National Geographic : 1956 Mar
The National Geographic Magazine the digestive system that brought them to the spa. There was some excitement when I was there. Workmen repairing one of the warm springs discovered a number of Roman coins. Roman Coins of Crucifixion Time When we brushed off the corrosion, we read with a feeling of awe the letters "TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS...," the super scription of Tiberius Caesar who ruled the Roman world at the time of the Crucifixion. In English, this means "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus." I was introduced to the Madrid banker and industrialist Don Alfonso Urquijo, and his nephew, Don Jaime Urquijo, who had come to Balneario de Panticosa to shoot chamois. The nephew's passion is the creation of dou ble hybrid maize. He has grown various types of corn for different regions of Spain. He told me he is slowly conquering the conserva tism of the Spanish farmer. In Spain corn is used chiefly as animal feed; new varieties vary from huge white cobs to small red ones (page 316). Don Alfonso asked me to dine with him, and chamois steak en casserole was the chief dish. The meat was stewed in red wine and herbs and was delicious, a blend of Canter bury lamb and the springbok venison eaten in South Africa. "No one on earth is more independent than the Aragonese mountaineers," said Don Alfonso. "They are proud-and also very touchy. Behind them are long centuries of isolation in one little valley, which they re gard as the center of the world. "Some of these valleys are still self-con tained communities, where the regional dress is worn and old customs observed. When you go to Jaca, you must go to the valley of Ans6 and look at the Aragonese costumes worn there. The people dislike strangers and cam eras, because they think they are being made fun of, but I will give you a letter to the mayor of Ans6 that will smooth the way." Soldiers, Girls-But Few Dates In a few days I found myself in the beau tiful old town of Jaca, with its superb cathe dral. My room overlooked the narrow main street. I had been so long in the mountains that this little town of some 9,000 inhabitants seemed like a metropolis. From my ironwork balcony I looked down with delight on the street, crowded by day with rattling mule carts and wagons and at night with the scene of the paseo. Then hundreds of young conscripts from the local barracks, in creased khaki and white cotton gloves, marched up and down, passing and re passing the glossy-haired senoritas. Rarely did they overstep the rigid bounds of Spanish decorum by stopping to make a date. From Jaca I made several excursions, the first to the famous Somport Pass, where both road and railway cross into France. Unlike many Alpine passes, those in the Pyrenees are all high except, of course, at the seaward extremities. The Somport is 5,351 feet high, and rarely is it possible to take a car over it between November and June. It is a most historic Pyrenean pass, for it was the old Roman road into Spain, and it was also across the Somport that Moorish armies marched in 732 when they invaded France. The road, after running through Canfranc, begins to climb into a bleak, treeless solitude where the brown hills are folded against one another and the road twists and turns like a piece of gray tape. Near the top, tall poles on each side of the road are markers to de fine it during the winter snows. Not far from the summit of the pass is an enormous, and in that spot preposterous, structure, the International Station, where French trains come through the five-mile Som port tunnel into Spain. It is a huge crystal palace of a place and at that altitude a major architectural achievement. Half the station is French, half Spanish; on one side is French rolling stock, on the other Spanish. There was not a sound in all that huge ex panse of glass, track, sheds, waiting rooms, and platforms. It was like the palace of some sleeping ogre. The place awakens only when the international expresses arrive. Town Elders Ignore Strangers On another day I visited Ans6 and tried out Don Alfonso's letter on the mayor. As I approached a huddle of ancient stone houses on a hilltop, I saw an old man by the roadside. He wore baggy black knee breeches slit to reveal a pair of white bloomers beneath. His stockings were of white cotton, his shoes were rope-soled, he wore a sleeveless waistcoat, and around his waist was a yard wide purple sash. His hat, worn over a black head scarf, was the low-crowned bowler as made famous by Charlie Chaplin.