By-Ways of Europe: A Visit to the Balearic Islands. I
AS the steamer Mallorca slowly moved out of the harbor of Barcelona, I made a rapid inspection of the passengers gathered on deck, and found that I was the only foreigner among them. Almost without exception they were native Majorcans, returning from trips of business or pleasure to the Continent. They spoke no language except Spanish and Catalan, and held fast to all the little habits and fashions of their insular life. If anything more had been needed to show me that I was entering upon untrodden territory, it was supplied by the joyous surprise of the steward when I gave him a fee. This fact reconciled me to my isolation on board, and its attendant awkwardness.
I knew not why I should have chosen to visit the Balearic Islands, unless for the simple reason that they lie so much aside from the highways of travel, and are not represented in the journals and sketch-books of tourists. If any one had asked me what I expected to see, I should have been obliged to confess my ignorance; for the few dry geographical details which I possessed were like the chemical analysis of a liquor wherefrom no one can reconstruct the taste. The flavor of a land is a thing quite apart from its statistics. There is no special guide-book for the islands, and the slight notices in the works on Spain only betray the haste of the authors to get over a field with which they are unacquainted. But this very circumstance, for me, had grown into a fascination. One gets tired of studying the bill of fare in advance of the repast. When the sun and the Spanish coast had set together behind the placid sea, I went to my berth with the delightful certainty that the sun of the morrow, and of many days thereafter, would rise upon scenes and adventures which could not be anticipated.
The distance from Barcelona to Palma is about a hundred and forty miles; so the morning found us skirting the southwestern extremity of Majorca, — a barren coast, thrusting low headlands of gray rock into the sea, and hills covered with parched and stunted chaparral in the rear. The twelfth century, in the shape of a crumbling Moorish watch-tower, alone greeted us. As we advanced eastward into the Bay of Palma, however, the wild shrubbery melted into plantations of olive, solitary houses of fishermen nestled in the coves, and finally a village, of those soft ochre-tints which are a little brighter than the soil, appeared on the slope of a hill. In front, through the pale morning mist which still lay upon the sea, I saw the cathedral of Palma, looming grand and large beside the towers of other churches, and presently, gliding past a mile or two of country villas and gardens, we entered the crowded harbor.
Inside the mole there was a multitude of the light craft of the Mediterranean, — xebecs, feluccas, speronaras, or however they may be termed, — with here and there a brigantine which had come from beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Our steamer drew into her berth beside the quay, and after a very deliberate review by the port physician we were allowed to land, I found a porter, Arab in everything but costume, and followed him through the water-gate into the half-awake city. My destination was the Inn of the Four Nations, where I was cordially received, and afterwards roundly swindled, by a French host. My first demand was for a native attendant, not so much from any need of guide as simply to become more familiar with the people through him ; but I was told that no such serviceable spirit was to be had in the place. Strangers are so rare that a class of people who live upon them has not yet been created.
“ But how shall I find the Palace of the Government, or the monastery of San Domingo, or anything else ? ” I asked.
“ O, we will give you directions, so that you cannot miss them,” said the host ; but he laid before me such a confusion of right turnings and left turnings, ups and downs, that I became speedily bewildered, and set forth, determined to let the “ spirit in my feet ” guide me. A labyrinthine place is Palma, and my first walks through the city were so many games of chance. The streets are very narrow, changing their direction, it seemed to me, at every tenth step ; and whatever landmark one may select at the start is soon shut from view by the high, dark houses. At first, I was quite astray, but little by little I regained the lost points of the compass.
After having had the Phœnicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, and Saracens as masters, Majorca was first made Spanish by King Jaime of Aragon, the Conquistador, in the year 1235. For a century after the conquest it was an independent kingdom, and one of its kings was slain by the English bowmen at the battle of Crecy. The Spanish element has absorbed, but not yet entirely obliterated, the characteristics of the earlier races who inhabited the island. Were ethnology a more positively developed science, we might divide and classify this confused inheritance of character ; as it is, we vaguely feel the presence of something quaint, antique, and unusual, in walking the streets of Palma, and mingling with the inhabitants. The traces of Moorish occupation are still noticeable everywhere. Although the Saracenic architecture no longer exists in its original forms, its details may be detected in portals, court-yards, and balconies, in almost every street. The conquerors endeavored to remodel the city, but in doing so they preserved the very spirit which they sought to destroy.
