P U B L I C A T I O N S > F
R A N C E S S T I L L M A N ' S E
U R O P E D I A R Y
I..........Going from Here to There
XII..........Paris in the Fall
Thursday, August 7th, Continued
Solsona is a walled city with narrow streets and high, Oriental-like
gates. Silhouetted against the sky, as we viewed it from afar,
it had the flavor of the Mid-East; it could have been a city of
mosques. An old man wearing the badge of the Fonda Vilanova (the
pension which had been recommended to us) was waiting for the
bus as it drew up outside the gates. He took our bags and we followed
him through the gate and up a narrow street paved with great blocks
of stone, past ancient stone houses with balconies bright with
towers, to a rambling, vine-covered building with a stone courtyard
and huge pots of exotic looking plants. This, our guide announced,
was Fonda Vilanova. We followed him into a rustic looking foyer
and up brick-paved steps to the second floor, where the proprietor
came forward to greet us.
He is a short, stouts, shrewd-looking but kindly man in his late
sixties. At first he seemed surprised and a little uneasy to have
foreigners as guests. This was something quite outside of the
usual pattern of things. Fonda Vilanova is popular among the neighboring
towns and even as far as Barcelona, but the thought of entertaining
strangers like ourselves was a bit disturbing. Only two Americans
have ever visited Solsona, he told us, and that was many years
ago. However, his innate friendliness soon overcame his uneasiness,
and he made us welcome.
Friday, August 8th
We slept well last night. The beds are comfortable and the sheets
and pillow-cases of fine monogrammed linen. Strangely enough,
however, there is no closet or wardrobe in the room, and no chest
of drawers; only one small drawer in the table between our beds
and some hooks on the wall to hang our clothes. There is running
water but it is icy cold. However, early this morning the maid
brought us a big pail of hot water, and said that we could have
more whenever we wanted it during the day.
Breakfast consisted of huge cups of cafe' au lait, toast and butter.
After breakfast we wandered about the town, admired its ancient
stone buildings and examined the cathedral, which is on the square
just opposite the pension, and by its side an old drinking fountain
and a trough where once the village housewives did the family
The patron had told us that the director of the museum was out
of town and that the museum was closed. Nevertheless we walked
over to the building, and there we discovered Ingrid.
Twelve years old, blue eyed, flaxen haired, Ingrid
is a German war orphan. She pointed to a house facing the museum.
That is where she and her sister have lived since they were taken
from Berlin and adopted by the Museum Director, Dr. Llorans, and
his two maiden sisters. They are happy here in Spain, Ingrid said,
but when Ary spoke to her in her native German she hugged him
in her excitement. She would show us around the museum; we must
meet her foster-aunt and her aunt would give her the key.
The foster-aunt proved to be a gracious, friendly woman, and she
walked with us back to the museum. But it was Ingrid who was our
guide. For this is her own intimate world. To her these frescoed
saints and martyrs, these nativity scenes, are like pages from
old picture books, these sculptured figures are precious, although
somewhat battered dolls. She handled them fondly, blissfully unaware
that they were priceless art treasures.
As we made our round of inspection Ingrids little sister
and a friend joined her. Word had evidently spread that we were
"Americanos" and the youngsters eyed us with great curiosity.
Back to the pension for lunch, a superb meal, beautifully served.
And the white wine that goes with the meal is like nectar.
The wine made us so drowsy that we slept as if drugged for several
hours. Then up and out into the country, where we walked along
the road until we found a pile of logs. There we sat for an hour
or more, enchanted with the vista before us — fields, trees
and terraced vineyards below, with mountain ranges in the distance
and a clear blue sky with shifting white clouds. The air was cool
and of an indescribable buoyancy, and it was so still that every
little sound stood out as if sharply etched in the silence. It
seemed as if we had been whisked out of the world of realities,
and there was a feeling of vast peace and beauty, and a mystic
something quite indefinable.
Saturday, August 9th
At noon we had an appointment with the little German
girl, Ingrid, to go again to the museum. What an engaging child
she is, so fresh and natural, so lively and talkative. I enjoyed
watching her with Ary. He explained to her in very simple terms
why the primitive paintings are so fine. She listened very attentively,
but when we came to a very crude 10th century drawing of an imaginary
animal with a grotesque human figure below (very much like our
modern Dubuffet) it was too much for Ingrid to take. "I could
do better than that myself!" she sniffed.
