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Katharine Lee Bates
Spanish Highways and Byways

Spanish Highways and Byways
Katharine Bates

Spanish Highways and Byways


A tourist in Spain can hope to understand but little of that strange, deep-rooted, and complex life shut away beyond the Pyrenees. This book claims to be nothing more than a record of impressions. As such, whatever may be its errors, it should at least bear witness to the picturesque, poetic charm of the Peninsula and to the graciousness of Spanish manners.



"There is a difference between Peter and Peter." – Cervantes: Don Quixote.

"Spain is a contradiction," was the parting word of the Rev. William H. Gulick, the honored American missionary whose unwearied kindness looked after us, during the break in official representation, more effectively than a whole diplomatic corps. "Spanish blood is a strange mezcla, whose elements, Gothic, African, Oriental, are at war among themselves. You will find Spaniards tender and cruel, boastful and humble, frank and secretive, and all at once. It will be a journey of surprises."

We were saying good-by, on February 4, 1899, to sunshiny Biarritz, whither Mrs. Gulick's school for Spanish girls had been spirited over the border at the outbreak of the war. Here we had found Spanish and American flags draped together, Spanish and American friendships holding fast, and a gallant little band of American teachers spending youth and strength in their patient campaign for conquering the Peninsula by a purer idea of truth. Rough Riders may be more pictorial, but hardly more heroic.

We were barely through the custom house, in itself the simplest and swiftest of operations, before the prophesied train of surprises began. One of our preconceived ideas went to wreck at the very outset on the industry of the Basque provinces. "The lazy Spaniard" has passed into a proverb. The round world knows his portrait – that broad sombrero, romantic cloak, and tilted cigarette. But the laborious Spaniard can no longer be ignored. Even at Biarritz we had to reckon with him, for the working population there is scarcely less Spanish than French. Everybody understands both languages as spoken, and it is a common thing to overhear animated dialogue where the talk is all Spanish on the one side and all French on the other. The war set streams of Spanish laborers flowing over the mountain bar into French territory. Young men fled from conscription, and fathers of families came under pressure of hard times. Skilled artisans, as masons and carpenters, could make in Biarritz a daily wage of five francs, the normal equivalent of five pesetas, or a dollar, while only the half of this was to be earned on their native side of the Pyrenees. Such, too, was the magic of exchange that these five francs, sent home, might transform themselves into ten, eight, or seven and a half pesetas. Even when we entered Spain, after the Paris Commission had risen, the rate of exchange was anything but stable, varying not merely from day to day, but from hour to hour, a difference of two or three per cent often occurring between morning and evening. The conditions that bore so heavily on the crafts were crushing the field laborers almost to starvation. In point of excessive toil, those peasants of northern Spain seemed to us worse off than Mr. Markham's "Man with the Hoe," for the rude mattock, centuries out of date, with which they break up the ground, involves the utmost bodily exertion. And by all that sweat of the brow, they were gaining, on an average, ten or twelve cents a day.

No wonder that discontent clouded the land. We met this first at Pasajes, on one of the excursions arranged for our pleasure by the overflow goodness of that missionary garrison. The busiest of teachers had brought us – a young compatriot from a Paris studio and myself – so far as San Sebastian, where she lingered long enough to make us acquainted with a circle of friends, and, incidentally, with Pasajes. This Basque fishing hamlet is perched between hill and sea, with a single rough-paved street running the length of the village from the Church of St. Peter to the Church of St. John. Nature has not been chary of beauty here. The mountain-folded Bay of Pasajes appears at first view like an Alpine lake, but the presence of stately Dutch and Spanish merchantmen in these sapphire waters makes it evident that there must be an outlet to the ocean. Such a rift, in fact, was disclosed as the strong-armed old ferry woman rowed us across, a deep but narrow passage (hence the name) between sheer walls of rock, whose clefts and crannies thrill the most respectable tourist with longings to turn smuggler. The village clings with difficulty to its stony strip between steep and wave. On one side of that single street, the peering stone houses, some still showing faded coats of arms, are half embedded in the mountain, and on the other the tide beats perilously against the old foundation piles.

