On the Mexican Highlands, with a Passing Glimpse of Cuba

Source: William Seymour Edwards, On the Mexican Highlands, with a Passing Glimpse of Cuba (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1906), pp. 198-200

Text: Last night was to be my final one in Mexico, and as a troupe of Spanish actors was billed at one of the larger theaters, I went to see the play. There are a number of playhouses in the city, and paternal government is laying the foundation for an opera-house which, it is announced, will be one of the most “magnifico” in the world. The theater we attended was one of the largest, and the actors, Spaniards from Barcelona, were filling a season’s engagement. In purchasing tickets, the first novelty was the separate coupons which are issued for each act. You buy for one act or another as you prefer. The Mexicans rarely stay the play out, but linger for an act or two and then depart. There are tiers of boxes around the sides, in which were many men and ladies in evening dress, the belles and beaux of the city. We sat among the occupants of the seats upon the floor, the greater part of whom were men. The first noticeable difference between the audience here and that at home is that every man keeps on his hat except when occupying a box. It is bad enough, we think, for a woman to retain her hat or bonnet, but imagine how it is when you are confronted by multitudinous high-peaked broad-brimmed sombreros of the most obtrusive type. The excuse for the wearing of these great hats upon all occasions is, that in the chilly air of these high altitudes, it becomes a necessary protection.

The faces about me were dark; even the men in the boxes were of darker color than would be those of the pure Spanish blood. The women are also dark, their color much darker than that of the usual mulatto in the States. This is due to the large infusion of Indian blood among the Mexican people, even among the leisure classes.

The actors were of the Spanish swarthy type, but among the actresses, there were, as always, two or three with conspicuously red heads, the Venetian red so pronounced and popular among the London shopgirls. These red headed belles received the entire attention and applause of the male portion of the audience. The audience also smoked incessantly, the gentlemen large Mexican cigars, the ladies their cigarettes. The right to smoke is an inalienable privilege of both sexes in Mexico, the women using tobacco almost as freely and constantly as do the men. The acting was good, and some of the fandango dances brought thunders of bravos. The pauses between acts were long. In one of the intervals we sauntered out upon the streets, where a mob of ticket brokers so assailed us and bargained so successfully for our remaining coupons, that we sold them at an advance over the figure we had paid. The plays begin early, about seven o’clock, and the doors stay open until midnight, the constantly changing audiences giving to the actors fresh support.

On a previous night we visited another theater, where a more fashionable company gathered to see the well-known Frenchman, Frijoli, in his clever impersonations of character. Here were assembled Mexico’s most fashionable set, among them a party of distinguished South Americans attending the Pan-American Congress, the ladies from Brazil, Argentina, and Chili wearing costly diamonds, and being in full decollete attire.

Here also the sombrero reigned supreme in dress circle and on parquet floor, and smoking was everywhere indulged in.

Comments: William Seymour Edwards (1856-1915) was an American businessman, Republican politicians and travel writer. He visited Mexico and Cuba in 1905-06. The theatre he attended was in Mexico City.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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