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Archive for September, 2012

Memorias de Mexico

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Then and Now – a Prescript

 The events and their locales described in this post date back to the end of 1953 and the beginning of 1954, more than fifty-eight years ago. To say that things have changed is a laughable understatement.

The population of Mexico City then was around four million; today it is over nineteen million. Cuernavaca proper was about fifty thousand and now is about 400,000 (a few years ago several nearby towns, such as Tepoztlan, were administratively joined into a metropolitan region with Cuernavaca as its core with a population close to one million). Since the catastrophic earthquake, a considerable number of Mexico City residents have moved to Cuernavaca and became commuters, the roads having been vastly improved and the outskirts much more developed.

The crowding and overcrowding of structures, apparently totally uncontrolled, and the lack of concern for design in architecture and construction have done awful damage to central cities and close-in residential areas. Add to that the increasing importance of tourism to the economy (from Wikipedia’s article on the Mexican economy: “Tourism is one of the most important industries in Mexico. It is the fourth largest source of foreign exchange for the country. Mexico is the eighth most visited country in the world (with over 20 million tourists a year).” Services, much of them involved with hotels, restaurants and tourism activities, provide 70% of the employment.  So, adding insult to injury, many town centers are turning into Disneylands.

I am noting all of this here and now so that I don’t keen over every assault on your sensibilities as we go on – but I will briefly note the differences.

One other observation I’d like to make is the time scale. For example, Emiliano Zapata was murdered in 1919. I was born in 1928, just over nine years later. Just sixteen years before our visit Lazaro Cardenas nationalized Mexico’s oil. The third of the PRI’s presidents, Adolfo Ruiz Cortines had been in office less than two years – and so on. It was still an early time in Mexico’s modern history.

 Our Time in Mexico City

 As I mentioned in the post about Satish Gujral my mother and I went to Mexico around the beginning of November 1953 for a stay of six months (the limit on a visitor permit). The very start of the journey was more exciting than I expected or desired. We took Eastern Airlines from Laguardia to Miami where we were booked with a nonsked named Guest Airways. I haven’t been able to find any mention of this outfit so it apparently sank without even making any bubbles – which is as it should be.

The first view of the airplane, probably a recycled military DC4, was a bit of a shock – its exterior was actually rusty – up to that time I had never seen a rusty airplane. When we boarded my jaw and heart dropped – the interior appointments were literally in tatters – there was some sort of fabric hanging from the ceiling in swaths which made the scene like something out of an Addams cartoon. My mother had never flown before and clearly had no idea of how things ought to look but in the interests of avoiding any hysteria, I said nothing. As soon as we were aloft we both had a martini and then we had a couple more … Right from the start the plane made odd noises, clanking and grinding sounds, and I was getting more and more apprehensive. My mother, in blissful ignorance noticed nothing and was quite happy sipping martinis.

About two or three hours out we hit a bit of weather. The plane not only rose and dropped great distances suddenly so that you either felt much heavier or nearly weightless but it also rolled and yawed making me feel quite dizzy. This went on for hours. The flight was supposed to take eight hours but ten, eleven and twelve went by and I couldn’t help worrying about the fuel supply. Finally, about thirteen hours into the flight we were going through a wide valley approaching the airport. It never crossed my mother’s mind that there was anything wrong. When I asked her if she was at all nervous she asked, about what? Good martinis.

I can’t remember where we stayed the first night (the Reforma?) or whether we had made some sort of arrangements in advance or not. I do remember that the next day we found a Mexican government tourist agency on Guzman near the Paseo de la Reforma (note: I cannot find any street named Guzman in current maps. I remember it going off at an acute angle from the Paseo de la Reforma, not far from the Hotel Reforma) where the agent was a very tall young Mexican who spoke perfect, unaccented American English. When I asked if he had grown up in the States, he named some mid-western state. He suggested the Maria Cristina which turned out to be the first in a number of pleasant, almost sensuous, experiences in Mexico. The lobby contained a lush set of large potted plants with great dark green leaves (with the obligatory split-leaf philodendrons, of course) and huge, intensely colored flowers. Apparently the plants were removed – the publicity photos for the present hotel show only one skinny plant at the foot of the spiral staircase.

The front of the Maria Cristina today. The lush plants in the lobby are now reduced to one split-leaf philodendron.

Because of limited finances we only stayed there about a week and somehow found a casa de huespedes (guest house, boarding-house) located at Rio Guadalquivir 19.

The house was a large single family residence located near the best known monument in the city, the Angel of the Independence.

One of the most famous glorietas in the world. The broad, divided street running from lower left to upper right is the Paseo de la Reforma.

In all her golden glory

The red marker shows where the casa de huespedes was.

This is actually quite a large house. In 1953 there were no other structures immediately adjacent. There is a large walled-in back yard and garden.

For some reason cab drivers never seemed to know where this address was so the first words of Spanish that I learned were “izquierda, derecho, lentamente, aqui, halto” and so on. Once after going through this drill and giving the driver a tip (which you were not supposed to do), he said in perfect, unaccented English, “Thank you very much, sir”. When I asked why the hell he didn’t let me know he spoke English, he said “I thought it was good for you to try Spanish”. I took this lesson to heart and never opened a dialog in English after that and it stood me in good stead. Inevitably, if the other party spoke English, he/she would relieve me of the effort to speak Spanish but my attempt always ingratiated me with the other person.

The owners, whose names I’ve forgotten, were what we would call middle class but seemed to enjoy a status more like what we consider upper class. They were “pure” Spanish which allowed them to lord it over the Indians and mestizos who were their servants. I never got used to this and committed little acts of rebellion whenever I could. We were given strict instructions not to tip the household staff so as to not “spoil” them. When we left I gave tips on the sly of fifty USDs, about 400 pesos at the time, each to the housekeeper and the cook – spoil them indeed.

The husband was an insurance broker. He would show up for breakfast about nine, have a leisurely breakfast and go to work around ten. Then he would show up for a leisurely lunch around two and head back to the office at three-thirty or four; at seven he was home for dinner. The siesta never really disappeared.

The wife, who ran the boarding-house, had once owned a bar near a fronton (jai-alai court). One night several frontoñeros (jai-alai players) got into a shoot-out, both inside and outside the bar, over a woman. I don’t know if anyone was actually shot but that didn’t matter to the authorities. They took away her license, closed the bar and prohibited her from ever having a drinking establishment again and the building was prohibited from containing a bar forevermore. The frontoñeros aren’t the only ones playing hardball down there.

