The Land of The Blessed Virgin; Sketches and Impressions in Andalusia, by William Somerset Maugham
In Seville the Andalusian character thrives in its finest flower; and nowhere can it be more conveniently studied than in the narrow, sinuous, crowded thoroughfare which is the oddest street in Europe. The Calle de las Sierpes is merely a pavement, hardly broader than that of Piccadilly, without a carriage-way. The houses on either side are very irregular; some are tall, four-storeyed, others quite tiny; some are well kept and freshly painted, others dilapidated. It is one of the curiosities of Seville that there is no particularly fashionable quarter; and, as though some moralising ruler had wished to place before his people a continual reminder of the uncertainty of human greatness, by the side of a magnificent palace you will find a hovel.
At no hour of the day does the Calle de las Sierpes lack animation, but to see it at its best you must go towards evening, at seven o’clock, for then there is scarcely room to move. Fine gentlemen stand at the club doors or sit within, looking out of the huge windows; the merchants and the students, smoking cigarettes, saunter, wrapped magnificently in their capos. Cigarette-girls pass with roving eyes; they suffer from no false modesty and smile with pleasure when a compliment reaches their ears. Admirers do not speak in too low a tone and the fair Sevillan is never hard of hearing.
Newspaper boys with shrill cries announce evening editions: ‘Porvenir! Noticiero!’ Vendors of lottery-tickets wander up and down, audaciously offering the first prize: ‘Quien quiere el premio gardo?’ Beggars follow you with piteous tales of fasts improbably extended. But most striking is the gente flamenca, the bull-fighter, with his numerous hangers-on. The toreros–toreador is an unknown word, good for comic opera and persons who write novels of Spanish life and cannot be bothered to go to Spain–the toreros sit in their especial cafe, the Cerveceria National, or stand in little groups talking to one another. They are distinguishable by the coleta, which is a little plait of hair used to attach the chignon of full-dress: it is the dearest ambition of the aspirant to the bull-ring to possess this ornament; he grows it as soon as he is full-fledged, and it is solemnly cut off when the weight of years and the responsibility of landed estates induce him to retire from the profession. The bull-fighter dresses peculiarly and the gente flamenca, imitates him so far as its means allow. A famous matador is as well paid as in England a Cabinet Minister or a music-hall artiste. This is his costume: a broad-brimmed hat with a low crown, which is something like a topper absurdly flattened down, with brims preposterously broadened out. The front of his shirt is befrilled and embroidered, and his studs are the largest diamonds; not even financiers in England wear such important stones. He wears a low collar without a necktie, but ties a silk handkerchief round his neck like an English navvy; an Eton jacket, fitting very tightly, brown, black, or grey, with elaborate frogs and much braiding; the trousers, skin-tight above, loosen below, and show off the lower extremities when, like the heroes of feminine romance, the wearer has a fine leg. Indeed, it is a mode of dress which exhibits the figure to great advantage, and many of these young men have admirable forms.
On Whitmore, you can buy the first edition. London. William Heinemann, 1905. ($ 1,150.00)
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