The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Europe | 1934: The Real Spain

5: 1934: The Real Spain

<< 4: 1932: Barcelona || 6: 1934-1936: “The Black Two Years” >>

    I graduated from Oxford in 1933, with a record good enough for Christ Church to give me a graduate scholarship. I was widely congratulated, but soon my faculty sponsors despaired of me. My field was France and especially its relations with Spain, and I was expected to settle down in a library and collect documentation for a book (not a dissertation, since in those days the doctoral system was scorned as a German-American invention). Instead, I was deeply dissatisfied with the exclusive study of old books, documents, and the history of Romance languages. I was interested in the contemporary world, and I wanted to get to know more about the reality of Europe. What I had in mind was what later became known as a language and area program. At Stanford I was to establish Bolivar House and its program of Hispanic American and Luso-Brazilian Studies, so my wanderings in Spain and similar ones later throughout Latin America were excellent preparation.

What better means that cycling around the continent? So I covered thousands of miles that way, always armed with the appropriate Baedeker. First, I must complete my education by getting to know Germany and Italy. I had lived with a German-speaking family in Metz, Lorraine, but I had  simply crossed the Rhine at Strasbourg. I arranged an exchange with a family in Bayreuth, and I spent the summer of 1933 there. I saw the early days of the Nazi government  and have written an account of my impressions, refuting some later accounts by younger people who had not had that experience. From Bayreuth I cycled across the Alps to Venice and then back to France through northern Italy and Switzerland. I was to return to Italy in the autumn of 1935, so I got a first-hand acquaintance with Italian fascism, which I was able to compare with Nazism.

    I spent the academic year 1934 to 1935 studying at the Sorbonne under the historian Philippe Sagnac. He encouraged me to prepare a doctorat d’état (not the shorter doctorat d’université which foreigners usually did). I agreed, since at Oxford the doctorate was still belittled as producing narrow specialists; my mentor, Professor Entwistle, was a great scholar, and it angered him that in academic processions young, lesser scholars who had taken the newfangled D. Phil marched ahead of him. I chose as the subject of my major thesis (the program required two) relations between France and Spain in the eighteenth century. Little did I dream that my research would be cut short by the Spanish Civil War and most of the materials lost. After all these decades I have returned to the subject, or at least one aspect of it, in a book which will appear about the same time as this one: L’Espagne et les Amériques  vues de la France et de la Grande Bretagne.

    In Paris among other things I studied Russian at the Institute of Oriental Languages—Russian was so exotic then that it was classified as an oriental language!. Again, my action was viewed as strange by my Oxford mentors, but I was sure that Russia would gain in importance and with it the Russian language. Knowledge of Russian made it possible for me to produce the twenty volumes of the World Affairs Report devoted to the Soviet role in world affairs.

sarrailh.jpg (50364 bytes)

    Having received an Esme Howard Scholarship to study at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, I set out from Paris by bicycle in the spring of 1934. Along the way I looked up some leading Hispanists. At the University of Poitiers, Jean Sarrailh received me in his home, dressed in the red pants of the oyster fishermen of Arcachon, where he had bought them. He was beginning his distinguished career as a Hispanist, his major work being The Enlightened Spain of the Second Half of the 18th Century (Paris, 1954). He rose to become Rector of the University of Paris, perhaps the most important educational job in France, since it controls the whole educational system of the Paris region. I met him again at a conference in Mexico in the 50s. He was coldly indignant because he came via New York, where the U.S. immigration officials barred him because during World War II he had belonged to a resistance group which for a while had been under communist control. Somehow he got to Mexico. With me he was as cordial as a Rector can be, but the episode soured U.S.-French relations.

    From Poitiers it was on to Bordeaux, a beautiful city with a university which is an important center of Hispanic studies. In retrospect I wish that I had made it my French base rather than Paris, a grim city which I knew well. The great Hispanist there was Georges Cirot (1870-1940) In European scholarship there is no sharp line between literature and history, and Cirot cultivated both. His first great work (1904) was a study of the Jesuit Juan de Mariana (1537-1624), author of a history of Spain which he wrote in Latin and later translated to Spanish. His courage was demonstrated in his defense of Arias Montano, threatened by the Inquisition. Most notorious is his De rege et regis institutione (1599) in which he justified regicide in certain cases. The book was said to have inspired Ravaillac, who killed Henri IV of France in 1610.

    Among the many other works of Cirot were studies of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in Bordeaux who had fled into exile because of the Inquisition. The essayist Michel de Montaigne is said to have been partly of that origin. Cirot devoted much of his efforts to Spanish historiography, studying primarily the centuries before Philip II. He is best remembered as a senior statesman of Hispanic studies.

