National Geographic : 1936 Mar
A PALETTE FROM SPAIN BY W. LANGDON KIHN ONE gray wet dawn in early winter found us aboard a Paris express speeding for Spain and armed with a note to Sefior Z, Sevilla (Seville)-noth ing but that, Sevilla-for there is but one Sevilla. I had been presented with this valuable document by a Spanish friend in Paris. He had urged me to go to Spain, and par ticularly to Andalusia, "where the people are gay and the orange trees bloom in Holy Week." "Perhaps I will join you later," he added, a little wistfully. The moment we crossed the border, it seemed as if we had entered another world. We had just passed through the rugged Pyrenees. It had rained heavily all day and we had gazed upon many miles of tall gray rocks, their jagged peaks hidden be hind low-hung leaden clouds. Heavy for ests, dark and green, stretched for miles beneath the somber cliffs. Now and then the train rumbled over a narrow trestle high above a deep gorge, through which coursed a rushing stream. Puffing and snorting, as if out of breath from its long mountain climb, the engine came to a full stop. A throbbing stillness filled the air. The sun burst through the dark clouds and we heard a song. WHITEWASH AND RED TILES It was late afternoon. The golden beams of a lowering sun bathed everything in a warm, rich light. Long blue shadows fell from the whitewashed walls of quaint old houses whose red-tiled roofs were dotted about like the vermilion poppies of Flan ders fields. A plaintive melody in a thin voice, high and clear, broke upon the peaceful scene. The minor strains floated loudly, now softly, by the window. The singing drifted nearer. The beggars approached. The one who sang was but a boy. By his side shuffled a phantom derelict, like a black and hungry vulture. They were inconceivably ragged, torn, dejected souls, mere shells of grotesque humanity. They stopped, and the boy poured forth his strange song in astonish ingly intense appeal. He was a little Goya lad, peering out of a sienna canvas, his earnest face distorted for the moment. We threw him a shiny peseta that fell and tinkled on the gravel. The ghost of a man snatched it up, like a gaunt wolf snapping at raw meat. But the boy kept on singing, puckering up his cracked face in serious abandon, while the apparition beside him bowed and scraped, and bowed again. This, then, was Spain. It was a land of dramatic contrasts-the rich setting of a beautiful land in which stood a little beggar boy, singing an old, perhaps Moorish song. The weird minor strains floated gently down the languid breeze. I think that I shall never forget the beauty of that afternoon or that slightly melancholy song. Many full days followed, days in which we wandered over the paths of the ancients and followed ghosts that beckoned to us from the dim past. They led us through corridors and chambers of massive and in tricate ruins, showing us the scenes of their intrigues and bold deeds. HILLS AND CASTLES OF CASTILE The hill cities of Castile were fascinating (see map, page 409). Each one was dif ferent and individual, like a large family whose offspring were begat by different fathers, but of the same mother. Few perhaps have seen, but who has not heard or read of the famed cities of Castile? Burgos, with its splendid Cathedral, whose slender spires of stone lace pierce the blue sky (page 434); and El Escorial, the citadel of the monks with its tombs of the kings. Here, part way up the steep slope of purple mountains, this colossal monastery of San Lorenzo frowns in austere dignity over the wide valley below (see page 433). Segovia has its massive Cathedral crown ing its high hill, while the lower town nestles sleepily in the long shadows of the giant ancient aqueduct that stretches in a grand sweep across the deep valley (p. 430). To ledo, built on massive cliffs of solid rock, towers high above the muddy waters of the Tagus (Tajo). It was the home of El Greco, whose beautiful house with its gardened patio stands on the top of a hill overlooking a vast arid plain (see illustration, p. 435). It is the city of Moorish streets. Madrid is modern and up-to-date.* Its wide, bustling streets, its down-town dis trict and its movie houses and theaters give * See "Madrid Out-of-Doors," by Harriet Chal mers Adams, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1931.