Thursday, January 26, 2012

heroes, idols, and mortals

Pancho Villa.

His name is emblematic of recent Mexican history. To Mexicans, he is an unblemished hero of the Revolution.  To Americans, he is a precursor of Osama bin Ladin terrorism.

Like most men, the truth of his life hides in the shadows -- somewhere between the public extremes.  But the truth died with him as a martyr to The Cause in a fusillade of assassin bullets.

Our group ended its tour in Chihuahua on Wednesday afternoon -- a city of almost one million people, and the capital of the state of Chihuahua.

Our only lengthy stop (and that was for only a half hour) was the house Pancho Villa gave to his only legal wife.  (He had 24 of the not-so-legal variety.)

She lived there from the 1920s until her death in the 1980s.  Having no heirs, she left the house to the state.

It is now a museum to Pancho Villa’s life.  Or, at least, the life that the state chooses to portray.  The early years of banditry are given short shrift.  But we do get to see some of his more-admired life in detail. 

As a local Chihuahua patron before the Revolution.  As an organizing political and military force in the Revolution.  As a brilliant general fighting Porfirio Diaz and then his former friends in the Revolution.  As a wily fox avoiding “Black Jack” Pershing’s attempt to punish Villa’s destruction of Columbus, New Mexico.  And as a retired hero awaiting his death at the hands of a president he helped put in power.

There are photographs.  Lots of them -- with bilingual labels.  And enough uniforms, cannons, saddles, pistols, and swords to titillate the 12-year old boy in all of us.

All of them telling a tale of what happened around the man, but revealing very little of who he was.  But that is the concurrent strength and weakness of hagiography.

The most poignant exhibit is the car Pancho Villa was driving when he was assassinated by presidential agents.  Governments may have no idea on how to do almost anything well, but they know how to use their monopoly on violence. 

Leaving nothing to chance, the group of assassins shot Villa sixteen times.  Reuniting him with his Revolution friends and enemies who had died at the hands of assassins.  And were thus rescued from a balanced view of their lives.

The museum is well worth a half day visit.  It is a good opportunity to learn some details about the Revolution.  From a certain point of view.

With day fading, we stopped for fifteen minutes at the Chihuahua Governmental Palace to see one of the most sacred places in secular Mexico.  The site where the Spanish executed Miguel Hidalgo -- the putative father of the Mexican War of Independence.

The building is one of those ornate Porfirio-era piles of stone that are more stunning than beautiful.  In its courtyard, the powers-that-be have designated a corner room as a shrine on the alleged spot where Hidalgo was shot.

It may be my cynicism, but these secular altars have the contrived feel of their religious cousins -- such as the Church of the Nativity.  They commemorate real events, but the exact spot always seems a bit too convenient in their location.

The lower level of the courtyard is adorned with one of those monumental murals that are characteristically Mexican.  Historical in scope and socialist in tone.  One of the corners is anchored with the portraits of Juarez, Lincoln, and Bolivar -- a combination that is far more political than historical.
As most of you know, I love murals.  This one is rather mediocre in its artistic value, but it would be well worth a day’s study.  Once again, if I ever come back this way.

And I should plan on a return trip.  This tour was designed merely to be a sampler of some of the attractions in northern Mexico.  It met its goal.  Mex-eco Tours did a great job of putting it together.

Take a look at their web site.  If you live in or visit the Melaque area, they have some great offerings.

And, now, to plan for China.


John Calypso said...

Thanks for taking us along on your tour. I have never been one for organized tourism. In Xico at the famous waterfall where I can spend hours, I watch the tour buses stop for a ten minute photo op. Then they pile back in the bus and move on. I prefer to linger ;-)

That written - I always enjoy riding shotgun on your tours via the Blog - thanks again!

Felipe Zapata said...

Most of the Revolutionary leaders had black and white elements, but not Villa. He was a self-serving murderer, the worst of the lot, and that's what I think about that.

I toured his home in the 1980s at the end of the Copper Canyon visit, just like you.  Fun, no?

Steve Cotton said...

It must be part of The Mexican Experience -- walking in the same steps, that is.

Steve Cotton said...

And that is one of the down sides of bus tours.  I tend to be a bit more contemplative when I travel.

jennifer rose said...

To Mexicans, he is an unblemished hero of the Revolution. "

To many Mexicans, Doroteo Arango was nothing more than a common criminal.

Steve Cotton said...

Like most generalizations, it limps.  Two Mexican votes now for "common bandit."

Nita said...

I've walked in some of those footsteps you just walked , but I enjoyed a return visit along with you. Can't wait for the posts from China!

Steve Cotton said...

There just is not enough time on these guided tours.  I suspect I will discover the same thing in China.

Lludwick2568 said...

Visited the website you mentioned for Mex-eco Tours.  The price of the trip was amazing.  I can image spending $1,100 dollars for one night as you described and not getting 5 nights.  Including 5 star hotels, sounds like deals you have mentioned in the medical field for zipline brake stops!

Steve Cotton said...

Al -- It was an incredibly good deal.  Dan and Ruth do a great job of putting these packages together for a real value.

Muycontento said...

The car he in when he was shot is really not the car he was in when he was shot. Sometime after the final event someone came along and offered the grieving widow a very good price for the car. She accepted, purchased another of the same make and model, had it shot up in the same places, polished it up and put it on display. The 'last car' we see today might be the second or the third 'last car'

Steve Cotton said...

Similar tales are told of the Guadalupe cloak, as well. But, such matters are not subject to such limiting factors as facts.