After cycling across the Landes, I entered Spain and began my odyssey along its north coast, which was more rugged than I had imagined, and then down through Portugal to Lisbon. It was an extraordinary experience in which I saw many monuments. However, I will relate only those experiences which had some social or historical significance.

    The first, in the Basque country, was my first meeting with a real anarchist. Not the dangerous kind, known as anarcho-syndicalists, but the harmless kind. The first had been active in Barcelona, throwing bombs and killing many people. The police repression was brutal. The harmless kind had been led by Francisco Ferrer (1849-1909), who loved birds and would certainly not have harmed one. I assume my Basque anarchist was of the harmless kind. He was a simple-minded person who thought the world would be better off without governments. There must be a connection between people like him and the Basque terrorists. The belief that the world would be better without governments could transmute into the belief that they must be destroyed. The Basque country is prosperous, the land of hard-headed bankers and lusty eaters. It is difficult to understand how terrorists and anarchists would flourish here. They may mostly be dropouts, like violent people in the prosperous United States.

    I rode along the coast and then to Guernica (Gernika in Basque), a small town which is the shrine of Basque nationalism. The sacred symbol is an old oak tree. It was one of four places where the lords of Biscay came to swear that they would respect local privileges (fueros). Close by is the building where the Biscay Assembly met. In 1934 Guernica was just a sleepy village. I stopped for a glass of wine and some food at a bar where the wine was kept in large pigskins lined up behind the counter. Little did I imagine then that Guernica would be hit by Nazi bombers during the Civil War on April 26, 1937 and become the symbol of Franco’s barbarity. In reprisal for their resistance, Franco abolished the fueros of Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and Alava, while Navarre, the home of the pro-Franco requeté fighters, was allowed to keep its. The memory of the destruction of Guernica has seared itself into the minds of Basques and triggered the anti-Spanish violence which has wrecked so many lives. Picasso’s notoriety ensured the fame of his wild painting “Guernica.” It was just another Picasso nightmare, which originally had nothing to do with Guernica. Apparently it began as a painting of a bullfight; hence the rearing horse. Picasso, who was living in Paris, just gave it the name “Guernica” when the Spanish republican government, which was sponsoring an exhibit there, asked him for an anti-Franco painting.

    Bilbao on the estuary of the Nervion River is an uninteresting city, and I paused there only briefly. Then it was back to the coast and westward to Laredo, located on the mouth of a bay facing Santoña. Both are fishing villages, chasing after the same sardines. The two communities were engaged in a nasty fight over fishing, as is quite common along the coasts of Spain. Since the creation of the European Union, which now regulates fishing, these fights have become internationalized. The sea, with its fluid boundaries, and the tangles of international law, have involved Spain in fights as far away as Canada and La Réunion island in the Indian Ocean.

    From there it was on to Santander, an attractive seaside town where there is a royal palace now used by the Menéndez y Pelayo Summer School. Next came Santillana del Mar, a lovely colonial town located, as the name indicates, on the sea. I should point out that, since I visited them, many old Spanish cities were badly damaged during the Civil War and later restored with varying success. Near Santillana are the famous caves of Altamira, discovered in 1879. Today they are tourist attractions, with their seven galleries; the chamber with the bison ceiling painting has been called the Sistine Chapel of Quartenary Art. When I was there in 1934 its importance was still not recognized. A simple peasant served as caretaker. While he held a flashlight in his hand I crawled through the entrance and saw the prehistoric paintings. It is only in the last decades that the importance of rock paintings has been fully appreciated.

    Then it was on westward to another historical site, the shrine of Covadonga in Asturias., described as the cradle of the Spanish monarchy. After defeating the Visigoths at the battle of Guadalete in 711, the Muslims occupied the whole peninsula, except pockets like this area. Here a Visigothic nobleman Pelayo and his group of followers organized a revolt. In 722 the emir of Cordoba sent an army to wipe out the group, but it was roundly defeated. Pelayo’s followers elected him king, and he set up his capital at Cangas de Onís, a few miles to the northwest. The cave in Covadongs where Pelayo hid is now known as the Sacred Cave. It houses a wooden statue of the Virgin, called “La Santina”. She is honored every year on September 8. Nearby is the late 19th-century Basilica, before which stands a statue of Pelayo, brandishing the Cross of Victory, the supposed original of which is on display in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of Oviedo. Nearby is a museum housing gifts to the Virgin, including a splendid crown with more than 1,000 diamonds. Since Asturias is regarded as the cradle of Spain, the crown prince is known as the Príncipe de Asturias.

