Spain – In Sight Of Giralda

ONE of the wise sayings of Andalusia runs, ” Do not squeeze the orange till the juice is bitter.” And so we said good-by to Granada before we were ready to go, and persuaded ourselves, in defiance of maps and time-tables, that our shortest route to Seville led by Ronda. The weather did its very best to dampen our enthusiasm for this wildest of crag aeries, equally famed for romantic beauty of outlook and salubrity of air. Men live long in Ronda, unless, indeed, they hit against a bullet while practising their hereditary trade of contrabandista. They have a saying that octogenarians there are only chickens, but one should not believe all that they say in Ronda. Did we not clamber, slipping on wet stones, down a precipitous path to peer, from under dripping umbrellas, at what our guide declared was an old Roman bridge ? ” It doesn’t look old and it doesn’t look Roman,” was the artist’s dubious comment, but our highly recommended conductor, a Gib, as the English-Spanish natives of Gibraltar Rock are called, assured us that it was built in the days of Julius Caesar, but had been wonderfully well preserved. We eyed him thoughtfully, bearing in mind that he had already pointed out the statue of a long-dead poet as a living politician; but we meekly continued through the lashing rain to follow his long footsteps over the breakneck ways of that natural fortress where race after race has left its autograph. The Roman columns of the church make the Arab cupolas look young, and put the Gothic choir altogether out of countenance. A bright-shawled peasant woman, who we fondly hoped might be a smuggler’s wife, drew us delicious water from a Roman well in a Moorish patio, where a medieval king of gentle memory used to drink his wine from cups wrought of the skulls of those enemies whom he had beheaded with his own sword. But not all this, and more, could efface our doubts of that Roman bridge, which, indeed, we found, on a belated perusal of our guide-books, had been erected by a Malaga architect in the last century.

The street rabble of Ronda was the rudest and fiercest we encountered anywhere in Spain. Several times our guide wheeled suddenly to confront some gypsyish lad, creeping up behind us with stone all ready to throw, and when, at a glint of sunset through the stormy clouds, we tried to slip out unattended to the neighboring alameda, with its far-sweeping prospect of folded mountain ranges and its vertical view of gorge and rushing river, the children actually hounded us back to the hotel. Their leader was a scrofulous boy, with one cheek eaten away, who had been taught to press his face so closely upon strangers that, in fear of his open sore, they would hastily give money to keep him back. He was a merry scamp and got a world of sport out of his sickening business, laughing at the top of his voice to see himself ” avoided like the sun.”

Although the tempest had lulled by evening, Ronda, still inhospitable, would not let us sleep. All up and down the window-grated street sounded, from midnight to morning, a tinkling of guitars. It was, forsooth, St. Joseph’s Day, and every Don Jose, every Dona Josefa, every little Pepe, every pretty Pepita, must be saluted by a serenade. All Andalusians are musical, taking much pleasure, moreover, in one of their own bits of philosophy, ” The poorest player has his uses, for he can at least drive the rats out of the house.” Rats or no, we left Ronda by the morning train.

Our carriage was crowded with several Spaniards and a ” Jew-Gib,” who, without saying “oxte ni moxte,” assumed full charge of us and our belongings for the journey. This unceremonious but really helpful escort put every one of his fellow-travellers through a sharp catechism as to birth-place, business, destination, and the like. Our turn came first of all. “You are English ? ” “We speak English.” ” Ha ! ” He fell into our own vernacular. “Came about three thousand miles to Spain?” “Across the channel.” He chuckled with prompt appreciation of the situation and mendaciously translated to the carriage at large, ” The ladies are distinguished Londoners, on their way to visit relatives in Seville,” whereat the Andalusians smiled sleepily upon us and asked permission to smoke. We consented cheerfully, as our Spanish sisters had taught us that we should. ” I like it,” one pallid senora had said on an earlier trip. “It makes me sick, yes, but men ought to be men.”

We were journeying toward the very palace of the sun, with gray ranks of olive trees standing guard on either hand.

“And posted among them, like white doves, could be seen now and again a few mills where the bitter olive is wont to pour its juice.” Orange plantations and hedges of the bluish aloe, fig trees, palms, and all manner of strange, tropical flowers gladdened our approach to Seville. And when, at last, we saw from afar the world-praised Giralda, the Moorish bell-tower of the cathedral, soaring pink into a purple sky, we felt as if we were really arrived in fairyland.

Our friendly Gib put his tall figure between us and the howling press of swarthy porters and cab-drivers, scolded, expostulated, threatened, picked out his men, beat down their prices, called up a policeman to witness the bargain and take the number of our cab, raised his hat, and vanished into grateful memory.

