I saw much to marvel at – modern, not-so-modern, and awesomely ancient – during my travels around Mexico last month.
If I ever began to believe I would be having a deeper and better experience if I was travelling in the 1940s or 50s, in an age of fewer tourists, and long before Mexico joined the globalised world, I would soon be brought to my senses by the realisation that I was lucky, travelling in 2014, to have so many of the comforts of our era.
For the book I took round with me (I’m not yet so modern that I carry a Kindle) was The Lawless Roads, Graham Greene’s account of his 1938 visit to the country to report on the persecution of Catholic priests.
Leaving most of his belongings in Mexico City, he finds himself holed up in the south of the country, struggling with the hot tropical nights in those non A/C times, with his only entertainment Trollope’s Dr Thorne, which he is enjoying but is coming close to finishing. He has to ration himself to twenty pages per day to make it last. At a crucial point in Trollope’s tale, a fault in Greene’s copy of the book means a chunk of pages is missing. And when it’s finished, he has nothing to do but sit in his rocking chair, waiting for the storm clouds to break up and a small plane – his best hope of escape – to arrive.
Greene is no natural traveller in the rugged mould of Wilfred Thesiger. He pines for England, and can finds virtually nothing likeable about Mexico (which seems strange, even if we make allowances for his natural anger against the forces that are driving his adopted religion underground). But in the 1930s remote really meant remote, whereas today if we don’t like a place we can get out of it soon enough, or buy whatever it is we need to make our days more tolerable.
I know that wherever I go in the world, somewhere there’s a way out, and a mobile phone connection to the outside world. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would be prepared to leave the comfort zone of home.