There are some very beautiful frescoes in the collection. Many
of them are quite Oriental, for the Moorish influence was strong
in this section; also the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries
brought back art influences with them from the Orient. One fresco
in particular is very Persian in effect — a Crucifixion
scene, flatly painted, in blues and black, red and gold, with
flying angels and stars and figures with swords. Another fresco
depicts an angel in white, with lovely wings of reddish brown,
and there are some very "folksy" paintings, including
a panel depicting scenes from the life of Mary — such a
naive Nativity scene, with Mary lying on a high bed, and a horse
and cow looking on.
I liked particularly a wooden figure of Christ, fashioned with
simple lines, and — a touch of supreme naivete — wearing
long, black, silky hair. This is little Ingrid's favorite too,
she told us. She looked up at the figure affectionately; then
a frown came over her face, and after a moment she climbed on
a chair, braided the black hair neatly, and then gave her treasure
a motherly pat on the head. Somehow there seemed to be nothing
sacrilegious in the gesture — quite the contrary, in fact.
Sunday, August 10th, 10:30 A.M.
The church bells tolled furiously early this morning — before
five o'clock. Before long we heard voices, as if many people were
gathering for the early mass at the Cathedral across the square.
The bells and voices continued until after eight o'clock; we dozed
but heard them intermittently. And then suddenly a street band
burst forth, with the gayest of marches — a Catalan folk-tune.
We rushed to the window, and there was the band, in the courtyard
of our pension. The musicians were young fellows, about nine or
ten of them, and they were playing brass instruments, and strangely
enough, a bass viol. The music, we found out later, is in honor
of the football game between Maressa and Solsona which will take
place this afternoon.
We are sitting in the courtyard as I write this. Ary is reading
a Spanish newspaper. The square before the church is lively with
families coming to attend mass. They are gathered in small groups
or pacing up and down the street. An air of festivity and excitement
prevails. And now the sound of music again, and the band comes
down the sloping street, preceded by a group of excited little
boys and followed by some thirty or forty men, who file into the
church. We are told that a special prayer is to be given for Solsona's
victory in the big game this afternoon.
There is a flurry in our own courtyard, as three little boys are
heisted onto motorcycles to ride with their fathers. The smallest
youngster is wide-eyed with excitement and fear. The men are carrying
big baskets; evidently they are going out to pick mushrooms. Last
evening some other guests brought back a whole basketful. They
are big and flat with ragged edges, and colorful — brown
with red and black. And they have a stronger, more earthy flavor
than those we have in America.
Evening, the same day
When I finished writing the above, we walked up the street to
see what form the general activity was taking. Suddenly I felt
someone tugging me by the arm. It was the little girl Ingrid,
all smiles and excited gestures. Her foster-father had returned,
she informed us breathlessly; we must come right over to meet
him. It was Sunday, we protested, we didn't want to intrude on
him. But the child over-rode all our objections and finally we
accompanied her to the house opposite the museum. As we entered,
a priest in black robe came forward to greet us. It had never
occurred to us that Ingrid's foster-father, Dr. Llorans, might
be a priest! He is a jovial, kindly person, tremendously enthusiastic
and energetic. He is sympathetic and fatherly with Ingrid and
her sister, and they are as lively as little kittens in his presence.
In spite of our protests, Dr. Llorans insisted on taking us over
to the museum to show us some of his special treasures. Of course
his interest is from a religious and archaeological viewpoint.
We spent an interesting hour with him and made an appointment
to come again tomorrow morning.
As we came out into the street the band was playing a Catalonian
folk-tune at the big square where the market is held, and the
young folks of the town were dancing the Catalonian round dances.
We joined the crowd which was watching the lively circles swing
forward and back.
Then back to the pension, and at two o'clock the most delicious
luncheon was served. Every meal here is quite an event. The proprietor
is a true gourmet, and it is his pride and delight to serve the
finest food. He hovers around during meal-time, talking to a guest
here and there, leaning ever the table in a most confidential
way as if to divulge a choice bit of information, as he announces
some special dish; serving the main course himself if the waiter
is rushed; beaming when one praises the food and downcast when
appetites aren't keen.
The Sunday noon meal is worth recording: first, a big platter
of hors doeuvres — cold meats, sardines, tomatoes,
olives. Then rice cooked with seafood. Next, the most delicious
chicken with the big mushrooms of the region. For dessert, little
cream puffs together with a large slice of honeydew melon, and
the most heavenly tasting Malaga grapes, sweet as honey, with
a flavor like perfume. And to drink, the white wine of the region,
which we never tired of.
A siesta after lunch, and later we walked to the football field.
