CITY OF WONDERS
At San Fernando College, I slept in one of the many second-story cells close to Old Father. From my window I could see a forest of towers, domes and archways. It was like living in the top of a tall tree. I tried to count the many towers before Old Father told me there had to be more than a hundred. Mexico City, he said, was a city of churches. And had I not been told I would have guessed this when, early next morning, I heard all the bells calling the hundred-thousand people to celebrate the Mass.
Yet, this did not stir my soul as much as had the ringing of the bells that hung from cross-bars in the center of our Carmel plaza. I discovered, also, a big city has many noises, yet none so soft on the ears as the noises of a valley with a river tumbling between rock-lined banks. The big city was a thundering roar of many wheels clattering upon cobbled streets, of people screeching out endless wares, of guardhouse card-players bickering with companions, of horses whinnying complaints at being tied to hitching posts, of burros braying discontent over too heavy loads, of cows mooing to be fed, and of pigs squealing as they picked their way through heaps of garbage. But the noise that rumbled most in my ears was the yapping of the packs of dogs who fed upon the scraps people tossed out of dirty huts.
The college, fortunately, was on the edge of town. I could look beyond the fringe of trees that surrounded it and see the fields beyond. Further still were the hills which sloped to meet the mountains. When I thought back on how we had climbed and climbed—all those many days that had run into months—it seemed that I certainly should have been high enough to touch the sky. Yet looking to the east were higher mountains still, ones always covered with snow.
Old Father took me with him the first time he went to talk with Viceroy Bucareli. We approached the main plaza—the Plaza Mayor—with its tall cathedral and immense palace of the viceroy. Entering from the west side, we passed through the Portal of the Merchants and into endless rows of stalls where all sorts of surprising things were sold. I came to know these as brocades and tapestries, cloth of silk, velvet, cotton, or linen, silver and gold braid, fans, clocks, and toys. There were articles carved in ivory and wood, jewelry of silver, pots and pans of copper, tools of iron, dishes of glass, china or earthenware. Other merchants had tobacco, sweets and biscuits for sale. I was tempted to hold them in my hand, but knew to do so would be to invite death. Glancing over my shoulder toward the side of the square, I saw stalls packed with flowers that had been transported to the heart of the city in a thousand canoes that glided down the canal from Lake Chalco.
What a delight for the eyes this plaza was! But what a disgust for the nose! Chief Tatlun would never have permitted us to turn our river into such a stinking pool. It was true, clean water was carried over a waterway with a thousand arches. It flowed into the city in pipes and in flumes so that the water was everywhere, even spouting out of the ears and eyes and noses of the statues that were in the center of numerous plazas. At the Plaza Mayor crowds of dirty people hovered around the central fountain, washing dirty rags and slipping around in the slimy mess.
Over the heads of numberless humans, over the tops of hundreds of coaches, I saw the two-story viceroy’s palace where we were going. It was built of dark red volcanic rock and trimmed with gray stone. It faced the Plaza Mayor. A huge building, it would not have fitted inside our mission plaza. To enter, Old Father had to show the uniformed soldiers at the two gates a small paper containing the name and signature of His Excellency and explaining we were to be admitted inside the royal chambers. He took my hand now, wanting everyone to know that I was in his care.
A good thing the brothers at San Fernando had replaced our travel-worn clothes! With all the splendor around us, we still didn’t look as though we belonged at court. I was accustomed now to seeing religious persons in the streets robed in blue, black and brown as well as gray, but none that told you with one glance he gave away everything he had to the poor. The high walls inside the palace were covered with beautiful tapestries woven in blue and gold, the floors with still darker blue velvet, the windows with hangings in lighter blue. Hung from the mosaic ceiling were crystal candle holders, and even though the day was bright the white candles were lit and shining brilliantly.
The viceroy sat stiffly in a high-backed chair. Behind him a table gleamed as dew will in the early morning. He wore a suit of brightest blue over a white brocaded vest on which was embroidered a large cross in gold thread. His face was serious, very pale, and framed by a white curled wig. He rose when he saw us coming, and walked to the center of the room to greet Old Father reverently.
