Quite a lot of quotes this time, especially for such a short book, but they show how vivid and multi-faceted picture of Spain Morris paints.
The only properly modern big cities in Spain – cities, that is to say, comparable to the metropoles of industrial West – are Barcelona and Bilbao: the one a rip-roaring, furious and sometimes dangerous Mediterranean seaport, the other an exceedingly well-ordered sort of Hamburg.
More probably Spain, so long obsessed with the unity of authority, will loosen itself one day to federal State, recognizing rather than repressing separate styles of it’s several ancient entities; and perhaps in the end this re-distribution of power will prove to be the most distinctively Spanish contribution to the progress of the nation-states.
No wonder the absolutism is the leit-motif of Spanish politics. ‘Do you forgive your enemies?’ a nineteenth-century Duke of Valencia is asked on his deathbed in a famous Spanish anecdote. ‘I have no enemies,’ he retorts, ‘I’ve had them all shot.’
Sometimes the sharpness of the Spanish style goes sour or muzzy – just as the clarifying drugs, if taken to excess, end by making you either muddled or megalomaniac. There is much that is ugly in Spain, and there is a good deal that has taken a step over the frontier of reality, and fells half-crazy.
For all its beauties it is a Philistine country.
From tiers of the Roman amphitheatre in Sagunto, the casus belli of the Second Punic War, you may see the memorials of five different cultures: in the hillside above, the holes of Iberian troglodytes; in the country around, the vines of the Greeks; beneath your feet, the Roman paving-stones; behind your back, a rambling Moorish castle; and away at the water’s edge, the tall black chimneys of a blast furnace. Spain is the most militantly insular of States, but she is trodden all over with foreign footsteps.
Harassed by the Inquisition, deserted by their patron-kings, burnt in their hundreds, in the very year of the fall of Granada they were expelled en masse from Spanish soil. Thus the Catholic Monarchs, at the moment of Spain’s greatest opportunity, threw out of their domains several hundred thousand of their most talented, efficient, and necessary subjects.
They [Gypsies] possess, to a degree no other Spaniard does, a gift for irrepressible enthusiasm. They crackle.
The ‘Spanish fury’, which Livy detected and named, was generally latent for forty years after the Civil War; but hardly had Franco died, and the strong arm of his discipline been relaxed, than political terrorism erupted in the Basque Country and Catalonia, and the old spectres walked again. Spain’s savage reputation dies hard, and rightly so.
And if during the long centuries of obscurity, this memory of Spain was beginning to blur, and incompetent military upstarts replaced the dreadful cardinals as symbols of Spanish authority – if the black legend seemed to be fading at last, the horrors of the Civil War revived it with a vengeance. Never was a conflict fought more bitterly. Almost every page of its history reeks with cruelty.
Spain is a Christian country in a way that Saudi Arabia is Muslim, Burma Buddhist, or Russia Communist.
‘He’s not a saint,’ sniffed a caretaker when I asked the identity of a holy man buried in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, ‘he’s only a Blessed!’
Down the road – down any Spanish road – lies Madrid, which was no more than a village until Philip II made her his capital in 1561, and is still compact enough for the country to show at the end of many city streets. Her two most enviable possessions are an art gallery, the Prado, and a park, the Retiro, and she is the capital of Spain chiefly because she happens to stand in the middle. Madrid was founded, they say, s a Moorish fortress, in the days when Castile was a no man’s land between the Christian north and the Islamic south, and her original function was only military. No roads crossed at her site, no great rivers flowed there, there were no shrines, mines or historical memories. Philip, plucking her from this obscurity, made her a kind of Brasilia of Spain – an earnest of the future and a symbol of unity. The disparate provinces were all to pay allegiance to her, centralizing the energies of the nation, an form her brave new offices the Government, equidistant from the Primate State of Toledo and the King at the Escorial, the purity of Spain was to be maintained. Besides it looks neat and logical to have your capital in the centre, and nothing pleases the Spaniard more than symbolical precision.
The Spaniards are negative individualists – there is nothing very constructive to their jealous egotism. Their social conscience is generally rudimentary, they are factional and often violent. They do have, to be sure, a healthy disbelief in the innate superiority of anybody to anybody else – ‘as noble as the king, but not as rich’, is the Castilian’s traditional description of himself.
My review of Spain
This is book #5 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.
See my list as it grows here.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com