Morton C. Bradley, Jr., great-grandson of Theophilus and Rebecca Wylie, graduated from Harvard University. He was awarded the Edward R. Bacon Art Scholarship in 1934 to study painting for two years in the principal museums and cathedrals of Europe. His mother, Marie Boisen Bradley, accompanied him in the fall of 1934 as he began his travels. Unbeknownst to them, there was unrest in Spain that eventually led to the Spanish Civil War, and they innocently entered the country and were subsequently trapped there when the borders were closed. The following account by Mrs. Bradley upon her return home was given at the 1935 Kappa Alpha Theta Founders Day dinner in Boston, and is a fascinating record of that frightening experience (though she wrote in a very entertaining manner).
“You have asked me to tell you something about my experiences in Spain. In thinking this over, I have decided that it is necessary for me to have a check on my natural loquaciousness, so I have read over my letters home and am just going to read excerpts from them and from my journal that may interest you instead of indulging in rambling reminiscences. As many of you know, I went over with my son who is on a two year scholarship from Harvard. This is the Bacon Scholarship in Fine Arts and he is to study in the principal museums and cathedrals of Europe. We sailed by the Italian Line, late in September, got off at Lisbon, and spent 4 days in Portugal. But I had better stick to my text.
We left Boston by the Italian line, September 23rd, and landed at Lisbon. We spent four days in Portugal, which we found very picturesque and colorful. Lisbon is a beautiful city. The great Avenida, more than 300 feet wide, is one of the finest streets in Europe. It is divided into three sections by great rows of palms, and adorned with flower beds, statues and fountains. There is a small but excellent museum, and several noteworthy churches, a wonderful tropical garden, and many fine parks. Most of the streets that run off the Avenida are steep, for Lisbon is hilly. The houses are gay-colored stucco or tile, all with balconies, and bright with flowers and bird cages. Our hotel was on the Avenida, and from our windows the picture was one of amazing contrasts-oxen drawn carts, burros laden with great hampers of fruit and vegetables, automobiles, mostly American made, and innumerable fish vendors, lithe bare-foot women wearing gay bandannas and aprons, with great flat baskets of fish adroitly balanced on their heads. As we travelled north along the west coast of Portugal we were rather glad that the train was so leisurely. The countryside was fascinating. They were harvesting the grapes, great vineyards of them, purple, red, white, some low-growing some on trellises, some trained up trees. We stopped for a day at Oporto, the capitol of northern Portugal and, after Lisbon, its most important city. There were great numbers of ox drawn carts in the streets, and I loved the elaborately carved and painted yokes. Some were even decorated with silver ornaments. These and the great earthenware water jugs that the Spanish women carried on their heads I particularly coveted, but they seemed a trifle impractical to acquire as souvenirs. Oporto’s chief and most famous export is port wine. It is still made by treading the grapes. In some places they were treading them to music-more festive and picturesque than sanitary we thought!
As I look back at it now, it seems strange that no one hinted at the trouble in Spain, that was already making headlines at home. To be sure, the Portuguese language was an utter mystery to us, but we saw the United States Consul in Oporto and neither he, nor Cooks agent, suggested postponing our trip.
After we had, with complications, passed the Customs inspector at the Spanish border town of Tuy, the train became unbelievably deliberate, we had to change trains several times, and it was eight o’clock and dark when we finally limped into Vigo. We planned to spend the night in Vigo and take the morning bus to Santiago. We had been advised to go to the Continental Hotel, which was a mile from the station and on the quay, but the station was crowded with a rough and noisy crowd. The minute the porters set our bags on the station platform, those bags became the center of a milling, fighting, mob of the most disreputable looking men I have ever seen. We could not see the Continental bus, or porter anywhere and meanwhile two of the toughest looking of the men seized our bags and started to run. We started after them, telling them we wanted an auto, that we wanted to go to the Continental. “Huelga! Huelga!” said the pirates, and kept right on running. We couldn’t lose those bags, so we ran after them. My son ordered them to put down the bags and threatened to call the police. He speaks Spanish fairly well, tho’ “Huelga” did not happen to be in his vocabulary. I found myself decidedly cramped, linguistically. I had been told that the Spanish were an extraordinarily polite people, so I had concentrated on a few polite expressions, “Good morning,” “If you please,” “Thank you so much.” None of these seemed apropos. Physically I was having all I could do to hold my place in the marathon. I could achieve only an occasional outraged puff. Nature did not fashion me for a racer! There was no one to whom we could appeal. The pirates led us by dark and unfrequented ways. They took care that we met no one. After we had run for what I was convinced was at least ten miles, they suddenly darted across a brightly lighted square, into a doorway, and with the magnificent manner so characteristic of the Spanish, set our bags down in the lobby of the Continental Hotel! And then the situation began to clear up. We learned, from the English-speaking manager of the hotel, that “Huelga” means strike, that a General Strike had been declared in Spain that night, and that no busses, no autos, were running-indeed that it was surprising that our train had come in at all. The pirates suddenly became heroes. They had risked their lives to carry our bags. They had gone down those dark streets to escape attack by the strikers. We offered apologies and made amends as best we could. And this strike? Is it serious? Will the strike end soon? Oh, very soon, without a doubt, it is nothing, it cannot last. But of course there is no bus to Santiago now, one must wait.
