The Borders Of Spain

It was a bright April day when we left Cannes and the Riviera, on the way to Marseilles. We were loth to leave the place where we had rested so pleasantly. All was lovely and paradisiacal; the sun shone warm and bright, the large palms waved their fronds gracefully and beckoned us to sit beneath their shade; the sea and shore were perfect in their beauty of outline and color; the hotel “Prince de Galles” was choice in all of its appointments, and the guests at this season were so few that it seemed like our private palace. On the day before leaving we drove to Grasse, over the picturesque hills, and saw her Majesty the Queen of England, with her daughter Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, and the Highland man-servant who always attends the Queen. Grasse is a famous place for perfumes, and the whole region as given up to the cultivation of flowers. We would gladly have lingered in the midst of such beauty and fragrance, but then we should not have seen Spain. So we took the railway for Marseilles, and found that we were in company with an English lord, whose yacht was waiting for him at Toulon, another Englishman who read Tacitus all the way, and a young French couple who had been recently married and who had a very vigorous mother-in-law to en gineer their wedding trip. These things are managed better in America, so far as the young people are concerned. At Marseilles the whole town was excited about a ” battle of flowers ” which was to take place on Sunday, and arches and platforms and manifold preparations occupied the minds of all the citizens. The hotels were full, and we were glad to get away from the noise and excitement of a French fete.

Marseilles is a great and busy seaport, a rendezvous for travellers from all parts of the world. We saw Turks and Greeks and Americans and Italians and many other nationalities here; and the foods of all nations, from the figs of Smyrna and the tea of China to the salmon of Oregon and the beef of Chicago, are to be had in the shops and markets. Having been warned of the scanty rations which travellers in Spain might expect, we laid in at Marseilles sundry jars of prepared beef for soup, and tea and biscuits. These stores were useful upon long railway journeys, but the traveller who is not fastidious does not now need to carry his provisions with him in Spain any more than he does in the United States. Indeed, I have been far more hungry and unable to find a decent place to get a well-cooked meal in driving through the small Hudson River towns, than anywhere in the Iberian peninsula; and in my American travels I have often esteemed myself fortunate to have a friend who would show hospitality to a pilgrim, where there was no public house in which he could dine or lodge.

Had we intended to visit the South of France, such places as Arles, Avignon, Nimes, and Carcassonne would have occupied a week or fortnight; but we were bound for Spain, and so we took the rapid train, which brought us to the frontier about midnight, and introduced us all at once to the Spanish people and their customs. At Port Bou we changed all ex ternals but our clothes. The language was new and difficult, and there was no language spoken but Spanish. The railway carriages were like those of Switzerland, and the guards and ticket-takers passed through a centre aisle from one compartment to another, instead of climbing along on the outside of the train as they do in England and France. Dignity and deliberation marked the movements of all officials, and the people whom we saw seemed to have nothing to do, or else unlimited time in which to perform their tasks. The waits at the stations were very long, and on looking out at one place to learn the cause of delay, we saw the entire railway force formed in a circle, inside of which a dog was passing around on his hind legs and begging sugar. This amazing feat was the cause of a delay of nearly a quarter of an hour after the train that we were to meet had arrived. Nothing is done in a hurry in Spain, and we soon learned to “take life easy,” and to enjoy as much as nervous Americans ever can enjoy, the dolce far niente, the sweet do-nothing.

We also became acquainted with tobacco more intimately than ever before ; for all the men in every railway carriage and public vehicle smoked incessantly, and not infrequently the women joined in. At most of the hotel tables d’hote, cigarettes were smoked not only after meals, but between the courses, and all the rooms and halls and people smell of tobacco, varied in the lower classes with strong garlic. Luggage is examined at almost every town, but good-naturedly so far as that of English-speaking people is concerned. The delay is sometimes vexatious, but even that can be shortened by a few small coins. Coins at once suggest beggars. From the time you enter till you leave Spain you will always have the beggar with you, and a plentiful supply of copper coin is the best defence against this importu nity. If one gives a single coin, it is accepted for the nonce, and he can walk a few steps in peace, but those who are not utterly oblivious to pathetic appeal and insensible to persistent importunity can find even temporary immunity in no other way.

Among our travelling companions was a Spanish professor who knew some words of English and a good deal of French. When he found that he had an audience composed chiefly of English and French speaking people with him in the railway carriage, he at once assumed his professional character and began to deliver a lecture upon the proper method of learning Spanish. Getting more and more excited with his theme, he stood up and addressed me with forcible gesticulations, ” You do so English speak, but Spanish is not thus,” and then his English failing him, he launched out in French to explain his point, ran against a lingual snag, and ended in voluble Spanish. After a lengthy exhibition of his talents he grew weary, pulled out a cigarette, and lapsed into dreamy apathy for the rest of the journey.

We passed by Perpignan, a dull town with nothing but a citadel begun by the kings of Aragon, and fortified by Charles the Fifth. A river crosses the city, and some arches of an aqueduct made by a king of Majorca to bring water to his royal palace still re main. In a little while we came to Gerona, where there is a great cathedral, the first of a series of holy places which are wonderful for their architectural features and their past history. We have left the busy present of Europe behind us for a time, and though we may see it again at Barcelona and Madrid, we shall be undisturbed by the noise and excitement of this progressive age while we linger in old cathedrals and saunter through many of the quiet towns in Spain.