Countess Paula Kolonitz came to Mexico as part of the courtly entourage that accompanied Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium at the beginning of their imperial adventure. Kolonitz was only in Mexican territory for about six months, but the account of her trip is especially interesting because it gives us an example of women's views on a crucial stage of Mexican history.

Kolonitz's book is a must-have reference in Mexican travel literature ... in large part because it was written by a woman. From the colonial period until almost the advent of the twentieth century, women's testimonies were practically non-existent in any of the conventional formats of their time. There is no doubt that some women may have written, for example, letters, diaries, legal interpositions, or other documents; but since these were not published - or at least not through the mass media, even at that time - their existence was not and is not known (or is not known outside specialized spheres).

So, as far as the general public is concerned, only two works of female authorship have reached wide circulation, both during their time and in our own: one is that of Madame Calderón de la Barca, and the other is the one that concerns us here, that of Paula Kolonitz. Apart from the books by these two, it was not until the eighties of the 19th century that other women - North Americans by origin - joined the list of foreigners who published writings about their experiences in Mexico.

Even in the 19th century, the number of people interested in and capable of writing works so extensive, systematic, and neat in their writing as to interest publishers was very low; and if in the case of men this ability to write books reached only a few, in the case of women it was even lower. This disparity -as we know very well today- was never the product of a natural inability of the female gender, but rather the result of the desire for predominance that the male counterpart imposed as a factor in its exercise of power.

Paula Kolonitz, the author of the book A Trip to Mexico in 1864, may have obtained her title because she attended and accompanied a great lady; that lady was Carlota, Princess of Belgium and wife of Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg, destined, in turn, to become Emperor of Mexico. That Carlota died in January 1927 at the age of 86, after having been empress consort at the age of 24 (and having visited in that capacity the ruins of Uxmal in Yucatan in 1865) and after living nearly sixty years in seclusion, first in the Austrian castle of Miramar and then in the Belgian castles of Tervuren and Château de Bouchout, because she suffered disturbances that caused her to be declared insane (which did not prevent her from continuing to accumulate a fortune that made her one of the richest women in the world at the time of her death).

A book about a short journey

Kolonitz's story begins on April 14, 1864, when Maximilian, his wife, the Countess herself, and the rest of the imperial entourage embarked in Trieste on the Novara frigate for a 44-day voyage that would take them to Veracruz. It ended in mid-December of the same year, when another ship, the Louisiane, on which Kolonitz was returning to Europe, sighted the coasts of the Brittany peninsula, in the northwest of France. This is the period covered by Kolonitz's book.

The story is divided into ten chapters, the first three of which tell us about the adventures of the voyage that took them through the Mediterranean Sea and the high altitude navigation across the Atlantic Ocean to finally disembark in Veracruz (the other seven are the ones that have more to do with Mexico). Corsica, Rome -for Maximilian to meet with the Pope and his prelates-, the Balearic Islands and the Rock of Gibraltar -perhaps for the Archduke to finalize details of cooperation with the representatives of His Britannic Majesty and his interests- are the sites that Kolonitz highlights before the ships enter the oceanic immensity of the Atlantic. Several islands, first Madeira and then -more here than there-, Martinique and Jamaica offer the dizzy countess and her traveling companions the possibility of disembarking and setting foot on soil very different from that of Europe.

The arrival of the imperial entourage at the port of Veracruz.
Idealized image of the arrival of the imperial entourage to the port of Veracruz.

About seasickness, Kolonitz tells us several times about her terrible sensations, and in this evocation, we discover part of her feminine condition since, in the case of male travelers, such references are very rare (perhaps due to the fact that men were more careful to hide their vulnerability in the face of the tremendous swaying of the old ships on the high seas), but the Countess describes frankly how bad she felt because of the disorder, although she speaks not only of her physical state but also of her mood:

Cold and impetuous blew the boreas [the north wind], which was propitious for our voyage. All excitement, all fear had disappeared from my soul; I was overcoming the pain of farewell, the journey so often doubted was beginning; and I, full of hope and joy, was happy. Everything was new, everything interested me, I no longer felt the movement under my feet, to which I so often succumbed ... I hoped to have freed myself from that horrible evil which is seasickness and thus to be able to enjoy everything to the full. To my misfortune, my beautiful hopes soon failed, which I deplore very much, for the effect of that malaise so disturbed and paralyzed me that much of the beauties of the voyage were denied me and I was incapable of many observations.

