on market day. Hordes of Indios in their colorful clothes crowded the market, vending their crafts, but I’ve never seen such squalor. I was relieved to have brought a box lunch from Sanborn’s. We bought blankets and linens and returned via the Carmelite monastery built in 1606 at El Desierto de los Leones.  The torture chambers in the monastery were a gruesome reminder of the Spanish Inquisition. Once or twice I swear that Roger brushed against my bare arm, perhaps by accident?

Jan. 23. I finally gathered up my courage to call on one Victor Velásquez at his office. He is a friend of my dearest friend in Austin, who had written ahead that we’d be coming. Sr. Velásquez shared some Bacardis with us and promised to pick us up at 8 to go dancing at the Reforma Roofgarden. At 8 p.m., however, a messenger arrived bearing a huge box of roses and regrets. The Señora V. is indisposed. I was keenly disappointed.  We dined alone at Butch’s Manhattan for dinner. I am discovering my husband to be deficient in the art of conversation.

Jan. 24. Such a full day—a band concert in Chapultepec Park and a parade of charros in fancy parade regalia on their exquisite dancing horses. Then to the famous floating gardens of Xochimilco with Uncle R. and Mrs. G.  Wary of dining possibilities outside the city, I took another reliable box lunch from Sanborn’s, which we relished as the “gondolier” poled us through the canals bordered by flower-covered islands. The music and bright flowers made the place unbelievably romantic—and being here made me crave romance. From there we hurried off to a bullfight that started at 3. What a ghastly sight for an American to see. That night we took our landlady to dinner at Sanborn’s and to a movie at the Alameda Theatre. The film was  Dimples with Shirley Temple, and the morose Ted had already seen it!

Jan. 25. Over the scenic mountain highway to Cuernavaca, we visited Cortez’s Palace with its Diego Rivera murals, the Cathedral of 1529, Toltec and Aztec ruins at Teopanzolco, and the falls of San Anton. We lunched on the veranda of the Borda Hotel. Bugambilias are blooming and a string orchestra played in the garden. After lunch we strolled through the famous Borda gardens and swam in the very pool where Maximilian and Carlotta took their recreation. Unfortunately, it was too late to go on to Taxco. Ted whined, “being a tourist is hard work; is there no rest?” Meanwhile I am thinking, if this is the honeymoon, dear God save me from the marriage.

Jan. 26. Señor Velásquez redeemed himself by arranging for us to visit the Mexico City post office with a translator. Ted is overjoyed to meet the postmaster general as well as his first assistant and the chief inspector. We are shown the entire post office of Mexico City and all its departments. Not many tourists can boast that! This is the highlight of the trip for Ted, the fulfillment of his honeymoon dreams. He had just endured the sightseeing and you might say that in exchange he earned this reward. We joined Victor V. afterward for lunch on the Reforma Rooftop. Such a suave and interesting man, this Victor, a real Mexican whose ancestors came from Spain twenty years after Cortez. We were informed that the Velasquezes never intermingled their blood with Indians.

Jan. 27. Ted woke up and announced “it’s time to head home”—a complete shock to me. I suspect that after seeing the post office yesterday, he can’t imagine what else would warrant another day. His mind is now on the St. Louis post office, but the bogus reason he offered for the sudden departure is that Uncle Roger and his niece are leaving today. Ted allowed me one more tourist site and I picked the National Museum. We scrambled to pack and stopped by the museum on our way out. I was emotionally overwhelmed to stand before the original stone Aztec calendar, then get immediately back into the car. Ted was determined to get out of Mexico City as fast as possible, while I looked out the car window, bidding a silent, reluctant farewell. I wept to be wrenched away before I was satiated with this place. We passed within half a block of the famous Shrine of Guadalupe, but Ted wouldn’t stop as he said he was “all fed up with churches and shrines.” I said in resignation, “I’m sorry to have missed this, as well as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.”  After a hard drive during which we assisted Uncle R with a flat tire, we all stopped for the night at Villa Juárez. Along the road I wondered about Uncle Roger and why he would be traveling with his niece. We knew little about their personal lives, nor did we ask.

Jan. 28. We set out early and drove all the way to Laredo. What a marvelous engineering feat the highway is from Laredo to DF.  The customs officials waved us through when Ted flashed his PO inspector commission.

During the long trip we had silently stewed in the juices of love’s disillusionment, and once across the border, we acknowledged our mutual incompatibility. In Austin I told Ted to go on to St. Louis while I spent some time in my girlhood home. I needed some distance to sort things out. I planned to ask the PO for a transfer, and Ted granted me permission to file for annulment.              

After we parted, Ted did not remarry, but remained true to his only love, the Postal Service.  I, in my way, remained true, too. I married Roger Browne, postmaster of mobster-infested Hot Springs, and father-in-law to gambling kingpin Owney Madden. How better for him to do his risky job of keeping tabs on The Mob in Arkansas than have a mobster in the family? We agreed I’d never ask the identity of Mrs. G.

 

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