The love story of Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto

She was beautiful and intelligent, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine on assignment in Mexico. He was handsome and dynamic, the beloved Governor of Yucatan. It was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1923.

Documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and her autobiography, Peregrina, Love and Death in Mexico, give testimony of their passionate love, their high ideals, their good deeds, and their plans to be protagonists in a glorious future for Yucatan and for Mexico. The mutual attraction was powerful. On Valentine’s Day, 1923, the same day that the governor welcomed her party from the Carnegie Institute to Yucatan to begin extended studies of the recently discovered Mayan ruins, he called on her and invited her to go for a walk, see one of his administration’s model socialist villages, and “enjoy the unusually beautiful sunset.”

That was the first of some three hundred fifty days that would be engraved on Alma Reed’s heart, days that inspired and haunted her until the end of her life–three hundred fifty days of intense research and writing, trips, elegant luncheons, dinners, parties, impressive personalities, incredible adventures in the Mayan jungle, vows of undying love, flowers, gifts, passionate letters, and plans for a San Francisco wedding and life as First Lady of Yucatan in Felipe’s Villa Aurora. These days and her plans were cut short when the governor was assassinated on January 3, 1924, just a week and a half before their scheduled wedding.

The melancholy ballad “Peregrina” had been composed and dedicated to Alma at Felipe’s request, immortalizing their brief, passionate love affair, and Alma’s unforgettable beauty. It makes me cry whenever I hear it.

There is little doubt that what Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto experienced during those three hundred fifty days was profound and real. Why, then, can’t I simply tell the tale and enjoy a good love story, like Pride and Prejudice, The Notebook, or Romeo and Juliet? I can’t, because, unlike fictional characters, the protagonists of this tragic love story lived real lives, and their lives were intertwined with other lives and other stories that should be told.

Some of those other stories are of the legacies of the lovers themselves, independent of their passionate affair. Felipe’s story goes back thirty years before that fateful St. Valentine’s Day to his youth in Motul, his participation in the Mexican Revolution that overthrew the dictator Porfirio Diaz, his overwhelming mandate for the governorship, and his leadership for reforms in education, women’s rights, prisons, labor rights. To this day, his accomplishments reverberate in the Yucatan Peninsula and beyond.

Alma had already been honored by Mexican President Alvaro Obregon for her successful intervention in the unjust execution of a sixteen-year-old Mexican who had been unjustly tried and condemned to death in California. Because of a barrage of articles by Alma Reed, not only was the execution stopped, but a law was passed prohibiting the execution of anyone under the age of eighteen. Her story reaches forward more than forty years after Felipe’s death. Contributions to history, art, and culture were recognized by the governments of Mexico and Greece in her lifetime. She was part of a lively movement of artists and writers in New York City. She wrote books and articles. She played a significant role in bringing muralist Jose Clemente Orozco to international attention, sponsoring shows of his work, publishing a book about him, and helping him economically as he struggled to remain true to his vision. Later in life, she returned to Mexico, where she wrote for the English-language Mexico City News. These stories are sometimes overshadowed by their compelling controversial love story.

The force of the attraction between the lovers is not diminished by the fact that they were a worldly-wise man almost fifty and a well-traveled divorcee of thirty-three, not an awkward youth and a virginal maiden, but that fact does raise questions about the years leading up to February 14, 1923.

There is the story of Isabel Palma. She and Felipe had been married on February 18, 1898, almost twenty-five years before his legendary first encounter with Alma Reed. In her autobiography, Alma recounts how he spoke candidly about his estranged wife, who was living in Cuba at the time, and his four children, including a married daughter. Alma in turn told him of her brief marriage to businessman Samuel Payne Reed in San Francisco.

When Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Alma Reed met, this charming man of “rare physical beauty,” already had a long-standing reputation as a womanizer. He had very likely moved far beyond the limited world of his distinguished but provincial Isabel when he frequented Mexico City night spots with the well-known American writer Katherine Anne Porter. She describes “dancing the tango and all the latest dance steps” with Felipe in 1921 and 1922.