There is nothing of interest in Vigo, except a bay of the most enchanting beauty. The next day we climbed one of the great hills that overlook the harbor, to Vigo Castle, which dates back to the Moorish occupation of Spain. The day after that, which was Sunday, we climbed another hill and observed the harbor from another angle. The Huelga continued. Not a wheel was turning, not a boat in the harbor was moving.
At dusk we went back to the hotel. Our rooms were on the second floor, great high-ceilinged rooms that had tall French windows with glass doors and heavy wooden shutters, opening onto the inevitable balcony. As we sat there utterly bored with the monotony of life in Vigo and patiently waiting for dinner-9.30 is the dinner hour in Spain-we heard a great commotion in the square in front of the hotel. “Perhaps the strike is over!” we said, and rushed to the window. The square seemed to be filled with soldiers and policemen. Right below our window two policemen were busily engaged in beating up a man. But we did not have time to take in many particulars. When they saw us at the window they instantly turned their attention, and their guns, on us. Keeping us carefully “covered” they told us-and they were not all polite about it either-to shut the shutters and to stay in the house. It did not seem a propitious time to assert our sturdy Americanism or anything like that and we almost fell over each other in our haste to obey. When we recovered our equanimity a bit we went down to see the manager. He was a Swiss, perhaps he did not altogether understand the good old Spanish customs either. At any rate, his usual calm had deserted him. He was distraught and very apologetic. He was trying to appease another guest, an irate Frenchman, who had asked why he could not stand in front of the hotel, and had been rather roughly handled by the police. Things were more serious than they had seemed, the manager explained, and many soldiers had just been sent to Vigo. There was much sniping from windows and doorways, so one must not stand in them. One must just be patient, and all would soon be well.
When I went to bed the square was quiet again, so I very cautiously and quietly opened the window and shutter a long and very narrow crack-for the night was warm. I had been in bed only a few minutes when that long narrow crack disappeared, also the square of light that marked the transom. The city was in darkness! Then a bomb went off. After that pandemonium broke loose. There was shooting and shouting everywhere-all too much of it in the square in front of the hotel, and on the quay. How I longed to close that window, and lock those shutters! But I did not dare to, for policemen were below. I later learned that there was so much activity below my window because the little street that led to Vigo’s electric transformer, which the strikers had tampered with, began there. The shooting kept up all night. I am forced to admit that I did not feel one bit brave. I was just plain scared-scared stiff. It seemed as if morning would never come, but it did after what seemed an eternity of terror. When we went down to breakfast the very suave, very Spanish clerk said, “The Senora hear some shooting last night? Senora not like? Too bad! So sorry!” The Senora fortified herself with some very black coffee and we picked our way through the broken glass to Cooks’ office. We had only one ambition now-to get out of Spain. Many posters had sprung into place on buildings and walls overnight. They declared Spain to be in a state of war, forbade people to be on the street after dark, to congregate in groups of more than two, to stand in windows, balconies or doorways, etc. They also ordered all stores to remain open or to pay a fine of 1000 pesetas a day. We glimpsed the unhappy looking store keepers lurking in the backs of their stores as we went along, trying to evade that fine and still not incur the wrath of the strikers.