My wanderings, after all, were not wholly undirected. I found an intelligent guide, who was at the same time an old acquaintance. The whirligig of time brings about, not merely its revenges, but also its compensations and coincidences. Twenty-two years ago, when I was studying German as a boy in the old city of Frankfort, guests from the South of France came to visit the amiable family with whom I was residing. There were M. Laurens, a painter and a musical enthusiast, his wife, and Mademoiselle Rosalba, a daughter as fair as her name. Never shall I forget the curious letter which the artist wrote to the manager of the theatre, requesting that Beethoven’s Fidelio might be given (and it was !) for his own especial benefit, nor the triumphant air with which he came to us one day, saying, “ I have something of most precious,” and brought forth, out of a dozen protecting envelopes, a single gray hair from Beethoven’s head. Nor shall I forget how Madame Laurens taught us French plays, and how the fair Rosalba declaimed André Chénier to redeem her pawns ; but I might have forgotten all these things, had it not been for an old volume1' which turned up at need, and which gave me information, at once clear, precise, and attractive, concerning the streets and edifices of Palma. The round, solid head, earnest eyes, and abstracted air of the painter came forth distinct .from the limbo of things overlaid but never lost, and went with me through the checkered blaze and gloom of the city.
The monastery of San Domingo, which was the head-quarters of the Inquisition, was spared by the progressive government of Mendizabal, but destroyed by the people. Its ruins must have been the most picturesque sight of Palma; but since the visit of M. Laurens they have been removed, and their broken vaults and revealed torture-chambers are no longer to be seen. There are, however, two or three buildings of more than ordinary interest. The Casa Consistorial, or City Hall, is a massive Palladian pile of the sixteenth century, resembling the old palaces of Pisa and Florence, except in the circumstance that its roof projects at least ten feet beyond the front, resting on a massive cornice of carved wood with curious horizontal caryatides in the place of brackets. The rich burnt-sienna tint of the carvings contrasts finely with the golden-brown of the massive marble walls, — a combination which is shown in no other building of the Middle Ages. The sunken rosettes, surrounded by raised arabesque borders, between the caryatides, are sculptured with such a careful reference to the distance at which they must be seen, that they appear as firm and delicate as if near the spectator’s eye.
The Cathedral, founded by the Conquistador, and built upon, at intervals, for more than three centuries, is not yet finished. It stands upon a natural platform of rock, overhanging the sea, where its grand dimensions produce the greatest possible effect. In every view of Palma, it towers solidly above the houses and bastioned walls, and insists upon having the sky as a background for the light Gothic pinnacles of its flying buttresses. The government has recently undertaken its restoration, and a new front of very admirable and harmonious design is about half completed. The soft amber-colored marble of Majorca is enriched in tint by exposure to the air, and even when built in large, unrelieved masses retains a bright and cheerful character. The new portion of the cathedral, like the old, has but little sculpture, except in the portals ; but that little is so elegant that a greater profusion of ornament would seem out of place.
Passing from the clear, dazzling day into the interior, one finds himself, at first, in total darkness ; and the dimensions of the nave — nearly three hundred feet in length by one hundred and forty in height — are amplified by the gloom. The wind, I was told, came through the windows on the sea side with such force as to overturn the chalices, and blow out the tapers on the altar, whereupon every opening was walled up, except a rose at the end of the chancel, and a few slits in the nave, above the side-aisles. A sombre twilight, like that of a stormy day, fills the edifice. Here the rustling of stoles and the muttering of prayers suggest incantation rather than worship ; the organ has a hollow, sepulchral sound of lamentation ; and there is a spirit of mystery and terror in the stale, clammy air. The place resembles an antechamber of Purgatory much more than of Heaven. The mummy of Don Jaime II., son of the Conquistador and first king of Majorca, is preserved in a sarcophagus of black marble. This is the only historic monument in the Cathedral, unless the stranger chooses to study the heraldry of the island families from their shields suspended in the chapels.
When I returned to the Four Nations for breakfast, I found at the table a gentleman of Palma, who invited me to sit down and partake of his meal. For the first time this Spanish custom, which really seems picturesque and fraternal when coming from shepherds or muleteers in a mountain inn, struck me as the hollowest of forms. The gentleman knew that I would not accept his invitation, nor he mine ; he knew, moreover, that I knew he did not wish me to accept it. The phrase, under such conditions, becomes a cheat which offends the sacred spirit of hospitality. How far the mere form may go was experienced by George Sand, who, having accepted the use of a carriage most earnestly offered to her by a Majorcan count, found the equipage at her door, it is true, but with it a letter expressing so much vexation, that she was forced to withdraw her acceptance of the favor at once, and to apologize for it ! I have always found much hospitality among the common people of Spain, and I doubt not that the spirit exists in all classes ; but it requires some practice to distinguish between empty phrase and the courtesy which comes from the heart. A people who boast of some special virtue generally do not possess it.
