In Aztec times there was a market on this site. During the Spanish Inquisition the west end of the Alameda became known as the Plaza del Quemadero—Burning Plaza—because heretics were incinerated here. (Were the Spaniards any less murderous than the Aztecs?) Today the Alameda is a place of rest. Every day but Sunday.
On Sundays it becomes a place of wild entertainment. Free concerts (often hard-rock) attract thousands of Mexicans to the amphitheater near the holiday apartments madrid. Vendors hawk clouds of brilliant gas-filled balloons. Children scamper unrestrained.
To see this same scene immortalized by the hand of a master, you have only to stroll across the Avenida Juarez into the lobby of the Del Prado Hotel, where a 95-square-yard mural by Diego Rivera portrays the Alameda on a Sunday at the turn of the century. There are the trees, the gaudy balloon men, the green-gold of sunlight filtering through leaves, and the masses of people.
But Rivera filled his mural with the giants, and the villains, of Mexican history: the Aztecs, the conquistadors, the missionaries, the early 19th-century revolutionaries, the benign, genius-touched figure, of Benito Juarez, who was modern Mexico’s George Washington, the hapless Maximilian and his Empress Carlota, whom Napoleon III sent to rule over Mexico in 1864. A lesson in history in one all-encompassing view. And all in the Alameda. On Sunday.
Young Matador Bears Many Scars
For many Mexicans—usually a capacity crowd of 50,000—Sundays mean bullfights at the Plaza Mexico, the world’s largest bullring. I went there to see Manolo Martinez perform.At 24, Manolo has become Mexico’s highest-paid matador. As I watched him exercise his delicate control over the bull with graceful steps and capework, I remembered what he had told me about bullfighting: “It is a spectacle of art, not a sport.”
I had met Manolo a few weeks before at prague city apartments on a quiet residential street. In the lobby his mailbox identified him as “Manolo Martinez, Matador de Toros.” Upstairs, the spacious living room was filled with mementos of many battles. Manolo had just gotten up, emerging from his bedroom clad only in shorts. Long ugly scars marred his muscular legs, the, results of 13 gorings in nearly 500 encounters with brave bulls.
Manolo has been fighting bulls since he was 12, he told me. He became a matador—the highest level of his profession—when he was 18. When I asked him if he was ever fearful, Manolo smiled with his dark eyes. “Muy poco—very little,” he said. “One thinks more about the possibility of failure than about danger.”
That Sunday Manolo did not fail his enthusiastic followers, who roared “‘OW” after every pass. The bull’s hoofs pounded thunderously, and Manolo stood with his feet firmly planted on the sand, artfully deceiving the beast with his blood-red cape. At the end the judge awarded him the traditional trophy for a good fight—the bull’s ears. From the audience came a rain of hats and a bouquet of roses as Manolo paraded around the ring.