All about Pythia Press Review and purchase one of our great titles Contact us for more information Letters from a French Village War Tales Pythia Press collectibles for sale
Raves and Reviews | Introduction | Order this title
Malaga Burning
An American Woman's Eyewitness Account of the Spanish Civil War
By Gamel Woolsey
Top of The List
Vietnam War Classics
POWs and MIAs
World Silence

Chapter One
It was the most beautiful day of the summer--in all the rummage box of time there could hardly have been found a more beautiful day. The sky at dawn was cloudless and the "pink band" of the tropics, the band of rosy light which ascends the sky from the horizon at twilight, rose to the zenith and faded into the growing light. Then the sun rose suddenly with a leap into the air: the long hot southern day had begun.

Enrique, our gardener, was already at work irrigating the tomatoes. As soon as the disc of the sun appeared, he stooped to tie up a straying tomato plant and went to shut off the water at the cistern. Then, without a moment's rest, he began to dig up the caked earth around the roots of the rose bushes, for the garden was his pride and joy.

"Va a hacer calor hoy!" he said, wiping his forehead. "Today it's going to be hot!" I saw him still working as I stood in my bathing suit looking down from the landing, too late as usual to bathe in the cistern, for Enrique always would irrigate before dawn--he said the morning sun burned the wet leaves. So we could only take a shower-bath in the fountain, deliciously cold and shivery under the thin spray of cold water from the sierra.

I always loved waking in Spain. The sun fell in stripes from the slatted shutters on to the red and white diamonded tiles of the floor. Noises from the street below floated up; the pattering feet of the milk goats sounded like rain drops, and their plaintive Maaaaaaaaa trembled up, while they were being milked into our milk cans. A melancholy call "Pescao--de--lo--beno" came up from the fish sellers, their hampers full of fresh fish just coming up from the sea on their lean donkeys. Another came crying the inevitable "Hay sardinas--y-- boquerones" the food of the poor, the cheapest of fishes.

More street cries Hay uvas frescas y gordas--grapes fresh and plump. Tomates y pimientos gordos--tomatoes and big pimentos. Melons, lettuces, plums, squashes, peaches and pumpkins were passing, a perfect harvest festival going by on donkeys. All the delicious fruits of the rich vega of Malaga. From time to time we could hear Maria, our cook-housekeeper, bargaining, raising her voice in horror because the melons were a farthing more today. But really we hardly bought anything in the way of fruit or vegetables, for Enrique's pride was to produce more of everything than we could possibly eat and give the superabundance to our neighbors who had no gardens.

We ate breakfast as usual in the garden by the fountain. The late summer flowers were ablaze, enormous dahlias like bursting rockets, and beds of zinnias in all the colors of a pastel rainbow and twice as big as English ones, beds of odd crimson cockscombs, beds of everlastings, beds of brown and yellow daisies, big sunflowers against the garden wall. They were all rich warm colors, all overflowing as if ripe for a harvest of flowers. Far away we could hear the sound of mules galloping around the threshing floor over a carpet of golden corn: later in the evening when the levante rose they would winnow the grain with winnowing fans.

That day lunch was rather a fiesta for we had little red salmonetes, the most delicious of all the Mediterranean fish, but very dear--Maria groaned for they cost eight pence a pound. After these came the freshest of lettuces just picked in the garden and Enrique's ripe red tomatoes. There was the wine of the country, a very good white wine, and the marvelous Spanish country bread, firm in texture and tasting of ripe wheat; and of course to end with great bowls of fruit, grapes and peaches and melons.

I do not know why I should remember this so well, except that it was the last day we ever had like that.

The heat in the afternoon was intense but it was a lovely wide sunny heat spread from horizon to horizon under the blue cloudless sky. We had no one staying with us, and it was nice to be alone again, for we had had visitors all spring. So many of our friends had come out to see our newly bought farm-house where we hoped to live cheaply and at peace on the produce of our own gardens and orchards, far from the troubles of Europe in this remote Iberia where nothing ever changed. It was lovely to have nothing in the world to do and simply bask in the day like lizards in the shade of the high white garden wall.

The house itself was a rough two-story farm-house, probably very old. The walls were four feet thick, built of stone and rubble and plastered outside and in. They insulated us from heat in the summer--I cannot say from cold in the winter, for the pure white walls, with occasional splashes of bright color from old glass pictures of the saints and shelves of old Spanish pottery, and the smooth diamond tiles under foot, looked and were singularly chilly on a wet dark day in winter. Then the only warm place was the inside of a huge old fireplace in which we sat. But in hot weather nothing is so lovely as a big Andalusian house, gay with bright flowers, fresh, immaculate and cool in any weather.

