Book Diary: The Meccas of the World (Anne Warwick)

My pre-trip search for books about Madrid really has turned up some unusual and wonderful stuff (another reason to be thankful for it).  Mostly this has been thanks to my sister, who found this one (via the internet) in a second-hand book shop on Broadway and had to have it shipped over to the UK at not inconsiderable expense. It is fantastically strange, and were it not for having fallen completely for Ben Lerner’s, Leaving the Atocha Station, it would be my favourite of all the pre-Madrid reads.

Mecca

It was written in 1913 and is kind of semi-fictionalised account of New York, Paris, Vienna, London and Madrid, all ‘meccas of the world’ according to the author, Anne Warwick, who – bringing the Shakespearean maxim ‘all the world’s a stage’ to a physical manifestation – has arranged the cities into chapters forming a chronology that mirrors the theatre and, ‘the play of life’ (according to the subtitle).  For example, Paris’s chapter is called, ‘The Curtain Rises’ and poor old Madrid’s is ‘The Broken Down Actor’, the last chapter of the book and all about former glory.  I skipped straight to the Madrid chapter where she is wholly scathing about all aspects of the city, the inhabitants and the country of Spain in general. To précis, her view is that Spain is living in the past, suckling off its former glory as a colonial power and refusing to enter the modern era, all at its own expense.  There are also such gems as this, describing All Spanish Women:

“I have often wondered whether Spanish women are stupid because they are kept in seclusion or whether they are secluded because they are stupid.  It is hard to separate the cause from the effect.  But certainly the Spanish beauty of song and story is rarer than rubies to-day; while the animation that gives charm even to an ugly French or American woman is utterly lacking in the Española’s heavy, rather sensual features.”

The book has some great picures too.
The book has some great pictures too.

I loved the descriptions of the foibles – as Warwick sees it – of the Spanish, such as the fact that some would rather go without essentials, than go without a carriage for the Paseo (a carriage being the status symbol of the era), so much so that women would dress their top half in the finest clothes and wear a carriage rug over their knees to hide the fact that having the carriage meant they could not afford to clothe their bottom half.

Despite the vitriol, it has made me yet more in love with Madrid and Spain. Perhaps because of having previously read Jan Morris’s, Spain and so having an overview of the country’s social history (or maybe just because I can only ever romanticise an era I’ll never know or fully understand), I remain mesmerized by her turbulent story and excited for her future.  It’s amazing to think that in 1913, when this book was written – and a mere one hundred years ago – Spain had yet to endure the horrors of the civil war, the ensuing Franco years and the vitality of the Movida following his death.  I feel proud of her.

“The supreme moment: man and beast juggle for life”

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