But very soon, when they were crossing the Adriatic Sea, Countess Kolonitz found a remedy that helped her to alleviate the suffering caused by the seasickness:

At dawn the wind picked up, the sea was rough, and when I awoke I could see the wall and ceiling of my cabin going up and down. I was lost. I hurriedly dressed as best I could and ran to the deck where everyone noticed my pallor and laughed. But I soon recovered; the waves subsided and in great gulps, I breathed the fresh, balsamic air that can only be found at sea. From then on I never or hardly ever left the deck, where I sat until two or three o'clock in the morning and sick or healthy, happy or sad, up there all the ills were minor; while in the narrow space of my cabin almost everything was unbearable to me.

The landings made at some points along the way were also for Kolonitz pious moments to relax and cure her discomfort, but beyond that, they were also opportunities to marvel at the exercise of her powers of observation, which would undoubtedly be reflected in the femininely sensitive descriptions of the places that the imperial entourage visited during their walks. Thus, for example, she tells us of Martinique:

For two whole hours, we climbed a stupendous road where every tree was new to us. This part of the island is little cultivated. Here and there we saw sugar canes, cocoa trees, and some cassava plants, but everywhere appeared magnificent fan-shaped palms and coconut palms, and breadfruit, mango, and Taurus trees. There were the mimosas, banana trees, bamboos, sapotes, and thousands and thousands of other trees and plants all laden with flowers and fruits, crowded together and covered with vines that with their tentacles and flowers joined one another. There the parasites, the orchids; and everywhere the weeds, the mallows with their purple flowers, the tall fig trees with their wide leaves. And as if this were not enough, the burning sun of the tropics, that marvelously transparent sky, mountains, valleys ... Here is the world whose richness, whose splendor, whose creative power are so wonderful that they make every impression appear new.

Another facet of the author also appears in these first chapters of A Trip to Mexico in 1864. In this other case, her unrestricted admiration for the tropical environment gives way to a less unconditional and several times more severe judgment of the human environment and of the characters she meets during her voyage. Some of these appreciations have earned Countess Kolonitz the label of the racist and linear evolutionist, firmly convinced of the superiority of European culture over others. To a certain extent, this is true, but it would be convenient to take into consideration that the supposedly "scientific" tendencies, and the most common ideology of her time, pointed in that direction.

Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium.
Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium.

Kolonitz, as a member of the relatively cultured aristocracy of the mid-19th century, could not avoid formulating her judgments and descriptions within that context. In her defense, it is perhaps fair to say that, as the story of her trip progresses towards the end, some of her first impressions of those people who were not northern Europeans became less forceful and more inclined to accept with greater equanimity the differences of culture, race, and nationality.

Thus, we shall look at some of the portraits that Kolonitz captured in her work before arriving in Mexico. On her experience in Gibraltar, she says: "The city is beautiful and gracious. The spirit of order and cleanliness, proper to the English, dominates everything here, in spite of the dismal Moorish, Spanish, and Hebrew elements, so contrary to these principles."

Her appreciation of the natives of Madeira, an island more or less close to the Atlantic coast of Morocco which Kolonitz sees as paradisiacal, is revealed to be very close to the canons of the racist language of those times.

On the whole, if there is anything that is out of harmony with this flowery kingdom, it is man himself. The natives are a dismal sample of all that is moral and physical degradation; and with their red caps, which only cover the extremity of their heads, they look so much like monkeys that the contrast with the marvelous and poetic nature is dismaying.