Before tea that day we bathed in the irrigation cistern which had filled again: it was just long enough for four strokes and the fresh mountain water always running was cold and crystal clear. We looked at the sea as we stood on the balcony after dressing and longed to be swimming in it, but it was much too far away to walk to in such heat, though the Mediterranean looked more lovely, more classical than ever. It was blue and still as a lake, and along the shore with its lace edging of foam the little fishing boats were sailing home, distant tiny white-sailed butterfly boats, sailing through this still fixed classical beauty--Ulysses returning--the Argonauts sailing home with the golden fleece.

We sat in the patio for tea by the fountain in the shade of the house. As we sat drinking our tea but eating nothing, for food and tea never seem to go together in Spain in summer, the servants gathered round and stood leaning on the fountain and the cistern talking to us like retainers in a Shakespearean play. As they arrived we asked them to join us in eating.

"Quieren ustedes comer?"
"Gracias, que se sientan bien."

They politely refused. "Thank you, may it do you good," with the beautiful manners of Spain where even a beggar by the road eating dry bread offers it courteously to the rich passer-by and is as courteously refused.

"Is there any news?" we asked Enrique, who had been to visit a gardener friend.
"Very little," he said. "The workers in the oxide of iron factory who struck and got twelve pesetas a day last month are now striking for fifteen pesetas a day!"

It was a fabulous sum to Enrique who had earned three pesetas a day in the Alpujarras when he was lucky enough to be working at all, and who now lived comfortably and put by money on the 120 pesetas a month he got from us. Of course he had his cottage and electricity free, and all the vegetables and fruit he could eat from the garden.

He was twenty-five and still a bachelor; Maria our cook-housekeeper was his mother and lived with him in the gardener's cottage. Her daughter Pilar, a melancholy widow, lived in our house with her ugly little girl and did most of the work. Gerald, my husband, had brought them from the Alpujarras and they were devoted to him. Maria's father had been gardener to an uncle of his who had a house in the Sierra Nevada back of Granada where we had often stayed with him. And in their eyes we were all practically Granadinos together, a great bond between us in this foreign country of Malaga. For a village in Spain is a unity; its inhabitants are like members of a clan, they have a close and indissoluble bond. "My village" is constantly in the mouth of a Spanish countryman. It is more than "my country."

Maria was tall and rather thin and still handsome at fifty-four, which is old for a Spanish woman. Her thick hair was still black and her smooth olive skin tightly drawn over the strong bones of the face. She always wore a black silk handkerchief over her hair and was always dressed in black. I suppose it had originally been mourning for her husband "dead and in glory" for twenty years, but now like all old countrywomen of the ancient school in Spain, she always wore it as the only suitable wear for this woeful world.

She was rather a severe character, rather an old Roman. Devoted to our interests and very indulgent to our oddities after her fashion, she was hard upon mankind in general and spent a great deal of time in disapproving. Novedad--Novelty was her horror. Anything new was suspect. She would not have had a leaf change. And she spoke of novedad with the same intense disapproval as an old lady in the South whom I once, as a little girl, heard hold forth on a new electric tram service which was taking the place of the old mule-drawn cars. "I have no use," she said, "for these new-fangled Northern ideas." Maria ought to have been in her service.

Enrique, her son, was a very different character. He was a gentle, charming young man and loved flowers like a Linnaeus. He had hardly ever seen garden flowers except in pots in his native village in the Sierra Nevada, and our garden and orchard looked like the Garden of Eden. You could see him standing sometimes when he was not at work gazing up into a flowering orange tree with a sort of ecstatic wonder on his face, as if he were waking in the morning of the world. The Spanish love of the land is far stronger even than that of the French, and to keep them from the soil by not cultivating the big estates and the waste land of Spain is like starving them amidst plenty.

Pilar, Maria's daughter, was a rather wan widow with one ugly little four-year-old daughter. Her life had been sad. She had married a poor laborer, a "foreigner" from another village who had been a bad lot, ill-treated her, got into trouble and deserted her. Finally she had heard that he was dead. She had had to live with Maria and at Maria's expense. Until we bought our Malaga house and brought them all down with us to this land of plenty, they had suffered often from hunger and cold in their high mountain village.

