Around Spain in a Blue Serge Suit

Entrance to Burgos by David Roberts, 1838

Entrance to Burgos by David Roberts, 1838

Snippets 89. Charles Marriott (1869-1957) was a writer of fiction with five novels to his name by the time he travelled to Spain and wrote about his experiences there in 1908. A Spanish Holiday is a travel journal detailing his time spent travelling with a friend around Spain. We previously looked at a couple of quotes from his journal in Snippets 36 and Snippets 65. The following quotes are from different locations, the first Burgos, the capital of Castile in northern Spain, and the second from Madrid, but both concern the difficulties Marriott experienced with adapting to the Spanish climate.

At three o’clock on this blazing afternoon we found half-a-dozen beggars outside the portal, wrapped in their blankets, dozing in the sun. On the strength of our dusty and generally down-at-heel appearance they accepted us as brothers, and told us that there was no chance of hospitality till four o’clock. Speaking of dust, by the way, I’m inclined to doubt if a dark blue serge suit – thoughit has the advantages of being hard-wearing and inconspicuous and passable in most of the social emergencies which are likely to befall the stranger – is quite the best clothing for rough travelling in the interior of Spain, at any rate in summer. While we were in the Castiles we felt like millers; the dust was so fine that it sank into the material, and the application of a clothes-brush only served to bring it to the surface in white lines. If it had rained we should have been encased in a sort of dough…

Before we got back to our hotel we had begun to recognise that the summer heat of Madrid is a very serious matter. We envied the tram drivers and conductors their suits of brown holland and the soldiers their uniforms of grey-blue linen. Evidently the question of summer clothing is of grave importance to the dandy of Madrid. A young man in a holland knickerbocker suit, with a pith helmet and black silk stockings, was the centre of a little half-admiring, half-critical group of his acquaintances. One felt that he was the dernier cri. Fortunately our room at the hotel looked out into a sort of well where the sun did not penetrate, and the room itself was admirably arranged to give not only the feeling but the look of coolness, with a stone floor and walls of hard white plaster. The top of the tall wardrobe being chained to the wall suggested earthquakes. The only covering to the beds was a sheet and a light counterpane, and the most prominent object on the table was a large carafe of porous earthenware, beaded with moisture, which diffused an atmosphere of coolness throughout the room. It is amusing to recall how quickly our resolution not to drink water in Spain broke down. Disregarding the awful experience of an artist friend of ours, whose whole class of pupils took typhoid from polluted water in Granada a year or two earlier, with the death of one and the madness of another, we drank greedily, and for the next hour or so bared ourselves to the stone floor and talked, touched, tasted, and thought nothing but water. It was only by a fortunate accident that, when well advanced in the removal of our clothes, we discovered that our window faced across the well, at a dozen feet, the open window of a room in which a very quiet and sober family were assembled.

Marriott returned to Britain and penned several more novels, before turning to art criticism. He was the art critic for The Times from 1924 to 1940.


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