On another island, Martinique, a French colony where the descendants of black slaves were the majority of the population (slavery had been formally abolished as a result of the transformations produced by the French Revolution), the celebrations for the arrival of the Austrian ally of the French emperor, Napoleon III (her maternal grandmother was Josephine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and born in Martinique a century earlier) ended up provoking in the countess a feeling of great fear of the blacks:

At ten o'clock at night, we returned to land to see some fireworks that were made in honor of their majesties ... The spectacle was gentle and beautiful and the black women danced on the meadow that their frightful Cambulla, which is a real witches' sabbath ... We mingled among them but I must confess that seeing that dirty, sweaty and agitated mass that increased more and more, that surrounded us and surrounded us on all sides, I was not only afraid but horrified ... To the lively light of the fire, to the sound of the drum, among thousands and thousands of wild screams and thousands of horrible contortions, the black women danced. Nothing has ever seemed so repugnant to me, nor have I ever seen women of such a brazen and bestial nature.

In spite of her fear of racial difference, Countess Kolonitz shows her capacity for analysis, which is not at all devoid of certain "intimate and profound convictions about the necessary duties of humanity" (as she calls her ideological position in the face of diversity).

The colony is in great decline ... The number of whites is decreasing every day ... in the midst of a number of blacks four or five times greater than them and who, with excessive arrogance, take revenge for past oppressions. It is true that even here there are exceptions. Generosity, the kindness of spirit, and affection are the endowments of some individuals, which highly honor them; but the hatred of races will last long; still, the white man will look with disdain on the poor Negro who, although he no longer has to fear authority and power, will treat him forever with insolence and simulation ... Here as in many other cases one would like to skip several centuries in the hope of reaching an agreement, a progress that would heal old plagues, certain old influences, and see the good germs developed, educated, nobilized. Will this hope ever be realized?

About the Mexicans, another people that in 1864 we can say was just coming out (four decades) from the condition of the colony of European power, Kolonitz is less categorical about the cultural distances that separate her from them. We will see her judgments about other Mexican characters later on, but now let us concentrate on the impressions produced by some of her fellow countrymen who were also traveling on the Novara, joining their fate to that of the Empire.

The castle of Miramar in 1880.
The castle of Miramar in 1880. It was built between 1856 and 1860, its high cost put Maximilian in debt. Today it is a museum where objects and furniture used by the royal couple are preserved.

Note that it is Kolonitz herself who says: "By studying the character of these gentlemen we were able to form in advance a concept of the forms and character of the Mexican; and the truth is that they have a special individuality". The author refers to Joaquín Velázquez de León, Ángel Iglesias (one of Maximilian's secretaries), a certain Anteveros, and General Adrián Woll, who in reality was not Mexican by origin but had been naturalized as such and of whom she does not comment much. Of the first one Kolonitz tells us (and we will continue in the quote about what he says about the others):

... is an old man. His childhood years date back to the time of the liberation of the kingdom of Mexico from the Mother Country ... Thus he was able to form a character and an energetic firmness before ambition and greed, before the passions of the party, the lack of conscience of the rulers and governors, took hold of individuals and the masses ... Simple, gentle, modest, silent ... The mixture of indigenous and Spanish blood in him is clear and very visible ... In the form and manners of Angel Iglesias, still young and insinuating, there was that something suspicious, shy and elusive that characterizes the new Mexican generation. Iglesias is a young doctor who did his studies in Paris and who judges his own country and his fellow countrymen very objectively, although in the love he feels for his native land, as well as in that of most Mexicans, there is something deeply melancholic. I will not waste many words in describing Anteveros. He represents young Mexico in its less edifying side. Vain, effeminate, disloyal, and fickle, he seems only capable of associating himself with the party from which he could expect the greatest advantages. Unfortunately, such a character is not an exception in his country.

So much for the author's account of the voyage that Maximilian's flagship, the Novara, and her escort, the French warship Themis, completed when, at two o'clock in the afternoon of May 28, 1864, both ships passed alongside the fort of San Juan de Ulua to anchor at the docks of the port of Veracruz. And before continuing with Kolonitz's account of her arrival in Mexico, let us look at a portrait, however sketchy, of the author of A Voyage to Mexico in 1864.