When Old Father presented me to His Excellency, Don Antonio María Bucareli, I bowed low and thanked him for the courtesy of receiving me. He raised surprised eyebrows, saying: "I have never heard better Castilian spoken!" Then he asked me one question after another about Alta California—how my people liked the missionaries, and about the tribes north of Monterey. About these he seemed especially interested. He then suggested that I amuse myself in one of the five inside plazas while he and Fray Junípero talked.
Father Junípero shook a "no" with his head, explaining that Mexico City was not a Carmel ranchería, and I better stay inside with him. He explained I would no doubt amuse myself contemplating all the strange sights I had seen on the way over.
It was true. I knew how to find friendship inside myself and often did. But I had no intention of doing so now. My ears had been trained to separate each important sound, and I knew that I would miss few words that passed between these two men, each as different a person as is Rumsen and Spaniard—Old Father a leader among the religious, and His Excellency a lieutenant-general of the King and a knight commander in the Order of Saint John of Malta. I memorized the title so I could repeat it for Chief Tatlun, and he could know what a long name the mighty chief in Mexico had.
"Your visit is timely," Viceroy Bucareli said. "A courier is here from Captain Anza in Tubac, who wants to explore an overland route to San Francisco. I need first-hand information on Alta California."
I smiled inside, remembering how Old Father had said God would put him in Mexico City when he needed to be there.
"I would heartily approve," Father Junípero informed His Excellency, "anything that makes for better communication will help the mission cause."
The viceroy picked up a handful of letters. Waving them, and with a wry smile, said, "I have been besieged with a storm of letters from both you and Don Pedro Fages, with each of you making the other to blame."
"It is a matter that must be discussed in truth and in frankness," Old Father declared. "Much harm has been done to many souls because of the soldiers’ behavior. Our missions are doomed to failure if the situation is not remedied."
"I have been confused and chagrined about the California problem," Viceroy Bucareli admitted. His body was rigid.
"Our neophytes have an astuteness about character," Old Father said. His voice was golden and his words so sparkled he had no need of jewels to call attention to his worth. "They notice the inconsistency between what we preach and what Spaniards do. The soldiers’ immorality is harmful to our cause."
Viceroy Bucareli moved, trying to find comfort in his chair. "I have already written to Captain Fages saying it is sad to think the Spaniards give the natives of the territory such a bad example. I have asked him to correct the matter and am certain he will have by the time you return."
Old Father, however, had not journeyed seven hundred and eighty leagues to have the long-running fight settled with another letter. "It is not only the missionaries who have found the Commandant impossible to deal with, the soldiers as well have been so disgruntled by his harsh treatment as to resort to desertion."
"I have been aware of that," Bucareli said, his manner indicating a desire to end the discussion. "I reminded the Commandant in my letter that because so many leagues separate us, prudence should dictate that he rule more in gentleness than in rigor. I am aware, of course, of his need to maintain discipline."
I sighed. It was as the Father Guardian of the college had warned. The military are bound to each other in loyalty, the same as priests are in love. Bucareli pressed his lips together in a thin line, but Old Father continued, "Those who are native to the land should not fall under the rule of the military but be managed by the missionaries."
Bucareli brought up the matter of the expense of maintaining the San Blas naval station. "I don’t want to give you the impression, my good Fray Junípero, that I don’t want to cooperate with you, but the cost here is staggering and must be cut."
"I agree that ships are costly to build," Father Junípero agreed, "yet once they are built, they will cost less to maintain than a mule train. Nor are they so liable to delays and disasters."
"Our mariners do not agree . . . " Bucareli disputed.
"Mariners are not muleteers," Old Father was quick to point out.
"My advisers tell me that supplies from Alta California could be sent by small launches across the gulf and from there overland, and at far less cost to the government." It was more of a question than a declaration.
"Your advisers have misinformed you," Old Father said frankly, "because it would take fifteen hundred mules, one hundred and fifty muleteers, and one hundred soldiers to escort them."
Bucareli raised an eyebrow. "You have proof of what you say?"
"I do," Old Father said. Then, point by point he explained the impossibility of the undertaking—how supplies would disappear or spoil in the two years it would take to transport them, and how, in the meantime, the missions would face starvation. Or what was worse, the tribal peoples from Velitica to Monterey would be violated by the rough men who maintained the caravan.