A philanderer’s love can be very real. He is addicted to the hormonal high that accompanies “falling in love,” a high that fades with familiarity. Falling hopelessly in love makes a good story, and many of us believe in it when we are watching a movie or reading a novel, but love is not something you fall into. It is something you commit to, and when being there for the beloved calls for more than flowers, poems, and moonlight walks, a philanderer often scrambles to escape from the love-pit that he has fallen into. The person who is loved by a philanderer may eventually find herself forced out of the role of Dearly Beloved and into the role of Wronged Wife.

Alma Reed was not a home-wrecker. Third parties can get into a marriage only after it is already wrecked. Felipe and Isabel knew the reasons for their separation. We can speculate.

Alma kept those three hundred fifty fantastic days close to her heart. Felipe’s sudden death freed her to dream forever of an idyllic life at Villa Aurora. She would never know, and we can never know, how her love story might have turned out if Felipe Carrillo Puerto had survived.

Isabel knew.

Felpe Carrillo Puerto with his wife Isabel and their children, about 1922.

How to be on time all the time

Making a habit of punctuality is one of the easy things you can do to give yourself time and tranquility to meet more complex skill-intensive challenges. There are a couple of facts that can’t be changed, so facing them is the best way to start dealing with them.

Fact #1: Getting out of bed is hard.

It is harder for some people than for others. It is harder at some hours than at others, but five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty extra minutes in bed will not make it easier. Those extra minutes will, however, take a heavy toll on your peace of mind and effectiveness for the rest of the day. Getting enough sleep the night before goes a long way toward taking the edge off, but even if you’ve had a short and unsatisfactory night, you still must do what you have to do.

Fact #2: If you can get to where you need to be at any certain time, you can get there at another, earlier time.

Once you have faced and accepted those facts, here are some simple steps to take that will get you almost anywhere you need to be at a time that will help you accomplish everything else you want to do with a minimum amount of stress.

  1. Plan to get there a half-hour before the appointed time. If your check-in time is 8:00, tell yourself it is 7:30. If you must be at the airport at 4:00 for a 6:00 am flight, plan to be there at 3:30. (For me, 3:30, 4:00, and 6:00 are all dreadful times to be anywhere except in my warm bed, but the earlier hour gives me the advantage of peace of mind.)
  2. Be honest about how much time it takes you to feel comfortably and peacefully ready for the task ahead. Some people like to get up slowly, drink their coffee, have a leisurely shower and take their time getting groomed and dressed for every occasion. Others are crisp and quick and just as happy to take a five-minute shower and get breakfast on the way. My personal get-ready time is two hours. I like to enter the day slowly and take my time about everything. Plan for whatever feels better for you, and be honest with yourself.
  3. Plan your time on the road. Be realistic and even pessimistic about things like traffic jams or extra time that might be spent waiting for public transportation. Add fifteen minutes or more for unexpected complications such as a flat tire.
  4. Focus on the time you need to leave your starting point, NOT on the time you are supposed to be at your destination. Set your alarm accordingly, allowing yourself a generous amount of time to get ready and get there.

Getting out of bed at 3:00 am to board a 7:00 am flight or setting my alarm for 5:00 am so I can get ready to teach a 7:30 am class is hard, and I don’t like it one bit. However, choosing an On-Time Schedule makes it much easier than dealing with a Will-I-Make-It Schedule whenever I have a deadline to meet.

Being punctual won’t guarantee success, but it will enhance your reputation and free you from mishaps like discovering you left an important paper at home or, like a friend of mine, seeing too late that your shoes don’t match. (Fortunately, my friend was blessed with a great sense of humor.) With less stress about getting to work on time, you can focus on more challenging things.

Gratitude is the secret of wealth

I had not yet heard of Minimalism when I learned that the habit of gratitude is the secret of wealth. I am blessed by good things–material and spiritual–only if I am conscious that they are good things. This is a fundamental principle of the Minimalist movement. A need is something needed to survive. Everything else is a want. I can enjoy a luxury if I acknowledge that it is not necessary for survival, that I don’t need it. I am poor when I don’t recognize the difference between a need and a want.

I have been poor most of my life because I was always thinking about what I “needed,” and I thought I “needed” more. My mother thought that more would be better. My friends were convinced that more would be better. A landslide of publicity made me certain that more would be better. No matter what I had, there was always more that I needed. It took me a long time to realize that more, like tomorrow, is forever out of reach.

