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
Saturday, August 23rd
Up early yesterday morning to catch the 7:30 bus to Maressa and
from there the train to Barcelona. Then back to Saponaro's pension,
where they welcomed us with open arms. But somehow the place has
lost its appeal. Perhaps Saponaro had given it life before, or
perhaps it is the contrast with the freshness and charm of Solsona.
Now the surroundings are depressing, the food tasteless, and the
loud arguments of the four boys and their mother at the next table
Sunday, August 24th
The sun was setting when we pulled into the railroad station at
Gerona today. With our little canvas bag in hand we set cut in
search of a lodging place. We had our choice of two — Soler
had written down detailed information for us. "The hotel"
he said "is more modern and comfortable but of high price,
and the food is rather scarce. The other, Casa Quima, is likewise
the one in Solsona, modest but very clean and the meals are very
well. Say my name, they are my friends."
We decided to look at Casa Quima first. We found the street. It
was deserted except for a very old woman, wrinkled and toothless,
who sat in front of an open doorway. There was no sign of a pension.
We finally approached the old woman. "Casa Quima —
donde esta?" Ary asked.
"Aqui" and the old woman pointed to the open door. We
peered inside. It was dim, but we could make out a sort of entryway,
windowless, with a kitchen sink on one side and open shelves on
the other, crowded with bottles of wine and glasses of every size.
At the back of the entryway was a narrow stairway.
The old woman mumbled something in Spanish, and Ary was able to
make out that the patron and his wife were out but that she could
show us the rooms. I pulled at Ary's arm. "Let's go to the
hotel," I whispered. But by this time the old woman had dragged
herself up from the chair and was leading us toward the stairway.
"We'll just take a look," begged Ary, so we followed
her up the steep steps and along a dark passageway. Then she threw
open a door, and there was a big room, spotlessly clean, with
wide windows overlooking a little river which winds its way through
We took the room, and at dinner time we met the patron and his
wife, good-natured, friendly people who were happy to welcome
friends of Soler's.
Monday, August 25th
The view from our window last night was most romantic. The winding
river, the row of old buildings on the opposite bank, and beyond
the massed buildings, at a curve in the river, the tower of an
ancient church standing out white in the moonlight. People walking
across the bridges which span the river, making a continual feeling
of movement; the twinkling lights on the opposite shore; the faint
tunes of a radio playing Spanish tunes — it was all most
Comfortable beds, although the pillows are too plump and give
one a stiff neck. In European hotels the pillow problem is almost
as acute as the plumbing problem!
After breakfast — croissants and cafe au lait served in
a big white bowl — we walked to the museum which is located
in the Square of Spain, or "Square of the Wine", as
it is more popularly known. We asked for the Director, as Soler
had suggested, and he came to greet us — in black frock,
for the museums in these towns are all under the supervision of
the clergy. He had callers, he told us, but we should return at
four o'clock, when the museum would be closed to the public and
he would be free to devote himself to us.
At the appointed time we clanged the big knocker at the door.
The Director opened it and invited us into his study. It was lined
with shelves of books and there were books stacked in the corners
and piled on the desk.
After chatting a few minutes — he spoke beautiful French
— he led us into the museum and showed us the archaeological
collection. His explanations were perfunctory at first, but under
Ary's questioning he was drawn into a philosophical explanation
of the various phases of Spain's historical development. They
discussed the cultural contribution of the Phoenicians and later
of the Romans, who were masters of the country for centuries and
who gave this people the Latin basic foundation of its culture;
the invasion of the Goths and then the Moors from the South; the
clash of forces and the triumph of the Catholic Church in the
struggle for supremacy.
And then, as we walked into the rooms devoted to art, the Director
spoke of St. Francis of Assisi, of his humanistic philosophy and
how under its influence the artists gradually drew away from the
detached, cold stylization of the Byzantine. He led us from one
painting to another to point out the difference between the early
Catalan where everything was more or less static, devoid of movement,
and the later period, when everything began to take the shape
and form of actual reality, of life. According to his views the
progress of art was due to this humanization which had its roots
in St. Francis' philosophy.
