Open main menu

The Town and Castle of Alicante

The Mañana Habit


IT had been creeping over us ever since our arrival at Gibraltar. We attributed the condition to various causes, such as "feeling the ship's motion," or "a touch of the grip"; but it had secured no definite hold upon us, and we still could rail against the lack of business enterprise exhibited by the Spanish country people and remain guiltless.

As we began to work our way northward, en auto, the insidious habit became more distinctly a part of us, although our state might have politely escaped comment were we not of those candid specimens of earth's creatures known as Man and Wife. I observed it first in the Man, and, being of a confiding nature, remarked upon it immediately. Thus confronted with the discovery, he was forced to admit that he did wait until morning to put oil in the feeders instead of filling them up the night before—as all gentlemen chauffeurs should—and that the frequent rests at the wayside inns were not entirely for the sake of the engine.

My triumph was short-lived, however, for he replied with unnecessary spirit that he had noticed long ago (though had refrained from speaking of it) that I did not pack now until the last moment, and that was probably one reason his slippers had been left behind in Murcia. Upon reflection, I decided not to combat this cause for the loss of the slippers. When a man's feet are tired, packing in a rush seems a better excuse than a fourteenth-century saint. Besides, the spirit of unity that has made us a couple worthy of comment has for its foundation our mutual peccadillos, and the consciousness that we shared the crime of the "to-morrow habit" held us closer than our bonds of wedlock.

A Fountain in the Plaza—Jativa

It grew rapidly upon us after we had admitted the thing, and with it developed a gentle tolerance of the postponing proclivities of those around us. We bore no malice toward the chambermaid who waved her hand airily as the only response to our demand for towels while the water dried upon our faces; nothing but the choicest of English was expended upon the boy who carried off the gentleman chauffeur's puttees and forgot where he had hidden them (the pitiful bare expanse from knicker to sock top was nothing to the boy); and we abandoned the black looks we were wont to cast at the patron of the inn, who invariably delayed in making out his bill until the motor was pounding at the door.

A cause for congratulation that did much to allay any pangs of conscience was the excellence of our intentions—we expected to do better things when we got farther on, to-morrow, or to-morrow, or to-morrow.

The Tower of the Miguelete—Valencia Cathedral

I remember how eagerly (for Mañanites) we entered Alicante, after crossing the map of Spain with unsullied note-book and a sketching-pad free from all impressionistic records. We were considerably behind in our schedule, owing, not to our difficulty in arriving at a town, but to our difficulty in getting away from it. The morning was so pleasant for lazily sleeping, the afternoon so short for a decent run, the night so vibrant with promenading Spaniards, that—well—the morning was pleasant for lazily sleeping. But all this dalliance was to cease at Alicante. Alphabetically speaking, the town suggested a commencement; who could have struggled against the M of Malaga or S of Seville? Alicante was a beginning—a beginning of real endeavor, real results, and the Spanish Riviera.

We had decided to call the strip of Mediterranean coast running from Alicante to Barcelona by this name, for the reason that Spain had as much right to a Riviera as France or Italy. We felt that we were justified in this claim when we discovered palm-trees waving a welcome to us as we neared the coast, and while we appreciated their hospitality we must admit that the town they shaded was as good a start for anywhere as any one could choose, for, no matter the destination, it was sure to be better than the beginning.

A Street in a Hill Town (Jijona)

There are two things to do in Alicante. One can walk under the palms of the Alameda which runs along the water's edge and be stared at by those who sit in the cafés, or one can sit in the cafés and stare at those who walk under the palms of the Alameda which runs along the water's edge. Only, if you are a Spanish woman, you will probably walk up and down with your grandmother, while your husband or your father sits at the cafés. I have sometimes felt very lonely at those little tables; but they have seemed preferable to the cool stare of the don as he comfortably sips his liqueur. Neither the señora nor the señorita objects to this stare; if they are conscious of it they are unresentful, and they must be mightily strong to stand an evening's senseless parading.

The Spanish peasant is the most polished gentleman in the world, but the provincial dandy is not a pleasant person. He does not limit himself to admiring one (which might be endured); he laughs at one. Since the foreign city hat is different from the Spanish town hat, the Spanish town hat laughs and points its finger; even a lady hat will do this. It never occurs to the Spanish provincial head-gear that it is very funny, too—that is because a Spaniard is under it, and therefore it must be right; yet, if the foreign city hat laughed, the resentment would be deep.