Maria had disapproved of the marriage and blamed Pilar for the outcome and treated her severely, though like all Spaniards she loved children too much to be anything but kind and indulgent to her little granddaughter, the result of it. But Pilar's sad, patient face, which seemed ready to silently endure hunger, cold and privations of every kind, always seemed to me like an illustration for the life of the Spanish poor. Without being beautiful in any usual sense of the word, it had its own bleak austere beauty, like the beauty of some austere Spanish landscapes, where the gray granite and the yellow earth mount with bare unbroken noble lines to the sky without a tree, or, one would have said, a flower; and yet the gray fragrant herbs on the barren slopes feed great flocks of goats that pass with all their bells ringing, and myriads of bees droning through the bright day.

That afternoon Pilar was leaning, as she often did, on the back of my chair as we talked. This position, affectionate and familiar and also claiming protection, seemed always to me very characteristic of the relations of Spanish servants and masters at their best. They were our "family" in the old sense of the word, as when the disgraced Wolsey asks Henry to remember his "family," his household retainers. And their relation to us was not one of monthly payments, of hiring and giving notice. We could as soon have given our children notice. Pilar one day was scolding the poor little four-year-old.

"Don't scold her so hard for such a little thing," I protested.

"I want to bring her up to do me credit when she is your servant," Pilar said, "not to be my shame."

The poor little Mariquilla was already appointed to serve my older years. And if we both live there is no doubt but that she will.

Tea was over and the servants scattered to their various tasks. Enrique to stir up the caked hot earth in the zinnia beds to give the roots air, and to prepare for his evening irrigating, which he would not begin until after the sun had set. Maria to prepare the evening meal, a great cazuela of chicken, rice and all sorts of green vegetables, and onions, tomatoes and peppers all cooked together in a huge earthenware pot over a charcoal fire, one of the most delicious meals imaginable.

I saw Pilar and the little Mariquilla crossing the garden on their way to feed the chickens and rabbits, carrying bundles of alfalfa and a basket of maize and kitchen scraps. They were laughing over some childish joke, escaped for the moment from Maria's severe eye. Pilar was wearing an old dress of mine which I had just given her and which she had hurriedly altered to fit. Clothes were her one frivolity, and her timid pride was entirely set in them. She liked to go to the shops in the village wearing a new dress and nice leather shoes but also wearing an apron to show that she was appearing in her role as servant in a big house of the English, and that if she were going to pay a visit or to shop in Malaga, she could wear something much better. She had lately begun appearing in an old coat of mine, to my distress, leaving off the graceful peasant shawl. A lovely little wind was blowing from the sea and the "pink band" was rising to the zenith; there it spreads, fades, and evening comes. We went out to the end of the garden and sat in a little mirador on top of the wall so that we could look out over the world beyond, over a lovely field of green maize already growing tall, to the olive yards stretching away towards the distant blue mountains.

To our left rose gray, stony hills covered with gray herbs that fill the air with aromatic scents of rosemary, thyme and lavender wherever you walk on them. I could hear a sheep bell that seemed as if it came from a thousand miles away, it was so thin and far-away sounding. The bats had come out and were flitting like black butterflies among the sharp-winged swallows which were performing their airy evening dance. The sky was yellow with soft diffused light pouring up from under the edge of the world.

Some laborers going home through the field called their friendly greeting.

"Buenas noches, Don Geraldo. Buenas noches, Senora! Vaya usted con Dios. "

"Go with God," we answered.

Two young workmen came by after them. "Salud!" they called, the Popular Front greeting.

"Salud !" Gerald answered rather half-heartedly.

But I answered them too: "Go with God."

Salud seemed curt and ugly after the soft Buenas noches and the splendid Vaya usted con Dios surely the most beautiful greeting in any language. And the young men's voices seemed to have an aggressive ring; their harsh Salud, though it was spoken with friendly smiles, seemed to break rudely through the lovely evening sights and sounds like an aggression from other worlds of factories, labor troubles and strikes. The evening was too lovely to be thinking of agrarian reforms and the doubtful future of Spain.

The first star had appeared and the scent of the huge night-smelling datura blossoms came drifting towards us; the little green flowers of the dama-del-noche were opening in the darkness and their lovely scent began to fill the air.

The sounds of the village came floating up to us, dogs barking, children playing, women calling. The bittersweet scent of burning herbs mixed with the scent of flowers was in the darkening air. The lovely day was over. The tranquil evening drew into a peaceful tender night.

Next Book:The Two of Us