Ary objected, and tried to show him that this "humanization
in art" was only surface, that the movement and form which
the later artists injected into their work didn't represent progress;
it was a step backward. The surface of a reality is not humanism,
he said, it is the inner elements of reality which contain the
more moving qualities. And he pointed to a wooden carving to illustrate
his contention. It was a work of the twelfth century — a
wonderful Crucifixion figure, naive in conception, but poignantly
expressive and conveying a sense of mystic power. In spite of
its crudeness and lack of surface realism, Ary said, it conveys
a mystic impact from within. It is naive, almost grotesque, it
is carved with rough tools, but the artist's inner urge to create,
his intense need to express that which was within him was so strong
that it produced an overwhelmingly moving impact. However, the
later artists, in their preoccupation with surface realities,
lost that spark, that impact.
When Ary had commenced speaking the Director's expression
had been one of disapproval and impatience. But now there was
a gleam in his eyes. Evidently this was the first time he had
heard ideas of this kind, and he was deeply interested. He took
us back into his study, and we sat there an hour or more while
he and Ary argued back and forth on various points. As they talked
on it seemed to me that the Director's black robes somehow faded
into the background. I no longer saw before me a Catholic priest
and a layman from a different country and of a different religion,
but two earnest and dedicated human beings, each extraordinarily
sensitive in his own way, diametrically opposite in background,
training and ideology, but meeting on the common ground of their
search for what they deem fundamental truths.
It grew late and we rose to go. "Doctor" said Ary "it
has been a rare experience that we have had this afternoon".
The Director did not reply. Instead he took from a book of photographs
the Crucifixion which we had admired so much, autographed the
back of it, and presented it to us. As we reached the door he
shook hands with us to bid us goodbye. And then he finally spoke:
"I too consider my meeting with you a rare experience".
And with this we parted.
Tuesday, August 26th
This is a very pleasant town — winding streets and ancient
buildings in the old part of the city and nicely laid out squares
in the newer section, which is new only by comparison. The squares,
particularly the "Square of the Wine" on which the museum
is situated, are lined with cafes. They are empty during the day,
but when the sun sets and the shops and offices gradually close
their doors, the tables all along the street begin to fill. By
seven-thirty or eight o'clock it seems as if the entire town is
on hand, either at the tables or promenading back and forth in
the square. There are groups of young boys and groups of young
girls, eyeing each other self-consciously; there are young couples;
there are families, papa, mamma and numerous children, all well-dressed
and comfortable looking.
Last evening, as we sat with an aperitif in the "Square of
the Wine" an old "ham" actor, in antiquated dress
suit, gathered a crowd around him and performed sleight of hand
tricks and did imitations of bird calls, all with sweeping bows
and flourishes of his high silk hat. Following this he passed
around some kind of raffle cards to the audience. For the most
part they ignored him, but Ary gave him a few pesetas. The old
fellow thanked him in grandiose manner and then strode on to a
cafe down the street, jaunty and unruffled, despite the noisy
crowd of street urchins who followed him...
This morning we climbed up the hilly streets through the most
picturesque part of the old section of the city, to the Cathedral,
which is on a high elevation, overlooking the entire town. In
Soler's notes on Gerona, written in his baroque hand-writing,
he bad described this section: "I like very much the corners
of the old narrow streets of the higher wards inside of the disappeared
walls. The ancient houses and the stone-built palaces, the two
belfries, the clenched, tightened houses with their feet into
Soler had provided us with a letter of introduction to Dr. Lambert
Font, the head of the Cathedral museum, but at the same time he
had warned us that Dr. Font might possibly be "in disease".
This proved to be the case; he had been confined to his home for
some days. However, when Soler's letter was brought to him he
insisted that we come to his home for a few minutes' chat. We
found him scholarly, kindly, and most courteous. He would give
instructions that we be shown the museum treasures, in particular
the famous Creation tapestry and the Beatus manuscript, which
is one of the oldest illuminated manuscripts in existence, dating
back to the tenth century.
Back to the Cathedral museum we went, to view the Creation tapestry.