Market Day, Alcoy (Plaza del Mercado)

Spain is a land of contrasts. When one is driven to the point of laughing loudly and pointing retaliating fingers at the gazing populace, something very beautiful always happens, and one forgets about the finger of scorn and wipes one's eyes surreptitiously. It took a fine, big policeman to remind me of my manners on one occasion in Alicante. I found him arresting a very feeble old woman, who was asking alms without a license. She sat upon the usual child's chair, and she was loath to let it go but too weak to carry it. So the big policeman carried it for her, in one big hand, and supported the trembling old crone with the other. Very slowly they went, stopping frequently for her to rest—the big police-man and the little chair and the old lady. So slowly that I, discreetly following them, was obliged to look into shop-windows as though that was my only mission in life. And all the people on the streets who met them turned aside to gaze up the road fixedly at something imaginary, as though feeling "the old one's" shame. When I finally reached the Municipal Building she was panting before the sergeant's desk, and no one laughed at my hat when I made it understood that I would pay for the license. I shook hands with the department and was courteously escorted to the hotel; but—mark the contrast—the change they gave me from my gold piece was bad!

The Door of Murcia Cathedral (La Puerta de las Animas)

Owing to the head of our hotel having the key to the case which contained the souvenir post-cards, we were delayed several days in Alicante. It was a point of honor with us that, in spite of our inertia over gasoline for the motor-car and such trifles, we had never forgotten to mail from each place pictured evidence that we were having a better summer than our friends. We had given up by degrees any serious following of art and architecture; we did not climb towers for the view, and we seldom entered a church except to cool off; but we inscribed postcards nightly on the wabbly tables of the café, and it was upsetting for the head to go off and "dreenk somet'ings," for two days, with the key in his pocket.

If one asks at this point, "Could we have bought cards elsewhere?" I do not hear him. The question is irrelevant, and, as though there were good in everything, the delay of the hotel man sent me to church. Or perhaps it was the persistent cry from the bells of San Nicolas which impelled me to follow the sound. The second peal started me flying up the street, with no other preparation than a scarf to cover my head. Since I was penniless, I tiptoed past the half-dozen blind beggars at the door, and, well pleased with my craftiness, entered the gloom.

It was early, which was remarkable for a Mañanite, but not to be regretted. I became immediately absorbed in the antics of a small boy in a red gown and a short white shirt effect, lace-trimmed, who bore all the earmarks of a disciple of Satan. He appeared first with a key as long as his arm, and proceeded to hippety-hop to the great bronze gate of the choir, which, after the fashion of Spanish churches, stood squarely in the centre of the nave and destroyed the vista. The key turned only by hanging to it, arms extended and much glorious swaying from side to side, after which the gate was thoroughly opened by clinging to the twisted scrollwork and swinging back and forth. Clang, clang, clang, went the gate to and fro, and life was very beautiful, until a tall person in a white wig, purple gown, and wand appeared and poked him off.

Unabashed, my imp hippety-hopped to the high altar, never forgetting the genuflection as he passed and repassed; but, catching my admiring eyes fixed upon him, from that time on he covertly wriggled his wicked little nose as he bent his pious little knee to the unseen Deity. His arrangement of the altar seemed correct to my untutored eye, although at the last moment, as a scale of tiny silver bells rang out sweetly and I caught the red glow of priests' robes from the cloisters, the empurpled official rushed to the altar, whisked away one crucifix, put another in its place, made his wand once more felt upon the small demon, and returned in time to head the procession, accompanied by the magnificent roll of the organ.

We left the next morning very early. We had told the porter the night before that we wished to do so, and since he was an Englishman, a remnant of a stranded circus, he took us at our word, bundled down our luggage, and started us off before we could analyze our jarred sensibilities. The approach to Jativa (which, with Alcoy and Jijona, although inland mountain towns, were firmly included as three of our cities of the Riviera) was across a fertile valley brilliant with vineyards, and very welcome after climbing the usual steep range of hills which is part of every day's motoring in Spain.

Seen from the plain, the site of the town was astonishingly high. The village itself was blocked from view by a line of wall at the top of the mountain, flanked by turret towers, and impregnable in appearance to all living things but birds. The road, knowing a thing or two, however, kept on its uneven way until, having skirted the base of the hill, we found the inhabitants recklessly distributing their dwellings all over the other side, as though, like a painted scene, the appearance of invulnerability was the only vital requirement.