Above the uneven roofs, on the precipitous hillside, sleep the dead, watched over by Santa Ana from her neglected hermitage. Only once a year, on her own feast day, is her gorgeous altar cloth brought forth and her tall candles lighted, while the rats, who have been nibbling her gilded shoes and comparing the taste of the blues and crimsons in her painted robes, skurry into their holes at the unaccustomed sound of crowding feet. Pasajes boasts, too, a touch of historical dignity. From here Lafayette, gallant young Frenchman that he was, sailed for America, and probably then, as now, little Basque girls ran at the stranger's side with small hands full of wild flowers, and roguish Basque boys hid behind boulders and tried to frighten him by playing brigand, with a prodigious waving of thorn-branch guns and booming of vocal artillery.

But not the joy of beauty nor the pride of ancient memory takes the place of bread. We approached a factory and asked of the workman at the entrance, "What do you manufacture here?" "What they manufacture in all Spain, nowadays," he answered, "misery." This particular misery, however, had the form of tableware, the long rows of simple cups and plates and pitchers, in various stages of completion, being diversified by jaunty little images of the Basque ball players, whose game is famous throughout the Peninsula. We finally succeeded in purchasing one of these for fifteen cents, although the village was hard put to it to make change for a dollar, and was obliged, with grave apologies, to load us down with forty or so big Spanish coppers.

"The lazy Spaniard!" Look at the very children as they romp about San Sebastian. This is the most aristocratic summer resort in Spain, the Queen Regent having a châlet on that artistic bay called the Concha or Shell. It is a crescent of shimmering color, so dainty and so perfect, with guardian mountains of jasper and a fringe of diamond surf, that it is hard to believe it anything but a bit of magical jewel-work. It might be a city of fairyland, did not the clamor of childish voices continually break all dreamy spells. What energy and tireless activity! Up and down the streets, the cleanest streets in Spain, twinkle hundreds of little alpargatas, brightly embroidered canvas shoes with soles of plaited hemp. Spanish families are large, although from the ignorance of the mothers and the unsanitary condition of the homes, the mortality among the children is extreme. Here is a household, for example, where out of seventeen black-eyed babies but three have fought their way to maturity. Spanish parents are notably affectionate, but, in the poorer classes, at least, impatient in their discipline. It is the morning impulse of the busy mother, working at disadvantage in her small and crowded rooms, to clear them of the juvenile uproar by turning her noisy brood out of doors for the day. Surprisingly neat in their dress but often with nothing save cabbage in their young stomachs, forth they storm into the streets. Here the stranger may stand and watch them by the hour as they bow and circle, toss and tumble, dance and race through an enchanting variety of games. The most violent seem to please them best. Now and then a laughing girl stoops to whisk away the beads of perspiration from a little brother's shining face, but in general they are too rapt with the excitement of their sports to be aware of weariness. Such flashing of eyes and streaming of hair and jubilee of songs!

One of their favorite games, for instance, is this: An especially active child, by preference a boy, takes the name of milano, or kite, and throws himself down in some convenient doorway, as if asleep. The others form in Indian file, the madre, or mother, at the head, and the smallest girl, Mariquilla, last in line. The file proceeds to sing: —

"We are going to the garden,
Although its wicked warden,
Hungry early and late,
Is crouching before the gate."

Then ensues a musical dialogue between the mother and Mariquilla: —

Mother. Little Mary in the rear!
Little Mary. What's your bidding, mother dear?
Mother. Tell me how the kite may thrive.
Little Mary [after cautiously sidling up to the doorway and inspecting the prone figure there].
He's half dead and half alive.

Then the file chants again: —

"We are going to the garden,
Although its wicked warden,
Hungry early and late,
Is crouching before the gate."