    Since Covadonga is the only part of Spain not conquered by the Moors, when in 1934 Franco sent Moorish troops to put down the rebellious miners of Asturias, the leftist slogan was “The Moors in Covadonga!” and posters with this as the theme circulated widely. When I was there a few months earlier, I had of course no idea of what was to happen. When an official delegation visited the Hoover Institution in 1990, I mentioned the slogan, and it was clear that over fifty years later there were still bitter memories.

    Oviedo, a few miles to the west, is the capital of Asturias. To the south of it are the coal mines in the Mieres area, the scene of the 1934 uprising. In the heart of the old city stands the magnificent cathedral, which was badly damaged then and again in 1937 during the Civil War. I was lucky to see it before all this havoc. The cathedral is the pantheon of the Asturian kings, and its treasures are too numerous to describe here.

    The cathedral was especially interesting to me because it was the focal point of one of my favorite novels, La Regenta (1884) by Leopoldo Alas (1852-1901). He is generally known by his pen name, Clarín (the Bugle), an eccentric law professor formed in the Krausist school described in the chapter on the intellectuals. His 1878 thesis on “Law and Morality” reflected the Krausist preoccupation with morality in civic life and its anticlerical conviction that the Catholic Church is insufferably corrupt. The poor heroine, La Regenta (the wife of a judge) is coveted by her confessor, the Canon Fermín de Paz, who spies on her with a telescope as she sits at home. The two fat volumes of the novel are brilliantly written, so that the reader swallows the anticlerical message without realizing it.

    Life imitated art. I took an elevator to the top of the tower to get a good view of the city and conversed with the operator. He was an embittered electrician who had been unable to find a decent job. For him running the elevator was professionally beneath him, but a job is a job. I asked him about life in the cathedral, and he regaled me with stories about the jealousies among the canons. His account made the novel come to life. A similar novel is La Catedral (1903) by Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928), which describes in similar terms the Cathedral of Toledo, the primate see of Spain. The thesis of these and similar novels is, to use the notorious words of Manuel Azaña, “Spain has ceased to be Catholic.”

    Ramón  Pérez de Ayala, the author of A.M.D.G. was also a native of Oviedo and a pupil and disciple of Clarín. He studied with the Jesuits whom he ridiculed in his novel. He lacks the wit of Clarín, and, as noted earlier, I found him personally unattractive.

    It is appropriate here to tell an experience in a village somewhere along this ride. It stood back from the road, but I had to spend the night somewhere so I went there and found an inn opposite the church. I joined the folks having dinner around a big table. Sitting at the head and orchestrating the conversation was the loudly anticlerical village doctor, whose constantly played the same old record denouncing the priest of the church across the street. The priest returned the compliment by fulminating at him from the pulpit. When he asked me where I was from, I replied “England.” He looked pleased and said “Ah! They hate the priests there!” To judge his feelings I replied “Well, no longer. They are generally respected.” His eyes narrowed, and he snarled “I thought England was a decent country!”

    From Asturias I went on to Galicia, a Celtic microcosm in the northwest corner of Spain. It held a special interest for me because of my research on its most famous author, Emilia Pardo Bazán, whose novels describe a rural country dominated by caciques, rural bosses, and priests. The first town was Mondoñedo, which I had never heard of. Galicia prospered in the eighteenth century thanks to the whaling trade, and because of this prosperity many romanesque churches were refurbished in the baroque style. This was true of the cathedral of Mondoñedo, whose size amazed me. When I entered an old woman dressed in the colorful attire of the region was praying with intense devotion, kneeling on the stone floor and with her brazos en cruz, arms stretched out to resemble Christ on the cross. She looked as though she were desperately praying for help. I have never seen such piety in Spain, not even in Old Castile. Across from the cathedral was a bookstore specializing in religious books. I talked with the owner, who was pained by the anticlericalism of the republic. He was convinced that things would change because the government did not realize the power of the Pope. The great shrine of Santiago de Compostela is in Galicia, as is the port of El Ferrol, the birthplace of pious dictator Francisco Franco, and for this reason known during his rule as El Ferrol del Caudillo (of the Leader). My guess is that the bookstore owner was a strong supporter of Franco.