A little known woman

So little is known about the life of Paula Kolonitz that to attempt a sketch of her biography immediately places us in the realm of speculation. But some outlines can be proposed if we let the uncertainties tell us more than the few certainties we have. Thus, according to Iturriaga de la Fuente, La Enciclopedia de México states that she was born in 1830, without specifying where. Nor is it known where, how, or when she died. The supposition that she was Austrian is plausible because, in addition to being part of the personal entourage that accompanied Maximilian and Carlota, her book clearly indicates that her vernacular language was some variant of German and because she herself does not hesitate to describe herself as "northern European". But whether her Germanic ancestry was already ancient in the framework of a multinational, multiethnic, and multilingual empire, such as the Austro-Hungarian one in which the Habsburg dynasty reigned in the 1860s-1870s, we do not know either.

I have not yet managed to locate a Kolonitz county on maps of Europe. Therefore, for the purposes of this article, it may be better to be satisfied with knowing that she held the noble title of the countess and that this lineage had made it possible for her to be educated. At least, by reading her book we learn that, in addition to her German vernacular, she also knew French and Italian, although we realize that her linguistic repertoire did not include Spanish and that it was not part of her objectives to learn it during her stay in Mexico. The use of a few names taken from scientific nomenclature to specify which floristic species she is talking about reinforces the hypothesis that she was a woman with a refined education, or at least "of the world"; perhaps this is supported by what she herself tells us about the beginning of her trip in Miramar:

Oh! How many times had I attended that spectacle, already absorbed and in static admiration, already hurried and anxious. And how many times had I considered this arcane and mysterious force, suddenly assailed by the strongest impressions. Yet never were they more vivid, more intense, never for me so different as on that day ... After all the wonders I have seen, that picture has remained forever splendid and clear in my memory.

Her personal appearance is also an unknown; the portrait that represents her in the edition of her book in "Lecturas mexicanas" ("Mexican Readings") is far from being verifiably authentic, so one's imagination is a valid criterion to give her face and form. What her book shows of her character is not much either, but in her work, we find, here and there, indications of a personality molded by what - albeit in a stereotyped way - we could imagine as a Germanic "way of being": precision in detail, great concern for the use of time to convert action into production, distaste or aloofness - though not strictly reprobation - for what does not conform to one's own canons of conduct, few references to one's own personality if they are not part of the description of the environment or of the events to be narrated. Thus, the writer Paula Kolonitz is a woman who highlights a mystery.

Carl Khevenhüller
Carl Khevenhüller was a 23-year-old Austrian nobleman when he came to Mexico.

For it is mysterious that she nostalgically remembers "her loved ones", although she tells us nothing about who they were or what ties they had with her. It seems to me that Kolonitz takes this absence of names (of denominations that make it possible for the reader to establish relationships of consanguinity, affinity, collaboration, love ... or something more or less certain) to the extreme, especially when on several occasions she refers to her "friend", that is, a woman with whom she shared the vicissitudes of her trip: rooms, transportation, itineraries, friendships and, in short, practically all the time shared and all the places they both visited (besides -most probably- the emotions that their trip aroused in them). But about this woman, we can only deduce that she was another of the empress's ladies-in-waiting since Countess Kolonitz avoided giving us a more detailed picture of this "friend". This omission of data about her companion - she does not even tell us her name - becomes more enigmatic when we see that, on the other hand, Kolonitz is rather more specific when writing about other women:

About the beauty of Mexican women, I have heard many discussions. In general, they enjoy by right the reputation, either by the magnificence of their hair and teeth, or by the splendor of their large, velvety, black, melancholy eyes, and by the admirable smallness of their hands and feet ... Fausta Aragunaga, the daughter of the Gutierrez family, who is rich in property in Yucatan, was the one who first and more than all stole my heart by the charm of her beauty. I have never seen more perfect beauty united to the greatest sensibility, and when I remember the magnificent and splendid things of that country, and of which I feel the desire to see again, that graceful goddess comes to my memory.