Mother. Little Mary in the rear!
Little Mary. What's your bidding, mother dear?
Mother. Of the kite I bid you speak.
Little Mary [after a second reconnoissance, which sends her scampering back to her own place].
He whets his claws and whets his beak.

Here the enemy advances, beating a most appalling tattoo: —

Kite. Pum, pum! Tat, tat!
Mother. Who is here and what is that?
Kite. 'Tis the kite.
Mother. What seeks the kite?
Kite. Human flesh! A bite, a bite!
Mother. You must catch before you dine.
Children, children, keep the line!

And with this the dauntless parent, abandoning song for action, darts with outspread arms in front of the robber, who bends all his energies to reaching and snatching away Little Mary. The entire line, keeping rank, curves and twists behind the leader, all intent on protecting that poor midget at the end. And when the wild frolic has resulted in her capture, and every child is panting with fatigue, they straightway resume their original positions and play it all over again. In Seville this game takes on a religious variation, the kite becoming the Devil, and the madre the angel Michael defending a troop of souls. In Cuba we have a hawk pitted against a hen with her brood of chickens.

We stepped into a Protestant Kindergarten one day to see how such stirring atoms of humanity might demean themselves in school. Talk of little pitchers! Here were some twoscore tiny jugs, bubbling full of mischief, with one bright, sympathetic girl of twenty-two keeping a finger on every dancing lid. Impossible, of course! But all her week's work looked to us impossible. We had known diligent teachers in the United States; this "lazy Spaniard," however, not only keeps her Kindergarten well in hand from nine to twelve, but instructs the same restless mites – so many of them as do not fall into a baby-sleep over their desks – in reading and counting from two to four, gives a Spanish lesson from six to seven, and struggles with the pathetic ignorance of grown men and women in the night school from eight to half-past nine or ten.

The Spanish pastor and his wife, also teachers in day school, night school, Sunday school, are no less marvels of industry. The multiplication table, lustily intoned to the tramp of marching feet, called us into a class-room where the older girls were gathered for lessons in reading and writing, arithmetic and geography, sewing and embroidery. The delicate little lady who presides over this lively kingdom may be seen on Sunday, seated at the melodeon, leading the chapel music – an exquisite picture of a Spanish señora, with the lace mantilla crowning the black hair and gracefully falling to the slender shoulders. We had heard her give an address on foreign soil, before an audience of a hundred strangers, speaking with an irresistible fervor of appeal, and no less charming was she at the head of her own table, the soul of vivacious and winsome hospitality.

As for the pastor himself, he carries the administrative burdens of church and school, teaches the larger boys morning and afternoon, and the men in the evening, preaches once on Thursday and twice on Sunday, and slips in between these stated tasks all the innumerable incidental duties of a missionary pastorate. And yet this man of many labors is not only Spanish, but Philippine. His childhood was passed at Cavite, the home of his father, a Spanish officer, who had chosen his bride from a native family. The boy was put to school with the friars at Manila, where, rather to the disgust of the soldier-father, he formed the desire to enter the brotherhood. He was not blind – what students are? – to the blemishes of his teachers. He had often stood by with the other lads and shouted with laughter to see a group of friars, their cassocks well girded up, drive a pig into their shallow pond and stab the plunging creature there, that it might be counted "fish" and serve them for dinner on Friday. But his faith in the order held firm, and, when his novitiate was well advanced, he was sent to Madrid for the final ceremonies. Here, by chance, he dropped into a Protestant service, and after several years of examination and indecision, chose the thorny road.

All his wearing occupations do not dull that fine sense of courtesy inherent in a Spanish gentleman. The sun itself had hardly risen when we departed from San Sebastian, yet we found Don Angel at the station, muffled in the inevitable Spanish capa, to say good-by once more and assure us that, come what might, we had always "a house and a friend in Spain." We laid down the local journal, hard reading that it was with its denunciations of "the inhuman barbarities of the North Americans toward the Filipinos," and ventured to ask for his own view of the matter.