   Then it was on to Betanzos, about fifteen miles from the port city of La Coruña (known to the British as Corunna). I spent the night in a picturesque stone inn on the square, where women with wooden buckets on their heads were taking turns getting water from the fountain in the middle of it. Presumably their houses did not have running water.  I had supper in the inn, and chatted with the owner while she prepared the typical meal of the region: fish and potatoes. When she asked where I was from, I replied “England.” “Ah, so you are a North American!” “No,” I said, from England.” She looked puzzled, but finally understood:” So, England and North America are two different places?” “Yes.” “Ah, like Betanzos and La Coruña!” —fifteen miles away. Swimming ancestrally in her head were memories of the Armada, which sailed from La Coruña against England, of Drake, known in Spain as the Dragon, who attacked La Coruña the following year, and of the Yankees, who the Gallegos feared in 1898 were going to invade Galicia. Pardo Bazán reports that the people there believed that Yankees had three rows of teeth, like sharks.

    La Coruña is a large and attractive port town, but it has little of historic interest, so my stop there was brief. So it was on to Santiago, of enormous historical and religious significance. The cathedral has been amply described in many books, with its baroque exterior and its massive Romanesque interior. I will therefore dwell on an episode which has sociological interest. My great problem from this point on was sleep. Every night there were fireworks honoring some saint, the worst being June 19, the festival of the “Popular Saints,” Saint Peter and Saint Paul, who for some reason are lumped together in Spain, and July 26, and that of Saint James (Santiago), Usually these saints are celebrated with three nights of fireworks, making sleep extremely difficult.

    In Santiago I therefore sought out a quiet hotel on a quiet street, and took a back room facing a courtyard. Scarcely had I gone to sleep when a loud barking woke me. I looked down at the courtyard; the villain was a huge dog. I went downstairs several times and told the clerk to stop the barking. Every time he told me to go back to my room; he would take care of it. In the early morning I went down again in a towering rage. The clerk blanched and said “The dog belongs to the local cacique (boss) who lives next door!” I understood: he would never confront the cacique. Everything I had read in Pardo Bazán about caciques suddenly came to life.

    From Santiago I went south to Redondela; the port of Vigo was some distance to the west. I could not find a room; all the hotels were full. On the street I passed a plump priest in a silky black cassock. I told him my problem. “Come with me” he said and led me to a nearby noisy cafe. When we entered there was silence. He said in an dominating tone: “There is a stranger here who cannot find a room. Can any of you put him up?” A simple fellow finally said he could. I thanked the priest and went to my host’s home. It was simple; the family slept on the ground floor, next to the animals. I slept upstairs in a small room lulled by the noise of the animals, while smoke from the fire without a proper chimney choked me. Next day I thanked my host and gave him a fair amount. I wondered why the priest, who must have had a nice parish house, could not have put me up himself. This was a vision of the clericalism about which I had read so much.

    The River Minho, the boundary with Portugal, was just to the south. It is a charming country with beautiful cities and monuments. Down the coast I went through Vila do Conde, with its horse-drawn street cars, to Porto. It sits on the Douro, linked to smaller Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank by a large double-deck bridge built by Eiffel. I was still trying to find a quiet hotel, so it occurred to me that I might find one across the bridge, at the entrance to which a policeman stood. I could read but not speak Portuguese, so I explained to him my desire in Spanish. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said in Portuguese “I do not speak Spanish.” So, on a fiercely hot afternoon I crossed the bridge but searched in vain. Hot, desperate, and bathed in sweat, I re-crossed the bridge and walked past the policeman. Seeing my plight, he took pity on me and addressed me in good Spanish; he was making the supreme sacrifice of speaking to me in the language of the historic oppressor. He told me where there was a quiet hotel. I went there, and again took a back room. Scarcely had I gone to sleep than there was a bang, bang, bang from the building opposite. To my dismay, it continued all night. In the morning I could see into the window. It was the post office, and the employees were vigorously canceling stamps. What did Shakespeare say about sleep?

    From Porto the road led me southward through the ancient university city of Coimbra, to Pombal, famous as the home of Portugal’s great eighteenth-century statesman, the Marquis of Pombal. In this little town there was a jail like a store front, except that instead of a glass window there were bars. As I passed, a desperately sad peasant woman stood inside, holding on to the bars and looking out at the street.  I tried to console her, but, staring blankly into space, she said not a word.

    Further south came the peace of beautiful monastery of Batalha (Battle, site of the 1385 battle which secured Portugal’s independence from Spain), whose founding was tied to England. Eleven miles south is the huge Cistercian monastery of Alcobaça, one of the largest in the world. Further south is another large monastery, Mafra, built by a work force which at times numbered 45,000! The luxury and expense of these great monasteries expressed the piety for which Portugal was famous, or infamous, since its notorious inquisition, whose building can still be seen in Lisbon, gave the English language the expression auto da fé. Eighteenth century travel accounts describe how these monasteries had become almost clubs for wealthy nobles. The earthquake of 1755 shook both the buildings of Lisbon and the piety of the people, but these monasteries to the north suffered little. Today they are museums and tourist attractions. While I was examining the rare books in Mafra’s great library, a sharp rat-tat-tat rent the air. The courtyard was used by soldiers for machine-gun practice. Was this an extreme form of secularization or of the cooperation between church and state?

