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SPAIN: Farewell to Peacocks

5 minute read

In times past the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Moors and Spaniards have overrun the Island of Mallorca, “Pearl of the Mediterranean” off the coast of Spain. Their admixed descendants, the Mallorcans, have very black, sunken eyes, a strangely dissipated look. They lazily raise silk worms, goats, oranges, olives, almonds.

Years ago Mallorca was discovered by a few Britishers who like to dress for dinner in semitropical climates. They encouraged Mallorcans to keep prices amazingly low ($1 a day for hotel room & meals). They swam staidly in the little blue bays, played tennis at the Royal Lawn Tennis Club, in El Terreno, swank suburb of medieval Palma. But in 1931 the peseta sank to a new low and a new horde overran Mallorca: U. S. hard-drinkers who wanted to live like characters in a novel by Ernest Hemingway. They set up their own bars in Mallorca’s famed caves. They started a fad of imitating a peacock’s screech, slept all day, screeched like peacocks all night. Tourist prices began to skid upward. Travel publicity brought new thousands of law-abiding U. S. tourists, many of whom stayed to open their own shops, restaurants, travel bureaus and pensions.

Last year it occurred to the Mallorca police that there were “too many Americans” in Mallorca. They arrested U. S. Writer Robert Macalmon and Negro Tenor Roland Hayes for defying a local ordinance against boarding the daily boat to Barcelona to say good-by to friends. On the technical charge of not registering passports they arrested a U. S. woman who produces little plays in Palma, a man who edits a little U. S. newspaper. Still new waves of Americans swept over Mallorca.

Last month U. S. President Rutherford B. Hayes’s Grandnephew Rutherford Fullerton, a retired businessman from Columbus, Ohio, invited two young U. S. artists and the wife of one of them to a game of ping-pong and a round of brandy at the Hotel Mediterraneo in El Terreno. They were all feeling fine when the artist’s wife, Mrs. Clinton Benedict Lockwood, heard sounds of a row between the doorman and a drunk. She went to pacify him while the doorman left to get help. He returned with a big stranger, dressed in an opera bouffe green and yellow uniform, carrying a rifle in a yellow leather sling. He was a member of Spain’s famed Guardia Civil, crack police corps on whose goodwill largely depends the survival of the Spanish Republic. The Guardia Civil trains its picked men to have an exaggerated sense of personal dignity, backs them up in it. The Spanish Government backs the Guardia Civil. But to the merrymakers in the

Hotel Mediterraneo the green and yellow man was just a policeman.

Mrs. Lockwood “remonstrated”‘ with him to let the drunk alone. The drunk caterwauled. The guardsman knocked the drunk down, broke his eyeglasses. Mr. Lockwood rushed up. The guardsman spanked Mrs. Lockwood with the flat of his sabre. Husband Lockwood punched the guardsman’s eye. More green and yellow men appeared, took the five to Palma’s jail in the ruins of a medieval monastery. Charge: the military offense of assaulting a Civil Guard. Minimum penalty if convicted by a military court: five years. Two of the five prisoners, including Rutherford Fullerton, were held only as witnesses.

To the five’s succor came the new U. S. Ambassador to Spain, Claude Gernadc Bowers, on his first Ambassadorial chore. He appealed thrice to Foreign Minister Fernando de los Rios on grounds of “common justice,” pointing out that the crime, technically grave, was a joke. He protested to the War Department. He was told the charges were in the hands of a military auditor who promised to act quickly. Then Ambassador Bowers asked for the five’s release on bail. Denied, he appealed directly to Spain’s Premier Manuel Azana. Last week, a month and a half after the evening at the Hotel Mediterraneo, he had gotten no answer.

U. S. newspapers demanded that the U. S. Government protect its citizens from such “abuse,” call for a speedy and reasonable trial. They printed a story that Mrs. Lockwood was hysterical from confinement with an insane Mallorcan woman. Meanwhile in Palma, Mrs. Lockwood was studying Spanish and practicing on the ‘cello, the men were playing handball in the prison yard, “Having a grand time. X marks our room.” They were allowed to have food sent from outside, to bathe in the tin washtub of the watchman’s wife. At night they could hear an occasional peacock screeching in the distance.

Mallorcans, remembering the peaceful days before the Americans came, simmered for stiff sentences for the five prisoners. The simmer came to a boil last week when they read partial translations of an article on Mallorca in the U. S. smartchart American Mercury by U. S. Journalist Theodore Pratt. It called the mountains “bare,” the climate “a drizzly, chilly disappointment,” the roads “dusty holes,” the cooking “inferior,” the wine unpalatable, the big city Palma “squalid, sunless, damp,” the natives pigheaded, dishonest, “among the cruelest to animals extant in the civilized world,” “malicious sadists,” “illiterate,” lazy and contrary. “Respectable married fishermen sneak off into the bushes with any young native girl inclined that way. … A lively business was being carried on in the smuggling of cocaine.”

Mallorcans know Mr. Pratt well as El Sandalio because of his likeness to a Spanish film actor. One night last week a mob of 300 Mallorcans went to call on him at his villa in Puerto Pollensa. They threatened to lynch him if he continued his “criticisms of Mallorcan life and morals.” The Guardia Civil shooed the mob away. Next day the publishers of the English language newspaper, the Palma Post, were ordered to move out.

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