The village was there en masse, headed by the mayor of the town,
in dignified black suit and hat, and several black-robed Priests.
These dignitaries occupying special places of honor. The game
is like soccer, played entirely with the feet rather than the
hands. Solsona piled up a score of 5 to 1 against their opponents
from Maressa, so everyone was happy, and the mayor presented a
silver cup to the winners, while the band played triumphantly
And all this time the setting sun was casting the most wonderful
lights over the mountain peaks in the distance and the clouds
floated like fantastic spirits in the fading blue of the sky.
Monday, August 11th
When we arrived at the museum this morning we found Dr. Llorans
acting as guide for a group of school girls who were under the
chaperonage of a sweet-faced nun. He joined us soon, and brought
with him a painter from Barcelona, a big fellow in overalls and
open shirt. Dr. Llorans introduced him as Guillermo Soler, and
explained that he is painting the murals for the new seminary
up the hill.
Soler was happy to meet an American artist, and eager to display
his knowledge of the English language. However, after a few unsuccessful
attempts to converse in English everyone resorted to French.
In the course of conversation Soler asked Ary if
he is an abstract painter. When Ary replied in the affirmative
Soler was greatly interested, but a look of dismay came over the
face of Dr. Llorans. For a moment he was silent, then he turned
and walked away. Soon he was back again, but he no longer talked
to Ary. He devoted his attention to me, explaining to me the meaning
of some of the religious pieces. Little Ingrid came in just then
and the good Doctor included her in the conversation. He was making
an effort to brush aside the disturbing element that had entered
the picture. But the child seemed to sense his disquietude, and
she gazed first at him and then at us with a bewildered air.
In the meantime Soler was plying Ary with questions. I heard only
snatches of their conversation, but one sentence of Ary's stood
out. "Although you refer to the present-day world —
particularly America" he said "as mechanized and hence
cold and without a soul, the machinery, the skyscrapers, the aeroplanes
have all been fashioned by the hands of man. They are the result
of man's vision, his thinking. Abstract art seeks to express the
spirit, the soul that conceived this man-made machinery which
on the surface seems so cold." He went on to say that abstract
art seeks to express the inner reality rather than the surface
reality and for that reason the abstract artist finds primitive
art, which concerns itself with the soul-world, the world of super-reality,
closely related to his own.
When we accompanied Soler to the seminary on the hill to see the
frescoes he is painting we found them very realistic, although
nice in color, especially the rich velvety black for which the
Spanish painters are so famous. And late this afternoon when we
returned from a walk in the country we found a note from him,
in his flowery English which is a literal translation from the
Spanish. He told Ary of his pleasure in meeting him and of his
interest in their conversation, and then continued; "In spite
of my style do not believe that I am not sensitive to primitive
art. All the contrary, I research something that can be drawn
from it as an alive lesson of simplicity and candour. Yet I dissent
about the forms. I am a Latin and I like and feel the sensuousness
of the forms of Nature and of Life, and I can't deny what I love.
I can't assume the function and the want of odd-looking figures."
He went on to ask that we meet with him soon again, which we shall
Tonight after dinner we walked to the center of the town where
a celebration was in progress. In Solsona the principal streets
are named after saints, and on the special dia Sante the shop-owners
on the street arrange a festival. Early this morning fringed streamers
of pink and yellow paper were strung the length of Saint Alexander
Street and out into the tree-lined promenade which extends beyond
the city gates. This evening a band appeared and stationed itself
in front of the cafe in the center of the village. Ary and I went
into the cafe and sat there an hour or so, watching the band and
the crowds outside, as well as the groups sitting at the tables.
They were a gay crowd, talking, laughing, some of them intent
on games of dominoes or Parchesi. A policeman in the typical shiny
black hat stood watching the players at one table. The hat is
a sinister looking affair and cast a discordant note in the warmth
and gayety of the room. At a table near us a young Catalan with
black hair and eyebrows, a flashing smile showing the whitest
of teeth, and a long, narrow, expressive face like the ancient
sculptured figures, shook with delighted laughter every time he
won a game of dominoes from an older man, evidently his father-in-law.
His wife and mother sat at the table with them watching the game.
The band went on to the edge of the town and we followed, to the
big outdoor cafe on the promenade, where dozens of people were
sitting, looking on at the dancing, which went on and on , in
a monotonously rhythmic movement, small circles of dancers inside
larger circles. The festivities were scheduled to last until two
o'clock in the morning and undoubtedly did, but about midnight
we made our way back to the pension.