At the city gates we were met by Vicente and Camilla. Vicente appeared first upon our asking at the Customs for a niño to ride with us and direct us through the labyrinthine streets to the best inn. He was one of the vast body of children who sprang out of the ground to greet us, but he was singled out for a certain softness of the eye; and that a soft heart beat under his blue-checked smock was demonstrated by his hurriedly seizing and depositing upon my astonished self sister Camilla, that she, too, might enjoy the wonderful "automovile." As Vicente was comparatively clean, Camilla was superlatively dirty; one wonders how, with but eight months to her credit, she could so industriously collect the soil of Jativa. She sat in my lap and crowed, and Vicente sat at my feet, beckoning on his companions who brought up the rear.

In this manner we were annexed by the children of Jativa. For four days we were their diversion, followed, surrounded, and engulfed. The plague of the edible locust would have been preferable. We could have retaliated in a small way, by eating the pests, but in modern Jativa (while the primeval instincts of cannibalism did recur to us) we were obliged to limit our warfare to the simple expediency of the English language.

"Go back," we shouted.

"Goback," quacked the flock, following on; some, with an overdeveloped sense of humor, even adopted the waddling gait of the fowl we appeared to imitate. The dons of the city issued from their patios to hurl stones at our escort, and to apologize profusely to us for the bad manners of the niños. "The foreigner is not known in Jativa," explained the dons; and to atone, in a measure, two of the municipal guard were detailed to keep clear the line of vision of the gentleman chauffeur when he wished to sketch.

Our most valiant defendant, however, was Vicente. Tears of rage were in his soft eyes as he fought back his companions with his fierce little fists. To be sure, he did not use them well. The mild fighting of the Spaniard consists in violently pushing his opponent around in a circle—a bit of Islamism which the Moor left behind. But Vicente did his best. For two days he was my brave knight. Too shy to speak, but his hand proudly in mine, he led me through the winding ways of the ancient town. Then I committed the unpardonable sin; with his patched smock and shabby sabots so much in evidence, and grateful for his protection, I offered a piece of silver to the little boy of nine. Vicente looked at the silver and at me. His soft eyes flashed. Then, turning quickly, he flew up a twisted street. Staggered by the strangeness of these people, I ran weakly in pursuit, but I never saw him afterwards.


Our landlord of the fonda did not possess the sensitiveness of Vicente. The hour of our arrival was spent in a conclave with his family, as they gathered around our motor-car in the courtyard to gaze admiringly at its extreme redness and the yellowness of its brass. And while this employing of their country's colors greatly endeared us to them, the evident wealth of the owners of such a gay machine tempted Señor Boniface to sundry raises of the usual hotel rate. He did this in the most dignified manner by ordering an aged servitor to our rooms to beg to inform us that a mistake had been made, and twenty cents daily must be added to our bill. After two such errors had been accepted by us and a third was heard coming up the stairs, we forestalled the aged servitor and sent him back again with the irretrievable mistake dying on his lips.

Our host dismissed the subject as one beneath him, and heaped coals of fire on our heads by serving the best food we found on our travels. It was so good that travelling salesmen stopped over from train to train for the noonday dinner—one can say nothing more than that! The "feather drummer" from Madrid we had seen in Alicante; had shaken hands with him upon his departure, along with the string of servants, after the fashion of this democratic monarchy, and our meeting again was a matter of tremendous exchanges of felicitations and loud explanations to the table.

We all became very friendly after that. The woollen gentleman of Barcelona shared his especial wine with us; and the fan-dealer, who rode around the country on a motor-cycle, and with whom we had naturally a great deal in common, presented me with an extra long pin for the picking out of snails—which no one had ever used but himself!

The gentleman chauffeur claimed our delay in leaving Jativa was due to the difficulty in making sketches, and, liking the cooking myself, I did not argue the point. More than that (almost), the village has an architectural beauty that is absent in many of the Spanish towns, and a charm that is shared by none. We care little for the fact that this had once been the home of the Borja, or Borgia, family. Of what moment was the imprisonment of Cæsar Borgia, in the castle high above the plaza, as compared to the nightly appearance in the plaza itself of a certain black-haired señora wearing the high comb of her country, a true Carmen in type and a rare one, who shopped loudly in the market-place and exchanged smiling indecencies with the men before the posada? That this was the birth-place of the great painter Ribera scarcely added to its attractiveness; but the photographs of his pictures hung bravely in the cathedral were a pathetic tribute of the poor little town to their revered citizen, and we swallowed down an appreciative knot in our throats.

