A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


A House of Ill Repute
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My house was magnificent, and far too large for one person. It had a verandah from which one had a very fine view of the hills in the distance, and at the back it had a small set of buildings known locally as ‘servants' quarters’. These were intended for the use of a maid or a cook. I had no need to employ a cook, as I took all my meals at a nearby restaurant called Las Cabanas, a splendid Graham Greene-ish sort of place into which chickens sometimes wandered and pecked about at one's feet.

From How I became the proprietor of a house of ill-repute by Alexander McCall Smith
Copyright © 2005, The Royal Society of Medicine

There is a most interesting little true by Alexander McCall Smith (he, the author of 1 Ladies Detective Agency series) about a house of ill-repute. The story is here.

I would never consider myself an expert on houses of ill-repute except to say that I went to two of them (one the infamous La Huerta in Acapulco) invited by the then chief of the Mexican Judicial Police in Acapulco and previously when he was a government lawyer in the port city of Veracruz. I visited Veracruz for the last time in 1974 before Rosemary and our two daughters drove up to settle in Vancouver. Rosemary and I had a romantic weak spot for Veracruz. We had begun to know each other well there when we visited my mother who taught at the Alcoa Aluminum School for the children of the engineers. Rosemary had insisted I oil the door hinges of the separate rooms my mother gave us. Rosemary and I were in Veracruz for at last fling of that previous romance. I had a drink in the Zócalo with my friend Licenciado Felipe Ferrer Junco. He had been my neighbour in Mexico City when he was a lawyer for Mexican Social Security while his wife Marcela (with a gun in her purse) was the bodyguard for some highfalutin government official. Ferrer Junco asked me, "How can you possibly leave Mexico for Vancouver and never have visited a "prostíbulo" (a scary sounding word in Spanish for house of ill-repute)?

We agreed to meet that evening and he drove me to a dark place that had bead curtains like in American movies set in clubas of Moroccan Kasbah. A short dark man (as far removed from Jean Gabin's Pépé le Moko) was dancing with a very young and beautiful girl. They were dancing so close he seemed to be wearing her as his tie. I mentioned to Felipe, as we drank our cubas, how attractive the young girl was. "Don't even look in his direction," he warned me, "He is the chief of police here." As the man turned, I spotted the Smith & Wesson tucked in his waist. It must must have left black and blue marks on the young girl.

At La Huerta (it burned down in the late 80s) my escort was Ferrer Junco, this time in his capacity of chief of the Mexican Judicial Police of Acapulco. The "club" had been world- famous for years for its extraordinary and beautiful young girls. To me they looked like they were somewhat long in the tooth. Go-go clubs were encroaching on La Huerta's exclusivity. We were offered free drinks and we were fussed over by a most obsequious madam, "Lo que quieran, estamos aquí para complacerlos." (Whatever you want we are here to please you). I pointed at my camera and Felipe ordered the woman to take me to photograph whatever I might want to photograph. This is the story behind the pictures you see here.

My interest in houses of ill-repute had occurred earlier around 1959 when my mother, my grandmother and I lived in an apartment on Avenida Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City. It was a very nice but busy avenue that took cars and buses to the more fashionable southern section of the city and its university. Below us was our friend Daniel Guridi Árregui's gun shop.

At the time I had an Edmond Scientific 4-inch reflector telescope and I would go to the roof to look at the moon and the planets. At least that is what my mother and grandmother thought. They did not know that the house next to our aparment was a clandestine house of "malas mujeres" or bad women as my grandmother euphemistically called prostitutes. On the roof I would point my telescope downwards and while I saw lots of great foreplay, the venetian blinds always were drawn at the "moment of truth".

My adventures on the roof ended one night, around 2 in the morning when a man rang our bell. He was drunk and he wanted my grandmother to let him in. It was then that I realized my grandmother had known all along. "Señor, vaya al lado." (Sir, go next door.). A week later we had moved to a better place, unbeknownst to me, one block from the very house where Edward Weston had photographed his pal Tina Modotti nude on the roof.


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