When we got to Cooks’ we said that we realized that no trains or buses were running, but that we were only 40 miles from Portugal, had Portuguese visas, and surely someone could be found who would be willing to drive us to the border. The answer staggered us. “But you cannot leave Spain. The borders are closed. No one can leave.” Then we went to see the United States consul. He had not known that there were any Americans in his district, and it was a large one, too. He confirmed the sad news that the borders were closed, and advised us to wait a while longer in the hope that things would quiet down. If they did not, he said he would take steps to get permission for us to leave; if they did, we could continue our trip through Spain. The army and the police, he said, were remaining loyal to the government and it was entirely possible that the trouble would be short-lived. He took us out to the consulate to spend the day and lent us books and magazines to help us pass the tedium of our enforced stay in Vigo. There was nothing to do but wait, and hope. The milk and butter supply gave out. Fish became the principal article of diet. The waiters were on strike, and two faithful chambermaids served as waitresses-as well as helping in the kitchen. But they were afraid to serve in the dining room, which had many windows, for fear they would be shot at; and so we were served in a dark inner room, long unused, where the fleas feasted on our ankles. There were no newspapers. The radio news was all censored. In fact, we were advised by both the Consul and the hotel manager, to be very careful about what we said or wrote. Fortunately for the manager, there were only about a dozen guests-the still-furious Frenchman, a Cuban who said it was just one more Revolution to him, a few Portuguese and Spaniards, and the two Norte Americanos as they called us. None of the other guests spoke English.
When we had been in Vigo a week, the consul said he thought it would be safe to take the trip to Santiago. The busses were running again, and that part of Spain was little disturbed. We had planned to go on to Oviedo from Santiago, and from there to Burgos. But that part of our plan could never be consummated, as Oviedo was in ruins, and its fine cathedral, with its 9th century carvings, destroyed. Even the hotel where we were to have stopped had been bombed and utterly wrecked.
It is 57 miles from Vigo to Santiago, a fine road, winding through a beautiful country. Santiago de Compostela was the goal of numberless medieval pilgrimage. Piers Plowman mentions it. The Wife of Bath speaks of having been to St. Jaime. Along the road were many ancient shrines, even the “hórreos” or cribs for corn and grain bore crosses and crucifixes. We sped along this road so many pilgrims had travelled in a great modern American-made bus; we were protected by two civil guards armed with sub-machine guns and pistols. These civil guards, by the way, are the aristocrats of Spanish soldiery. They always travel in pairs, and wear great tricorns of shiny black leather, and a dashing uniform trimmed in red and yellow.
Santiago, like Vigo, is a granite city. Even the streets are made of the same huge granite blocks out of which the Cathedral is built, and some of the streets are arcaded in granite. The Cathedral is 12th century, the finest Romanesque cathedral in Spain. The city of 20,000 has 46 churches, a number of them extremely old and interesting. The hotel was attractive and modern, which is unusual in Spain-and yet we had to dispute the right of way in front of it with pigs! The pig holds an honorable and responsible position throughout Spain, but never have I seen so many, and such pink pigs, as those roaming the streets of Santiago.
We returned to Vigo in 3 days. We hardly knew our hotel when we got back-it was so dressy! There was a gay sidewalk café in front of it and bellboys, waiters and porters in uniform. Indeed the whole aspect of Vigo was changed. They told us that the railroad bridge between Vigo and Leon, which had been bombed, had been replaced by a temporary structure, and train service would now be resumed. So the next day we set forth for Leon where there is a great Gothic Cathedral with quantities of magnificent stained glass. Our departure from Vigo was much more dignified than our entrance, for this time we did not run, we rode in the hotel’s grand, shiny, red bus with chauffeur and porter in uniform.
We made poor time, even for Spain, and a pilot engine went ahead of us. We crept over the new bridge, not a very trustworthy looking affair, in the middle of the night and it was three in the morning when we finally wheezed into Leon. And then it seemed as if we had surely been precipitated into the midst of the Revolution, for the station was like an armed camp. But this, we were told, was because 10,000 troops, which were to be sent to the still turbulent Oviedo and the Asturias, were being concentrated in Leon. From Leon we went to Madrid.
Madrid is a modern city, judged by Old World standards. It lacks the charm of old Spain, and possesses no architectural treasures; but the Prado is one of the world’s great museums, the Royal armory is as supreme in its field as the Prado is in painting, and the Royal Palace one of the most sumptuous in Europe. We were in Madrid 1 ½ weeks, and made excursions from there to the Escorial, Toledo, and other places. Toledo is a fascinating orange-brown town-our guide book calls it the most interesting town of its size in Europe. The great rocky gorge of the Tagus that winds around it on three sides is spanned by two towered medieval bridges. There is a magnificent Gothic cathedral, many smaller churches of the greatest interest. El Greco’s finest work is in Toledo, for he lived and died here, and both the house of El Greco and the museum are filled with his work. The streets are so narrow that one has to stand in the doorways to let cars pass. Through these doorways one continually glimpses patios of exquisite Moorish workmanship, and everywhere are towers, gateways, and picturesque vistas.