My own slight intercourse with the - Majorcans was very pleasant. On the day of my arrival, I endeavored to procure a map of the island, but none of tiie bookstores possessed the article. It could be found in one house in a remote street, and one of the shopmen finally sent a boy with me to the very door. When I offered money for the service, my guide smiled, shook his head, and ran away. The map was more than fifty years old, and drawn in the style ot two centuries ago, with groups of houses for the villages, and long files of conical peaks for the mountains. The woman brought it down, yellow and dusty, from a dark garret over the shop, and seemed as delighted with the sale as if she had received money for useless stock. In the streets, the people inspected me curiously, as a stranger, but were always ready to go out of their way to guide me. The ground-floor being always open, all the features of domestic life and of mechanical labor are exposed to the public. The housewives, the masters, and apprentices, busy as they seem, manage to keep one eye disengaged, and no one passes before them without notice. Cooking, washing, sewing, tailoring, shoemaking, coopering, rope and basket making, succeed each other, as one passes through the narrow streets. In the afternoon, the mechanics frequently come forth and set their business in the open air, where they can now and then greet a country acquaintance or a city friend or sweetheart.
When I found that the ruins of San Domingo had been removed, and a statue of Isabella II. erected on the Alameda, I began to suspect that the reign of old things was over in Majorca. A little observation of the people made this fact more evident. The island costume is no longer worn by the young men, even in the country; they have passed into a very comical transition state. Old men, mounted on lean asses or mules, still enter the gates of Palma, with handkerchiefs tied over their shaven crowns, and long gray locks falling on their shoulders, — with short, loose jackets, shawls around the waist, and wide Turkish trousers gathered at the knee. Their gaunt brown legs are bare, and their feet protected by rude sandals. Tall, largeboned, and stern of face, they hint both of Vandal and of Moslem blood. The younger men are of inferior stature, and nearly all bow-legged. They have turned the flowing trousers into modern pantaloons, the legs of which are cut like the old-fashioned gigot sleeve, very big and baggy at the top, and tied with a drawing-string around the waist. My first impression was, that the men had got up in a great hurry, and put on their trousers hinder-end foremost. It would be difficult to invent a costume more awkward and ungraceful than this.
In the city the young girls wear a large triangular piece of white or black lace, which covers the hair, and tightly encloses the face, being fastened under the chin and the ends brought down to a point on the breast. Their almondshaped eyes are large and fine, but there is very little positive beauty among them. Most of the old country-women are veritable hags, and their appearance is not improved by the broad-brimmed stove-pipe hats which they wear. Seated astride on their donkeys, between panniers of produce, they come in daily from the plains and mountains, and you encounter them on all the roads leading out of Palma. Few of the people speak any other language than the Mallorquin, a variety of the Catalan, which, from the frequency of the terminations in ch and tz, constantly suggests the old Provencal literature. The word vitch (son) is both Celtic and Slavonic. Some Arabic terms are also retained, though fewer, I think, than in Andalusia.
In the afternoon I walked out into the country. The wall, on the land side, which is very high and massive, is pierced by five guarded gates. The dry moat, both wide and deep, is spanned by wooden bridges, after crossing which one has the choice of a dozen highways, all scantily shaded with rows of ragged mulberry-trees, glaring white in the sun and deep in impalpable dry dust. But the sea-breeze blows freshening across the parched land ; shadows of light clouds cool the arid mountains in the distance ; the olives roll into silvery undulations ; a palm in full, rejoicing plumage rustles over your head ; and the huge spatulate leaves of a banana in the nearest garden twist and split into fringes. There is no languor in the air, no sleep in the deluge of sunshine ; the landscape is active with signs of work and travel. Wheat, wine, olives, almonds, and oranges are produced, not only side by side, but from the same fields, and the painfully thorough system of cultivation leaves not a rood of the soil unused.
I had chosen, at random, a road which led me west toward the nearest mountains, and in the course of an hour I found myself at the entrance of a valley. Solitary farm-houses, each as massive as the tower of a fortress and of the color of sunburnt gold, studded the heights, overlooking the long slopes of almond-orchards. I looked about for water, in order to make a sketch of the scene ; but the bed of the brook was as dry as the highway. The nearest house toward the plain had a splendid sentinel palm beside its door, — a dream of Egypt, which beckoned and drew me towards it with a glamour I could not resist. Over the wall of the garden the orange-trees lifted their mounds of impenetrable foliage ; and the blossoms of the pomegranates, sprinkled against such a background, were like coals of fire. The fig-bearing cactus grew about the house in clumps twenty ieet high, covered with pale-yellow flowers. The building was large and roomy, with a court-yard, around which ran a shaded gallery. The farmer who was issuing therefrom as I approached wore the shawl and Turkish trousers of the old generation, while his two sons, reaping in the adjoining wheat-fields, were hideous in the modern gigots. Although I was manifestly an intruder, the old man greeted me respectfully, and passed on to his work. Three boys tended a drove of black hogs in the stubble, and some women were so industriously weeding and hoeing in the field beyond, that they scarcely stopped to cast a glance upon the stranger. There was a grateful air of peace, order, and contentment about the place ; no one seemed to be suspicious, or even surprised, when I seated myself upon a low wall, and watched the laborers.