"The United States," he answered, speaking modestly and very gently, "means well and has, in the main, done well. When I say this in the Casino, men get angry and call me a Yankee filibuster. But in truth the Philippines are very dear to me and I carry a sad heart. It was the protocol that did the mischief. It is not easy for simple islanders to understand that words may say one thing and mean another. Philippine faith in American promises is broken. And red is a hard color to wash out. Yet I still hope that, when the days of slaughter are over, peace and life may finally come to my unhappy birthplace from your great nation. The Tagalos are not so worthless as Americans seem to think, though the climate of the Philippines, like that of Andalusia, tempts to indolence. But strong motives make good workers everywhere."



"This periodical explosion of freedom and folly." – Becquer: El Carnaval.

Having re-formed our concept of a Spaniard to admit the elements of natural vigor and determined diligence, we were surprised again to find this tragic nation, whose fresh grief and shame had almost deterred us from the indelicacy of intrusion, entering with eager zest into the wild fun of Carnival. Sorrow was still fresh for the eighty thousand dead in Cuba, the hapless prisoners in the Philippines, the wretched repatriados landed, cargo after cargo, at ports where some were suffered to perish in the streets. Every household had its tale of loss; yet, notwithstanding all the troubles of the time, Spain must keep her Carnival. "It is one of the saddest and most disheartening features of the situation," said a Spaniard to us. "There is no earnestness here, no realization of the national crisis. The politicians care for nothing but to enrich themselves, and the people, as you see, care for nothing but to divert themselves."

Yet we looked from the madcap crowd to the closed shutters, keeping their secrets of heartbreak, and remembered the words of Zorrilla, "Where there is one who laughs, there is ever another who weeps in the great Carnival of our life."

The parks of San Sebastian were gay with maskers and music, tickling brushes and showers of confetti, on our last day there, but the peculiar feature of the festivity in this Basque city is "the baiting of the ox." On that Carnival-Sunday afternoon we found ourselves looking down, from a safe balcony, upon the old Plaza de la Constitución, with its arcaded sides. The genuine bull-fights, which used to take place here, have now a handsome amphitheatre of their own, where, when the summer has brought the court to San Sebastian, the choicest Andalusian bulls crimson the sand of the arena. But the Plaza de la Constitución, mindful of its pristine glory, still furnishes what cheap suggestions it can of the terrible play. The square below was crowded with men and boys, and even some hoydenish girls, many in fantastic masks and gaudy dominos, while the tiers of balconies were thronged with eager spectators. A strange and savage peal of music announced that "the bull" was coming. That music was enough to make the hereditary barbarian beat in any heart, but "the bull"! At the further corner of the plaza, pulled by a long rope and driven by a yelling rabble, came in, at a clumsy gallop, an astonished and scandalized old ox. Never did living creature bear a meeker and less resentful temper.

At first, beaten and pricked by his tormentors, he tore blindly round and round the plaza, the long rope by which he was held dragging behind him, and sometimes, as he wheeled about, tripping up and overturning a bunch of the merrymakers. This was a joy to the balconies, but did not often happen, as the people below showed a marvellous dexterity in skipping over the rope just in time to escape its swinging blow. Sometimes the poor, stupid beast entangled his own legs, and that, too, was a source of noisy glee. But, on the whole, he was a disappointing and inglorious ox. He caused no serious accident. Nothing could ruffle his disposition. The scarlet cloaks waved in his eyes he regarded with courteous interest; he wore only a look of grieved surprise when he was slapped across the face with red and yellow banners; tweaks of the tail he endured like a Socrates, but now and then a cruel prod from a sharp stick would make him lower his horns and rush, for an instant, upon the nearest offender. The balconies would shout with the hope of something vicious and violent at last, but the mobile crowd beneath would close in between the ox and his assailant, a hundred fresh insults would divert his attention, and indeed, his own impulses of wrath were of the shortest. To the end he was hardly an angry ox – only a puzzled, baffled, weary old creature who could not make out, for the life of him, into what sort of red and yellow pasture and among what kind of buzzing hornets his unlucky hoofs had strayed.