"California’s original peoples are curious beings," Old Father explained. "They are also lively and little understood by the ruffians who man the trains. Although I have protested vigorously, I have seen them killed over trifles."
"Your seacoast has been a naval graveyard," His Excellency replied. He was not easily won.
"Yes," but the navigators are becoming more familiar with our danger spots, and the trips are taking less and less time each year. This in itself is reducing scurvy," Old Father said.
"You come well-informed, Father President," Bucareli complimented him. "You were not a university lecturer for nothing."
"I want to remind you," Old Father went on, taking no notice of the compliment, "California is going to grow big, so big that mule trains—no matter how long they are—will never be able to supply the colonists."
"But the reforms you ask for are too drastic," His Excellency said. A sense of hopelessness came over his face as he rose from his chair. Old Father also rose and I stood waiting. The viceroy started for the door, the priest behind him. When they reached me, His Excellency held out a hand for Old Father to take.
"They are too drastic for you to refuse," Old Father came back, his eyes looking squarely into the viceroy’s, and showing no intention of walking out now.
"I am going to ask you, Father President, to put down on paper the changes you would like to see put into effect," His Excellency sighed deeply, "Number each point, and with it your reason for recommending it and what your personal experience has been. I will see that your document is presented before the Ministry of War and Finance, and when this board has considered the matter, you will have an answer."
I wondered if this was a viceroy’s way to get rid of a persistent old man who had journeyed from Monterey to Mexico to save five missions from collapse, and those he called his children from having to submit to an intolerant and inexperienced ruler.
"It is necessary for you to forward orders immediately to San Blas," Old Father said, as though he were the one to give the orders and the viceroy were the one to see that they were carried out. "Inform the naval commandant there that he should continue to carry the usual supplies to California, and remind him it is already past the time when the ships sailed last year." The viceroy looked surprised, but before he had chance to answer, Old Father added, "If you fail to do this the province will be in danger of starving while you and I talk about it here in Mexico City."
"All right," the viceroy agreed. "I will dispatch couriers to the coast without delay." Then looking at me, he added, "I see why Father President has made quick success of his mission enterprise."
I bowed low, thanking him for the privilege of being permitted to remain in his royal chambers and for his kindness in sending the ships to save our San Carlos Mission of the Carmel River.
"I am so impressed with this newest subject of mine," His Excellency said referring to me, "I should like to send a present along when you two return to California. Is there anything you would especially like to have Juan?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, Your Excellency," I said quickly. "I would like to bring something for my sister and my mother and my grandmother."
"That would be nice," he said smiling. "What would they like?"
"Well, if you could spare some cloth for them to make into dresses, they would be most pleased. Father Junípero has taught them how to sew."
This so amused His Excellency that I was afraid I had said something wrong. "When you came here," he told Old Father, "I admired you for your great courage, for I had been informed you had traveled in a dying condition. But I must say I admire you more for the humility you have shown in teaching your new converts how to sew, more for this than anything else I have heard about you. It is a strange calling for so learned a man!"
When we came out of the viceregal palace, Old Father pointed out the beautiful archiepiscopal chapel. "We shall be in Mexico City for some time, I’m afraid," he said, "perhaps long enough to have you confirmed by the archbishop. You would be the first Californian to be so blessed. Would you like that?"
"Oh, yes!" I told him, smiling proudly. "And would my name, Juan Evangelista, be written down in a big book?"
"Yes, it would! And your saint name, José, that also will be added."
"Juan Evangelista José!" I so liked the sound of my name. And the José—Joseph—was also the patron saint of our Carmel Mission.
For the next two days Old Father was busy preparing the document the viceroy had requested. When it was completed and when the Father Guardian had approved of it, we walked back to the viceregal palace and handed His Excellency the document.
"I hope your Excellency will read this," Old Father said, "and that you will decide that all I have asked is just and necessary and act upon my suggestions as soon as possible. In which case I will return to California contentedly. If not I must return sorrowfully, although always resigned to the will of God."