The knoll upon which the farm-house stood sloped down gently into the broad, rich plain of Palma, extending many a league to the eastward. Its endless orchards made a dim horizonline, over which rose the solitary doubleheaded mountain of Felaniche, and the tops of some peaks near Arta. The city wall was visible on my right, and beyond it a bright arc of the Mediterranean. The features of the landscape, in fact, were so simple, that I fear I cannot make its charm evident to the reader. Looking over the nearer fields, I observed two peculiarities of Majorca, upon which depends much of the prosperity of the island. The wheat is certainly, as it is claimed to be, the finest of any Mediterranean land. Its large, perfect grains furnish a flour of such fine quality that the whole produce of the island is sent to Spain for the pastry and confectionery of the cities, while the Majorcans import a cheap, inferior kind in its place. Their fortune depends on their abstinence from the good things which Providence has given them. Their pork is greatly superior to that of Spain, and it leaves them in like manner ; their best wines are now bought up by speculators and exported for the fabrication of sherry ; and their oil, which might be the finest in the world, is so injured by imperfect methods of preservation that it might pass for the worst. These things, however, give them no annoyance. Southern races are sometimes indolent, but rarely Epicurean in their habits ; it is the Northern man who sighs for his flesh-pots.
I walked forward between the fields toward another road, and came upon a tract which had just been ploughed and planted for a new crop. The soil was ridged in a labyrinthine pattern, which appeared to have been drawn with square and rule. But more remarkable than this was the difference of level, so slight that the eye could not possibly detect it, by which the slender irrigating streams were conducted to every square foot of the field, without a drop being needlessly wasted. The system is an inheritance from the Moors, who were the best natural engineers the world has ever known. Water is scarce in Majorca, and thus every stream, spring, rainfall, — even the dew of heaven,— is utilized. Channels of masonry, often covered to prevent evaporation, descend from the mountains, branch into narrower veins, and visit every farm on the plain, whatever may be its level. Where these are not sufficient, the rains are added to the reservoir, or a string of buckets, turned by a mule, lifts the water from a well. But it is in the economy of distributing water to the fields that the most marvellous skill is exhibited. The grade of the surface must not only be preserved, but the subtle, tricksy spirit of water so delicately understood and humored that the streams shall traverse the greatest amount of soil with the least waste or wear. In this respect, the most skilful application of science could not surpass the achievements of the Majorcan farmers.
Working my way homeward through the tangled streets, I was struck with the universal sound of wailing which filled the city. All the tailors, shoemakers, and basket-makers, at work in the open air, were singing, rarely in measured strains, but with wild, irregular, lamentable cries, exactly in the manner of the Arabs. Sometimes the song was antiphonal, flung back and forth from the farthest visible corners of a street; and then it became a contest of lungs, kept up for an hour at a time. While breakfasting, I had heard, as I supposed, a miserere chanted by some procession of monks, and wondered when the doleful strains would cease. I now saw that they came from the mouths of some cheerful coopers, who were heading barrels a little farther down the street. The Majorcans still have their troubadours, who are hired by languishing lovers to improvise strains of longing or reproach under the windows of the fair, and perhaps the latter may listen with delight; but I know of no place where the Enraged Musician would so soon become insane. The isle is full of noises, and a Caliban might say that they hurt not; for me they murdered sleep, both at midnight and at dawn.
I had decided to devote my second day to an excursion to the mountain paradise of Valdemosa, and sallied forth early, to seek the means of conveyance. Up to this time I had been worried — tortured, I may say, without exaggeration — by desperate efforts to recover the Spanish tongue, which I had not spoken for fourteen years. I still had the sense of possessing it, but in some old drawer of memory, the lock of which had rusted and would not obey the key. Like Mrs. Dombey, I felt as if there were Spanish words somewhere in the room, but I could not positively say that I had them, — a sensation which, as everybody knows, is far worse than absolute ignorance. I had taken a carriage for Valdemosa, after a long talk with the proprietor, a most agreeable fellow, when I suddenly stopped, and exclaimed to myself, '• You are talking Spanish, — did you know it?” It was even so : as much of the language as I ever knew was suddenly and unaccountably restored to me. On my return to the Four Nations, I was still further surprised to find myself repeating songs, without the failure of a line or word, which I had learned from a Mexican as a school-boy, and had not thought of for twenty years. The unused drawer had somehow been unlocked or broken open while I slept.
