Spain - A Continuous Carnival
( Originally Published 1905 )
"This periodical explosion of freedom and folly." — BECQUER : El Carnaval.
HAVING reformed 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 Philip-pines, 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 Constitucion, with its arcaded sides. The genuine bullfights, 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 Constitucion, 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 taro 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 Velazquez, 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 mediaeval 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 " Jesus, Maria y lose !" 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 sleep-walkers 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.
Fulfilled with amazement, we searched our way back to the hotel through the sleety rain, ate a shivering luncheon at the " mesa redonda," that "round table" which is never round, and agreed to postpone our anticipated visits to the haunts of the Cid until a less inclement season. For of course we should come back to Burgos. The proud old city seemed to fill all the horizon of thought. How had we lived so long without it ? That the stormy afternoon was not favorable to exploration mattered little. We peeped down from our balconies into the ancient streets, half expecting the exiled Cid to come spurring up, seeking the welcome which we, like all the craven folk of Burgos, must refuse him.
" With sixty lances in his train my Cid rode up the town,
The burghers and their dames from all the windows looking down ; And there were tears in every eye, and on each lip one word : ' A worthy vassal — would to God he served a worthy lord ! ' Fain would they shelter him, but none durst yield to his desire. Great was the fear through Burgos town of King Alphonso's ire. Sealed with his royal seal hath come his letter to forbid All men to offer harborage or succor to my Cid.
And he that dared to disobey, well did he know the cost — His goods, his eyes, stood forfeited, his soul and body lost.
A hard and grievous word was that to men of Christian race ;
And since they might not greet my Cid, they hid them from his face."
Meanwhile the streets were a living picture-book. Muffled cavaliers, with cloaks drawn up and hats drawn down till only the dance of coal-black eyes, full of fire and fun, was visible between, saluted our balcony with Carnival impertinence. Beggars of both sexes, equally wound about with tattered shawls, reached up expectant hands as if we were made of Spanish pennies. A funeral procession passed, with the pale light of tapers, the chanting of priests, with purple-draped coffin, and mourners trooping on foot— men only, for in Spain women never accompany their dead either to church or grave. A troop of infantry, whose dapper costume out went itself in the last touch of bright green gloves, dazzled by, and then came a miscellany of maskers. It was rather a rag-tag show, take it all in all - red devils with horns, friars extremely fat, caricatures of English tourists with tall hats and perky blue eye-glasses, giants, dwarfs, tumblers, and even a sorry Cid mounted on a sorrier Bavieca. But the climax of excitement was reached when a novel bull-fight wheeled into view. It was a stuffed calf this time, set on wheels and propelled by a merry fellow of the tribe of Joseph, if one might judge by his multi-colored attire. With white hood, black mask, blue domino, garnet arms, and yellow legs, he was as cheery as a bit of rainbow out of that sombre sky. All the people in sight hastened to flock about him, policemen left their beats, and servant maids their doorways, an itinerant band of gypsy girls ceased clashing their tambourines, the blind beggar opened his eyes, and the small boys were in ecstasies. For over an hour the populace played with that mimic bull in this one spot under our windows, good-humored caballeros lending their scarfs and cloaks to delighted urchins, who would thrust these stimulating objects into the calf's bland face and then run for their lives, while the motley Mask trundled his precious image in hot pursuit behind them. We were reminded of the scene months after by an old painting in the Escorial, depicting an almost identical performance. Spain is not a land of change.
But that teeth-chattering cold, " un frio de todos los demonios," eased our farewells to Burgos, and night found us dividing the privileges of a second-class carriage with two black-bearded Castilians, who slept foot to foot along the leather-cushioned seat on the one side, while we copied their example on the other. I started from my first doze at some hubbub of arrival to ask drowsily, " Is this Madrid ? " "Be at peace, senora ! " cooed one of these sable-headed neighbors, in that tone of humorous indulgence characteristic of the dons when addressing women and children. " It is twelve hours yet to Madrid. Slumber on with tranquil heart." So we lay like warriors taking our rest, with our travelling rugs, in lieu of martial cloaks, about us, until the east began to glow with rose and fire, revealing a bleak extent of treeless, tawny steppe.