Tuesday, August 12th
I slept through the night, but Ary says he was awakened about
two-thirty by a clamorous ringing of bells. He looked out the
window, and all was quiet. The night was beautiful. To use Ary's
words, "The moon was beautiful with half a face. And next
to it was a star more brilliant than seven moons. A little cloud
was floating in the sky and trying to get in between the moon
and the star without troubling the peace. Then she managed to
get between, with her tail dragging a little ... "
At first there were just mysterious shadows between the church
and the fountain by its side. Then gradually windows began to
open and faces to appear and people began to emerge from the houses
and walk down the sloping street. A man came out of our pension
and one from next door. There was loud talking and all the while
the bells were clamoring. And then gradually the clamoring stopped,
the people went back to their homes and Ary got into bed. But
he couldn't sleep. It seemed that he had to figure out where he
was at this time last year, and the year before, and the year
before that. And then, how much change did he have in his pocket.
As he was still counting the pesetas he drifted into sleep. But
it was a troubled sleep, for there was the policeman with the
shiny black hat who had been in the cafe that evening, and he
held Ary's passport and was looking at it intently... And then
Ary was in the middle of the street carrying his suitcase, with
cars and trucks and motorcycles whizzing by. And he said to some
unseen companion, "I'll leave my suitcase in the middle of
the street rather than have my nerves shattered ..."
In the morning one of the guests told us that, as Ary suspected,
there had been a fire during the night. It was a slight one, in
He told us further that it was the night-watchman who rang the
bells for the fire. Among the night-watchman's duties is the forecasting
of the weather, and every two hours during the night he makes
the rounds of the town, calling out a weather report. During the
recent rainy spell of some days, the crops were threatened, so
the neighboring farmers entreated the watchman to ring the church
bells to drive away the clouds. He rang the bells furiously, and
with the desired results — the rain stepped and the sun
came out. For this the grateful farmers rewarded him with corn.
Such services are required frequently during the year, so much
so that the watchman is at all times well supplied with corn,
and can even sell the surplus.
Wednesday, August 13th
A long walk this afternoon and several hours enjoying a particularly
brilliant sunset. Dinner was delicious as usual. The only thing
that bothers us is the late hour. We shall never get accustomed
to dining at nine or nine-thirty. The day seems confused, and
since we don't like to stay up too late it means that we have
only an hour and a half between the end of our dinner and the
time we retire.
The pension is full of traveling men. The fame of the cuisine
has spread throughout the region, and the men all arrange their
schedules so as to stop here on their travels. They are mostly
big and hearty, with enormous appetites, and even for breakfast
they order meat and wine. It fascinates me to watch them drink
their wine out of the double-necked bottles. Evidently there is
a special technique in throwing the head back and holding the
bottle poised high, so that the wine trickles down to just the
right spot on the palate.
The men are a disorderly and careless lot, and the community bathroom
is always a mess now. It is distressing, and I told Ary that we
ought to complain to the proprietor, but he said who am I to try
to reform the W.C. habits of the Mediterranean people; besides,
they have advanced a great deal since he was here twenty years
ago. So I gave up.
Thursday, August 14th
When we paid our usual visit to the museum this
morning two elderly priests were deep in conversation with Dr.
Llorans. He introduced us to them and told us that one of them
in particular, Dr. M., was an authority on early Catalan painting
and sculpture. When Ary spoke of our enthusiasm for this primitive
art, Dr, M. objected strongly to Ary's classification of the Catalan
art as primitive. He contended that the early Catalonians were
a deeply religious people, and that their art represented their
way of expressing this religious feeling; consequently it should
be classified as religious art. According to Ary's views, however,
the creative element existed among these people and it found expression
through religious subjects, the only ones which prevailed at that
period. This was the art of the people, and it was primitive because
they expressed themselves in a primitive way, with a naive, almost
Of course, the two points of view are diametrically opposed. If,
as Dr, M. maintains, the subject matter is the important thing
for the artist to express on account of the religious motivation,
he starts with a conscious approach, and the finished work has
a clarity of surface ideas. If however the urge to create is the
motivating factor, if the artist's intention is to make a painting,
and the religious subject is employed as a vehicle of expression,
there emerges, not a definite surface reality but a sort of abstraction
of ideas, which has been crystallized in the process of creativity.