Valdemosa is about twelve miles north of Palma, in the heart of the only mountain-chain of the island, which forms its western, or rather northwestern coast. The average altitude of these mountains will not exceed three thousand feet; but the broken, abrupt character of their outlines, and the naked glare of their immense precipitous walls, give them that intrinsic grandeur which does not depend on measurement. In their geological formation they resemble the Pyrenees ; the rocks are of that palombino, or dovecolored limestone, so common in Sicily and the Grecian islands,—pale bluishgray, taking a soft orange tint on the faces most exposed to the weather. Rising directly from the sea on the west, they cease almost as suddenly on the land side, leaving all the central portion of the island a plain, slightly inclined toward the southeast, where occasional peaks or irregular groups of hills interrupt its monotony.
In due time my team made its appearance, — an omnibus of basket-work, with a canvas cover, drawn by two horses. It had space enough for twelve persons, yet was the smallest vehicle I could discover. There appears to be nothing between it and the two-wheeled cart of the peasant, which, on a pinch, carries six or eight. For an hour and a half we traversed the teeming plain, between stacks of wheat worthy to be laid on the altar at Eleusis, carob-trees with their dark, varnished foliage, almond-orchards bending under the weight of their green nuts, and the country - houses with their garden clumps of orange, cactus, and palm. As we drew near the base of the mountains, olive-trees of great size and luxuriance covered the earth with a fine sprinkle of shade. Their gnarled and knotted trunks, a thousand years old, were frequently split into three or four distinct and separate trees, which in the process assumed forms so marvellously human in their distortion, that I could scarcely believe them to be accidental. Doré never drew anything so weird and grotesque. Here were two clubbeaded individuals fighting, with interlocked knees, convulsed shoulders, and fists full of each other’s hair ; yonder a bully was threatening attack, and three cowards appeared to be running away from him with such speed that they were tumbling over one another’s heels. In one place a horrible dragon was devouring a squirming, shapeless animal ; in another, a drunken man, with whirling arms and tangled feet, was pitching forward upon his face. The living wood in Dante was tame beside these astonishing trees.
We now entered a wild ravine, where, nevertheless, the mountain-sides, sheer and savage as they were, had succumbed to the rule of man, and nourished an olive or a carob tree on every corner of earth between the rocks. The road was built along the edge of the deep, dry bed of a winter stream, so narrow that a single arch carried it from side to side, as the windings of the glen compelled. After climbing thus for a mile in the shadows of threatening masses of rock, an amphitheatre of gardens, enframed by the spurs of two grand, arid mountains, opened before us. The bed of the valley was filled with vines and orchards, beyond which rose long terraces, dark with orange and citron trees, obelisks of cypress and magnificent groups of palm, with the long white front and shaded balconies of a hacienda between. Far up, on a higher plateau between the peaks, I saw the church-tower of Valdemosa. The sides of the mountains were terraced with almost incredible labor, walls massive as the rock itself being raised to a height of thirty feet, to gain a shelf of soil two or three yards in breadth. Where the olive and the carob ceased, box and ilex took possession of the inaccessible points, carrying up the long waves of vegetation until their foamsprinkles of silver-gray faded out among the highest clefts. The natural channels of the rock were straightened and made to converge at the base, so that not a wandering cloud could bathe the wild growths of the summit without being caught and hurried into some tank below. The wilderness was forced, by pure toil, to become a Paradise ; and each stubborn feature, which toil could not subdue, now takes its place as a contrast and an ornament in the picture. Verily, there is nothing in all Italy so beautiful as Valdemosa !
Lest I should be thought extravagant in my delight, let me give you some words of George Sand, which I have since read. “ I have never seen,” she says, “ anything so bright, and at the same time so melancholy, as these perspectives where the ilex, the carob, pine, olive, poplar, and cypress mingle their various hues in the hollows of the mountain, — abysses of verdure, where the torrent precipitates its course under mounds of sumptuous richness and an inimitable grace.While you hear the sound of the sea on the northern coast, you perceive it only as a faint shining line beyond the sinking mountains and the great plain which is unrolled to the southward ; — a sublime picture, framed in the foreground by dark rocks covered with pines ; in the middle distance by mountains of boldest outline, fringed with superb trees ; and beyond these by rounded hills which the setting sun gilds with burning colors, where the eye distinguishes, a league away, the microscopic profile of trees, fine as the antennæ of butterflies, black and clear as pen-drawings of India-ink on a ground of sparkling gold. It is one of those landscapes which oppress you because they leave nothing to be desired, nothing to be imagined. Nature has here created that which the poet and the painter behold in their dreams. An immense ensemble, infinite details, inexhaustible Variety, blended forms, sharp contours, dim. vanishing depths, — all are present, and art can suggest nothing further. Majorca is one of the most beautiful countries of the world for the painter, and one of the least known. It is a green Helvetia under the sky of Calabria, with the solemnity and silence of the Orient.”