The central part of the tapestry is devoted to the story of the
Creation, and an outer border depicts the twelve months. It is
all pictured with delightful fantasy — God creating light,
the separation of heavens and land and sea, the creation of the
sun, moon and stars — the sun with a mans face and
wavy rays, the moon with a woman's face, and the stars encircling
the sun and moon. And here and there the most bizarre animals
and birds, and queer monstrous amphibian creatures out of a nightmare.
Time has softened the colors so that they have an indescribable
richness and mellowness; this in spite of the fact that the tapestry
was lost for many years, and eventually found in the possession
of a private family, who, totally unaware of its artistic and
historical value, had cut off the bottom and one side and were
using it as a carpet.
Soler had wanted us to see some of his "mainest murals"
which adorn the walls of the seminary chapel. At the seminary
we were greeted by a young priest, a slender lad with dark eyes
and hair and a wonderfully sensitive face. He seemed happy to
show us the frescoes and afterwards he lead us to a nearby church
where there are more murals by Soler and other painters. He confided
to Ary that he thinks an extremely rationalistic painter shouldn't
attempt religious subjects. Ary said: "You think it should
be from the heart, not the head?" and he replied, "The
heart first, then the head". It seems that he has visited
Italy, including Rome and Assisi, and loves Giotto, Simone di
Martini, and other Italian masters of that period. We had a nice
talk with him and parted from him with a warm feeling of pleasure
at the encounter.
The same day -- evening
When we were in the Cathedral museum this morning one of the attendants
came up to tell us that arrangements had been made for us to look
at the Beatus manuscript in the afternoon. So after lunch and
a siesta, we climbed up to the upper wards" of the
town again, and, in the Cathedral library we spent several unforgettable
hours, sitting at the long table of carved and polished wood,
the priceless book before us, entranced by the figures of saints,
of angels, of birds and animals, all creatures of fantasy and
all painted in brilliant color harmonies.
The text of the Beatus is a commentary on the New Testament; the
illuminations were made in the monasteries, which in the Dark
Ages were the sole centers of learning and culture. The book we
held before us is one of only seven or eight, I believe, that
were made in Spain. It is not only for its antiquity that the
Beatus is treasured. As Ary pointed out to me, it is apparent
that here a new vision is beginning to develop, that you are witnessing
the beginning of a new creative freedom, a breaking away from
the rigid Byzantine tradition, a sort of spontaneity and a movement
that is quite rhythmic. Art history tells us that the Romanesque
style was almost entirely of monastic origin, cultivated and spread
by the monks, through the illuminated manuscripts they produced.
So here in this manuscript we see the very beginning of the Romanesque,
which characterized Western European art until the Gothic took
Thursday, August 28th
The weather was disagreeable this morning, so after walking around
a bit we went into the hotel bar, for a cup of tea. This is the
hotel which Soler had warned us was "of high price, and the
food rather scarce". However, the bar has great attractions
for me, although I don't believe Ary shares my enthusiasm. In
the first place they serve tea. In most of the Catalan towns there
is no tea to be had at any price, except herb tea which you can
purchase in the pharmacy if you are ill, but which no able-bodied
Catalan would ever deign to drink.
Here in Gerona it is different, however, and the tea in the hotel
is very good. The bar itself is all mirrors and chromium fixtures
and leather upholstery, with a radio playing American jazz. It
could have been transported in its entirety from any Middle-Western
town of the United States. It is so utterly foreign to the spirit
of this ancient Catalan town that it strikes a false note. Yet
at the same time there is something that draws me to it —
I feel at home in its very garishness and liveliness and informality,
and it gives me a nostalgic feeling for America.
Toward noon the clouds cleared and by the time we walked back
to the pension for lunch the sun was streaming down. A party of
motorists were lunching at the table next to ours — South
of France, by their accent. How they relished every morsel —
napkins tucked under their chin, mopping their plates with pieces
of bread, drinking the red wine with such gusto. No wonder our
little waitress is sad at the aenemic sort of performance Ary
and I turn in, even at our hungriest: She is a pretty, doll-like
creature, with big black eyes; she looks as if she might have
stepped down from a Goya painting. She is assigned to the private
dining room where we have our meals. It is reserved for special
guests and strangers like ourselves. At the other side of the
entryway is a larger room which is for the townspeople.
