My Spanish Year


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To the foreigner visiting Spain for the first time so many things seem topsy-turvy that, unless a philosophical spirit be cultivated, one’s temper might suffer serious damage. But there is one way not only to endure, but actually to enjoy the minor discomforts, absence of consistency, and utter lack of common sense forced upon one at every turn in this most original country; and that is to regard them all from the standpoint of comic opera. So many people expect to find Spain merely an enlarged edition of Bizet’s Carmen that it ought not to be difficult for them to smile when comic-operatic incidents are enacted before them in daily life; and yet one often sees the impatient traveller exhausting himself in furious denunciations of tough beef, bad butter, unpunctual trains, faulty postal services, retrograde hotels, and so on ad infinitum, instead of thanking his lucky stars that there is still one country in Europe which remains much as God made it, instead of being recast in the mould preferred by the tourist agencies.

If you complain of the interminable time that you have spent on the journey, you will be met with the grave assurance that it is safer to travel slow than fast, and that Spain has far fewer railway accidents than England or the United States. You may reply that she has far fewer trains, but we don’t trouble ourselves about the law of averages in Spain, and the Spaniard solemnly assures you that nothing is gained by the alarming rapidity of Anglo-Saxon life except more speedy arrival at the grave.

If you dispute an hotel bill, longer than would be made out at the Ritz, for an entertainment which it would be complimentary to describe as mediocre, the landlord justifies his charges by explaining how much you get for your money in these days of progress, compared with what you lacked when life in Spain was cheaper, and after all what can a dollar or an esterlina (£) more or less matter to so great a lord as yourself, who must evidently be a millionaire[viii] to be able to travel so far from home merely for his own pleasure.

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