An Internet site states that in the fifth volume of the Encyclopedia of Mexico through the Centuries, one of the authors of that work, José M. Vigil, says that "the Countess arrived in Mexico without a single cent and that she subsisted, like so many others, at the expense of the Empire". So far, nothing new, since all the foreign imperial aristocracy, starting with Maximilian himself, came to Mexico protected by the financial resources provided by the governments and banking associations of several European countries and by Mexican support groups. However, what is most remarkable about this site is that it states that, according to the diary of Prince Carl Khevenhüller (an officer of the Austrian troops that Emperor Franz Joseph, Maximilian's brother, sent to support the establishment of the Habsburg throne in America), Countess Kolonitz married, after her return to Europe, the Belgian Felix Eloin, one of Maximilian's closest collaborators, a marriage that had no children. In her book, Kolonitz dedicates a couple of very complimentary paragraphs to Eloin, but following her habit of avoiding at all costs to talk about her own intimacy, she does not tell us anything about her relationship with him, although her admiration for this man is manifest:

The man who with tireless activity and the most absolute abnegation was at the emperor's side and helped him lay the foundations of the new empire was the Belgian Eloin, chosen by King Leopold I, who entrusted him with his own children beyond the seas, in his new homeland. Eloin had spent most of his life on very long journeys and had reached as far as Australia and the islands of the Pacific Sea, although until now he had remained aloof from any administrative activity. He was little adapted to his new position, which he discharged with a warm sympathy for the new sovereign, the deepest and most respectful affection for his king's daughter, and interest in a country so full of resources, so deserving of happiness, but which was the most unhappy in the world. He set himself to the work, nobly forgetting all personal regard, exerting himself as much as he could in his most difficult mission, thus eloquently demonstrating what the activity of a man is capable of. It is impossible to calculate how much the emperor esteemed him, and rightly so because in him were gathered all the rare and appreciated qualities in the adviser of a monarch. He is independent in his position and in his character. A man without ambition, without vanity, with a heart full of reverence and loyalty to the prince, he does not know what personal advantages are. He is a man without fear, even before his sovereign, and to his own disgrace when it comes to his convictions, to speak the truth, to the feeling of duty and right. In a word, he is a great man.

Beyond the Countess's story

So much has been written about the historical context in which Kolonitz's trip to Mexico took place that I do not think it necessary to dwell on it. Only, as a counterpoint to the defense of the imperial adventure that she subscribes, I consign here what was said by another man who, like the imperial advisor Eloin, also set to work, putting aside his personal interests, made an effort in his difficult mission and eloquently demonstrated the human capacity for reasoning, analysis, and action. That man, who, unlike Eloin and Countess Kolonitz, saw the intervention from a different point of view, was Karl Marx:

The intervention in Mexico, prepared by England, France and Spain is, in my eyes, one of the most monstrous enterprises that the annals of universal history have known ... which astonishes the uninitiated by the absurdity of the project and the imbecility of the means employed ... They [the governments of those countries] know that the joint intervention, whose avowed aim would be to save Mexico from anarchy, produces the opposite effect, that is, that it weakens the constitutional government, strengthens the Church party thanks to the French and Spanish bayonets, fans the practically extinguished fire of the civil war and restores anarchy in all its breadth.
Karl Marx
Karl Marx, father of "scientific socialism", criticized the French Intervention in Mexico.

The visions of the Countess

Despite its author's pro-imperialist stance, A Trip to Mexico in 1864 is an enjoyable and certainly enlightening book. Although her attempt to weave a history of Mexico did not deviate from the canons common at the time, Kolonitz had the insight and courage to write lines that -even if they seem lapidary- focus on the vision of a Mexico that, almost a century and a half after her visit, has not yet managed to resolve the contradictions inherent to its origin and, therefore, neither those that remain in its present and will determine its future.

Mexico separated from the mother country only after a disastrous and ignominious sequence of crimes and deaths, as always happens in revolutions, but Mexico did not know how to show itself worthy of its independence ... In the pages of its history it has not been able, as a free country, to record any day of greatness or glory, but times of corruption and material ruin. The beautiful idea of independence here never took shape, nor life, and shaking off the yoke of Spanish oppression did nothing but widen the roads to tyrannies, arbitrariness, and arrogance.