That is why, according to Ary, the early art is more closely related
to modern abstractions than the later work which emphasizes the
We felt in Dr, M., as with Dr, Llorans at a previous session,
a strong resistance against this modern abstract art which is
a negation of a clarity of surface ideas. It contains something
hidden; something which is not to be trusted
Evidently this feeling of distrust has projected itself very strongly
to the child Ingrid. Since the day she sensed her foster-father's
disapproval of Ary's theories, she has avoided us. She no longer
accompanies Dr. Llorans when he guides us about the museum. She
scurries out of the way when she sees us on the street.
Friday, August 15th
This was the day of Santa Maria, and a holiday atmosphere prevailed
throughout the village. People streamed into the Cathedral in
a continuous line. It was market day also, so there was a buzzing
and excitement in the center of the town. While the women-folk
walked from stand to stand, shrewdly bargaining, the men gathered
in little groups, for conversation on local politics. The proprietor
of our pension is much in demand, for he seems to be an influential
figure in the affairs of the community. Frequently one group or
another comes to call on him and heads are close together while
heated discussion goes on.
At the market the women can choose from tables piled high with
vegetables and fruit, wearing apparel and trinkets, and all sorts
of articles for the home and the kitchen. The shops on either
side of the street have lined up chairs outside their doors, on
which are draped bright-colored dress materials.
One of the young women at the pension, mother of three handsome
boys, seemed much concerned that we didn't go to mass, and in
a bewildered way asked Ary if in America they don't observe religious
holidays. Ary tried to explain to her, in his limited Spanish,
that our country is made up of people of many religions; that
all religions are respected, and each individual is free to worship
according to the dictates of his heart.
Monday, August 18th
Ary is disappointed that he has made so little progress in learning
Spanish. Here in Solsona he has had little opportunity to practice,
for everyone speaks Catalan, even those who have learned the Spanish
language in school.
Not quite everyone at that, for this afternoon, on our way to
a little chapel where we sat the other day, we passed a stone
hut on the roadside, and a peasant woman came out of the hut and
hailed us. At first we thought she was begging for money, but
no — she was lonesome, we looked like nice people, and where
are we from... She has lived here for ten years, but came originally
from Andalusia, in the South of Spain, and speaks Spanish, not
Catalan. Her two children speak Catalan, but somehow she cannot
learn this strange language... When we walked back along the road
several hours later she evidently had been waiting for us, for
she waved and ran out, eager to speak to us again and to show
us her nine-year old boy — a handsome little fellow. He
had noticed us in the town, he said; it was the first time he
had seen Americanos.
In the evening there was dancing again in front of the cafe at
the edge of the village. The whole town was there. One of the
guests at the pension, Senor R., paid the musicians for a special
waltz in our honor, and Ary whirled through it with the Senora
R. as his partner.
Tuesday, August 19th
We spent some time this morning in the courtyard between the museum
and the Cathedral. In the Cathedral garden is an old well, where,
according to legend, the figure of the Madonna and Child which
now graces the Cathedral altar was found. It is said that many
years ago a little boy, playing in the garden, fell into the well,
and that in rescuing him, this ancient piece of sculpture was
The crumbling walls surrounding the courtyard have acquired a
curious patina during the centuries, and we lingered there, delighted
with the form and color of the designs which have been etched
there by wind and sun and rain.
Late in the afternoon the painter Soler joined us as we sat at
the cafe at the edge of the village. He suggests that we visit
the city of Gerona, which is between Barcelona and the Spanish
border. It is an interesting town, he says, and we will find some
rare art treasures there. He will give us a letter of introduction
to the director of the Cathedral museum.
Thursday, August 21st
My birthday — how strange to be celebrating it in this far-away
mountain town! It is our last day in Solsona, for we have decided
to follow Soler's suggestion, and tomorrow we shall return to
Barcelona and then go on to Gerona.
We spent the day revisiting some of our favorite spots, including
of course the museum, where we bade goodbye to Dr. Llorans. As
we strolled through the winding streets we spied little Ingrid,
accompanied by her sister and a friend. She nodded casually to
us, just the merest recognition of our presence. But before lunch
when we sat in front of the pension, Ary suddenly exclaimed: "Here
come Ingrid and her friends!" I looked up and beheld the
three girls. They had changed their gingham dresses and were arrayed
in stiffly starched party dresses, their curls carefully brushed
and fresh ribbon bows in their hair. Arm-in-arm, they walked past
us and into the pension, looking neither to right nor left. I
wondered whom they had come to visit. A minute later the three
of them came out and walked down the path in front of our chairs,
with an exaggerated air of casualness. Just as they passed us
they wheeled around, and still without looking directly at us,
called out in unison: "Adios!" then went quickly on
and up the sloping street.