We were little troubled by the Revolution while we were in Madrid. A great many soldiers and police on duty; occasional firing in the night; a summons now and again to report at the Bureau of Safety and explain our business in Spain; and a mighty urge on the part of various officers to investigate the Bacon Scholar’s pockets, always suspiciously bulging and innocently filled with papers and guide books, instead of the suspected firearms. These were all the inconveniences we suffered, although Spain was still nominally at war.
Early in November we went to Granada. I had expected much of the Alhambra-and I was not disappointed. We stopped on the hill, within the walls, and the view from our windows was perfect: the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas in the distance, the orange trees, cypresses, palms, flowers all around us, the sound of rushing water and in the evening the nightingales.
The palace forms but part of the fortress, the walls of which, studded with towers, stretch around the crest of the hill and overlook the city. The palace itself is a masterpiece of the purest 14th century Moorish art. It is so graceful, so delicate, so apparently fragile that it is wonderful indeed that so much has survived the wear and tear of centuries and the violence of war. The memory of Washington Irving is revered in Granada and several persons said to us that it was his books that had really awakened Spain to the beauties of the Alhambra.
You probably remember from your history-I didn’t till I reread it on the way to Spain-that the Moorish occupation of Spain lasted 700 years. Granada was their last stronghold and it was surrendered to Ferdinand in 1492. It is the remains of this Moorish civilization which lends the Oriental atmosphere and much of its charm and beauty to southern Spain. There is much of interest in Granada itself as well as on the hill. The great cathedral contains the famous tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, and many mementoes of them are in a small treasure room. Isabella’s crown-minus the jewels-her jewel box, also minus the jewels, a wonderful vestment she embroidered for Cardinal Mendoza, and many other things.
We next went to Seville-the most typically Spanish city of all. Here the mantilla and the high comb are still worn; one sees the wide stiff-brimmed, high-crowned hat characteristic of Andalusia. Even the donkeys are gayer and wear some sort of talisman on their halter-a red tassel, a silver crescent, a bit of fur. There is much that is Moorish in Seville. Its cathedral is one of the great Gothic glories of Spain. Its parks and its gardens are tropical, giant magnolias, eucalyptus, acacias, oranges, lemons, date palms, pomegranates-all grown in profusion. There are flowers everywhere, azure sky, the climate of Andalusia is famous.
We did not feel that we would have seen Spain without having seen the great mosque at Cordova. The mosque, the second largest church in the world, has been much marred by its transformation into a Christian church, but it still remains a masterpiece of Moorish art. They are now engaged in a very skillful restoration of the destroyed Moorish features.
It would be hard to tell which is the larger army in Spain-the beggars or the lottery ticket seller, the latter a national institution. The beggars detract much from the tourist’s peace of mind. They are everywhere. One cannot pause to admire the façade of a building without being beset by swarms of them. It is hard to refuse them, but to give to one only increases the persistency of the others. A man connected with the Government told us that education is very expensive, and that only about 20% of the people in northern Spain can afford to educate their children, in southern Spain, about 50%. While there is considerable wealth in the cities, the people as a whole are poor. In the south great numbers of people live in houses that are practically nothing but hollow hay or straw stacks. In the sun-baked windswept plateau of central Spain they live in adobe huts. The Gypsies, who are legion, especially around Granada, live in caves; and all through Spain we saw dugouts in the hills that were the homes of peasants. I will always believe that the peasant women, and the burros, do more than their share of Spain’s work.
All the cathedrals in Spain have their treasure rooms, to which a fee of admission is charged, as is also to sacristies, special chapels, etc. The treasure in these rooms is astounding. At Toledo only 8 or 10 persons were admitted at one time. A guide took us around, two priests stood inside the entrance, and two soldiers, heavily armed, just outside. Perhaps all this precaution was necessary. The jewels in the crowns, rings, and mitres were worth a fortune, the [custodir?] of solid gold weighed hundreds of pounds, the Madonna’s cape was embroidered in real pearls-thousands of them. Yet the beggars had almost mobbed us at the doors and many were even within the cathedral; the shabby old Sacristan was in the last stages of tuberculosis and, by all the laws of humanity and hygiene, should have been in a hospital.