There were five other tenants in residence. First was Pepe, or Señor Pepe, a middle-aged taciturn Spaniard who appeared to be a long-time resident and was held in some sort of special esteem by the landlady. I only saw him at some dinners and never had any conversation with him. There was a young couple, Dell Adams and his Mexican wife. He was a geographer from Minnesota or Wisconsin who had worked for several years for the state of Vera Cruz doing an extensive geographic survey of the state and its resources. The state had stopped paying him some time back and he was in the Federal District trying to collect what was owed him, about a year-and-a-half’s pay. The Mexicans translate names along with everything else, so he was Señor Dello to the locals (there was a popular series of boxed match sticks, made of twisted waxed paper rather than wood, called Classicos, with reproductions of famous paintings on the boxes – all were rendered into Spanish – my favorite being “autoretrato de Alberto Durero”).

The last pair was a middle-aged widow, Señora Rosa, and her pretty twenty-five year old son. She was always elaborately made-up and wearing ornate black dresses. Towards the end of the sixties there was a nice piece by George Steiner (with whom I was acquainted in 1948 when he was an occasional fellow Kelly Hall lounge lizard at the U of Chicago) on the Spanish nearly erotic love-affair with death. Señora Rosa was a vivid, living example. In mid-November one of the Italian drivers in the Fourth Panamerican Carrera went off the road, killed some of the roadside crowd watching the race and died himself. Señora Rosa, who certainly had no interest in road racing, went to the train station to see his body brought to Mexico City.  Less than three weeks later Jorge Negrete, the most popular movie star in Mexico (described to me as a combination of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers and John Wayne), collapsed while visiting Los Angeles and died in Cedars of Lebanon of liver failure. Señora Rosa was among the immense crowd when his body was returned to Mexico.

Señora Rosa was filled with proud anticipation of her son’s marriage to a young woman of German ancestry. It seemed an odd marriage at first, the vain handsome son and a somewhat overweight, somewhat unattractive young woman with some sort of hip or leg deformity, but I found out that the German last name was what it was all about. There were three distinct periods of German immigration in Mexico. First were the Austrians (mostly) who came in with the Hapsburg court. Next were the refugees after the First World War and then the refugees from the Second. I was told that the original German line were the hidden, behind the scene powers in Mexican politics and business. Señora Rosa was using her son to do a little social climbing.

It was very cold in Mexico City that winter, the locals claiming much colder than usual but I was skeptical. There was no heat in the house. The only sign of heating was a fireplace in the entryway foyer but I think it was just a decoration. In any case it would not have been the least bit effective in heating anything but the foyer. During the day we thawed ourselves by going outside. The bright sun in the thin air provided a nice level of warming. So, a number of times during the day we would go into the back garden to warm ourselves like the lizards in the bougainvillea climbing the broken-bottle topped wall.

In the evenings we went to a huge cocktail lounge in a modern hotel on Juarez which was a hangout for American tourists and residentes. I remember befriending a woman of around sixty, expensively made-up and coifed, hair dyed blonde, and her “boyfriend”, the headwaiter, named Romo, who was about the same age or a little younger and was married. I don’t know if he was a for-hire gigolo or was getting some sort of compensation or not. In any case, the woman was certainly not naïve and would have had a perfect understanding of the situation and was acting on her own volition. We had dinner with them a couple of times and I found Romo to be an intelligent and pleasant companion who seemed to show genuine affection for his “client.”  Two rules apply here: things aren’t always what they appear to be and it’s best to check your prejudices at the door.

Another popular gathering place for Americans was the cocktail lounge in the Hotel Geneve, one of the most unusual that I’ve seen. It was a very high-ceilinged greenhouse or solarium, the glass roof supported by two rows of tall carved stone pillars which were completely encased in climbing plants, mostly the ever-present huge split-leaf philodendrons. The leaves at the top grew towards each other nearly concealing the glass, the humidity was saturated and there was a mossy odor, all of which created the sensation of having one’s drinks in a tropical rain forest. The hotel has been extensively remodeled since then but it appears that the greenhouse is still there, the plants removed and the space repurposed into an in-house restaurant operated by Sanborn’s (that name will come up again at the end of this post). The hotel itself was also popular with Americans: it offered good accommodations at reasonable prices. I stayed there on my last night in Mexico.

The former cocktail lounge of the Hotel Geneve is now a Sanborn’s restaurant. The pillars were completely encased in climbing plants and the glass ceiling was obscured by the overarching leaves

On to Cuernavaca

A week or so into December we decided we had had enough of the Distrito’s cold and, having heard that it was much warmer there, headed south and down to Cuernavaca. Although only fifty miles or so south of Mexico City it is, at 5000 feet, about 2300 feet lower – and that made all the difference. We went to the turismo (limousine) office on Nezahuacoyotl, a street not far from the center of town, and took the hour-and-a-half trip over the old highway, said to have been built by Cortez. At the crest there was a cluster of tall crosses fashioned from galvanized iron pipes that marked where a number of Zapata’s men were tricked into going and were ambushed, just one of the many atrocities  committed by Huerta.

 After the long ride down from the top of the ridge to the entry road to the city of Cuernavaca we were enclosed on both sides of the highway by huge Flor de Noche Buena bushes with “flowers” (more properly, “bracts”) the size of a waiter’s tray. (These plants were first brought to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a physician and botanist and first U.S. Minister to Mexico, under Jefferson, hence the name “poinsettia”.) This glorious display of color warmed our spirits as much as the benign weather did our bodies.

I don’t remember how we came to choose the first hotel where we stayed. We might have arranged a reservation in Mexico City or, for all I know, the turismo driver may have recommended it. It was the Marik Plaza, perhaps Cuernavaca’s only modern hotel, situated across the street from the alameda, around the corner from the Jardin Juarez, right in the center of the town. It had an acceptable restaurant and a nice, small bar, both with outdoor tables. To the rear was a very attractive sunken yard with a large pool which was rarely used for swimming. (What I remember most vividly about the pool was the yard man every morning silently skimming the bougainvillea blossoms off the top with his home made sweeper – one of the most serene scenes I ever inhabited.) Obviously, everything was designed to attract tourists, who were mostly Americans and in a matter of a few days we became acquainted with nearly all the Americanos in the area.

The Marik Plaza hotel seen from the southwest. The outdoor dining and bar service was along right side across from the alameda.

A publicity photograph on a souvenir post card. I don’t recall seeing anyone actually swimming in the pool.

The first two Gringos we became acquainted with and who became our constant companions over the following four months were Rhea Loeb, a divorcee accompanied by her twelve year old son Johnny, who was also a  resident of the Marik Plaza, and Al Phister, a retired school teacher.

On the left, Agnes Kovach, then Rhea Loeb. Author seated.

Photo taken the same day.