    Through Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe, and Cintra with its palaces, I went on to Lisbon on the estuary of the Tagus. It is a charming city with a string of attractive suburbs. Stretching along the shore almost as far as Cabo da Roca. Ever in search of quiet and sleep, I took a room in a suburban hotel. I thankfully went to bed, only to be aroused by a lusty cock in the yard below supposedly greeting the first glimmer of dawn, but in fact determined to vent on me his hatred of humans. I sold my bicycle and took the train to Madrid.

    The line passes through Extremadura, a poor and relatively uninteresting part of Spain, although many conquistadores came from there, including Hernán Cortés, who was born in the now insignificant village of Medellín. I visited it later, and there is naturally a local cult of Cortés, which Madariaga’s biography of him boosted. In the village square there is a bronze statue of the conquistador with plaques honoring his military victories in Mexico. Cortés provides an excellent example of conflicting historical assessments. In Mexico he is the official villain of Mexican history. When I was lecturing once in Mexico I asked the students if he was a bad or a good man. All said he was a bad man, except one Catholic girl, who said “Well, if he had not conquered Mexico, some one else would have.” Another conquistador like Cortés! Their response exemplifies the stereotypes inculcated by history textbooks; hence the fight over them in. many countries, notably Mexico. Conversely, Mexican textbooks idealize the Indian Benito Juárez uncritically. As I write this, official Mexico is celebrating the revolutionary holiday, November 20, with parades and boring set speeches.

    After Extremadura, it was a surprise to enter suddenly the modern world of Madrid, which, unlike ancient Barcelona, is not the natural center of a prosperous area, but rather a capital created, like Ankara or Brasilia, for geopolitical reasons. Apart from the old town, it is really a modern city built to the east of it, although the royal palace is to the west. The main square, which separates and links the two, is named La Puerta del Sol—the sun gate, since from it the rising sun could be seen. The main avenue, the Castellana, is comparable to the Champs Elysées in Paris. It runs from north to south through the new district, which has expanded northward. The Residencia de Estudiantes, which was to be my home, lies on an elevation just east of the northern section, a most attractive location.

    Madrid is a curious combination of the old and the new. I once went to a bank to cash a check.  The clerk said my signature was no good. I angrily asked him why. Because, he said, it does not have a  rúbrica–a wiggle under my name. I protested that I did not use a rúbrica.  He was firm; “Without a rúbrica I cannot cash it.” So I wrote a wiggle under my name, and he cashed it immediately. Since then I have kept the wiggle. This custom goes back to the times when few could  write. Scribes would sign, and people would simply add their personal rúbrica.

    Habits from the colonial period which have disappeared in Spain .survive in Spanish America. It affects speech.  Just as “gotten” has disappeared in England, but survives in the United States, so “vos” (you) has disappeared in Spain but survives in Argentina. Mexico, is still spelled “México” in Mexico, but is has become Méjico in Spain.

    It affects customs too. Both Benito and Porfirio Juárez were born in Oaxaca (now spelled “Oajaca” in Spain). I once gave a Mexican a ride in my car there. To find out his historical viewpoint, I asked him if he respected Juárez. Yes, he said, and raised his hat. Did he respect  Díaz, I asked. Yes, he replied, and raised his hat again. In the conversation, whenever I named either great man, he raised his hat. It was comic to see him sitting in the care constantly raising his hat.I suddenly realized that this was the old Spanish custom of raising one´s hat whenever one mentioned the king. There was quite a protocol about this, the way one raised his hat being an indication of rank.

    What about bullfighting, a symbol of old Spain? When I was in Spain, soccer, now a national passion, was unknown. It began to lose official status under the Bourbon king, Charles III, who despised it.  It was also condemned by the Church, which forbade priests to attend. Franco tried to revive its status, and the present monarchy does not wish to appear hostile to it.

    I attended a bullfight. An esponáneo, a wannabe bullfighter, jumped into the ring, infuriating the handsomely attired pro, who turned to throw him out of the ring. The bull seized the opportunity, sneaked up behind the pro, and jabbed his horn into his seat, causing great plain and making his pants drop. The bull died proud of his deft feat.

<< 4: 1932: Barcelona || 6: 1934-1936: “The Black Two Years” >>