Friday, August 29th
Yesterday we felt like adventuring further, so we packed the little
canvas bag and took the late bus to the town of Olot, which is
widely known as a summer resort.
The hotel which had been recommended to us was "expensive"
— 140 pesetas a day for room and, meals for the two lot
us (about $3.75 in our money.) However, the proprietor, a pale-faced
young man with soft, puffy hands, assured us haughtily that it
was a "first class hotel." In the Catalan region it
is evidently the food that counts, for although the room was far
from comfortable the evening meal was elaborate and faultlessly
prepared and served and the large dining room was well filled
with summer guests.
The hotel proprietor was all deference and friendliness after
discovering that we were Americans, and today when we went to
settle our bill before returning to Gerona he was eager to engage
us in conversation. He was evidently very much aware of things
that were taking place in the United States in relation to Europe,
and sympathetic with the progressive movement in the world at
large. After awhile, apparently mustering a great deal of courage,
he said: "We here are centuries backward; we have the Church
that controls everything. But if he (meaning Franco) thinks he
is holding us he is badly mistaken. We don't want him and he knows
that, and no soldiers will succeed in holding us". These
were the strongest words we heard in Catalonia.
Shortly after lunch a Cinderella-like coach, drawn by two gray
horses, drove up with a flourish to the hotel. This was the coach
reserved for visiting dignitaries, the young hotel proprietor
explained to us proudly, and since we were very special visitors
it was fitting that we should ride in it to the railroad station.
So we rode like royalty through the streets of the town. We had
hardly arrived at the railroad station when, with a shrill whistle
and clanging of bells, a tiny train pulled in. It could have been
one of the toy trains for children in amusement parks at home.
We settled ourselves on one of the narrow wooden benches, and
after a few puffs the train pulled out from the land of Olot.
It was one of those days that left a warm feeling in our hearts
for the people of this region. As we bounced up and down on the
hard wooden seats the little train chugged along, through corn
fields, along narrow streams, up to the front door of wayside
inns. We passed little villages, all very old, the houses worn
and weathered by sun and rain; they seemed to have pushed up out
of the soil itself. The older people had the same look of having
sprung from the mountain soil: But the young men and women were
dressed in modern fashion, the girls in modish dresses and the
latest "hair-do." At same inns they were dancing to
the music of phonographs. At one station a girl was saying goodbye
to a soldier. But in Catalonia there is restraint in such matters;
there was no kiss, except possibly in their hearts and minds.
Tuesday, September 2nd
After breakfast at Casa Quima we said our adieus to the landlady
and to the little Goya-type waitress. The landlady begged us to
drop her a line from America. As a parting gesture of hospitality
she had prepared a big box of lunch for us.
We ate it at the station cafe in Cerbere, the Spanish border town
— tomatoes and olives and fruit and huge, thick sandwiches
of cold veal cutlet and cold omelet, which turned out to be surprisingly
good. Later we strolled around the village, a small resort place
on the sea. A circus had installed itself on the beach and there
was a bustle of activity in the tents and in the red wagons.
Back at the station at six o'clock, and soon the train for Paris
pulled in. We breathed a sigh of relief when we were settled in
a compartment, for we knew what crowds there would be when the
express from Barcelona arrived at the border.
Wednesday, September 3rd
The night and the morning merged together as we sped through France.
There were only a few stops and these were very brief. For hours
at a time I sat stiffly, trying to find a comfortable place for
my head, my arms, my legs. I would look across at Ary, all hunched
together, asleep, and then suddenly Ary would be pulling me up
from a cramped position and putting my head against the back of
the seat, and I would realize that I too had slept.
My seatmate was a nun, quite a handsome woman,
in her early forties, I should think. It was interesting to watch
her. She sat so quietly, so serenely, her hands folded and with
such an air of detachment and, imperturbability. It was as if
she was entirely free from any bodily discomfort.