Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
By Edmondo De Amicis (1846–1908)
From ‘Spain’

FOR a long distance the country offers no new aspect to the feverish curiosity of the tourist. At Vilches there is a vast plain, and beyond there the open country of Tolosa, where Alphonso VIII., King of Castile, gained the celebrated victory “de las Navas” over the Mussulman army. The sky was very clear, and in the distance one could see the mountains of the Sierra de Segura. Suddenly, there comes over one a sensation which seems to respond to a suppressed exclamation of surprise: the first aloes with their thick leaves, the unexpected heralds of tropical vegetation, rise on both sides of the road. Beyond, the fields studded with flowers begin to appear. The first are studded, those which follow almost covered, then come vast stretches of ground entirely clothed with poppies, daisies, lilies, wild mushrooms, and ranunculuses, so that the country (as it presents itself to view) looks like a succession of immense purple, gold, and snowy-hued carpets. In the distance, among the trees, are innumerable blue, white, and yellow streaks, as far as the eye can reach; and nearer, on the banks of the ditches, the elevations of ground, the slopes, and even on the edge of the road are flowers in beds, clumps, and clusters, one above the other, grouped in the form of great bouquets, and trembling on their stalks, which one can almost touch with his hand. Then there are fields white with great blades of grain, flanked by plantations of roses, orange groves, immense olive groves, and hillsides varied by a thousand shades of green, surmounted by ancient Moorish towers, scattered with many-colored houses; and between the one and the other are white and slender bridges that cross rivulets hidden by the trees.  1
  On the horizon appear the snowy caps of the Sierra Nevada; under that white streak lie the undulating blue ones of the nearer mountains. The country becomes more varied and flourishing; Arjonilla lies in a grove of olives, whose boundary one cannot see; Pedro Abad, in the midst of a plain, covered with vineyards and fruit-trees; Ventas di Alcolea, on the last hills of the Sierra Nevada, peopled with villas and gardens. We are approaching Cordova, the train flies along, we see little stations half hidden by trees and flowers, the wind carries the rose leaves into the carriages, great butterflies fly near the windows, a delicious perfume permeates the air, the travelers sing; we pass through an enchanted garden, the aloes, oranges, palms, and villas grow more frequent; and at last we hear a cry—“Here is Cordova!”  2
  How many lovely pictures and grand recollections the sound of that name awakens in one’s mind! Cordova,—the ancient pearl of the East, as the Arabian poets call it,—the city of cities; Cordova of the thirty suburbs and three thousand mosques, which inclosed within her walls the greatest temple of Islâm! Her fame extended throughout the East, and obscured the glory of ancient Damascus. The faithful came from the most remote regions of Asia to banks of the Guadalquivir to prostrate themselves in the marvelous Mihrab of her mosque, in the light of the thousand bronze lamps cast from the bells of the cathedrals of Spain. Hither flocked artists, savants, poets from every part of the Mahometan world to her flourishing schools, immense libraries, and the magnificent courts of her caliphs. Riches and beauty flowed in, attracted by the fame of her splendor. From here they scattered, eager for knowledge, along the coasts of Africa, through the schools of Tunis, Cairo, Bagdad, Cufa, and even to India and China, in order to gather inspiration and records; and the poetry sung on the slopes of the Sierra Morena flew from lyre to lyre, as far as the valleys of the Caucasus, to excite the ardor for pilgrimages. The beautiful, powerful, and wise Cordova, crowned with three thousand villages, proudly raised her white minarets in the midst of orange groves, and spread around the valley a voluptuous atmosphere of joy and glory.  3
  I leave the train, cross a garden, look around me. I am alone. The travelers who were with me disappear here and there; I still hear the noise of a carriage which is rolling off; then all is quiet. It is midday, the sky is very clear, and the air suffocating. I see two white houses; it is the opening of a street; I enter and go on. The street is narrow, the houses as small as the little villas on the slopes of artificial gardens, almost all one story in height, with windows a few feet from the ground, the roofs so low that one could almost touch them with a stick, and the walls very white. The street turns; I look, see no one, and hear neither step nor voice. I say to myself:—“This must be an abandoned street!” and try another one, in which the houses are white, the windows closed, and there is nothing but silence and solitude around me. “Why, where am I?” I ask myself. I go on; the street, which is so narrow that a carriage could not pass, begins to wind; on the right and left I see other deserted streets, white houses, and closed windows. My step resounds as if in a corridor. The whiteness of the walls is so vivid that even the reflection is trying, and I am obliged to walk with my eyes half closed, for it really seems as if I were making my way through the snow. I reach a small square; everything is closed, and no one is to be seen. At this point a vague feeling of melancholy seizes me, such as I have never experienced before; a mixture of pleasure and sadness, similar to that which comes to children when, after a long run, they reach a lonely rural spot and rejoice in their discovery, but with a certain trepidation lest they should be too far from home. Above many roofs rise the palm-trees of inner gardens. Oh, fantastic legends of Odalisk and Caliph! On I go from street to street, and square to square; I begin to meet some people, but they pass and disappear like phantoms. All the streets resemble each other; the houses have only three or four windows; and not a spot, scrawl, or crack is to be seen on the walls, which are as smooth and white as a sheet of paper. From time to time I hear a whisper behind a blind, and see, almost at the same moment, a dark head, with a flower in the hair, appear and disappear. I look in at a door….  4
  A patio! How shall I describe a patio? It is not a court, nor a garden, nor a room; but it is all three things combined. Between the patio and the street there is a vestibule. On the four sides of the patio rise slender columns, which support, up to a level with the first floor, a species of gallery inclosed in glass; above the gallery is stretched a canvas, which shades the court. The vestibule is paved with marble, the door flanked by columns, surmounted by bas-reliefs, and closed by a slender iron gate of graceful design. At the end of the patio there is a fountain; and all around are scattered chairs, work-tables, pictures, and vases of flowers. I run to another door: there is another patio, with its walls covered with ivy, and a number of niches holding little statues, busts, and urns. I look in at a third door: here is another patio, with its walls worked in mosaics, a palm in the centre, and a mass of flowers all around. I stop at a fourth door: after the patio there is another vestibule, after this a second patio, in which one sees other statues, columns, and fountains. All these rooms and gardens are so neat and clean that one could pass his hand over the walls and on the ground without leaving a trace; and they are fresh, odorous, and lighted by an uncertain light, which increases their beauty and mysterious appearance.  5
  On I go at random from street to street. As I walk, my curiosity increases and I quicken my pace. It seems impossible that a whole city can be like this; I am afraid of stumbling across some house or coming into some street that will remind me of other cities, and disturb my beautiful dream. But no, the dream lasts; for everything is small, lovely, and mysterious. At every hundred steps I reach a deserted square, in which I stop and hold my breath; from time to time there appears a crossroad, and not a living soul is to be seen; everything is white, the windows closed, and silence reigns on all sides. At each door there is a new spectacle; there are arches, columns, flowers, jets of water, and palms; a marvelous variety of design, tints, light, and perfume; here the odor of roses, there of oranges, farther on of pinks; and with this perfume a whiff of fresh air, and with the air a subdued sound of women’s voices, the rustling of leaves, and the singing of birds. It is a sweet and varied harmony, that without disturbing the silence of the streets, soothes the ear like the echo of distant music. Ah! it is not a dream! Madrid, Italy, Europe, are indeed far away! Here one lives another life, and breathes the air of a different world,—for I am in the East.  6

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