 We would meet with both of them nearly every day, often at the lunch hour, in the outdoor cocktail lounge of the Marik Plaza. Here we encountered the other Americans and some Europeans and an incessant stream of young women, adolescents actually, with a baby on one breast and a stack of stoles over the opposite shoulder. “Rebozos señor? Estoles? Rebozitos?” The goods were brightly colored, very lightweight machine knitted synthetics, probably from the Orient. They were attractive enough and cheap enough that one often bought one or two – we wound up with a hell of a stack before we were through. Later I would learn something interesting regarding the saleswomen mamacitas.

 My mother was a jewelry junkie. After only a day or so she found a very small shop in a row of souvenir stores on the east side of the small town-center park, Jardin Juarez, which consisted of a Victorian gazebo which served as a bandstand during civic celebrations, some paved paths and a patch of worn grass. The shop was simply called “Doris” after the owner. She had elegant silver pieces of her own design, often adorned with jade or turquoise or cinnabar or malachite stones. My mother bought a couple of bracelets and brooches done in a mixed French and Mexican style, repoussé silver with low relief carved jade heads, reminiscent of Olmec sculpture. Doris was from Dallas, had a studio factory in Taxco where young smiths she had trained produced her designs. I only learned her last name last week when I looked her up on the Web: Doris Hall. She became a regular in our little circle.

One of the casuals was Irving Gordon’s wife. He was a well known songwriter whose most famous pieces were “Mister and Mississippi” which was on every juke box in the greasy spoons of Chicago’s south side when I was a U of C student, and “Unforgettable” which became Nat King Cole’s signature song in the 1990s. They were residents at the time, with a big brick house, which was rather unusual, several servants and their two young kids.

One day when I was walking in the alameda I confronted a man who looked familiar but I couldn’t place. Apparently he had the same feeling and we stood there looking at each other, then pointing at each other until one of us finally said “Where do I know you from?” Then, in a matter of a few seconds we both realized the answer. He was Henry Bacmeister. He and his wife May had lived across the breezeway from us when we lived on Crocheron at 190th street in Flushing in the late thirties and early forties. We didn’t know the Bacmeisters but they were a source of entertainment for us in those days. Henry was slightly built and not very tall (actually somewhat like me in those regards) with a small brushy moustache, who we equated with the cartoon figure Caspar Milquetoast. May was half a head taller, twice his volume, with a big pouter pigeon bosom, like a Helen Hokinson cartoon character. They always had one or two dachshunds and when Henry came home from work, before he did anything else, he had to walk the dogs.

The reason Henry was in Cuernavaca was fascinating to me. It turned out he was born and raised in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. His slight accent was only partly German – the rest was Spanish. His grandmother or great grandmother was in the entourage of the Empress Carlota. (Maximilian made the house in Cuernavaca’s Borda garden his summer residence where he kept a native mistress, Margarita Leguizmo Sedano, who became the legendary India Bonita – more on all of this elsewhere.) Henry told of the time when he and his grandmother had to lie on the floor of her Mexico City apartment while the Zapatistas and the Mexican Army exchanged cannon fire over their heads.

During the time the Bacmeisters were our neighbors Henry worked for the Eli Lilly drug company. When he was a year or two from retirement he was fired, a common ploy of big corporations that allowed them to avoid, or seriously reduce, pension payments. Since he was still a Mexican citizen (as well as American) he was allowed to own property in Mexico. The Bacmeisters bought a chicken ranch on the edge of the baranca that ran along the edge of town. (This place had an extraordinary view – from there Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl appeared to be side by side even though they are something like fifty or sixty miles apart and both about that distance from Cuernavaca.) Henry would receive two or three flat cartons flown from LA, each containing one hundred week-old chicks. He raised these for about six weeks, until they were just about a pound in weight, slaughter them and sell them to the local restaurants who would serve a half chicken for a dinner entrée. It was a tough way to make a living – the bird losses were often very heavy.

The Bacmeisters were excellent company, good conversationalists with cheery dispositions and we spent a fair amount of time with them. On a couple of occasions we went to Mexico with them which turned out to rather frightening. May had very high blood pressure and looking back probably heart failure as well. She would insist on walking at the high altitude and she would turn flame red and start puffing, a most unsettling thing to see. We also had a number of dinners with them at their place. On one occasion I noticed one of their two dachshunds sniffing at what looked like a dust bunny. I went over to see what it was and found it to be an alacran, a scorpion. I kicked the dog away and stepped on the bug. It turns out that scorpions love chicken shit so they were a pretty common sight at the ranch. A couple of weeks later the same dog got too close to an alacran and got stung on the nose. It lay about struggling for breath for about a day and then was perfectly alright. (I was told there were three varieties of scorpion in that part of Mexico called blonds, redheads and brunettes. I never saw any of the much smaller first two kinds which were said to be a lot more dangerous than the brunettes. The brunettes were actually a sort of battleship gray, about an inch and a half long, including the curled tail, and, apparently, not very dangerous. Somebody introduced us to a young American woman who was about seven or eight months pregnant. She lived in a most unusual place, a series of rooms laid out in a line, only a couple of which were directly connected by a doorway. The others were reached by an exterior boardwalk which gave entry to all the rooms. Next to the boardwalk was the largest split-leaf philodendron I’ve ever seen, with air roots more than a foot in diameter. We were told that the house originally belonged to one of Cortez’ lieutenants for what that’s worth. In the rooms were beams running from one side to the other under the peaked roof creating scorpion freeways. Scorpions are rather clumsy and not good at hanging on, so as we were having tea with this young woman, scorpions kept plopping on the table, which I brushed off with a napkin and squashed. A couple of weeks later we heard that the woman had been stung and taken up to a hospital in the Federal District. A day later she was home and neither she nor the baby was any the worse for the experience.)

The Bacmeisters took us to visit some friends just down the road from them with the same view of Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, which they said was the reason they were there. He was a retired Yugoslavian ambassador with a Hungarian wife. When you met him and extended your hand for a handshake, it came back holding a cup of Turkish coffee. I remember asking him if he knew Stoyan Gavrilovich, Yugoslavia’s delegate to the UN Charter meetings – of course he did. A local woman was allowed to attach a primitive domicile to their house and she paid her rent by making tortillas for the ambassador every day; you could hear the pat-pat-pat prelude in the mid-afternoon. They were the best I have ever had.