In this sense, the most surprising thing about Paula Kolonitz's book is that her nineteenth-century vision does not lose its relevance for Mexico in the twenty-first century. For example, in what she says in the following quote from her book, in which the history of independence can be left aside as if it were nothing more than a thing of the past, but in which the portrait of a part of what she calls the "character" of Mexicans is not alien or implausible to us today:

I have already spoken of their soft, gentle, reserved, and always suspicious nature. But I, I tell you truly, have had nothing from the inhabitants of Mexico but friendship, courtesy and benevolence, and having dealt with them in their own families, they seemed to me very hospitable. It is almost serious for me to become the spokesman for their condemnation, but it is true that in order to judge their fellow countrymen, they use the harshest accusations. No one trusts anyone and they denounce each other as thieves and traitors ... Those who gave the most splendid example were the presidents of the republic ... they took advantage of the brief time of their power to enrich themselves and put their relatives in the high positions of the republic ... to amass money and become powerful. And so it was from the highest to the lowest employment. Men of industry, maliciously taking advantage of the embarrassments of government, knew how to obtain the greatest concessions for this or that speculation, with the most disadvantageous pacts for the public good.

And if we place our level of analysis outside the great deeds of official history, the corruption of politicians and businessmen or even the controversial perspective of a unique "Mexican character", Paula Kolonitz's insight also covers areas of everyday life that call us to reflect on the relevance of some "national customs". A good example of this is when she says: "The coffee, which is of the best quality here, is prepared so badly that it is almost unpalatable". Another is when visiting the sanctuaries of the virgins of Guadalupe and Los Remedios, her commentary -if we except for the railing and the animals- is quite similar to what happens today in our modern Cetrams:

... we visited the convent of Los Remedios, from which, being built on a considerable height, there is a grandiose view; then we went to the famous sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is joined to the city by means of a steam railroad. In Mexico you get into the cars in the middle of a square where there is not even a railing, and no obstacle separates them from the place where men and beasts move about without order. No one watches over the safety of the roads or the inhabitants. It is marvelous that there are no daily misfortunes to deplore.

Kolonitz's insidious gaze not only falls on the Mexicans, but also on the French companions of the Habsburg archduke in the imperial adventure. Her constant references to the arrogance and haughtiness of the Gauls reveal that relations among the European occupants -mainly the French, Austrians and Belgians- were not entirely cordial or univocal. Maximilian's benevolent character and liberal thinking were unparalleled in the attitudes of the invaders' military commanders; the arrogance of a Bazaine or a Van der Smissen is an example of a behavior that was more or less generalized among the foreigners who supported the Empire until Napoleon III decided to break his word to the archduke-turned-emperor.

General François Bazaine
General François Bazaine was appointed Marshal of France upon his return from Mexico.

Let us remember that, at the beginning of 1867, the return to Europe of the French army and its Austrian and Belgian auxiliary corps sealed the fate of the ephemeral Second Empire); and that this withdrawal, besides responding to the need to prepare France for its next confrontation against the Prussia of the "Iron Chancellor", Otto von Bismarck, was also the result of the strong pressures that the government in Washington - once the American Civil War was settled in favor of the Unionists - exerted to enforce the principle of the so-called Monroe Doctrine, "America for the [North] Americans", which established the non-interference of extra-American powers in the continent.

So, for example, the following quote from Kolonitz's book makes it clear what her views on the relationship between foreign imperialists were.

I have already said before how the officers of France have conducted themselves and continue to conduct themselves with the Mexicans. They spoke of the country and its inhabitants with the most clumsy contempt; they had not the greatest interest for the beauty of that sky nor eyes for the many new things that were offered to them here; and it seemed incredible to them that we enjoyed everything and that we knew how to correspond to the cordiality that the others lavished on us, and that in no way did we believe ourselves called upon to stigmatize with European boasting the errors of the Mexicans. The emperor had many difficulties and many complaints in his relations with the French because they did not play fair; few of the men who came from France, who presided over the civil and military ministries and who directed the financial and diplomatic affairs, had the discernment and the delicacy not to emphasize their dependence on French aid and help.

