Four months after the municipal government’s promised release date, horseless calandrias are finally hitting the streets.
The Guadalajara Reporter was on hand to taste test, so to speak, the old and the new side by side.
In the process, we enjoyed an object lesson in the impossibility of mutual reconciliation between two opposing points of view – as well as the futility of ascertaining the un-adorned truth amidst a tangled web of intrigue, gossip and subterfuge.
The atmosphere along Avenida Hidalgo, over which looms both city hall and the city’s twin-peaked cathedral, felt both chilly and nervous, with clusters of traditional calandrieros and those piloting the supposedly blasphemous, equine-less machines throwing venomous glances at each other from across the cobbled street.
If one were to witness the Guelphs and the Ghibellines squaring off against each other in a hot, noonday Florentine plaza circa 1360 A.D., the atmosphere could not have been more thick and turgid with menace and mutual animosity.
The above description may be somewhat of an exaggeration; the animus between rival factions is muted at best. If I hadn’t been aware of and reporting on – for over a year – the soap opera which has played out between the two sides since Guadalajara Mayor Alfaro announced that, tradition be damned, horse-drawn calandrias would soon be a thing of the past, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss. The traditional calandria drivers are a surly bunch as it is, so any ocular dagger-throwing would have been easily written off as de rigeur anti-socialness.
Two distinct tours are available for both electric and horse-drawn carriages: 200 pesos gets you a tight 30-minute spin through the immediate environs of the centro historico, going just a block west of Avenida Enrique Diaz de Leon where sit the tall, graceful Templo Expiatorio and the University of Guadalajara’s gorgeous art museum. For 400 pesos, meanwhile, you will be sent at a glacial pace all the way to Chapultepec, along whose interminable route are sites worth taking note of, presumably.
For our first tour, my companion and I chose a horse-drawn carriage ride of 30 minutes, as neither of us found particularly attractive the idea of a stop-and-start, 30-odd block crawl to homely Chapu.
“This isn’t a carroza,” asserted driver Esteban Arenas sternly over his shoulder, reins gripped in weather-beaten hands. “That’s a carroza,” he continued, nodding contemptuously in the direction of the electric “calandria” we had just passed on our right.
Duly chastened, my companion apologized for her apparently gross faux pas as we rolled lazily in our battered blue and white carriage – drawn by an officious blond horse named La Güera – past the cathedral and along Plaza de la Revolucion, where Arenas pointed out a few familiar landmarks, including the Palacio del Gobierno, Teatro Degollado and the centro historico’s oldest building still in use, the Hotel Frances.
In fact, Arenas was full of juicy details unknown not only to me, a gringo with only a year-and-a-half under his belt in Jalisco’s capital, but to a dyed-in-the-wool Tapatia, one who prides herself on knowing stuff.
For instance, did you known that Parque Rojo, bifurcated by Avenida Vallarta and flanked on her right by Calzada Federalismo, was the site of Guadalajara’s first penitentiary? Even if that tidbit proves erroneous, it was nonetheless edifying.
On the other hand, Ernesto Garcia, who gave us the same tour while piloting the new contraption, wasn’t forthcoming with anything beyond “to your left is ____. To your right you’ll see the _____.”
But on the subject of the ongoing, as-yet-unresolved issue of horse-drawn vs. electricity-propelled, both men proved voluble. They both talked a good game, perhaps suspecting I was something more than just a casual tourist and that, in fact, they had the ear of somebody who could potentially further their respective causes.
Arenas, the unbending traditionalist, was the more militant of the two. As we glided placidly down Hidalgo, tour complete and on our way back to Plaza Guadalajara, he referred darkly and with grim satisfaction to a “surprise” Alfaro – currently running for Jalisco governor – has in store for him if he doesn’t let un-yielding calandrieros continue to ply their trade in exactly the same way they’ve done for 200-plus years.
Garcia clocked in no fewer words, but they were spoken in more measured tones and with fewer fire-and-brimstone pronouncements. He claimed that he only reluctantly gave up the horse-drawn carriage he had piloted for well on 25 years, a profession he inherited, as did Arenas, from his father, who had inherited it from his father. He still cares for the two horses in a stable somewhere in the north of the city. As a part of the deal he and the other electric-model drivers struck, he has until about August to render them unto Caesar, after which he says they will be retired to live out the rest of their lives in peaceful pastures.
So who to believe, whose side to take, if one were inclined to do so? Both Arenas and Garcia complained of intimidation and abuse suffered at the hands of their enemies, and both pleaded their cases admirably.
In the end, it’s none of my business. But I will say that, while the calandria business as a whole swiftly becomes pitifully anachronistic outside the immediate environs of the cathedral and swarmed on all sides by honking cars, the old horse-drawn models undeniably have greater appeal. Without the horse, you may as well see the city from inside a little red wagon pulled by a tow-headed five-year-old.
Passersby seem to agree, with most of the looks thrown the electric model’s way of the bemused and puzzled variety. One woman even leaned outside the passenger window of a car zooming past to yell something along the lines of “I love your invisible horse!”
This derisive ribbing, which must occur several times a day, didn’t seem to bother Garcia much as he calmly turned (the machine is steered using a comically small steering wheel) onto Avenida Juarez, cars whizzing past heedlessly towards Federalismo.
“On your right is the Ex-Convento del Carmen, now an art museum and movie theater,” he said in a dry voice, the sound of hooves on pavement conspicuously absent, and in its place, the lifeless hum of an electric engine.
“hooves on pavement conspicuously absent, and in its place, the lifeless hum of an electric engine.