While Jativa owned not one Ribera, it possessed a cow. It was the first cow we had seen in Spain, and she had every right to be the haughty creature that she was. A girl led her about the plaza at dusk, milking a thimbleful of the rare beverage at the houses of the customers, and it is hard to say which of the three concerned was the most proud—the one who sold, the one who bought, or the one who gave the milk. She of the bovine race was decorated with an old chenille-fringed curtain and, as though that was not enough to boast of, pulled along the streets a very unruly but bouncing daughter. The calf was tied to the tail of the cow by a rope, and had already learned the ineffable joy of hanging limp and being dragged by her fond parent. Fortunately, the rope was not too long for disciplinary purposes, and when exasperated beyond all polite admonition, the cloven hoof of mother set daughter upon her feet once more. Charmed with these bucolic instances in the heart of a medieval city, we might never have escaped but for the open contempt with which the woollen gentleman grew to regard us. With Barcelona, a real city and his city, straight ahead, how could we linger, was his daily cry. In our blissful idleness we regretted that we had once flatteringly likened his alertness to the business man of our country. After that there was no enduring him; mañana was hurled from his vocabulary, and relentlessly he drove us to our gay red wagon; the hand-shaking' began, continued, and eventually was finished; the guards cleared the streets of children (with no Vicente in their midst), and we jolted miserably away.

The rest of the story is a pitiful one. The habit we had once decried, later admitted with a sense of shame in Valencia, so overwhelmed us that only the remnant of a once strenuous pride forced us to conceal its ravages by offering a thin veiling of excuse for our delays.

In Valencia the veiling was a strip of asphalt pavement. Perhaps, to a mechanic who has driven a beloved motor-car over 800 miles of tortuous Spanish road-bed, a strip of asphalt pavement will seem as good a reason for delay as one could offer. It was nicely situated in the heart of the town; one could dash from any point along the way into a perfect thicket of historical localities and still keep his eye on his car. This being the case, we saw more of the city than we would ordinarily have done. Moreover, one could buy fans, and postal cards even, in the very shadow of delightful ancient towers. Two of great beauty were octagonal in shape, and the design appealed particularly to our weak, many-sided dispositions. They were also extremely historical. On the site of one of these, the Miguelete, formerly stood a Moorish tower, and to the top of this the Cid once proudly led his wife, that she might view the lovely country he had wrested from the industrious Moriscos—and realize whom she had married.

Valencia is known as the City of the Cid; and brought thus closely to the character, we made an effort to discover by what glorious right was he among a tenor's operatic repertoire. Indeed, I fear the gentleman chauffeur (he protests, however) had long associated the character with a sort of youngish goat, and, I noticed, was considerably surprised to find El Cid a gallant Christian knight, who broke his vows and tortured Moors.

It was on the fifth day in Valencia as we were slipping over our fine strip of sphalt gloomily discussing the necessity of driving on to Barcelona to-morrow, or to-morrow, or to-morrow—it was on the fifth day that something passed us, something chugging, leaving behind the scent of gasoline to assail our astonished nostrils, something we had not met throughout southern Spain—a motor-car in action. Eyes fastened on this strange bird of passage, we followed on its trail, while all Valencia ran out to see two automoviles "making the promenade." On went the car, out of the city, down to the wharfs, where lay a boat, steam up and pennant flying, for the port of Barcelona. Silently we watched the stevedores run the majestic car over the gang-plank; bitterly we eyed the languid owner; gravely we gazed upon the bare, mountain range that we must cross "to-morrow." Then the captain of the craft approached us.

Six hours later, as the sun sank behind the bare mountains, the Infanta steamed from out the lower bay. Up in the bow of the ship, secured by hawsers, could be discerned two motor-cars. The evening was divine, and as we sat in our accustomed places in lieu of steamer-chairs, we planned our course of action for to-morrow, or to-morrow, or to-morrow.

P700, Harper's Magazine 1907--The manana habit.png

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1933, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.