Paula Kolonitz's pen also offers us portraits of some outstanding Mexicans of the imperial side, such as Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Tomás Mejía and Miguel Miramón. Although these are sketches, of course drawn under the premise that they were allies of the imperial cause, they are interesting because they show us some personal characteristics of these men described as villains or traitors by the official Mexican historiography.

General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte
General Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, regent of the Empire until the arrival of Maximiliano.
General Almonte, who until the arrival of the emperor and during the treaties for the acceptance of the crown had governed the country ... made the most favorable impression on us. He is the son of that parish priest Morelos who became famous during the war of Independence and of an indigenous woman who had him in the mountains, "al monte". His yellowish but beautiful physiognomy shows his kindness and affability, besides being the owner of a firm heart. His manners are simple but gentle and polite. His greeting was to shake hands [Almonte, in his capacity as regent of the Empire, was in charge of welcoming the emperor and his retinue in Veracruz]. With that greeting, any presentation, any friendship, begins in Mexico.
Here [in San Martin Texmelucan, Puebla] we met one of the most capable and intelligent Mexicans who have placed themselves at the service of the Emperor's government. He is General Mejía, a man in the prime of his life, tall, with skin almost the color of bronze, black and sparkling eyes, straight and black hair, energetic facial features and with simple and gentle manners that denounce his indigenous origin. This still young man is highly esteemed even by the French themselves, for to his proven loyalty he adds great courage.
General Tomás Mejía
General Tomás Mejía. Indigenous leader who supported Maximiliano until the end in 1867.

Among those who stood out most [at the reception given to the emperor upon his arrival in Mexico City] was General Miramón, still a young man. At the age of 20 he was elected president of the republic. I do not know if his courage was greatly admired in the army, it seems that some crime weighs on his reputation. Miramon has openly given himself to the emperor's party and his majesty received him with the greatest demonstrations of honor and benevolence. He strolled through the salons leading his young consort by the arm, accused of having great ambitions. There is also in this man's manners that sweet, delicate, astute air, which is so characteristic of Mexicans and of whom I keep in my memory an almost obsessive impression.

General Miguel Miramón
General Miguel Miramón. Leader of the conservative party. He was shot along with Maximiliano and Mejía at Cerro de las Campanas.

Upon arriving in Mexico (May 1864), the Countess, her "friend" and the imperial entourage traveled some 60 kilometers by rail from Veracruz to the Camarón terminal (perhaps San José Balsa Camarón, about 5 kilometers from present-day Paso del Macho). There they boarded stagecoaches that would take them to Mexico City via Córdoba, Orizaba, Acultzingo, Puebla, Cholula, Río Frío and other intermediate points (and this would be, in reverse, the same route that she and her friend would follow on their return to Europe in November 1864). Once in the capital, Kolonitz visited, in the then surroundings of the city, places like Chapultepec, Tacubaya, the Canal de la Viga, the Villa de Guadalupe, the Pedregal de San Angel and the Desierto de los Leones. She also made excursions to the mining district where Pachuca, El Chico, Real del Monte, and Tizayuca were located. And surely she did not go further because:

The assassins and the guerrillas became more daring, more imperturbable every day; the royal roads became less and less secure; there were assassinations and aggressions near the city; gangs of thugs surrounded the neighboring places, making even the empress's rides unsafe. She could not leave without the French soldiers having scoured and cleared the roads; thus the noble lady, so happy in her illusions of thousands and thousands of idyllic hopes, believing herself protected better than anything else by the love of her own people, became greatly distressed.

Of all these places, of the people with whom she lived there - both the common people and the incipient aristocracy - and of the natural landscapes that caused her true fits of ecstasy, the Countess Paula Kolonitz left us in her book vivid and detailed descriptions that, regardless of whether they are considered fair or exaggerated, critical or complacent, imbued with racism or dictated by the evolutionist framework of her time, are, in any case, a sensitive reflection of what she experienced during her trip to Mexico in 1864. Therefore, paraphrasing the end of her book, we could say: The world is still beautiful! Whoever doubts it, go and read the Countess's book.

By Andrés Ortiz Garay, Source: