Whimsical pagodas, surreal temples, and bridges to nowhere inhabit the fantastical world of Las Pozas, an 80-acre garden about seven hours north of Mexico City. Although the structures look like they were designed by a committee jointly headed by M.C. Escher and Lewis Carroll, they were in fact the brainchildren of an eccentric Englishman, Sir Edward James, 1907-1984.
James was born into wealth. He was probably the grandson of the future Edward VII on his mother's side (and certainly named after him), while his father, William James, was an American railroad magnate who had moved to Britain. Edward James, a poet in his own right, is best known as a generous patron of the surrealist art movement in the 1920s and 30s.
After completing his education at Oxford University, James tried a career as a diplomat. He was assigned to the British Embassy in Rome where, shortly after his arrival, he mistakenly sent a coded message to London saying that the Italians were building 300 destroyers. He got the code wrong -- the actual number was three. He was put on indefinite leave soon after.
Enamored with the Surrealist movement of the 1920s, in which works of art emphasize surprise and unexpected juxtapositions, James used his fortune to sponsor several unknown (at the time) surrealists, including Salvador Dali and René Magritte. He appears (from the back, twice) in Magritte's famous painting, Reproduction Interdite. He traveled extensively in Europe and the U.S., and lived in Taos, N.M., in the early 1940s.
In Mexico, where Louisa and I live part of the year, James is known for his "folly," Las Pozas (The Pools), which he and his loyal Mexican assistant, Plutarco Gastelum, built between 1949 and 1984 near the small town of Xilitla. The garden consists of a series of natural pools and waterfalls interspersed with about three dozen surreal concrete structures linked by winding jungle walkways. The sale of much of James' art collection funded the $5 million project.
James (inset photo) wrote the following lines shortly before his death: "I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen/therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room/surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom/of trees my only gloom -- and the sound, the sound of green."
My photo of James' House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six can only hint at the wonder and originality of this astonishing site. If some new Antipater (the Greek poet who in 130 BCE came up with the original Seven Wonders of the World) were to compose a "Seven Fantasies of the World" list, Las Pozas should be right at the top. I hope you put it on your bucket list.
Barry Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in his own fantasy world in Old Town Eureka.