Six weeks in Seville ! And six weeks in a Seville home, where evening after evening the gay youth of Andalusia laughed and sang, danced and rattled the castanets, and cast about our wondering Western souls strange witcheries from which we shall never more go free. It was all as Oriental as a dream. The Sultana of the South lifted her gleaming coronet of domes and pinnacles above such a kingdom of idle, delicious mirth as has permanently unfitted us for considering it important to do our duty. Our hereditary bits of Plymouth Rock were melted up in that fervent heat. Right or wrong ? ” Where there is music, there can be no harm.” True or false ?

“In this world, my masters, There’s neither truth nor lie, But all things take the color Of the glass before the eye.”

Only six weeks, and yet we shall ever go homesick for Seville, for her palm trees and orange gardens, her narrow streets like lanes of shadow, her tiled and statued patios, with caged birds singing answer to the ripple of the fountain, the musical midnight cry of her serenos, ” her black and burning eyes like beacons in the dark,” her sighing serenaders, “lyrical mosquitoes,” outside the grated window or beneath the balcony, her fragrances of rose and jessamine, her poetic sense of values. A homeless Andalusian, dinnerless and in rags, strums on his guitar, a necessity which he would not dream of selling for such a mere luxury as bread, and is happy. There is always sun to sleep in. There are always piquant faces and gliding forms to gaze after. What more does a mortal want ? Exquisite Seville ! No wonder that her exiled sons still sing, after years of “comfortable living” in foreign cities : —

“When I am missing, hunt me down In Andalusia’s purple light, Where all the beauties are so brown, And all the wits so bright.”

Yet the old Arabian enchantment casts a glamour which the Anglo-Saxon vision dimly recognizes as such and faintly strives against. To the clear survey all is not charm. Grace, mirth, and music, on the one hand, are offset by ignorance, suffering, and vice on the other. Many evil things were told us, and some ugly things we saw, but to look on Andalusia is to love her, even while realizing that to live with her would put that love to a very stringent test.

The lordly Guadalquivir for instance, so fair to see from the picture-making summit of the Giralda, as he lingers through his blooming Paradise, forgetful of the ocean, is not altogether goodly.

“Ay, ay, the black and stinging flies he breeds To plague the decent body of mankind!”

The Andalusian leisure was a perpetual delight to us. A typical Seville shop reaches far along the street front, with many open doors, and a counter running the full length. Here ladies sit in pairs and groups, never singly, to cheapen fans and mantillas, while the smiling salesmen, cigarette in hand, shrug and gesticulate and give back banter for banter as gayly as if it were all a holiday frolic. Scraps of the graceful bargaining would float to our ears.

” Is the quality good ? ”

” As good as God’s blessing.”

Among the tempting wares of Seville are Albacete knives, with gorgeous handles of inlaid ebony, tortoise, or ivory. The peasant women of Andalusia so resent the charge of carrying these knives in their garters that the Seville gamin dodges offence by asking them in an unnecessarily loud voice if they carry garters in their knives. The irascible dames do not stand upon fine points of rhetoric, however, and when the small boy has delivered his shot, he does well to take to his heels. We once saw one of these sturdy women, while a line of soldiers, bristling with steel, was holding a street, seize a gallant son of Mars by the shoulder and swing him, amid the laughter of his comrades, out of her path as if he were a cabbage. Nobody knew how to stop her, and she trudged serenely on, her broad back to those helpless bayonets, down the forbidden way.

The beggars of Seville are gentler than those of Ronda and Granada, but hardly less numerous. Mendicant figures are thick as Guadalquivir mosquitoes in my memory of Andalusia. Some of those pitiful children will haunt me till I die. There was a forlorn urchin, with filmy, frightful eyes, to be seen in all weathers crouching on one side of the road leading up to the Alhambra, so dull and dreary a little fellow that he hardly grasped the coppers when they were thrust into his weakly groping hands, and hardly stayed his monotonous formula of entreaty for his other monotonous formula of thanks. There was an idiot child in Seville —a mere lump of deformity —that would rush out upon the startled stranger with an inarticulate, fierce little yell, clutching at charity with a tiny, twisted claw. He seemed the very incarnation of childish woe and wrong. Almost every hand dived into pocket for him, and he was probably worth far more to his proprietors than his rival on the street, a crafty little girl, with the most lustrous eyes that painter ever dreamed. They were not blue nor gray, but a living light in which both those colors had been melted.

