It is about two hundred kilometers from Marseille to Perpignan, on the Spanish frontier. My crossings had always been at the start of the bullfighting season; but the last was also on the occasion of an exile's return to his native Valencia. The Spanish warship—if I remember rightly, the Jaime I, later of civil war fame—was bearing the ashes of Vicente Blasco Ibañez, rescued from their temporary resting place in a Menton cemetery, back to the province of his birth.
I made the pilgrimage from Menton to Valencia with his widow, the wealthy daughter of a former Chilian president. This dear woman had renounced everything for her author husband. They were legally married only shortly before his death, as his estranged Valencian wife, a devout Catholic, had refused to give him a divorce.
The night we arrived in Valencia we put up at the Palace Hotel in the calle Perez y Valero. We were quite a mob. The municipality of Valencia had extended its hospitality to the municipality of Menton, and the citizens of Menton are gluttons for hospitality. Half a dozen black-coated functionaries swelled our party. They were on their best behavior, and, seeing the solemnity of the occasion, never cracked a smile during the week they stayed. Before their visit was over, I figured they had gained about ten pounds of Valencian hospitality a-piece.
There must have been two hundred thousand people at the port of Valencia when the Jaime IIIngram corrected his original Jaime II to Jame I above, but left it here. Sources identify the ship as the Jaime I, see: http://archivo.dival.es/es/actividad/traslado-de-los-restos-mortales-de-blasco-ibáñez-valencia. docked at noon. A grandstand, draped with the colors of Republican Spain, had been erected facing the dock. President Zamor was there, with him a wasted shell of a man, the Catalan hero, General Macia, returned, too, from exile, and U.S. Ambassador Bowers. As I sat beside the Señora Ibañez in the President's box I was thinking back to the days I had spent with Ibañez in Nice and in Menton; of our plans for the future. Had he lived, the chances were that he would have been the first president of the Spanish Republic. He had predicted the Spanish revolution, and always insisted that when the time came for him to go back to his country I should go along with him. He had formulated plans for a national film company that would picturize his novels, and novels of a Mediterranean character by other Spanish authors. He believed that the peoples sprung from the shores of this Mediterranean basis—'The Cradle of Humanity and Culture', he called it—would have a lot to do with the ultimate fate of civilization....
During the ceremony, the most moving I have ever attended, the Señora held my hand. She wept softly and proudly as the remains were lowered from deck to wharf.
Draped over the casket of the returning exile was a banner that bore, in large letters the title of one of his novels:
LOS MUERTOS MANDAN—THE DEAD COMMAND
The delegation from Menton was leaving for France. My own plans were to go south, and at Algerias board the steamer for Ceuta in Spanish Morocco, enroute taking in bullfights at Murcia, Granada and Ronda, as the season of the toros was on.
Before I left Valencia I went with a popular matador to see the unloading of a shipment of Andalucian fighting bulls in the corrals of the plaza de toros. A mayoral or overseer of the ranch they came from was superintending the unloading. He had the neck and shoulders of a fighting bull. As each bull was released from the narrow traveling stall it had occupied for a week, the corraleros took shelter behind the burladeros which bulged the walls of the enclosure, but this minotaur kept his place in the corral. I was struck by the fact that the bulls did not attack him, and renarked to my friend that I had no idea mere man could take such liberties with fighting bulls without so much as a cape to protect him.
"He can't," said the matador. And then, with a grin: "No es hombre. Es Tooro—He's no man. He's a bull."
After the unloading we had a few drinks with the mayoral, and got him started on the subject of bull-raising. He claimed that his bulls were the finest in Spain because the pastures they came from lay near the point where the waters of the Guadalquivir reach the sea, and saline infiltration produces the marismas, a vegetable growth on which the noblest fighting bulls are raised.
He was going south at the same time as myself and invited me to visit the ganaderia where he bred them. He told us many other things of great interest to aficionados, for in his youth he had been a novillero. A serious goring put him out of the game before he had received the alternativa and status of matador de toros, but had apparently affected his nervous system in no way.
I left Spain with the first draft of a novel with a bullring background completed, this old minotaur my central character. But when I got to Nice I laid the job aside to work on something else. It was years before I picked it up again. I finished the book in Mexico in 1939.Original footnote by Ingram: Mars in the House of Death Alfred Knopf, 1939.