By Joe Darby
So there we were, right in the middle of downtown Mexico City, taking a walk after lunch when we came upon the decapitated statue.
It was 1966 and student unrest was rife, all over the world. Graffiti covered the statue but it was in Spanish so I didn’t know the reason for the vandalism. But something about the scene irritated me and I, rather unthinkingly, said moderately loudly, “Viva Zachary Taylor. Viva Winfield Scott?”
Those chaps are, of course, the two American generals who conquered Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. To cheer for them in Mexico City was perhaps not the wisest move to make at the time.
My action caused my traveling companion and good buddy Bob to react with chagrin and do his best to shush me up as quickly as possible. I suppose we were very lucky that no militant students were nearby to hear my provocative words. Just some older Mexican citizens going about their daily business, who gave us some annoyed looks, as I remember. “Dos Gringos stupido,” was probably their private thoughts.
Aside from that touchy moment, our trip was pretty much all that we expected it to be. Bob. another young reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and I had been eagerly planning our trip for months. It was the fist visit to a foreign country that either of us had ever made.
We were to catch a night flight out of New Orleans International Airport, but the plane on which we were to fly was having mechanical difficulties, so the airline put up all of the passengers at a nice hotel across the street. We’d take off the following morning.
Bob and I decided to take advantage of the hotel pool, where we encountered two attractive young ladies who were also flying to Mexico and despite — or perhaps because of — our somewhat clumsy attempts to strike up an acquaintance with them, they decided to go their way so we had to go ours.
We’d carefully picked out our hotel, the Hotel Compastella, on Sullivan Street in downtown Mexico. Funny what details you can remember from special times.
The Compastella was not fancy but it was clean, we had our own private bath, two beds and it all cost $2.50 a night. Yes, you read that right.
We hit the tourist highlights. We visited the magnificent National Museum of Archaeology, where fabulous Meso-American treasures are collected. And we went to the historic Chapultepec Castle, high on a hill right in the middle of the city.
The castle, which contains a great collection of armor of the conquistadores, was the final military objective of the American troops when they captured Mexico City in the war. US forces overwhelmed cadets from the Mexican military academy, who are rightly regarded as heroes by the Mexicans today.
Bob and I also hired a car and driver to take us out to Teotehuacan, one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever seen in my life. Magnificent pyramids to the sun and moon dominate many other smaller structures and the atmosphere surrounding the place is almost unworldly. It was built by a people of whom little is known, about the time of Christ. Scientists are still exploring its wonders to this day.
The two New Orleans youngsters, relishing their first big adventure, also partook of the Mexico City nightlife, but as Forest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Bob is one of my oldest friends. He still lives in the New Orleans area and reads my column in the NPJ. Hope you enjoyed this one, old man!
This will be the final story of my international travels. If you’ve followed my recent scribblings, you’ve read about what I think are some very interesting places. I hope I made it worth your time. Next week? I’m not really sure yet.