Arrival at Barcelona, and Tribulations at the Customhouse
The next morning I rose as they were warping the steamer into port. The city lay beautifully in the center of its amphitheater of hills. Upon the left, as we faced it, towered up Montjuich, with its lofty and impregnable fortress, so famous, unhappily, in civil broil. To the right and near us, was the fine mole, behind which was the suburb of Barceloneta, with its painted dwellings and its crowd of factories and busy industry. In the inner harbor, just in front of us, lay quite a fleet of vessels, from many nations, all with their colors at half-mast, to betoken the solemnity of the religious festival. The buildings of the city-proper looked white and imposing in the distance, and every thing ashore was inviting enough to make us more and more impatient of the health-officer’s delay. At last, that functionary came: took our papers, as if we had been direct from Constantinople, with the plague sealed up in a dispatch for him: but finding, officially, as he knew, in fact, before, that we were just from La Ciotat, and had with us no contagion, he finally gave us leave to land and be persecuted at the Custom-house. Leaving our luggage to be trundled up in solido after us, we gave ourselves into the hands of the boatmen, who landed us safely charged us mercifully, and bade us “go with God.”
After a short walk we reached a gate where we were told to halt and give our names to an officer. We dictated and he wrote, but I trust he may not be held to strict account for the perverted and unchristian style in which he handed us down to posterity and the police. Many a more innocent looking word than he made of my name, have I seen (in Borrow’s “Zincali,” for instance) traced all the way back to the Sanscrit. After being thus translated into Catalan we were called up, by our new titles, to be searched. This process was not very easy to bear patiently, for the custom-house officers are the principal agents through whom France fraternizes with Catalonia, in the smuggling-line, and we felt that they might, with a good conscience, have said nothing about our gnats, after having swallowed so many camels of their own. Nevertheless, we all managed to keep temper, except the Italian, who, as he had never gone twenty miles, in his own country, without having to bribe a custom-house squad, felt it his duty to be especially indignant at the same thing, when away from home. He had designed (he said) to give the rascals a “petseta” (as he would persist in calling the peseta, or twenty-cent-piece) but he would not encourage such villainy! The officials shrugged their shoulders, thought that something must be wrong, felt his pockets over again, and after having politely requested him to pull out the contents, begged him to “pasar adelante,” or, in other words, get out of the way, with his nonsense. He was prudent enough to obey, but not without some very didactic observations upon “questi Spagnoli,” in general, and inspectors of the customs, especially. We then marched to the palace-square, upon which the “Cafe de las siete puertas,” opened one of its seven portals to welcome us to breakfast. The Custom-house was opposite, and in due season we became possessed of our carpet-bags, and proceeded to the “Fonda del Oriente,” which had been recommended to us as the best hotel in the city.
The Fonda is a fine-looking house, fronting on the Rambla, the principal public walk, and would, no doubt, be very comfortable among the orientals, with whom its name asserts consanguinity; but as the cold spring wind still whistled from the hills, it gave us small promise of comfort, with its tiled floors uncarpeted, its unchimneyed walls, and its balconies with long, wide windows, so admirable to look out from, and so convenient for the breeze to enter. I pulled aside the crimson curtains which shut up my bed in an alcove, and there came from it an atmosphere so damp and chill, that I did not wonder at the hoarseness of the artists in the adjoining chamber, who were rehearsing what would have been a trio, had not the influenza added another part. It being very obvious that comfort and amusement were only to be found out of doors, we soon had a rendezvous in the court. The Fonda was a famous gathering-place of diligences, and there was one which had just arrived. We had made large calculations upon the grotesqueness of these vehicles, for we had all read the strange stories which travelers tell of them; but, unhappily, the one before us was a capital carriage, of the latest style and best construction, and the conductor and postillion looked and swore very much after the manner of the best specimens of their class in France and Italy. Only the mules excited our wonder. There were eight of them—tall, powerful animals, and each was shorn to the skin, from hough to shoulder-point, with little tufts upon the extremities of ears and tail. They might readily have passed for gigantic rats, of an antediluvian species with a hard name, or a new variety of Dr. Obed Batteus’s “Vespertilio horribilis Americanus.”
Severn Teackle Wallis, Glimpses of Spain; or, Notes of an unfinished tour in 1847 (1849). Read on