Old Father had asked that the large vessel that was being constructed at San Blas be completed as soon as possible, and for an increase in soldiers so that California would have a hundred men guarding the five missions and three presidios. This included the planned San Francisco Presidio and the new missions to be established. He also requested that carpenters, blacksmiths and farmers be sent to teach neophytes their trades, and that two physicians be included to replace Dr. Prat. Most of all, he asked that officers and soldiers be forbidden from punishing those who were native to the land, except in crimes of blood. He asked also that when a soldier’s example was bad that he be removed from mission to presidio without consultation with his commandant.
As for the commandant of Monterey—Fages—he was to be removed and without blame or humiliation. For the way of a priest is different from the way of a soldier.
It was recommended that wives be sent with the tradesmen and that families from Mexico be encouraged to go to live in Alta California and settle around the missions. Nor were officials to open any more of the priests’ letters.
Although all these things were granted, Old Father would need to stay on a while longer. The new justice would have to be written into law, and he wanted to make certain everything would be done in proper order.
He worked now with a new joy and with the strength of three men, looking after every detail that would improve or help the work of the missions. It made me proud to see that one of his greatest happinesses was to arrange with the Archbishop of Mexico for my confirmation which, as he had hoped, would be held in the chapel of the archiepiscopal palace.
So it was on Sunday morning, August 4, 1773, after the High Mass was sung and the doctrina recited, the Archbishop of Mexico, the Most Reverend Alfonso Nuñez de Jaro y Peralto, confirmed me and wrote my full name—Juan Evangelista José—in the Register of Confirmations. Next to my name he wrote my age—fifteen. Later at Carmel, Old Father would copy this into his new book of records—his Book of Confirmations. Mine would be the very first name in the book, and ever after anyone who wanted to read it could do so. I repeated my name to myself over and over again—Juan Evangelista José—John, the bearer of good news, and José, the name of my saint, and the patron saint of Carmel and of Old Father, too.
By September we were saying good-by to the friars who had been so kind to us during our six months’ stay in their city. I could see that it was hard for Old Father to leave his friends forever. He and the Father Guardian had been professors together at the University of Palma. And how they enjoyed one another’s company! I, too, had made friends with the brothers and would miss the joy of learning all the things they, in their patience, taught me each day.
As we walked down the long corridor, the eyes of everyone watching were filled with tears. I knew in my heart, and from the sorrow on their faces, that they thought Old Father would not live long enough to reach home. They had learned to love this kindhearted old man. The Father Guardian sent along Fray Pablo Mugártegui to look after Old Father, in case he got sick, and to deliver me safely into the hands of Chief Tatlun if Old Father died.
Imagine my surprise and joy when the college door closed behind us and I saw a coach waiting for us. Moreover, the Father Guardian had ordered Fray Junípero to accept its use "under obedience." This meant Old Father could not refuse its comfort for this first leg of the return journey. The coach would take us Guadalajara. The Franciscan brothers there would then use their judgment to see that we reached San Blas in good health.
Once Old Father had said his good-by, he was again in good spirits and joked with the coachman, telling him the boy who sat alongside him in the driver’s seat might steal away his job! The coachman permitted me to hold the reins, which gave him an opportunity to rest now and then when the road was not too dangerous.
I had grown accustomed to delays. So it was nothing unusual that we had to wait at Tepic for the ship to be unloaded. We had gone directly to San Blas, but when Old Father had learned that the sailing would not take place until January, we went back to the hospice where we could be of service to the missions in seeking more funds and in supervising the buying of supplies.
Finally, we embarked on the Santiago—the very vessel that Old Father had inspected so carefully and urged the workmen to finish. As we went aboard, the ship’s master builder said, "Father President, the prophecy you made to us when you arrived from Monterey, that you would return on the Santiago, is about to be fulfilled. God bless you and give you a happy voyage."
Old Father smiled, "What I said was due only to my desire to see so fine a vessel completed. I suppose that God permitted my wish to be realized, and to God I give thanks, but also to you who worked so hard to complete it." An even greater happiness was finding that Captain Juan Pérez, having completed a successful journey to Monterey, was now at San Blas and would captain the Santiago that would carry us home!
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