Cranky Excerpts from a Curmudgeonly 1913 Spain Guide Book
When you imagine a century-old travel guidebook about Spain, you’d expect a cornucopia of picturesque descriptions of the scenery and fascinating explanations of bygone customs. After all, isn’t a travel guide supposed to feature the unmissable highlights a destination has to offer? But in the 1913 Baedeker guide to Spain and Portugal, you’ll find everything but that.
When a friend referred me to a link he had stumbled upon, the full text of this early twentieth century travel guidebook, I stopped everything I was doing to read it, drooling at the thought of a romantically nostalgic perspective on a country I love so deeply… Only to find it was definitely not what I expected.
The book contains page after page of scathing remarks and ludicrous evaluations about Spanish people, culture, and history. The following are a few of the author’s ridiculously bilious takes on Spain.
“When the Arabs came to Spain, they possessed no architecture properly so called. As a race, they were as deficient as the Spaniards in constructive ingenuity; their whole strength lay in their ornamentation.”
“It would carry us too far to attempt to explain this lack of initiative and creative power by racial qualities, by political history, or by the ancient social canker of contempt for the worker with his hands.”
On Spanish “lowlife”:
“The Spanish beggar is not quite so pertinacious as his Italian confrere, but on the other hand he is also destitute of the latter’s good humour and obligingness…Nothing should ever be given to children (anda, go away).”
On restaurant service:
“The service is generally very slack. Foreign waiters are seldom met with, and the native waiter often pays more attention to his dignity as Caballero than to the artistic performance of his duties.”
On Spanish beer:
“The use of ordinary Spanish beer, however, is almost certain to produce diarrhoea in the unacclimated foreigner.”
On any guide that may rival this book:
“The professional Guides are usually very ignorant and of little use. None should be employed except those recommended at the hotels…The directions of this Handbook render them superfluous in most cases.”
“Many visitors will agree with Mr. Finck, who writes: ‘Six bulls were to be killed; I left after the third had been butchered, and his carcass dragged out by the mules – equally disgusted and bored; and nothing could ever induce me to attend another; not only because of its brutal and cruel character, but because it is the most unsportsmanlike and cowardly spectacle I have ever seen.'”
“The Spanish landlord as a rule has no idea of how to run a comfortable hotel on modern liens, and seems to think his knowledge of a foreign language is sufficient guarantee of his ability to manage a first-class house.”
On Spain’s landscapes:
“More than three fourths of Spain…is a bleak and often arid land, with few traces of picturesqueness.”
Seems like Karl’s protege was a bit too busy grumbling and moaning to take any notice of the wealth of breathtaking history, culture, art, food, and landscapes that Spain actually has to offer. I can only pity the poor soul who had to accompany him on his travels.