AUBREY BELL: MAGIC OF SPAIN
 
CHAPTER II : TRAVELLING IN SPAIN 
 
IT was, of course, Samuel Johnson who said, “ There is a good deal of Spain that has not been perambulated,” and the remark still holds good for those who, like Don Quixote, wish to “ go 
seeking adventures.” The brigand stories, “ got up,” as Ford would say, “ for the home market,” are now slightly exploded, and few travellers expect to find at every turn — 
Gent coupe-jarrets á faces renégates
Coiffés de montéras et chaussés d’alpargates.
 
Yet even to-day few foreigners realize that they may cross and re-cross the Peninsula from north to south and from east to west in perfect security. They will meet with no cloak-and-sword 
episodes; their adventures must be of another order. It is true that the Spaniard can use his knife, but the knife comes into play in quarrels of cards and love and jealousy, in which the passing 
traveller can have no part. Those, however, who measure culture by comfort, and wish to journey as consistent first-class passengers through life, should certainly narrow their Spanish travels 
to the round of a few cities — “Erret et extremos scruteur alter Iberos” and, however rapid and conventional, a journey that includes the Alhambra, the Mosque of C6rdoba, the Cathedrals of 
Seville, Toledo, and Burgos,(1) and the picture-galleries of Seville and Madrid, can scarcely be said to have been in vain. But to know Spain and the Spaniards it is necessary to go further afield,
to the small towns and villages of Andalucia and Castile, for here, rather than in the larger towns, is to be found the true spirit of the race. Some five thousand villages are still to be reached only 
by bridle-paths, and in these there has been little change since Cervantes went his rounds collecting taxes ; so that for those who care to leave the beaten track there still remain many unexplored
districts, and much first-hand knowledge to glean of the country and its inhabitants. To many, no doubt, Spain is the country of dance and song and sun-burnt mirth, of the flutter of fans and the 
flash of dark eyes ; the country of the bull-fight and the white mantilla and carnations in the hair ; of Roman ruins and Moorish palaces set in groves of myrtle and orange ; of — 
“Cloaked shapes, the twanging of guitars, 
A rush of feet and rapiers clashing, 
Then silence deep with breathless stars. 
And overhead a white hand flashing.” 
 
and if any shadows fall across the picture they are those of the brigand and the priest-inquisitor. Then comes the inevitable reaction. Those who visit Spain find that it is for them indeed un pays 
de l’imprevu. The former image in their mind soon perishes, and they cry out upon this “ciel insalubre,” this — 
                                          “pays endiable; 
Nous y mangions, au lieu de farine de blé, 
Des rats et des souris et pour toutes ribotes 
Nous avons dévoré beaucoup de vieilles bottes.” 
 
But, to judge from many books published about Spain, most European countries would seem to have entered into a league to look upon the Peninsula solely as a land of a poetical unreality, its 
inhabitants divided into inquisitors, monks, brigands, and conspirators, lending — 
“the colour of romance 
To every trivial circumstance.” 
 