 Day Trips

 I was particularly interested in seeing Tepoztlan because of Robert Redfield’s work there several decades earlier. Redfield was not only a widely respected and popular professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, he was also the father of Joanna Redfield who was Ed Asner’s girlfriend through much of my association with the University Theatre. (Joanna Redfield Guttman died in 2009. A brief obituary says she retained her interest in theater, performing for the Goodman in Chicago.) She told of “camping out” with her family, living in a tent, mother cooking over an open fire, while her father did his field work at Tepoztlan. We went to see the sixteenth century monastery. There was only one other person within sight, a guide who provided a tour for us. The only thing I remember is an eye-shaped aperture at the end of an upper level walkway. The guide said it was supposed to be the eye of God, sort of an architectural conscience for the monks. Judging from the pictures on the web, today Tepoztlan is a major tourist attraction with all that goes with that.

From someone else’s blog. The eye was on the upper walkway.

 Most people do not realize that Hernan Cortes, who led all sorts of expeditions, engaged in battles, overcame conspiracies and so on, was all the while a farmer. One of the most enduring of his legacies, the Palacio de Cortes in Cuernavaca was built as a home for an agricultural enterprise, Cuernavaca being selected for its benign weather and fertile valley. There was another hacienda built some miles south of Cuernavaca to grow a variety of crops and livestock, eventually only sugar cane, called Vista Hermosa. This was left by Cortes to his widow and sons and remained in the family’s possession for more than a century.

 Over the years both the Palacio in Cuernavaca and the Hacienda fell into disrepair. The Palacio was eventually rescued by local government (this was when Rivera’s mural on the Revolution was created) but the Hacienda was saved by a private group interested in developing it into a hotel after the second war, about seven years before our visit. The Hacienda had a most unusual distinguishing feature, a Roman style aqueduct, built to bring water to the sugar processing facility. The new owners took advantage of the aqueduct by putting tables and chairs under the arches and setting up a restaurant to serve them. There has been a great amount of refinement since, including a pond, a number of hotel rooms and so on. It is now a very classy place to stay. We went just for an afternoon, lunch and drinks.

I don’t recall the pool. I think it was created more recently. Certainly when the aqueduct was in practical use it wouldn’t have been standing in a pool.

Dining under the arches – a very appealing setting.

On the return trip we deviated a few miles from our route to see an enormous, windowless monolith of a building that was a sugar refinery. During the revolution, under the influence of a primitive communist, Zapata and the Zapatistas knocked down a number of refineries belonging to the sugar grandees. Then the revolutionary government realized that without refining capacity the peasant farmers couldn’t market their crops, built this large facility and surrounded it with “company” owned housing as dreary as any mill or mining town in the U.S. This may have been part of the basis for the communist journalist advisor to Zapata (played by Joseph Wiseman in the film, Viva Zapata!) in Steinbeck’s fictional account.

At least that’s what we were told.

It was either on this trip or, more likely, on the somewhat longer drive to Cuautla that I had an experience that has stayed fixed in my mind ever since. We had just passed a stretch of road which went through an ancient volcanic plain. There were bizarre stone towers standing everywhere and the entire scene was a dark brown color. I remarked that I wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur were to peek around one of the columns – it had such a primeval feeling. A little further on we came across a lone man trudging down the highway carrying a huge cube, perhaps four or five feet on a side, of cut sugar cane on his back, held there by a wide strap of fabric. He was bent over so far that his upper body was almost parallel to the road surface. A few seconds later it dawned on me: I hadn’t seen anything green in some time. Where had he come from? Why was he there? Where was he going? There was nothing to see down the road. The whole scene is so fraught with meaning – poverty and pain; determination and endurance. That’s how the Indian will win over the Conquistador in the end – he will simply outlast the bastard. I still see that scene in the middle of a sleepless night.

 We Move On 

One morning, after we had been in residence at the Marik Plaza for about six weeks, I was summoned to the front desk and told we had to vacate the next day. It was some shock. They told us we had failed to tell them when we originally registered how long we would be staying and they had a reservation for the room. I later figured out it was for the movie company that was coming and I think they made up the rule on the spot to suit their purposes, that the reservation was just recently made.

 I found only one room available in town, at a hotel called La Florida. It was the worst place I have ever stayed (and I have been in some truly awful places), with actual holes through not only interior walls but to the outside as well. Among other things, this meant we couldn’t keep flying bugs out of the room and my mother was the worst entomophobe that ever lived – if a moth flew into the room, she would have a screaming, hysterical fit.  So, we had ample incentive to find another place quickly. Al Phister was renting a little apartment and directed us to an agency that handled such rentals. That’s how we found Ken Belden’s place where we stayed until leaving Mexico.

The place, which was on the second floor over Ken’s studio and gallery, consisted of a small living room with a day bed and an even smaller bedroom and a bathroom. There was a small refrigerator, a two burner hot-top and a wood fired hot water heater. In front of the living room was a tiny deck just big enough for a small table and two chairs, which looked over the wall of the Borda Gardens across the street at a cluster of very large royal palms with twenty to thirty foot fronds which would set up a noisy clatter when the sudden windy spring squalls rushed through. The deck served as our dining area when we ate at home. The distant view was down the baranca for many miles. In the morning we would see tiny specks in the distance which would slowly get larger and larger until a half-hour later a flock of zopilotes (“bone cleaners”, turkey vultures) would swoop right over our heads.

I have tried without success to locate this place using Google’s Street View. I think it must have been on the short curved roadway on the north end of the Borda Gardens. I recall that it was pretty nearly a straight walk to the beginning of Dwight Morrow road which took us to our favorite restaurant, La India Bonita.

 Ken Belden 

 Our landlord was in his mid-forties, a Kansan and he looked it, weathered skin drawn taut over a nearly fleshless face, a turkey neck with a large goozle and a wiry frame – he looked a lot like Woody Guthrie to me. He was married to a very handsome India half his age, with long, straight, jet black hair that reached her waist. I think there was a rather new baby – can’t remember whether there was another child.

Ken was one the most thoroughly decent people I have ever met. I consider it a privilege to have known him.

He made his living by producing and selling a species of art work made from cut sheets of metal of different sorts in different shapes, bent, riveted and soldered onto a background sheet and washed with different acids. This produced a three dimensional framed piece, looking like contemporary abstract art (such as Calder), with a variety of rich colors which were quite appealing. He made and sold these in the gallery and workshop below us, which had a large enough window to show some of his work to the street. The family lived in a space behind the studio.

After we had been there for a month or so I noticed that once weekly, or perhaps fortnightly, a line of ten or more of the “rebozitas”, babies in arms, would form along the narrow sidewalk to the gallery door. It was a strange sight and aroused suspicions in me, I am ashamed to confess. After seeing this several times, I asked Ken about it. He told me that because civic weddings were not considered weddings at all and because church weddings were too expensive for the majority of the local young, the fifteen and sixteen year old girls of the area would “shack up”. Of course, birth control was unknown (and taboo to Catholics in any case) and when the girls found themselves pregnant the males would take off for parts unknown, leaving the girls with no prospects and a baby to feed. Ken came up with the idea of selling stoles to tourists, taught the girls how to deal with them, a few phrases of English and may have gotten them their inventory on consignment as well. (I think the “baby on a tit” ploy may have been his idea as well. It was a subtle sort of extortion, playing on feelings of guilt and, for some, discomfort at the sight of a bare breast.)