We had only a few days to give to " the crowned city " then, but those sufficed for business, for a first acquaintance with the Puerta del Sol and its radiating avenues, a first joy in the peerless Museo del Prado, and a brilliant glimpse of Carnival. We found the great drive of the Prado, on Ash Wednesday afternoon, reserved for carriages and maskers. Stages were erected along one side of the way, and on the other the park was closely set with chairs. Stages and chairs were filled with a well-clad, joyous multitude, diverted awhile from their pretty labors of shooting roses and showering confetti by the fascinating panorama before their eyes. The privileged landaus that held the middle of the road were laden with the loveliest women of Castile. Carriages, horses, and coachmen were all adorned, but these showy equipages only served as setting to the high-bred beauty of the occupants. The cream of Madrid society was there. The adults were elegantly dressed, but not as masqueraders. The children in the carriages, however, were often costumed in the picturesque habits of the provinces — the scarlet cap and striped shawl of the Catalan peasant, the open velvet waistcoat, puffed trousers, and blue or red sash of the Valencian, the gayly embroidered mantle of the Andalusian mountaineer, the cocked hat and tasselled jacket of the gypsy. Moors, flower girls, fairies, French lords and ladies of the old regime, even court fools with cap and bells, were brightly imaged by these little people, to whom the maskers on foot seemed to have left the monopoly of beauty. The figures darting among the landaus, in and out of which they leaped with confident impudence, were almost invariably grotesques — smirking fishwives, staring chimney-sweeps, pucker-mouthed babies, and scarecrows of every variety. Political satires are sternly forbidden, and among the few national burlesques, we saw nowhere any representation of Uncle Sam. He was hardly a subject of the King of Nonsense then.
Squeaking and gibbering, the maskers, unrebuked, took all manner of saucy liberties. A stately old gentleman rose from his cushion in a crested carriage to observe how gallantly a bevy of ladies were beating off with a hail of confetti and bon-bons an imploring cavalier who ran by their wheels, and when he would have resumed his seat he found himself dandled on the knees of a grinning Chinaman. Sometimes a swarm of maskers would beset a favorite carriage, climbing up beside the coachman and snatching his reins, standing on the steps and throwing kisses, lying along the back and twitting the proudest beauty in the ear or making love to the haughtiest. This all-licensed masker, with his monstrous disguise and affected squeal, may be a duke or a doorkeeper. Carnival is democracy.
Meanwhile the inevitable small boy, whose Spanish variety is exceptionally light of heart and heels, gets his own fun out of the occasion by whisking under the ropes into this reserved avenue and dodging hither and thither among the vehicles, to the fury of the mounted police, whose duty it is to keep the public out. One resplendent rider devoted his full energies for nearly an hour to the unavailing chase of a nimble little rogue who risked ten of his nine lives under coaches and in front of horses' hoofs, but always turned up laughing with a finger at the nose.
Yet this jocund day did not set without its tragedy. A hot-tempered Madrileflo, abroad with his wife, resented the attentions paid her by one of the maskers and shot him down. The mortally wounded man was found to be a physician of high repute. This was not the only misadventure of the afternoon, a lady losing one eye by the blow of a flying sugar-plum.