A well-balanced and accurate account of the country is singularly rare. It is true that in some respects Spain has changed little since the sixteenth century, but, on the other hand, during the 
twentieth century, while she has been making laborious progress, foreign ideas of Spain have remained stationary, with the prejudices and fixed opinions of fifty years ago. No error or 
exaggeration concerning Spain is too ridiculous to be affirmed and readily believed, and those who take no thought to study the Peninsula in quiet days save as a land of vague romance, when 
trouble occurs are officious with wise criticisms and stern common-sense, based on ignorance. Quite recently the hysterical visions of prisoners tortured in Spanish dungeons, and of priestly 
cruelty and greed, might persuade one that Mr. Kipling’s “Little Foxes “ was written not before, but after, the events of 1909 in Spain. One forgets that it is of Ethiopia, not Spain, that Mr. 
Lethabie Groombride, M.P., exclaims, “What callous oppression! The dark places of the earth are full of cruelty! “Like the natives of Ethiopia, the courteous Spaniards are “much pleased at 
your condescensions ; “ but they too have a sense of humour, and note with amusement the ignorance of nations which declare that Spain’s chief need is more education and culture. 
For the traveller who wishes to explore the remote parts of Spain, and to escape from Spanish trains, the simplest method is to proceed on horseback. Walking and bicycling and motoring 
are possible in the North, and especially in the Basque Provinces, where the inns are good and the roads excellent. But in most parts of Spain they are practically impossible ; the roads are too 
stony or too dusty even for walking, and, moreover, in fifty kilometres you may find hardly one inn. There remains the diligencia - coche, tartana, diabla, call it what you will — but a single 
experience of it will probably be sufficient. It rolls and lurches heavily to the loud, continuous shouting of the driver to his horses: Caballo-allo-allo-allo, Mula-ula-ula-ula. The traveller, if he has 
the misfortune to be in the interior, is beaten against the wooden sides, the windows rattle, the bells jingle, the vehicle sways slowly on its way, groaning and complaining of the breadth, as well 
as the length, of the road(2) — nosotros tambien llegaremos, si Dios quiere, as a driver said when passed by more rapid travellers, “if it is the will of Heaven.” Occasionally at a country 
railway station may be seen a boy who is a pillar of dust or mud. He is the zagal of the diligencia, who runs by its side through dirt and mire, urging on the horses, or stands to rest on the step 
at the back. Sometimes the diligencia descends into river-beds, usually dry ; and after much rain it is apt to stay there, and darkness falls and the frogs croak mockingly, while more mules are 
fetched to help in the work of extrication. Often it proceeds by night, throwing strange, fantastic shadows in the narrow streets of sleeping villages. The driver must undergo not only extremes 
of heat and cold, but is often in danger of snowdrifts and swollen torrents and rocks from the hill-sides. A Navarrese innkeeper, an old soldier of Santa Cruz, introduced a driver of a diligencia 
as “the bravest man of my acquaintance.” Spanish travellers accept all these discomforts with a marvellous, fatalistic resignation and equanimity ; but even a pedestrian will go further and fare 
better in an afternoon than a traveller in diligencia during a whole day. Still, as a unique experience, a diligencia drive must be undertaken ; and the driver is good company, sparing time from 
the loud praise and blame meted out to his mules to bestow pithy comments on the living and the dead — 
“The crosses in the mountain pass, 
Mules gay with tassels, the loud din 
Of muleteers, the tethered ass 
That crops the dusty wayside grass. 
And cavaliers with spurs of brass 
Alighting at the inn” 
 
The inns, mesones, ventorrillos, ventas, posadas, paradores, are still much the same as in the times of Cervantes, moderately clean, immoderately uncomfortable, bare alike of furniture and 
food.(3) Still to your first inquiry the answer is, “Hay de todo, We have everything,” still to your further inquiry the abstract todo shrinks to nada. But for an understanding of the Spanish people, 
nothing is more interesting and one may add, more pleasant than to listen to their talk as they sit round some great inn fire of crackling scented twigs burning on the stone floor of the court and 
kitchen. The discomfort and hardships of travel in remote parts of Spain are repaid in flowing measure. Here a solitary peasant is seen ploughing land so precipitous and steep that the stones 
rattle down as he advances ; there the mules stand hour by hour at the plough while the peasants — in this case servants on some great estate - play cards, the large earthenware botijos of 
water standing ready to their hand ; or a a group of workers in the fields stand shivering in early morning round a great common puchero, dipping their spoons in turn, and in turn raising the 
bota high above their heads to drink; or one has a glimpse of some peasant’s dress (4) of brilliant colouring, of some ancient vanishing costume of leather or velvet, silk embroidery or silver 
buttons — at every turn some quaint custom, some curious picturesque scene and colour appears, and the talk of the peasants is a delight. The two most successful English travellers in Spain 
were beyond doubt. Ford and Borrow. They won the respect of all classes of Spaniards, and saw practically the whole of Spanish life three-quarters of a century ago. Borrow describes himself 
on one occasion as “dressed in the fashion of the peasants of the neighbourhood of Segovia in Old Castile, namely, I had on my head a species of leather helmet or montera, with a jacket and 
trousers of the same material.” And Ford says: “In all out-of-the-way districts the traveller may adopt the national costume of the road, to wit, the peaked hat (sombrero gacho), the jacket of 
fur (zamarra).” But without the peaked hat, now almost extinct, or Borrow’s leathern helmet, a few changes of dress and especially what Ford calls “a graceful and sleeveless Castilian manta
or rather capa, excellently suited to the climate, will bring many advantages. For to the ordinary traveller, with red book and camera, the Spaniard will hardly disclose his true nature, and remains
an impenetrable mystery; not that the foreigner often realizes the existence of the unsolved riddle, the Spaniard presenting a sufficient number of striking aspects to make a swift superficial 
impression. The best guides to Spain are still Ford’s “Gatherings,” and a thorough acquaintance with “Don Quixote,” a fluent knowledge of Spanish, and, lastly, the advice of Spaniards, since 
as Sancho sagely observed, “Más sabe el necio en su casa que el cuerdo en casa ajena.” The traveller in Spain may in the heat of summer listen to the silver splashing of fountains in marble 
patios, and feel the coolness of snowy Sierras ; he may in early morning gather frozen oranges to be eaten later beneath a burning sun ; but it is this sun which with the cold winds tends to limit 
his wanderings to a brief period of spring or autumn. Martial indeed says — 
Aestus serenos aureo franges Tago 
Obscurus umbris arborum.
 