The village of Valdemosa is a picturesque, rambling place, brown with age. and buried in the foliage of fig and orange trees. The highest part of the narrow plateau where it stands is crowned by the church and monastery of the Trappists ( Cartusa), now deserted. My coachman drove under the open roof of a venta, and began to unharness his horses. The family, who were dining at a table so low that they appeared to be sitting on the floor, gave me the customary invitation to join them, and when I asked for a glass of wine brought me one which held nearly a quart. I could not long turn my back on the bright, wonderful landscape without; so, taking books and colors, I entered the lonely cloisters of the monastery. Followed first by one small boy, I had a retinue of at least fifteen children before I had completed the tour of the church, court-yard, and the longdrawn, shady corridors of the silent monks ; and when I took my seat on the stones at the foot of the towers, with the very scene described by George Sand before my eyes, a number of older persons added themselves to the group. A woman brought me a chair, and the children then planted themselves in a dense row before me, while I attempted to sketch under such difficulties as l had never known before. Precisely because I am no artist, it makes me nervous to bewatched while drawing; and the remarks of the young men on this occasion were not calculated to give me courage.
When I had roughly mapped out the sky with its few floating clouds, some one exclaimed, “ He has finished the mountains, there they are!” and they all crowded around me, saying, “Yes, there are the mountains !” While I was really engaged upon the mountains, there was a violent discussion as to what they might be ; and I don t know how long it would have lasted, had I not turned to some cypresses nearer the foreground. Then a young man cried out: " O, that‘s a cypress ! I wonder if he will make them all, — how many are there ? One, two, three, four, five,—yes, he makes five!” There was an immediate rush, shutting out earth and heaven from my sight, and they all cried in chorus, “One, two, three, four, five,—yes, he has made five !” “ Cavaliers and ladies,” I said,
with solemn politeness, “ have the goodness not to stand before me.” “To be sure ! Santa Maria ! How do you think he can see ? ” yelled an old woman, and the children were hustled away. But I thereby won the ill-will of those garlicbreathing and scratching imps, for very soon a shower of water-drops fell upon my paper. Next a stick, thrown from an upper window, dropped on my head, and more than once my elbow was intentionally jogged from behind. The older people scolded and threatened, but young Majorca was evidently against me. I therefore made haste to finish my impotent mimicry of air and light, and get away from the curious crowd.
Behind the village there is a gleam of the sea, near, yet at an unknown depth. As I threaded the walled lanes, seeking some point of view, a number of lusty young fellows, mounted on unsaddled mules, passed me with a courteous greeting. On one side rose a grand pile of rock, covered with ilextrees,— a bit of scenery so admirable, that I fell into a new temptation. I climbed a little knoll and looked around me. Far and near no children were to be seen ; the portico of an unfinished house offered both shade and seclusion.
I concealed myself behind a pillar, and went to work. For half an hour I was happy ; then a round black head popped up over a garden-wall, a small brown form crept towards me, beckoned, and presently a new multitude had assembled. The noise they made provoked a sound of cursing from the interior of a stable adjoining the house. They only made a louder tumult in answer ; the voice became more threatening, and at the end of five minutes the door burst open. An old man, with wrath flashing from his eyes, came forth. The children took to their heels; I greeted the new-comer politely, but he hardly returned the salutation. He was a very fountain of curses, and now hurled stones with them after the fugitives. When they had all disappeared behind the walls, he went back to his den, grumbling and muttering. It was not five minutes, however, before the children were back again, as noisy as before ; so, at the first thunder from the stable, I shut up my book, and returned to the inn.
While the horses were being harnessed, I tried to talk with an old native, who wore the island costume, and was as grim and grizzly as Ossawatomie Brown. A party of country people from the plains, who seemed to have come up to Valdemosa on a pleasure trip, clambered into a two-wheeled cart drawn by one mule, and drove away. My old friend gave me the distances of various places, the state of the roads, and the quality of the wine; but he seemed to have no conception of the world outside of the island. Indeed, to a native of the village, whose fortune has simply placed him beyond the reach of want, what is the rest of the world ? Around and before him spread one of its loveliest pictures ; he breathes its purest air; and he may enjoy its best luxuries, if he heeds or knows how to use them.