The economists, who say so firmly that a nothing should ever be given to mendicant children,” can hardly have had the experience of seeing Murillo’s own cherubs, their wings hidden under the dirt, fluttering about the car windows at Andalusian stations. I have it still on my conscience that I occasionally gave away my comrade’s share of our luncheon as well as my own, She was too young and too polite to reproach me, but too hungry to be comforted by the assurance that I reproached myself. Sometimes a foreign traveller, very sure of his Spanish, would attempt remonstrance with these small nuisances. I remember one kindly Teuton in particular. Commerce had claimed him for its own, but the pre-destined German professor shone out of his mild blue eyes. A ragamuffin had mounted the car steps to beg at the window, and Mein Herr delivered him such a lecture that the youngster clung to his perch, fascinated with astonishment at the novel doctrine, until the train was in alarmingly swift motion.

” This is a very bad habit of thine. I told thee so a month ago.”

” Me, sir?”

“Thee, boy. When I passed over this road last, thou wert begging at the windows, to my shame if not to thine. Tut, tut ! Go thy ways. Look for work, work, work.”

” Work, sir ? ”

” Work, boy. And when thou hast found it, love it, and do it with a will. Learn to read and write. Wash thy face and change thy customs, and when thou art richer than I, then will I give thee a peseta.”

Mendicancy is bred of ignorance, and in the seventeen and a half millions that make up the population of Spain, more than twelve millions do not read nor write.

Seville sight-seeing is no brief matter. You must climb the Giralda, walk in the parks, view the yellowed fragments of the ancient city wall, visit the tobacco factory, shop in Las Sierpes, buy pottery in Triana, see the gypsy dances in the cafes, attend the Thursday rag-fair, do reverence to the Columbus manuscripts in the Biblioteca Columbina, look up the haunts of Don Juan, Figaro, Pedro the Cruel, and explore the curious ” House of Pilate,” which, tradition says, was built by a pilgrim noble after the Jerusalem pattern. You must lose your heart to the Alcazar, the Alhambra of Seville, a storied palace embowered in fountain-freshened gardens of palm and magnolia, oranges and cypresses, rose and myrtle, with shadowy arcades leading to marble baths and arabesqued pavilions. You must follow Murillo from gallery to gallery, from church to church, above all, from the Hospital de la Caridad, where hang six of his greatest compositions, to the Museo Provincial, where over a score of the Master’s sacred works, lovely Virgins, longing saints, deep-eyed Christ-Childs, rain their sweet influence. And first, last, and always, there is the cathedral. We had been stunned at Burgos, blind to all save the Moorish features of Cordova, almost untouched by the cold splendors of Granada, but to Seville, as later to Toledo, we surrendered utterly. Beauty, mystery, sublimity — these are Seville cathedral. Five centuries have gone to the rearing and enriching of those solemn aisles and awful choir. The colossal structure, second in size only to St. Peter’s, is a majesty before which Luther himself might well have trembled. Within a Spanish cathedral one begins to understand the mighty hold of Roman Catholicism on Spain. ” I love,” says Alarcon, whose jest and earnest are as closely twined as fibres of the same heart, ” the clouds of incense which rise to the cupola of the Catholic temple, amid the harmonies of the holy organ. (For this I am not a Protestant)” And elsewhere, writing of his childhood, he speaks of receiving in the cathedral of Guadix all his first impressions of artistic beauty, — beauty of architecture, music, painting, processional splendors, tissue of gold and silver, cunning embroideries and jewel-work, his first sense, in short, of poetry. And all these impressions were inextricably blent with his first yearnings of holy aspiration, his first passion of mystical devotion. But not even Seville cathedral could win over our full sympathy. Too heavy were the faces of the priests who ” sang the gori gori,” too selfish that wigged and jointed doll, ” Our Lady of Kings,” with her sixty gorgeous mantles, a few of which would have clothed all the poor of Andalusia. Who shall draw the line between faith and superstition ?

But let not the tourist suppose he can escape his tyrant Baedeker even at the top of the Giralda. There are excursions that must be taken to points of interest outside the city. Most imperative of all is the trip to the ruined Roman amphitheatre of Italica, guarded by the mighty names of Scipio Africanus, Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius. Off we start, a dozen strong, in a great, open carriage, all the women-folk with fans and veils and with flowers in the hair. We rattle past the cathedral, over the bridge to Triana and out into the sweet-breathed country, passing many a picturesque group on the road,—these two peasants, for example, with their yellow-handled knives thrust into scarlet girdles, tossing dice under a fig tree. Our meditations among the crumbling blocks of that savage play-house would perhaps interest the reader less than our luncheon. Such Andalusian dainties as we swallowed, — cold soups like melted salads, home-made fig marmalade, cinnamon pastes of which the gypsies know the secret, and sugared chestnuts overflowed by a marvellous syrup wherein could be detected flavors of lemon peel, orange peel, and a medley of spices ! In that scene of ancient bloodshed, of the lion’s wrath and the martyr’s anguish, we ate, drank, and were merry, but our banquet tasted of ghosts.