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Look for a good guide, not an official one

In which I discuss anonymous threats from the official guide mafia, and take a brief look at some of 18th and 19th century Spain's stranger tourist gurus.

Posted by admin on Monday November 14th 2011. 2 comments

A tourist guide robs a client's wallet in an 1844 print. CC Aubert & Cie. More.

We regularly receive anonymous emails in Spanish, Catalan, and bad English threatening dreadful consequences unless we either stop all this fare il cicerone nonsense or waste huge amounts of time and money obtaining offical guide diplomas and then make annual payments to official guide guilds. Since this may be a matter of interest or concern to customers, as well as to emotionally disturbed losers, I have attempted to clarify the question in FAQs, suggesting that such menaces betray either extreme ignorance or a hankering after dictatorship. Here, though, is some rather more entertaining rubbish.

18th & 19th centuries: laissez-faire tourism

Henry Swinburne is probably as much to blame as anyone for converting Spain into an annex of the Grand Tour and thence into an obligatory destination for witless drunks who enjoy the smell of their own flesh burning. In his Travels through Spain, 1775 and 1776 he writes of local tour guides that

One of the greatest vexations a curious person experiences in travelling through Spain, is the scarcity, the non-existence of tolerable Ciceroni; those you meet with are generally coblers, who throw a brown cloak over their ragged apparel, and conduct you to a church or two, where they cannot give you the least satisfactory information concerning its antiquities or curiosities. This is literally the case at Toledo: but to make amends, they lead you to a hole in a pillar, where the host was hidden all the time that the Saracens were in possession of the city, though the whole fabric has been built from the ground since the expulsion of the Moors; for Saint Ferdinand laid the first stone of the present church in 1226. They also shew you the stone on which the Virgin Mary stood, when she came to pay a visit to Saint Ildephonsus, and which is worn through by the fingers of the pilgrims. Ask them any thing about the Mosarabic chapel, and what is done there, they will tell you, as they did us, that mass is said there in Greek.

Washington Irving had been and gone, the market grew, and in late 1840s Granada William George Clark (Gazpacho: or Summer months in Spain (1850)) witnessed the following battle between the son of Irving's guide, a monolingual "son of the Alhambra," whose "family had lived in the fortress ... ever since the conquest ..., old Christians, without any taint of Moor or Jew", and his principal competitor, a polyglot Jewish renegade:

As we were all waiting in the diligence-bureau, till the custom-house officer had gone through the ceremony of unlocking and locking the trunks, I was accosted by a dapper young fellow in Andalucian costume: 'Señor! your worship is a stranger?--an Englishman? Ah, I knew it! Milor, (these laquais-de-place think that every Englishman likes to be so addressed, and they are right,) I am at your feet--I am Mateo Ximenez, son of old Mateo--honest Mateo, the Mateo of Vasindon Eerveen, the son of the Alhambra, who will show you every stone in Granada.' On the other side, an elderly person introduced himself as Señor Vigarai, landlord of the adjacent hotel, where he entreated me to stay, vaunting its superior cheapness, &c. But as I prefer being fed for two dollars per diem to being poisoned for one, I shook off the touting landlord, (a character very rare in Spain,) and trudged off to the Fonda de Minerva, closely followed by the officious Mateo. I was shown to a spacious apartment on the first floor, where I proceeded to instal myself, Mateo aiding unbidden.

We had not been there five minutes before a dark, keen-eyed man, with a fierce moustache, appeared at the open door, cap in hand, and addressed me in English--'Good bye, Sare! how you do? I am Immanuel Bensaken, of Gibraltar, British-born; much commended in dat red book you wear in your hand, page 129,--Give me leave, Sare?' He proceeded to find the place, but Mateo, high in wrath, broke in with a torrent of vituperation, speaking Spanish, the substance of which seemed to be that I belonged to the Ximenez family by right of prior discovery. Bensaken, on the other hand, claimed me by right of conquest, because the English were masters of Gibraltar. 'Milor,' said Mateo to me, in a tone of solemn warning, 'this man is a Jew, a thief, a runaway, a renegade Jew.'

Bensaken, upon this, assured me that old Mateo had helped one of his sons to murder a man, holding him down while the son despatched him with a knife. The dispute lasted some time, and I was at last obliged to request the two to fight it out in the corral below, promising myself as the prize of the survivor.

By then Emanuel Bensaken had already worked for Owen Jones and made his literary debut in Richard Ford's A handbook for travellers in Spain (1845), and was to appear regularly in subsequent English Andalusian travlit--see for example GA Hoskins' Spain, as it is (1852), AC Andros' Pen and pencil sketches of a holiday scamper in Spain (1860), Matilda Betham-Edwards' Through Spain to the Sahara (1868), Henry Blackburn Travelling in Spain in the present day (1869).

The cut-throat rivalry between this intruding guide clan and the home-grown Jiménez has much of Exodus about it--glib cosmopolite Aaron/Blair bitterly resented by grim thoughtful Moses/Brown--to which is added wariness of Jewboys, anglocabrones, and such. And there we have the intellectual basis for present-day tourist guide legislation and practice. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Alfonso XII to Azaña: cautious promotion, little regulation

Granada was probably Spain's principal tourist attraction in the late 19th century, and Mr Cádiz tells me that Granada's local authorities were the first in Spain to try to restrict market access for allochthonous guides, somewhere in the 1870s. However, market growth on the whole was so slow that central state intervention when it came aimed to stimulate rather than regulate, and Carmelo Pellejero Martínez writes in "La política turística en España. Una perspectiva histórica" that growth remained the sole objective of national tourism policy from its inception under the monarchy in 1905 through the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera until the end of the Second Republic.

And so the first notable tourist guide legislation, the Royal Decree of 25 April 1928 (which Mr Cadiz says was copied from the French), aiming to maximise the benefits of the upcoming Barcelona and Seville Expositions, creates the Patronato Nacional de Turismo and envisages a role for state-recognised tourist guides, "Qualified persons with advanced command of foreign languages and with adequate artistic culture to serve as guides for tourists." But there seems to have been no attempt to define or exclude unsuitable persons, and, while in 1929 a formal legal distinction was made between Local, Island, Provincial and National Guides, what with monarchic paralysis and republican chaos nothing much seems to have happened.

And then came Franco and official guides, and a legacy of paranoid and interested interventionism which may well outlive the European Union.

Background from Wikipedia:
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  1. looby says:

    A most entertaining article Baldie with plenty to explore beyond the irritatingly autonomous explorers in whose lineage you clearly belong.

    I had a regrettable moment of weakness when living in Lisbon and realsing the gaping hole in educated urban tourism that goes beyond pasteis de Belem and other cliches. With retrospect, instead of trying to work out Portuguese law, I wish I'd started up a walking tour business and challenged anyone to say where it says I *can't* do this. And now I've given someone my idea.

  2. Mr Baldie says:

    I was kind of hoping you were going to take the Accrington franchise, with Lisbon in June.


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