He had an arrangement with Meals for Millions in Los Angeles which made a protein rich food supplement from soy beans and other materials. He had the assistance of doctor specialists in nutrition at UCLA and in Mexico City. With the aid of local food and cooking experts he devised a variant on Meals for Millions for a fortified tortilla meal which produced an acceptable pancake. (Earlier, the UN’s World Health Organization had tried a similar strategy with bad results. The people wouldn’t eat tortillas prepared with their supplement because they didn’t taste right and bags of the meal were left open on the floor until bugs and rodents consumed them. From that time forward organizations engaged in such projects sought assistance from anthropologists or other experts on the intended recipients’ tastes.) The queues I saw were the young mothers waiting for their ration of Ken’s tortilla meal. Ken mainly supported this project out of his own pocket by selling his art works. He said he did have a few contributors in both LA and Mexico City.

One afternoon there was frantic knocking at our door. It was Ken’s wife, quite excited, who was machine-gunning me with Spanish. After I yelled “Lento, lento, lentamente, lentamente” a few times she calmed down enough to make me understand with a few words of English, some Spanish and many gestures that there was a prospective customer downstairs, an American, and that Ken was up in Mexico City. She wanted me to be the salesman (that’s a laugh; I’ve often said I couldn’t sell a starving man a free meal.). I went down and found the customer to be the American novelist Willard Motley accompanied by a frail young man with very light blond hair, maybe bleached, who Motley introduced as his driver. (The film of Motley’s first big success, “Knock on Any Door”, starring Humphrey Bogart and featuring John Derek in his first big role in a studio movie, was released about four years earlier. I was surprised to find out today that Motley is buried in Cuernavaca.) I actually made the sale for something like five hundred pesos.

 Day to Day   

 While we were staying at the Marik Plaza we mostly took our meals at restaurants around the center of town because the hotel’s restaurant was too expensive and there was more variety and better quality to be had at the alternatives. We had breakfast most mornings at a little place run by an old couple, he American, she Mexican. He was retired from a long career as a cook on ships of the Cuba Mail line so, naturally, he was called The Skipper. I believe they were only open for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is a habit meal for most people and my habit was huevos revueltos, frijoles refritos and chilis verdes; scrambled eggs, refried beans and a big egg cup full of small fresh green chili peppers, affectionately called bullets. They were very flavorful but they were very hot as well. I ate so many that by the time I went to San Francisco I was allergic to all such peppers. To this day if I eat anything with more than a hint of capsaicin, my insides let me know. After we moved into Belden’s apartment we made our own breakfast with items obtained at the public market and only occasionally went back to The Skipper’s. Our favorite breakfast item was a bolillo (a small hard-crusted, chewy inside, football shaped roll) with butter.

 When we first arrived in Cuernavaca we were told by nearly all the gringos we met that the place to have dinner was the India Bonita, a modest storefront restaurant a block west of the Jardin Juarez on Dwight Morrow. The food was well prepared by the very congenial fifty-year-old owner, Maria, whose last name I never learned. (Someone, perhaps Dell Adams or Ken Belden, once told me that nearly all women in Mexico were really named Mary. For instance, Victoria is Maria de la Victoria de Los Angeles, Mercedes is Maria de Las Mercedes and so on.) The menu was varied according to availabilities and prices were modest, about a dollar or two for most items. One meal that stands out in my memory was a whole rear leg of a day old kid, a delicious fatty treat. (All through the spring we would see women going to market with a new born kid, feet tied together, slung over a shoulder, arm thrust through the gap between front and back legs.)

Google Maps and Street View reveal that La India Bonita still exists but it is a long block further west on Dwight Morrow and instead of a twenty foot plain front it is now at least forty feet with a fancy covered entry. The propaganda on the restaurant says that it is constructed from the walls of Dwight Morrow’s garden and occupies the area of that garden. (This surprised me. I thought Morrow’s home was much further west, at the far end of the street named for him.) They now even have musicians playing there!

La India Bonita today seen from the west. This is part of Dwight Morrow’s garden.

  I remember one amusing incident at the India Bonita. Cuernavaca was overrun by cockroaches – not the little guys most of us think of when we say cockroach, but the big ones we called Croton Bugs in New York (they came through the pipes when the Croton reservoir was opened), the real cucarachas. They would emerge from the storm drains at twilight and skitter all over the street. After a while I played a game trying to step on a roach with every step as we made our way home for the evening. One evening in the restaurant I noticed one of the indoor tribe running up and down the frame of the door to the kitchen. I summoned Maria by beckoning and when she was near pointed to the doorway with my hand hidden in my lap so the other patrons wouldn’t become aware of the situation. Maria walked quickly towards the kitchen, swept the roach to the floor with a flick of her apron and stepped on it. She picked up our dinner tab that night.

While on the subject of bugs I should mention fleas. Our first encounter was from bus rides in Mexico City. Since we were not familiar with fleas or flea bites we were confused as to what bit us. In Cuernavaca we went to the local movie house which was open only on week-ends, from Friday evening to Sunday, on two or three occasions. The first time produced a massive infestation. Then someone told us about talcum powder with DDT. It came in a little round cardboard box which could be squeezed thereby emitting a puff of talcum and insecticide. Before going to the movie house we would put a puff in each sock, in the crotch of our underpants and a shot under each arm. It worked like magic – no fleas, no bites. We found another use for the powder. One day in the Belden apartment there appeared what looked like a painted stripe about an inch wide up the wall next to the water heater. It turned out to be a massive parade of ants. I noticed there seemed to be no deviation from the path and shot some of the talcum across the stripe in two or three places. In a few hours – no ants. I did have to repeat the process on several other occasions because new colonies would appear.

The last time we went to the movies it was to see “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” still one of my favorite movies. I had seen it when it first came out but forgot a small detail. Here we were then surrounded by local peones, some a little oiled by pulqe, all with their ever-present machetes under their feet and here’s Walter Huston referring to Mexican women as “squaws” over and over. I was getting more uneasy by the minute and started following the Spanish subtitles to see how squaw was rendered. To my relief it was simply “mujer”, woman, without any negative connotation.

