6 – GREAT EXPECTATIONS (2)
After two weeks, on 12 June 1864, they arrive in Mexico City. Anxious to make the occasion a memorable one, the French and the clerical party had spared no effort to excite the enthusiasm of the people, and make an impression upon foreign observers. Triumphal arches of foliage are raised along the principal roads leading to the plaza mayor, and as far as the eye can reach, the festively decorated windows, the streets, and the flat roofs of the houses are crowded with people eager to catch a glimpse of the new sovereigns.
Charlotte in one of her many letters to Europe: “The welcome we received was such as I have never seen. It was the eruption of deliverance and like a sort of delirium that had overwhelmed Mexico”. The newspapers in France are no less jubilant: “Not one single cry of hatred; the hurrahs started from the soul and went up to the cortege as the echo of a lively inner emotion.” The Empress’ First Lady of Honour, the Countess Kollonitz, puts it more soberly: “Things present themselves better as one could have hoped for”.
And indeed; during those first months it seems as if the empire actually pulls it off. With Juárez holding barely on in the north and only General Porfirio Diaz putting up some significant resistance in the south, the Liberals are reduced to the role of rebels, while the new imperial administration assumes the position of lawful government. European ambassadors are not lingering to acknowledge this apparent legitimacy.
The glitter of the court life, but more the revival of trade and the abundance of money so freely brought and spent in the country dazzles the people. The revenues derived from the customs of Vera Cruz and Tampico are increasing; large concessions for railways are granted under solid guarantees to European companies; telegraph lines are established; coal, gold and silver mines are exploited, or are in a fair way to be; and from the imperial throne decorations, titles and nominations pour over the heads of the overjoyed subjects.
To all appearances it is beginning to look as if Napoleon might actually get out of this adventure with honour and profit. But it is one thing to occupy a country, rent its presidential palace out to an emperor and throw a party; it is quite another matter to organise an empire on a permanent basis. As Plon-plon remarks: “One can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them”.
©2010, M.S.F. Wick