Finally he gave the enigma up and stood wrapped in a brown study among his emboldened enemies, who clung to his horns and tail, tossed children upon his back, tickled his nostrils with their hat brims, and showered him with indignities. The balconies joined in hooting him out of the plaza, but he was so pleased to go that I doubt if human scorn of his beastly gentleness really interfered with his appetite for supper. He trotted away to that rude clang of music, the babies who were dancing to it on their nurses' arms not more harmless than he. And although that worrying half hour may have told upon his nerves, and his legs may have ached for the unaccustomed exercise, no blood was to be seen upon him. It was all a rough-and-tumble romp, nothing worse, but the balconies would have liked it better had it been flavored with a broken leg or two. A few sprawlings over the rope really amounted to so little. But the toro de fuego was to come there Tuesday evening, and when this blazing pasteboard bull, with fireworks spluttering all over him from horns to tail, is dragged about among the throng, there is always a fine chance of explosions, burnings, and even of blindings for life.

But Carnival Tuesday found us no longer in sunny San Sebastian. We were shivering over a brasero in storied Burgos, a city chill as if with the very breath of the past. And the Spanish brasero, a great brass pan holding a pudding of ashes, plummed with sparks, under a wire screen, is the coldest comfort, the most hypocritical heater, that has yet come my way.

Our Monday had been spent in a marvellous journey through the Pyrenees, whose rugged sublimities were bathed in the very blue of Velázquez, a cold, clear, glorious blue expanding all the soul. These are haunted mountains, with wild legends of lonely castles, where fierce old chieftains, beaten back by the Franks, shut themselves in with their treasure and died like wounded lions in their lairs. We passed fallen towers from whose summits mediæval heralds had trumpeted the signal for war, ruined convents whence the sound of woman's chanting was wont to startle the wolves of the forest, mysterious lakes deep in whose waters are said to shine golden crowns set with nine precious pearls – those ducal coronets that Rome bestowed upon her vassals – craggy paths once trod by pilgrims, hermits, jugglers, minstrels, and knights-errant, and shadowy pine groves where, when the wind is high, the shepherds still hear the weeping ghost of the cruel princess, whose beauty and disdain slew dozens of men a day until her love was won and scorned, so that she died of longing.

We had reached Burgos at dusk and, without pausing for rest or food, had sallied out for our first awe-stricken gaze up at the far-famed cathedral towers, then had ignominiously lost our way over and over in the narrow, crooked streets and been finally marched back to our hotel by a compassionate, though contemptuous, policeman. My artist comrade was fairly ill by morning with a heavy cold, but she would not hear of missing the cathedral and sneezed three or four enraptured hours away in its chill magnificence. As we came to know Spanish and Spaniards better, they would exclaim "Jesús, Maria y José!" when we sneezed, that the evil spirit given to tickling noses might take flight; but the Burgos sacristan was too keen to waste these amenities on stammering heretics. What we thought of the cathedral is little to the purpose of this chapter. In a word, however, we thought nothing at all; we only felt. It was our first introduction to one of the monster churches of Spain, and its very greatness, the terrible weight of all that antiquity, sanctity, and beauty, crushed our understanding. Like sleepwalkers we followed our guide down the frozen length of nave and aisles and cloisters; we went the round of the fifteen chapels, splendid presence-chambers where the dead keep sculptured state; we looked, as we were bidden, on the worm-eaten treasure-chest of the Cid, on the clock whose life-sized tenant, Papa-Moscas, used to scream the hours to the embarrassment of long-winded pulpiteers, on the cathedral's crown of fretted spires whose marvellous tracery was chiselled by the angels, and on the "Most Holy Christ of Burgos," the crucified image that bleeds every Friday.