One day as I was walking from Morrow to the Centro I passed a barber shop where I saw two men playing chess in the window next to the entrance. As I watched for a few minutes the barber, tall, skinny and very animated came out and kept saying “meestair, meestair, come in.” Reluctantly I went in and was introduced to the players. One, a man in his seventies I would guess, dressed in a suit and tie which was extraordinary for Cuernavaca and sporting a very fancy carved cane, was introduced as “El Maestro.” Then the effusive barber started inviting me to play a game with El Maestro. I was even more reluctant for two reasons: one, as I said elsewhere I never was a very good player and two, I hadn’t played in more than eight years. After further prodding and pleading I relented and sat down to play a game. To my surprise, I won. The Maestro looked quite chapfallen but remained very gracious in defeat. That cemented my future welcome and after that every time I passed the shop the barber ran out to invite me in again which I occasionally accepted. The old man and I were pretty evenly matched and each of us had as many wins as losses.

One Sunday morning I was out and about early on the north/south street from Morrow to the Juarez Garden. There was nobody else around – the streets were empty. Then I heard the hoof taps of a couple of horses, turned around to see an unforgettable display. There were two vaqueros, riding single file, on jet black horses wearing entirely black outfits. Everything was adorned with silver – their outfits had silver buttons, silver beads hung on strings from their hat brims, the saddle pommel was covered with open work silver, the stirrups were similarly coated, the stirrups too, the bridle was silver and spurs and so on. Both riders sat straight and tall like grenadiers hands resting on the pommels and reins drooping without control being asserted. They advanced in near slow motion one step per second, clop … clop … clop. It was pure machismo, distilled testosterone and wonderful to see. Peacocks are pale in comparison.

 The Town Center

Then, as now, the center of activity, social and commercial, in the town was the Jardin Juarez with its Victorian gazebo and neighboring shops.

Cuernavaca Centro

In the Google satellite image above you can see the Juarez garden just above the center with the white lid of the gazebo clearly visible. As I said earlier, in 1954 there was very little besides the kiosk in this park, no commercial activity and not much going on. There were no structures surrounding it that were more than two or three stories high.

Today it looks like this:

The famous gazebo in Jardin Juarez. It was unadorned and there was no commercial activity in the park.

Looking up into the lid of the gazebo. The only use I saw made of it was as a bandstand for holiday concerts.

Across the street from the north side of the park there was what looked like a former grand house serving as a hotel, the Bella Vista. It had a deep veranda running along the entire front which was used for al fresco dining. It was owned by Elizabeth King who was in her nineties (born during our Civil War!) and still living there and was wheeled out onto the veranda by her attendants. There was a story about her hiding Zapata under her bed when Huertistas were trying to kill him. There were bullet holes still visible on the front of the building.  Today, the north side looks like this:

As I recall there was a slight rise in the ground. The Bella Vista was elevated a few feet above the level of the park.

The east side contained a row of small shops, including Doris’ jewelry, two or three stories high. The upper floors were residences for the owners of the shops below. In a pretty standard souvenir shop I met two young brothers who were sons of the owner and part of the town’s emerging intellectuals. I’ll talk about them in awhile.

Today it looks like this:

This is where there was a row of low lying shops, mostly two floors high.

Referring back to the satellite image, the large brown building on the south side, state government’s offices, didn’t exist but I can’t recall what, if anything, was there. To the east of that is the alameda, or what’s left of it. The elaborate road and entrance in front of the Palacio Cortez didn’t exist and I think the park extended further east. I don’t remember any trees. It was just a large grassy area with a single paved walkway circumnavigating it.

The alameda was just a grass patch with an asphalt path, no commerce, no stone walls and so on.

On some Sundays there was charming old-fashioned mating ritual carried out in the alameda. Young women, usually with a chaperone, all done up in Sunday finery, would walk  counter-clockwise around the path and young men would walk clockwise giving everybody a chance to see all the prospects.

On two occasions some sort of carnival was set up at the west end of the park that attracted large crowds. A roofed four-sided counter was set up, complete with a PA system, for playing bingo. The cards were not marked with letters and numbers but little images so those that couldn’t read were able to participate. Beans, handed out with the cards, served as markers. I can still hear the announcer shouting into the microphone, “La Vaca Azul, La Vaaa-ca Azoool!” and “El Diablo Rojo, El DiABlo Rojoooo!.”

Referring back to the satellite image once again, the large concrete rectangle (marked Centro Commercial Las Plazas) has an entry in the center. I think the Marik Plaza was either at about that point or just to the west of it.

The east end of the Marik Plaza about here; either where the entry to Las Plazas is or just to the left.

(I found this in some sort of travel forum. I present it “as is” to capture the flavor of the original. Note that Steinbeck stayed there in 1945 – may have influenced his handling of the script for “Viva Zapata!”

“EN EL ANO 1945 EN LA CIUDAD DE CUERNAVACA

VIVIA EL FAMOSO ESCRITOR JOHN STEINBACK.

THE FAMOUS WRITER JOHN STEINBACK LIVED IN THE CITY OF CUERNAVACA .

EL MEJOR HOTEL DE CUERNAVACA EN EL 1940 , EL HOTEL MARIK ,UBICATO EN EL MERO CENTRO DE CUERNAVACA .

THE HOTEL MARICK OF CUERNAVACA WAS THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS HOTEL IN CUERNAVACA IN 1940 . THE MANAGEMENT WAS AMERICAN AND FAMOUS ARTIST FROM THE U.S.A WHO VISITED CUERNAVACA RENTED A ROOM AT HOTEL MARIK ,LIST OF FAMOUS PEOPLE GUEST AT HOTEL MARIK OF CUERNAVACA :PAULETTE GODDART, JOHN STEINBECK,LOUIS UNTERMEYER ,HOWARD FAST,MARSDEN HARTLEY,LEONARD BERNESTAIN ,HART CRANE,AND MANY OTHER FAMOUS ARTIST, ACTOR ,AND MILIONAIRE.THE HISTORICAL FIRST CLASS HOTEL MARIK OF CUERNAVACA WAS DEMOLISHED TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE NOW PLAZA CUERNAVACA SHOPPING CENTER IN THE CENTER OF THE TOWN JARDIN JUAREZ NEAR THE RESTAURANT LAS UNIVERSAL .

P.A.S. PADULA ART SOCIETY”)

Amigos

The two young men mentioned in connection with the souvenir shop were aspiring poets which I found out in conversation in their father’s store. The father was a Sephardic Jew from Turkey (they told me that Turkey was a major haven for refugees from the Inquisition, second only to Holland). After a couple of such dialogs I invited them over to our apartment for drinks and told them to bring along some friends. This started a weekly gathering, Friday afternoons as I recall, of five young men interested in the arts. I served martinis and crudité and they acted as though the drinks were high-powered but in fact they were quite the opposite. They were made with a low proof Mexican gin called Oso Negro which came with a little plastic black bear tied to the bottle. By the end of our stay I had a small drawer full of them.