Up to this day the proper spice d flavor had been wanting, Palma nad only interested me, but in Valdemosa I found the inspiration, the heat and play of vivid, keen sensation, which one (often somewhat unreasonably) expects from a new land. As my carriage descended, winding around the sides of the magnificent mountain amphitheatre, in the alternate shadows of palm and ilex, pine and olive, I looked back, clinging to every marvellous picture, and saying to myself, over and over again, “ I have not come hither in vain.” When the last shattered gate of rock closed behind me, and the wood of insane olivetrunks was passed, with what other eyes I looked upon the rich orchardplain ! It had now become a part of one superb whole ; as the background of my mountain view, it had caught a new glory, and still wore the bloom of the invisible sea.
In the evening I reached the Four Nations, where I was needlessly invited to dinner by certain strangers, and dined alone, on meats cooked in rancid oil. When the cook had dished the last course, he came into a room adjoining the dining apartment, sat down to a piano in his white cap, and played loud, long, and badly. The landlord had papered this room with illustrations from all the periodicals of Europe : dancing-girls pointed their toes under cardinals’ hats, and bulls were baited before the shrines of saints. Mixed with the woodcuts were the landlord’s own artistic productions, wonderful to behold. All the house was proud of this room, and with reason ; .for there is assuredly no other room like it in the world. A notice in four languages, written with extraordinary flourishes, announced in the English division that travellers will find “ confortation and modest prices.” The former advantage, I discovered, consisted in the art ot the landlord, the music and oil of the cook, and the attendance of a servant so distant that it was easier to serve myself than seek him ; the latter may have been “modest” for Palma, but in any other place they would have been considered brazenly impertinent. I should therefore advise travelleis to try the “ Three Pigeons,” in the same street, rather than the Four Nations.
The next day, under the guidance of my old friend, M. Laurens, I wandered for several hours through the streets Peeping into court-yards, looking over garden-walls, or idling under the trees of the Alameda. There are no pleasant suburban places of resort, such as are to be found in all other Spanish cities ; the country commences on the other side of the moat. Three small cafés exist, but cannot be said to flourish. for I never saw more than one table occupied. A theatre has been built, but is only open during the winter, of course. Some placards on the walls, however, announced that the national (that is, Majorcan) diversion of baiting bulls with dogs would be given in a few days.
The noblesse appear to be even haughtier than in Spain, perhaps on account of their greater poverty ; and much more of the feudal spirit lingers among them, and gives character to society, than on the main-land. Each family has still a crowd of retainers, who pertorm a certain amount of service on the estates, and are thenceforth entitled to support. This custom is the reverse of profitable ; but it keeps up an air of lordship, and is therefore retained. Late in the afternoon, when the new portion of the Alameda is in shadow, and swept by a deliciou breeze from the sea, it begins to be frequented by the people; but I noticed that very few of the upper class made their appearance. So grave and sombre are these latter, that one would fancy them descended from the conquered Moors, rather than the Spanish conquerors.
M. Laurens is of the opinion that the architecture of Palma cannot be ascribed to an earlier period than the beginning of the sixteenth century. I am satisfied, however, either that many fragments of Moorish sculpture must have been used in the erection of the older buildings, or that certain peculiarities of Moorish art have been closely imitated. For instance, that Moorish combination of vast, heavy masses of masonry with the lightest and airiest style of ornament, which the Gothic sometimes attempts, but never with the same success, is here found at every step. I will borrow M. Laurens’s words, descriptive of the superior class of edifices, both because I can find no better of my own, and because this very characteristic has been noticed by him. “Above the ground-floor,” he says, “ there is only one story and a low garret. The entrance is a semicircular portal without ornament; but the number and dimensions of the stones, disposed in long radii, give it a stately aspect. The grand halls of the main story are lighted by windows divided by excessively slender columns, which are entirely Arabic in appearance. This character is so pronounced, that I was obliged to examine more than twenty houses constructed in the same manner, and to study all the details of their construction, in order to assure myself that the windows had not really been taken from those fairy Moresque palaces, of which the Alhambra is the only remaining specimen. Except in Majorca, I have nowhere seen columns which, with a height of six feet, have a diameter of only three inches. The fine grain of the marble of which they are made, as well as the delicacy of the capitals, led me to suppose them to be of Saracenic origin.”
I was more impressed by the Lonja, or Exchange, than any other building in Palma. It dates from the first half of the fifteenth century, when the kings of the island had built up a flourishing commerce, and expected to rival Genoa and Venice. Its walls, once crowded with merchants and seamen, are now only opened for the Carnival balls and other festivals sanctioned by religion. It is a square edifice, with light Gothic towers at the corners, displaying little ornamental sculpture, but nevertheless a taste and symmetry, in all its details, which are very rare in Spanish architecture. The interior is a single vast hall, with a groined roof, resting on six pillars of exquisite beauty. They are sixty feet high, and fluted spirally from top to bottom, like a twisted cord, with a diameter of not more than two feet and a half. It is astonishing how the airy lightness and grace of these pillars relieve the immense mass of masonry, spare the bare walls the necessity of ornament, and make the ponderous roof light as a tent. There is here the trace of a law of which our modern architects seem to be ignorant. Large masses of masonry are always oppressive in their effect; they suggest pain and labor, and the Saracens, even more than the Greeks, seem to have discovered the necessity of introducing a sportive, fanciful element, which shall express the delight of the workman in his work.
