Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Title: A Romantic in Spain
By: Théophile Gautier
Awww, Spain…I remember 1975, waking up early a.m. in the night train from Paris to Madrid, realizing I was now in the land of poor befuddled Don Quixote and the exquisite Alhambra, and feeling an amorphous affinity for the country and its people. And here in this book in the mid-1800s, a French romantic takes you by the hand and opens your eyes to the Spain you have never seen or experienced. Gautier's writing is a manual for the budding writer, a luxurious read with word painting immersing you in his world. It is a Spain still perilous and romantic, in which one risks one’s life at every step with brigands abounding, privations of every kind, and a "heat infernal." And then there is the "hell-broth" of gazpacho. The escorial he deems a "granite monstrocity" and a "monkish necropolis," although to the natives it is indubitably the 8th wonder of the world. He is particularly fond of (and brilliant about) the Moorish Spain he finds in the Alhambra, the mosque of Cordoba, and the cathedral in Sevilla.
A gentle cicerone, he apologizes for his historical digressions, saying he shall soon return to his humble mission of descriptive tourist and literary photographer. And so he does.
There are modern touches, as well. He acknowledges with gentle humor the reserve of the Spaniards, which "soon gives way to a well bred cordial familiarity as soon as they are sure that you are neither commercial travelers, tight rope dancers, or vendors of pomade." Are we not wary in the same way today?
A small confession: I skipped the chapters on bullfighting, though Gautier himself decries the vast chasm between the hordes of attendees at the bullring and the sparse audience at the theaters.