Postcards from Cuernavaca
Last Train from Cuernavaca is a novel set during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Lucia visited Cuernavaca, Mexico as part of her research for the publication. Spanish skills she learned during her time in the Peace Corps made it easier to get around and communicate with the citizens of Cuernavaca.
Here, Lucia shares some of the photos that highlight places her characters may have inhabited.
The First Postcard
Rosa King, owner of a popular hotel in the center of Cuernavaca, inspired Lucia’s fictionalized character, Grace Knight. Cuernavaca has many historic churches and haciendas from the early 16th century. But what awed Lucia was the city’s topography. It’s built around seven deep gorges full of tropical foliage with water cascading into them. The most famous of the waterfalls is Salto San Anton, pictured above. It can be seen from the village of San Anton, the one called San Miguel in Last Train from Cuernavaca. The openings of caves in the cliff wall can also be seen from the village’s high perch. Lucia imagined Lt. Angel and her men taking refuge there.
The Train Station
Cuernavaca’s train station today. The train was the link between Cuernavaca and Mexico City, located over the 10,000-foot-high mountains to the north.
“Everyone in Morelos was proud of this railroad. The line cost six million pesos and at the peak of construction three thousand men worked on it. For all that, on any given day its timely arrival depended on love or at least sex. The sex life of Hanibal the engineer to be exact.”
Chapter 34, Railroaded, p.214.
The Bella Vista
Below: The present-day courtyard of the building that was the hotel belonging to Rosa King and to the fictional Grace Knight.
“She leaned her hips against the railing and looked down into the courtyard and garden. The moonlight pouring into it lit the open corridors of the first floor…. She knew that this elegant old building was only stone and mortar and wood, but late at night she would have sworn it had a spirit.”
Chapter 7, Generating Electricity p.53
The Sites of Cuernavaca
When Lucia saw this street in the village of San Anton she imagined her character Jose Gonzalez and his family living behind the gate. San Anton, with its potters and magnificent waterfall was called San Miguel In Last Train From Cuernavaca.
“(Jose) invited them to sit on a bench in the courtyard where laundry hung on a bamboo pole laid between the crotches of two papaya trees. Flowers rioted all around and heaps of drying cocoa beans made the air heavy with their aroma.”
Chapter 11, A Dearth of Earthenware p.73
Rosa King encouraged the local potters in San Anton and they are still making pottery today. After Reading Last Train From Cuernavaca it is not hard to picture Jose Gonzalez and his family browsing through these wares.
“When Rico and Grace rode out of San Miguel they left it a happier place than when they rode in. This enterprise was obviously about more than turning a profit in the Colonial’s gift shop. In fact, Rico didn’t see how Grace planned to make any profit at all after she bankrolled an entire village.”
Chapter 11, A Dearth of Earthenware p. 73
Even today Cuenavaca’s old colonial architecture, spectacular geology, and sidewalk cafes are enticing. Back in the early 1900s it must have held even more charm. But its climate was what attracted visitors from Mexico City. Cuernavaca is called the City of Eternal Spring for a reason.
“Cuernavaca’s distant rooftops glowed golden in the dawn’s light…. Rico should have been able ride Grullo down the mountain, across the valley floor and along the broad highway from the train station into the heart of the city where the Colonial stood, solid, ancient, elegant, and welcoming.”
Chapter 30 On the Brink p.191
The Castillito, located near the spectacular Barranca Almanaco, houses a wonderful collection of vintage photos of Cuernavaca. Sr. Onesimo Gonzalez will tell you all about them. Lucia particularly remembers the photo of the mule-drawn tram passing on its narrow-gauge rails in front of the Bella Vista. She mentioned it in the scene with the Burrada, the burro race.
“Juan stood next to Grace while he waited for the mule-drawn trolley to rattle past on its tracks set in the cobblestone street.”
Chapter 7, Generating Electricity. p. 485
Rosa King wrote about the lovely Borda Gardens in the middle of the city. Grace and Rico must have strolled here in the deep shade or paddled one of the small rental boats on the lake.
“Come hell or high water, as Lyda would say, they had each other. Swirl around them as it might, the storm could not hurt them.”
Chapter 22 Bone Fires p.145