I can only remember the name of one of the group an aspiring architect, locally educated, Justino Beltran. His father had a zapateria (sandal shop) no more than ten feet wide in the Public Market. Tino’s living quarters and studio were in the tiny room above the front of the store. His drafting table took up half the room. I don’t recall whether he was in his last year of school or had just graduated. He showed me a design he had done for a movie theater, an appealing combination of Mexican functionalism and Modern, all done with concrete of course. The other participants were the two Sephardic brothers, a Creole artist (painter) from Vera Cruz and one other now only very dimly remembered, perhaps interested in film. The painter was classic Caribbean, part African, part Indian and part Spanish, with a wonderful, lively sense of humor.

Much of our conversations centered on the all-important question of what constituted modern Mexican art or, put another way, was Rufino Tomayo Mexican or Parisian (or a New Yorker)? After the Revolution Mexican intellectuals were struggling for a distinct national identity reflecting its Indian culture. I contended Tamayo’s color, the nature of his abstractions and other characteristics were quintessentially Mexican. Just look at the famous “watermelon slices” series. They said his years in Paris and New York had Europeanized him. I commented on this same set of issues in India after liberation from Britain in the Satish post.

An Ugly Incident

There was a boy of about ten years of age who harassed the patrons of the Marik’s sidewalk café seeking handouts. He was hyperactive, jumping about, gabbing and laughing incessantly and sticking his hand right under your nose to extract your cash. Although he was an awful nuisance, most of us took a liking for him because he was so good natured, lively and funny. In the spring he seemed to have disappeared and we asked the locals what had happened to him without result.

In the Easter season a number of male field workers would gather in Tepoztlan in a week-long orgy of dancing and drinking. Apparently the boy went up there to watch and according to his nature he was being a pest and making jokes at the expense of the dancers. One of them took a swipe at him with a machete and lopped of the three lesser fingers of his left hand raised to ward off the blow. After a couple of weeks he reappeared working the café patrons, still full of laughter and chattering, by shoving his left hand covered by a bloody, filthy bandage in the face of his “donors.” He made more money than ever and seemed quite pleased with his new found extractor.

Hollywood Invades

It must have been in the early part of February when a large group of people showed up, filled the Marik Plaza and a number of other facilities around town. The Marik bar filled up with a crowd of cowboys who were very rowdy and rude. It turned out to be the advance wave of the film crew for “Vera Cruz.” The featured performers appeared a few days later: Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster, Cesar Romero, Ernest Borgnine, Denise Darcel and Sarita Montiel.

I never saw either Darcel or Borgnine as far as I can remember. (Both before and after the movie troop I saw Katy Jurado, whom Borgnine married about 5 years later, around town. She had a home in Cuernavaca. Perhaps they became acquainted during the filming.) Every afternoon after the day’s work was done Sarita Montiel (over her career she has been Sara, her proper name, and Sarita several times – couldn’t make up her mind, I guess) would be at a table with a dolorous looking fifty year old Spaniard – dark skin, prominent nose, black downward turned eyes. She would start yammering at him, high-speed, unceasing yammering and he never said a word in response, only an occasional small nod of the head. I assume he was her agent or manager and had to put up with her – poor guy. She was a major star in Spain, their sex bomb. I never saw her socializing with any of the other performers.

Montiel was using the name Sarita at this time. She was a champion high speed talker.

The cowboys were stunt men and horse-riding extras. Their ring leader was Jack Elam whose behavior was just as bad as all the others. On top of being boisterous, making their presence unpleasant enough to cause people to leave, they were arrogant and overbearing with their Mexican hosts, bullying them with the power of the dollar. This was the behavior of the fabled “Ugly American” of that time. It took me years to be able to watch Elam who turned into a good comic actor using his funny wall-eyed face as his primary tool.

Cesar Romero didn’t seem to socialize with his colleagues very much but he was visible and congenial with everybody. One evening when we were sitting at a tiny bar table in the Marik, he approached and asked if he might join us. He said he had spent the entire day trying to make a phone call to his mother in New Jersey. Long distance calls, even within Mexico, were famous for their infuriating difficulty. Making a call to the US east coast must have been a nightmare. He had to call his mother because Luella Parsons (referred to by first name only) had printed an item saying he was sick in Mexico. “I told my mother I was alright – it was just that I had to sit on the toilet all day.” The rest of the conversation was the usual superficial bar talk. I think he offered us a chance to watch the shoot in Cuautla but it could be that someone else invited Rhea. I’ve already described the trip. The shoot turned out to be not much. We were kept about two city blocks back on a bleak dirt road and couldn’t make out any of what was going on.

Wherever Lancaster went he was the center of a roving party. He showed up several times at Maria’s with two or three table’s worth of happy friends. I remember him trying to impress Maria with how al dente he wanted some spaghetti, “We Italians like our spaghetti al dente, half cooked.” For years I wondered if he might be part Italian – I don’t think so.

Gary Cooper was the most noticeable of the whole lot. In part this was due the local kids. They realized how bashful (no other word will do) he was and proceeded to tease him. Cooper would be walking on a sidewalk when some ten year old boys would fall in behind him and start chanting, “Gahry, Gahry, Gahry Coopair; Gahry, Gahry, Gahry CoopAIR”. He would then walk faster, the boys ran faster, he ran even faster and so did the boys and eventually he was making long-legged loping strides, with the boys in hot pursuit still chanting. It was a wonderful comic sight, reminiscent of a scene in a Jacques Tati movie.

And then there was the night when I almost brained Gary Cooper…

Virtually all shops in Mexico have a corrugated steel roll-down door which is lowered at night and padlocked to keep out thieves and vandals. With businesses like restaurants where patrons spend a span of time the practice is to lower the door partway when closing time approaches. This indicates to late arrivers that no more customers will be served and, of course, requires those on the inside to duck under the door as they leave.

Maria had an unusual scheme of décor for a restaurant. On the back wall of the service area was a white wall about ten feet wide. Tacked to this wall, from floor to ceiling, were hundreds of customers’ business cards. I’ve seen this in several bars in the US, even one where the cards were tacked on the ceiling as well, but never in a restaurant. Just about dead center on this wall was dime-store glazed picture frame with three cards in it. The top one read:

Miguel Aleman Valdes

El Presidente de Mexico

Palacio de Presidente

Mexico, Distrito Federal

Etc.

The second one read Miguel Aleman, jr with the same address.