Our next night journey was less fortunate than our first, though it should be remembered that our discomforts were partly due to our persistency in travelling second-class. The carriage had its full complement of passengers, and each of our eight companions brought with him an unlawful excess of small luggage. Valises, boxes, bundles, sacks, cans, canes, umbrellas wedged us in on every side, while our own accumulation of grips, shawl-straps, hold-alls, and sketching kit denied us even the relief of indignation. We all sat bolt up-right the night through in an atmosphere that sickens memory. Not a chink of window air would those sensitive caballeros endure, while the smoke of their ever puffing cigarettes clouded the compartment with an uncanny haze that grew heavier hour by hour. Conversation, which seldom flagged, became a violent chorus at those intervals when the conductor burst in for another chapter of his serial wrangle with a fiery gentleman who refused to pay full fare. Every don in the carriage, even to the chubby priest nodding in the coziest corner, had an unalterable conviction as to the rights and wrongs of that question, and men we had supposed, from their swaying and snoring, fast asleep, would leap to their feet when the conductor entered, fling out their hands in vehement gestures, and dash into the midst of the vociferous dispute. Lazy Spaniards, indeed ! 'We began to wish that the Peninsula would cultivate repose of manner. Our tempers were sorely shaken, and when, in the pale chill of dawn, we arrived at Cordova, sleepless, nauseated, and out of love with humanity, we had every prospect of passing a wretched forenoon.
Thus it is I am inclined to believe we lay down under an orange tree and dreamed a dream of the " Arabian Nights." Or perhaps it was only another freak of the Carnival. At all events, a cup of coffee, and the world was changed. Cordova ! A midsummer heat, a land of vineyards and olive groves, palms and aloes, a white, unearthly city, with narrow, silent, deathlike streets, peopled only by drowsy beggars and by gliding maskers that seemed more real than this Oriental picture in which they moved, high walls with grated, harem-like windows, and an occasional glimpse, through some arched doorway, into a marble-floored, rose-waving, fountain-playing patio, enchanted and mysterious, a dream within a dream. Cordova is more than haunted. It is itself a ghost. The court of the Spanish caliphs, at once the Mecca and the Athens of the West, a holy city which counted its baths and mosques by hundreds, a seat of learning whose universities were renowned for mathematics and philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, and medicine, and within whose libraries were treasured manuscripts by hundreds of thousands, a star of art and poetry, it ever reproaches, by this lovely, empty shadow, the Christian barbarism that spurned away the Moors.
The insulted Mosque of Cordova well-nigh makes Mohammedans of us all. Entering by the studded Door of Pardon into the spacious Court of Oranges, with its ancient trees and sparkling quintette of fountains, one passes onward under the Arch of Blessings into a marble forest of slender, sculptured pillars. The wide world, from Carthage to Damascus, from Jerusalem to Ephesus and Rome, was searched for the choicest shafts of jasper, breccia, alabaster, porphyry, until one thousand four hundred precious columns bore the glory of rose-red arches and wonder-roof of gilded and enamelled cedar. More than seven thousand hanging lamps of bronze, filled with per-fumed oil, flashed out the mosaic tints,—golds, greens, violets, vermilions, — of ceiling, walls, and pavement. All this shining sanctity culminated in the Mihrab, or Prayer-Niche, an octagonal recess whose shell-shaped ceiling is hollowed from a single block of pure white marble. This Holy of Holies held the Koran, bound in gold and pearls, around which the Faithful were wont to make seven turns upon their knees, an act of devotion that has left indisputable grooves in the marble of the pavement.
The Christian conquerors splashed whitewash over the exquisite ceiling, hewed down the pillars of the outer aisles to give space for a fringe of garish chapels, and even chopped away threescore glistening columns in the centre to make room for an incongruous Renaissance choir, with an altar of silver gilt and a big pink retablo. We could have wandered for endless hours among the strange half-lights and colored shadows of that petrified faith of Islam, marvelling on the processes of time. It is claimed that the Arab mosque rose on the site of a Roman temple, whence Mahomet drove forth Janus, to be in his own turn expelled by Christ. The race of those who bowed themselves in this gleaming labyrinth has fared ill at Spanish hands. Even now a Moor, however courteous and cultured, is refused admission to certain Castilian churches, as the Escorial.
How did we ever part from Cordova, from her resplendent, desecrated mosque, her stone lanes of streets, her hinted patios, the Moorish mills and Roman bridge of her yellow Guadalquivir ? It must all have been a morning dream, for the early afternoon saw us tucked away in another second-class carriage speeding toward Granada.