I have never been hungry or thirsty for lack of food and clean water. I have never been dirty or uncomfortable for lack of indoor plumbing. I have never been exposed to cold, heat, rain, sleet, wind, hail, or snow for lack of adequate shelter. My clothes have never been a source of shame. My father had a job. My family had a car. My mother didn’t have to work. I finished high school without a struggle and graduated from an upscale university. I enjoyed love, family, friends, and respect.

I was never hungry or thirsty, but I wanted steak instead of hamburger. I wanted to go to fine restaurants and dine in houses where people dressed for dinner. I never lived in a house that was unsafe or uncomfortable, but I wanted to live in an elegantly furnished mansion with crystal chandeliers, bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone, and an elegant gadget-filled kitchen of industrial proportions. I wanted a swimming pool with cabanas, a green rolling lawn, a furnished patio, a barbecue, and stables for a few horses. I wanted central heat and cooling, lots of fireplaces, and a tornado shelter. And my own jukebox. My family had a reliable Ford, but I wanted a Cadillac for the family and a little T-Bird just for me.

I was never dirty and unkempt, but I wanted a weekly appointment at an upscale salon to have my hair styled and my hands cared for, and get facials, massages, and body wraps. No one laughed at my clothes, but I wanted to dress in the latest trendsetter fashion–a stunning wardrobe from Neiman-Marcus with underwear in colors to match every outfit. I wanted gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, mink. I wanted Lancome for my face and Chanel for my body.

My father had a job, but I wanted him to have a more prestigious position with a higher paycheck–or maybe be a millionaire oil man like his father, who died young, leaving his fortune in the hands of my grandmother, who sold the business and spent the money on hypochondria and pill addiction.

My mother didn’t have to work, but I wanted her to go to luncheons at the Women’s Forum so that I could be presented as a Junior Forum Debutante in a long white formal and elbow-length gloves. I wanted her to show up at PTA meetings in beautifully tailored suits with scarves and other matching accessories. I graduated from Baylor, but I wanted to go to Columbia or Vassar or Sarah Lawrence and have my photograph in the local newspaper when I came home at Christmas.

I wanted money to do whatever I wanted and never have to think about money. It took me a long time to learn that no one can do whatever she wants and never have to think about money. A few people sell their souls to spouses or lovers who allow them to live in a bubble. Everyone else has to think about money, and the more money they have, the more they have to think about it.

Championship chili

This chili recipe is adapted from traditional birria, popular in the state of Jalisco and the city of Guadalajara. Birria is usually made with goat meat, but I used ground beef in this one. This chili won first prize in a chili cook-off at Bells High School in Bells, Texas, where I taught Spanish for ten years.

  1. (REMOVE seeds and stems from the chiles and chop them coarsely.)
  2. SAUTÉ 1 GARLIC CLOVE, 1/4 MEDIUM SLICED ONION, 50 g (1.76 oz) PASILLA* CHILE, 25 g (0.88 oz) ANCHO* CHILE in 1 1/2 T OIL
  3. ADD 1 c WATER, 2 cubes MAGGI TOMATO BOUILLION, and 1 1/2 t CUMIN
  4. BRING mixture to a boil, then cool and process in blender
  5. STRAIN and return the strained mixture to heat
  7. STIR IN 3 1/2 lbs GROUND BEEF
  8. COOK over medium heat until the meat is done

*Chiles have different names, depending on whether they are fresh or dried. On the left, the fresh version. On the right, what it’s called after it’s dried. If you are cooking outside of Mexico, this guide will help if the names are different. You can see what they look like.

Keep that stub!

You will receive a form like this either before you board, while you are on the plane, or when you land. Fill out both parts. When you go through Mexican immigration, they will ask you for one part, and they will stamp the other one and hand it back to you. Keep it in a safe place. It identifies you as someone who has entered the country legally, and you will be required to turn it in when you leave Mexico. Immigration officials in a few airports are experimenting with an automated version of this process. Instead of the second part of the two-part form, you will get a receipt similar to the ones you receive at US automated Customs stations. That is the paper you should keep for your departure from Mexico.

If you lose the form, you can get a new one for about thirty-five US dollars at your point of entry. If you had a connecting flight within the country before reaching your final destination, that means you will have to apply for the replacement form at the airport where you first landed. To avoid this kind of delay and inconvenience, take care of that little piece of paper! Keep it with your passport or in a place where you can find it at all times.

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