In the afternoon, I sallied forth from the western coast-gate, and found there, sloping to the shore, a village inhabited apparently by sailors and fishermen. The houses were of one story, flat-roofed, and brilliantly whitewashed. Against the blue background of the sea, with here and there the huge fronds of a palm rising from among them, they made a truly African picture. On the brown ridge above the village were fourteen huge windmills, nearly all in motion. I found a road leading, along the brink of the overhanging cliffs, toward the castle of Belver, whose brown mediæval turrets rose against a gathering thunder-cloud. This fortress, built as a palace for the kings of Majorca immediately after the expulsion of the Moors, is now a prison. It has a superb situation, on the summit of a conical hill, covered with umbrella-pines. In one of its round, massive towers, Arago was imprisoned for two months in 1808. He was at the time employed in measuring an arc of the meridian, when news of Napoleon’s violent measures in Spain reached Majorca. The ignorant populace immediately suspected the astronomer of being a spy and political agent, and would have lynched him at once. Warned by a friend, he disguised himself as a sailor, escaped on board a boat in the harbor, and was then placed in Belver by the authorities, in order to save his life. He afterwards succeeded in reaching Algiers, where he was seized by order of the Bey, and made to work as a slave. Few men of science have known so much of the romance of life.
I had a long walk to Belver, but I was rewarded by a grand view of the Bay of Palma, the city, and all the southern extremity of the island. I endeavored to get into the fields, to seek other points of view ; but they were surrounded by such lofty walls that I fancied the owners of the soil could only get at them by scaling-ladders. The grain and trees on either side of the road were hoary with dust, and the soil, of the hue of burnt chalk, seemed never to have known moisture. But while I loitered on the cliffs the cloud in the west had risen and spread; a cold wind blew over the hills, and the high gray peaks behind Valdemosa disappeared, one by one, in a veil of rain. A rough tartana, which performed the service of an omnibus, passed me returning to the city, and the driver, having no passengers, invited me to ride. “What is your fare?” I asked. “ Whatever people choose to give,” said he,—which was reasonable enough ; and I thus reached the Four Nations in time to avoid a deluge.
The Majorcans are fond of claiming their island as the birthplace of Hannibal. There are some remains supposed to be Carthaginian near the town of Alcudia, but, singularly enough, not a fragment to tell of the Roman domination, although their Balearis Major must have been then, as now, a rich and important possession. The Saracens, rather than the Vandals, have been the spoilers of ancient art. Their religious detestation of sculpture was at the bottom of this destruction. The Christians could consecrate the old temple to a new service, and give the names of saints to the statues of the gods ; but to the Moslem every representation of the human form was worse than blasphemy. For this reason, the symbols of the most ancient faith, massive and unintelligible, have outlived the monuments of those which followed.
In a forest of ancient oaks near the village of Arta, there still exists a number of Cyclopean constructions, the character of which is as uncertain as the date of their erection. They are cones of huge, irregular blocks, the jambs and lintels of the entrances being of single stones. In a few the opening is at the top, with rude projections resembling a staircase to aid in the descent. Cinerary urns have been found in some of them, yet they do not appear to have been originally constructed as tombs. The Romans may have afterwards turned them to that service. In the vicinity there are the remains of a Druid circle, of large upright monoliths. These singular structures were formerly much more numerous, the people (who call them “the altars of the Gentiles”) having destroyed a great many in building the village and the neighboring farmhouses.
I heard a great deal about a cavern on the eastern coast of the island, beyond Arta. It is called the Hermit’s Cave, and the people of Palma consider it the principal thing to be seen in all Majorca. Their descriptions of the place, however, did not inspire me with any very lively desire to undertake a two days’ journey for the purpose of crawling on my belly through a long hole, and then descending a shaky ropeladder for a hundred feet or more. When one has performed these feats, they said, he finds himself in an immense hall, supported by stalactitic pillars, the marvels of which cannot be described. Had the scenery of the eastern part of the island been more attractive, I should have gone as far as Arta ; but I wished to meet the steamer Minorca at Alcudia, and there were but two days remaining.
- Sauvenirs d'un Voyage d'Art à l’Isle de Majorque. Par J.-B. Laurens.↩