We were in beautiful Andalusia, la tierra de Maria Santisima. The green slopes of the Sierra Morena, planted to the top with olive groves, watched the beginnings of our journey, and banks of strange, sweet flowers, with glimpses of' Moorish minarets and groups of dark-faced, bright-sashed peasants, looking as if they had just stepped down from an artist's easel, beguiled us of all physical discomforts save heat and thirst. When the sun was at its sorest, the train drew up at a tumble-down station, and we looked eagerly for the customary water seller, with his cry of " Water ! Fresh water ! 'Water cooler than snow ! " But it was too warm for this worthy to venture out, and our hopes fastened on a picturesque old merchant seated in a shaft of cypress shade beside a heap of golden oranges. Those juicy globes were a sight to madden all the parched mouths in the train, and imploring voices hailed the proprietor from window after window. But our venerable hidalgo smoked his cigarette in tranquil ease, disdaining the vulgarities of barter. At the very last moment we persuaded a ragged boy in the throng of bystanders to fetch us a hatful of the fruit. Then the peasant languidly arose, followed the lad to our window, named an infinitesimal price, and received his coin with the bow of a grandee. He was no hustler in business, this Andalusian patriarch, but his dignity was epic and his oranges were nectar.
We shall never know whether or not we had an adventure that evening. A wild-eyed tatterdemalion swung himself suddenly into our compartment and demanded our tickets, but as all the Andalusians looked to our unaccustomed view like brigands, we did not discriminate against this abrupt individual, but yielded up our strips of pasteboard without demur. A swarthy young Moor of Tangier, the only other occupant of the carriage, sharply refused to surrender his own until the intruder should produce a conductor's badge, where-upon the stranger swore in gypsy, or " words to that effect," wrenched open the door and fled, like Judas, into the outer dark. The Moor excitedly declared to us that our tickets would be called for at the station in Granada, that we should have to pay their price to the gate-keeper, and that our irregular collector, hiding somewhere along the train, would be admitted by that corrupt official to a share in the spoils. Moved by our dismay, this son of the desert thrust his head through the window at the next stop, and roared so lustily for the conductor and the civil guard that, in a twinkling, the robber, if he was a robber, popped up in the doorway again, like a Jack-in-the-box, and rudely flung us back the tickets. Thereupon our benefactor, if he was a benefactor, solemnly charged us never, on the Granada road, to give up anything to anybody who wore no gilt on his cap.
More and more the purple mountains were folding us about, until at last we arrived at Granada, too tired for a thrill. Mr. Gulick's constant care, which had secured us harborage in Madrid, had provided welcome here. Content in mere well-being, it was not until the following afternoon that tourist enterprise revived within us. Then we somewhat recklessly wandered down from the Alhambra hill into the heart of the People's Carnival, a second Sunday of festival given over to the enjoyment of the lower classes. The grotesque costumes were coarser than ever and the fun was rougher. The maskers cracked whips at the other promenaders, blew horns, shook rattles, and struck about them with painted bladders, but the balconies were bright with the bewitching looks of Andalusian beauties, each vying with the rest in throwing the many-colored serpentinas, curly lengths of paper that crisp themselves in gaudy fetters about their captives. A single business house in Granada claimed to have sold over a million of these, representing a value of some ten thousand dollars, during Carnival week. Southern Spain was grumbling bitterly against the Government and the war taxes, and in Seville, where a tax is put on masks, the Carnival had been given up this year as last; but Granada would not be cheated of her frolic. Our study of this closing phase of the Carnival was cut short by the recollection that it was, above all, the fiesta of pickpockets. Finding ourselves, on the superb Paseo del Salon, in the midst of a hooting, jostling, half-gypsy mob, rained upon with confetti, called upon in broken French and English, pressed upon by boys and beggars, and happening to catch sight of the stately bronze statue of Columbus which the women of Granada had recently stoned because, by discovering America, he brought all the Cuban troubles upon Spain, we took the hint of the wise navigator's eye and decided that we two stray Yankees might be as well off somewhere else. " Feet, why do I love you ? " say the Spaniards ; and so said we, suiting the action to the word.