but under the fierce Castilian sun — and there are said to be 3,600 hours of sunshine in the year — the imagination produces no golden tints in the Tagus, and trees are few. Comfort the 
traveller will scarcely find, but serviceableness and courtesy on all sides.- If he is wise, he will, however, imitate the Spaniards not only a little in their dress, but greatly in their manners. He will 
arm himself with an inalienable fund of patience. He will be courteous even while chafing at delay. His courtesy will never go unanswered. “La cortesia tenerla con quien la tenga - Courtesy to 
him who has it,” as one of Calderón’s characters says. Money often obtains much, but the offer of a cigarette or a cigar is often not less effective. Without a courteous manner the money will 
be treated as an insult and the cigar refused. Calderón says again : “El sombrero y el dinero son los que hacen amigos - Raising the hat and money make most friends.” Few peoples respect 
themselves more than the Spanish, and they look for respect from others. “ The sensitive Spaniard bristles up like a porcupine against the suspicion of a disdain.” They do  not forget that they 
were once the greatest people in Europe, and they regard it as an accident that the march of modem civilization has left them behind, being, indeed, too mechanical for their pride to adopt. And 
still the golden rule for the traveller in Spain is never to be in a hurry or never to show that he is in a hurry, for by doing so he will increase delays and defeat his object. He must learn the Spanish 
proverb thoroughly — Paciencia y barajar - “Patience, and shuffle the cards.” Patience and courtesy he will find to be above rubies. The Spaniard, so sensitive and excitable, remains 
unmoved by delays and petty official tyrannies which drive an Englishman into a kind of despair and fury of impatience.(5) But the lower officials in Spain are apt to be ignorant and 
self-important, very official, and curt inquiries only remind them that they represent the whole majesty of the Law and the State; they multiply their shrugs and inscrutable No se puede’s. On the 
other hand, a polite speech, though it occupy several of the few minutes that the traveller may have to spare, is in Spain time well spent and performs miracles ; — if, that is, he still persists in
considering the value of time, and has not found it simpler to accept the less accurate methods of the Spaniard. For he may ask in a cathedral, “When is Mass going to be celebrated? “ and the 
answer is, “No sé, Señor ; Cuando vengan los canonigos” — when it is the good pleasure of the Canons to appear ; or he may ask in a station, “When does the train start?” and must not be 
surprised if the answer is again, “No sé, Señor.” He had best content himself once and for all to breakfast at five-o’clock tea, and will find consolation in the thought that here at least there is no 
unseemly rush and strain, in this original and exquisite land of To-morrow — Mañana por la mañana. 
 
 (1) The ethereally Cathedral of Le6n is more remote
 
(2) Some of the secondary roads of Andalucia are excellent, and motorable, though narrow. But between the roads of most provinces there is little to choose. No wonder that there is in Spain 
a saint invoked as the protector of “way-farers and the dying.” Ford remarked that while the rest of Spain calls the Milky Way “the road to Santiago,” the Gallegans themselves know better, 
and call it “ the road to Jerusalem.” The roads from small towns to their stations, at charge of the municipios, are notably bad, and amaze the newly arrived foreigner. But, indeed, the roads in 
the immediate neighbourhood of such important industrial cities as Valencia and Barcelona are often in a deplorable state, and it is no infrequent sight to see carts of fruit or vegetables stuck fast 
in deep ruts of mud.
 
(3) Ticknor, in 1818, speaks of Spain as “a country such as this where all comfortable or decent modes of travelling fail,” of the “abominable roads” and of the inns as “miserable hovels” 
destitute of provisions. A century and a half earlier Mme. d’ Auluoy said : “You enter not any inn to dine but carry your provisions with you.2 But the centuries pass not for Spanish inns. 
 
(4) A peasant woman near Almeria wore a long yellow and pink kerchief, a bright red shawl, light blue bodice, skirt of white and mauve, dark blue apron with a white line, red stockings, yellow 
sandals, and carried a second shawl of brilliant orange colour, yet all blent harmoniously under the glaring sunlight. 
 
(5) Especially in the matter of letters, the ignorance, indifference, errors, and delays of the officials are, to an Englishman, past belief, and not least so at Madrid, where a letter has been kept for 
two months and handed over, after repeated inquiries, with the date of the Madrid post-mark, seventy days earlier, clearly visible. Reforms are, however, in contemplation. Foreign letters as a rule 
fare better than others. A card posted at Granada on May 15, and a letter posted in France on May 26, both arrived at Barcelona on May 27 (1911).