Many of the portable statues, or [pasos?], that are carried in the religious processions, are extremely fine examples of ancient polychrome sculpture. Some of them are dressed in marvelously rich costumes and covered with jewels. One exquisite crown for the Madonna that we saw in Seville, they told us-and one could well believe it-was worth a million pesetas. (A peseta is about 14 cents now). And one of the Madonnas has been carried in every procession since St. Ferdinand conquered the Moors and drove them out of Seville in 1248.
Many persons ask me what the Revolution was all about, anyway. A man, who should know, told us that dissatisfaction with the last election precipitated it. For centuries the Spanish people have suffered under the dual tyranny of Church and Crown. When the Monarchy was overthrown, in 1931, great reforms, particularly in education, were expected. These have not materialized. And in the last election several conservative candidates, representing the Church won-this, by the way, through the vote of the women who voted as their priests dictated. Although it is often said that Spain is the most Catholic country in the world, the labor party there is now strongly communistic. Everywhere one sees “Viva la Comunista” painted in huge red letters, even on the walls of the churches.
Travel is difficult in Spain because the towns are so widely scattered, and the trains are notoriously slow. A train may be elegantly described as “Expreso Directo,” and still not average more than 15 miles an hour, with orders to change at unexpected and unscheduled places. Heaven help you if you are in a hurry, and if you are naturally punctual and efficient! But the people are so polite-that is, usually-that delays and lack of comforts are more easily forgotten. When you enter a railway compartment the persons seated there always greet you; when they leave, or you leave, social amenities are again in order, and they never begin to eat their lunch without inviting you to share it. If you chance, on the street, to inquire a direction, half the population accompanies you to be certain that you find the place.
We were to take the boat for Italy at Gibraltar, Nov 12. To do this we had to leave Seville by bus at 7 in the morning. And still we could not leave Spain without permission from the Bureau of Public Safety. To insure our proper behavior up to the last minute, they withheld that permission until 9 o’clock the night before we left. The paper they then gave us is among my precious souvenirs. It solemnly sets forth that the Police of Spain hold no complaint against Marie L. Bradley and son, and they are free to leave the country. So as our bus roared through the mountain roads of southern Spain, through mile after mile of silver green olive trees and gnarled old cork oaks, we realized anew that the old truth still prevails. It pays to be good! We had incited no riots, we had set off no bombs, and our reward was permission to leave Spain!
Our trip from Gibraltar on was most conventional and I shall pass over it very quickly. The trip by the Italian Line is really a Mediterranean cruise. We had a day in Algiers, where we were surprised to see many decidedly modernistic buildings and a strange combination with Arabs and veiled women. They told us that there had been a great migration of French to Algiers in the last few years and these ultra modern buildings had been put up to meet the need of apartments for them. In great contrast was the Arab quarter where 37,000 Arabs are crowded in old section of the city, with steep, narrow, and unspeakably filthy streets. Our next stop was in Palermo, in Sicily, where we had a delightful day, then a long, 12 hour stop in Naples. The weather was perfect, and we went to Pompeii, also on the famous Amalfi-Sorrento drive. There was a short stop at Ragusa, a charming little town in Yugoslavia, and then the lovely trip through the Adriatic to Trieste. From Trieste we went to Venice for a week, then to Florence for another week. And then to Rome. Italy did not seem nearly so much like a foreign country, after Spain. During the six weeks we were in Spain we did not meet a single “Norte Americano” except those in the consulates, and very few persons who spoke English. In Italy, it seemed as if half the persons we met spoke English-and there were Americans everywhere-too many I sometimes thought when the lady from California, at one pension in Rome would say in her very loud and very nasal voice, “No thank you! Why the very idea of offering fruit like that to a person from California!”
The last Sunday I was in Italy we were walking in the Borghese Park. Although it was December the trees were still green and the flowers blooming. We heard bands playing and of course had to see what it was all about. The Fascist boys, the sons of the wolf, were drilling. There were several thousand of them and they were divided into companies according to age. Several companies were made up of boys from 6 to 8. They seemed hardly more than babies! All the companies were in uniform, very snappy uniforms too, and the boys from about twelve had guns. They start preparing their cannon fodder when it is young in Italy.
I had intended to come home in January, but they told me it was nearly always stormy then, so I came in December-and enjoyed a nine day hurricane as a grand finale to my trip.”