The third one read Gary Cooper and some address and phone number, probably his agent’s.

One evening Cooper and his wife were at the next table in the India Bonita. It was late and Maria had lowered the steel door halfway. Cooper stood up to leave and as he turned to go he was standing right next to my chair looking down at me. This is a slightly awkward situation; you feel obliged to acknowledge the person looking at you, to say something. What I chose to say was especially injudicious. I pointed towards the framed cards (more or less) and said you ought to be careful who you associate with. This got him so flustered (again no other word fits as well) that he backed away from me looking confused and a little panicked and slammed his head into the steel door with a resounding clangor. I ducked my face into my plate – I didn’t want to add insult to injury.

Cooper was around for a couple of weeks more but was not very visible. I think he was there for some location filming for “Garden of Evil”.  His co-stars, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark were not to be seen if, in fact, they were even there.

On to San Francisco

Our six month visitor’s permits were up in early April. We took a room at the Hotel Geneve and the next morning I put my mother on a plane to New York. I was to stay one more night and fly to San Francisco the next morning.

After my mother was safely on her way I went to the center of the city. I walked on Avenida Juarez past the Libreria Cristal and the Palacio de Belles Artes on my way to Sanborn’s for lunch when I heard someone calling my name which was unexpected to say the least. I turned to see who was speaking and got yet another surprise – it was Rene Anselmo.

Rene Anselmo who led an extraordinary life.

Rene showed up at the University Theatre about a year and a half after I started with the troupe. He was a sort of groupie, doing odd jobs such as selling tickets in the booth outside of the Commons and inviting himself to cast parties. For some reason that I never figured out he seemed to particularly latch on to me which I found to be a nuisance. He had an annoying big-shot manner, loudly proclaiming his importance in whatever was being discussed.

He told me he was running a couple of art movie houses in Mexico City and then went on to tell me what had transpired with the theater group in the nearly four years after I left. He said he had initiated a revolt against George Blair, the director of UT, by sending a letter to the Maroon, the student newspaper, complaining of his arbitrary dictatorial behavior. A group called “Tonight at 8:30” which performed one-acters in Ida Noyes Hall arose and Rene was active in its formation and early leadership. Needless to say I took all of this with a grain of salt. However, in recent years I learned it was all true.

When I looked up about Rene I was astonished to find that just a few weeks after our encounter he started working for Televisa becoming over time the head of their US operations and going on to form a satellite company and more. He became enormously wealthy and built his own version of Xanadu in Greenwich, Connecticut where he became a major pain in the neck tearing up “for sale” signs from other people’s lawns. (The house was put on the market in 2010 for 39 million dollars.)

Shortly after Rene’s death in 1995 Bill Richardson, then a US Congressman from New Mexico, read a tribute to Rene into the Congressional Record. I have attached it to the end of this post. A couple of stray notes: at least one biographer says he studied theater at Chicago. There was no drama department; the UT was a dean’s function, there were no courses or credits of any kind and there were only two paid employees, Blair and Chris Rohlfing the designer. There is confusion over Rene’s “real” name. Some, such as Richardson give it as Reynold, others as Reynolds but Janet Coleman in her history of “the Compass”, presumably with Rene’s signed letter to the Maroon right in front of her, gives it as Renaldo Anselmo.

RENE ANSELMO TRIBUTE

HON. BILL RICHARDSON

OF NEW MEXICO

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Friday, September 29, 1995

Mr. RICHARDSON. Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my colleagues to join me in paying special  tribute to a remarkable individual whose long  and  distinguished  career  can  forever  be  a  symbol  of  determination,  perseverance  and  audacity. Mr. Rene Anselmo, who died earlier  this month from heart disease, was not only  the  millionaire  chairman  of  Alpha  Lyracom  Space Communications, operating under the  name Pan American Satellite, but also made  a lasting contribution to the Hispanic community by helping to create television’s Spanish  International Network [SIN], now Univision.

Reynold Vincent Anselmo was an energetic and restless young man who joined the Marines in 1942 at the age of 16, spend 31⁄2 years as a World War II tail-gunner, and completed 37 missions in the South Pacific. After the war, he enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Great Books programs and after earning a theater and literature degree in 1951, he moved to Mexico where he discovered an affinity for Hispanic culture.

In Mexico, Mr. Anselmo directed and produced television and theater shows, and in 1954 he started working for Mexico’s largest  media company, Televisa, selling its TV programs to other Latin American companies. His  hard work and dedication attracted the attention of Mr. Emiliano Azcarraga Vidaurreta, the  founder and head of Televisa, who in 1961  hired  him  to  start  up  television’s  SIN,  now  Univision Two years later, Mr. Anselmo moved  to New York to manage SIN and oversee the TV stations.

At that time, Hispanics comprised less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, and the only Spanish-language stations were on the UHF channels that most TV sets were not them  equipped to receive. Mr. Anselmo, however, used his Mexican connections and experience to build the business. By 1984, SIN had 400 TV stations and cable affiliates and served the more than 15 million Hispanic people in the  United  States  who  represented  the  fastest- growing segment of the population. SIN pro- vided an alternative to the U.S. media, which did not pay too much attention to the Spanish community or when it did, cast it in a less than favorable stereotype.

In 1986 SIN was under siege by the Federal Communications Commission, which claimed that  SIN’s  ownership  violated  rules  against ownership  of  United  States  networks  by aliens. As a result, Mr. Anselmo abdicated his position in 1986 and separated from his old friend and partner Mr. Azcarraga. Instead of retiring, Mr. Anselmo founded Pan American Satellite Corp. [PanAmSat], the world’s only private global satellite services company. To do this, Mr. Anselmo had to fight against steep odds to break the monopoly on satellite trans- mission of video images held by the Inter- national Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or Intelsat owned by 120 governments, including the United States.

Before Mr. Anselmo launched his satellite company, no  one  had  challenged  Intelsat’s  international  monopoly.  Today,  PanAmSat  handles  a  significant  share  of  transatlantic  news, transmissions by ABC, CBS, CNN and the  BBC;  and  channels  financial  data  for Volvo, Citibank Corp. Latino, and others.  In addition to Mr. Anselmo’s devotion to his companies, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather, and a great neighbor. In fact, he was probably best known in his hometown of Greenwich, CT not for his business success, but for his beautification of the town. Mr. Anselmo personally paid for the planting of tens of thousands of bulbs each spring.

Not only will Greenwich, CT be a less pretty  place  with  his  passing,  but  all  of  America  loses a great businessman, family man and  war veteran. For a better understanding of this great man, my colleagues may be interested in reading a profile of him which was published in Continental Profiles in August 1991.

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