"Nine months of winter, and three months of inferno" is an old yet apt Spanish adage. Those few Americans who braved climatic considerations, and waded through the red tape to obtain a visa to a dictatorship, found themselves in the hottest (121 degrees and higher was not unusual), dryest, poorest, and most isolated of Europe's states.
This year's drought, the worst in ten years, puts Spain in a desperate position. Grain is critically short--Madrid's otherwise fertile surrounding plains were brown scorched dust. Necessary raw materials, except in the relatively prosperous Barcelona section, are virtually non-existent, partly because of Spain's low productivity, and partly because of few favorable trade agreements; mechanical equipment such as tractors is for the far-distant future. Railroad stock, built before the 1936 Civil War, is worn out: trains are the slowest, dirtiest, most uncomfortable in Europe.
Yet the most critical shortage of all is hydroelectric power: consumer electricity is shut off until nine every evening throughout the country; even elevators do not run.
If Spain is suffering so badly, just how does Dictator Franco manage so keep his subjects content? One reason is the complete censorship of foreign news and films, (even Western stage drama is carefully screened), so that the people are kept in ignorance, and can be tuned to official propaganda. Another reason is that the Army is kept large and happy. All bank entrances, sports events, and small gatherings are well attended by Franco's neat, prosperous, green-uniform "Guardia Civil."
Yet for the visitor all is not so bleak. Medieval Moorish mosques, alhambras, elegant cathedrals enriched with rare Grocos and Velasquezes lured some tourists. Audalusian gypsies, bright Catalunian flesta scenes, and the gay, mantilla-draped senoritas attracted others.
For the American with "muchas pesetas" (exchange rates were favorable)--regional dishes like roast suckling pig, and eggs "al flamenca" with typical sauces and spices were cheap and delicious. Few visitors missed keen Jai-alai games (a Basque invention, Jai-alai and pelota, which resemble squash, are two of the world's swiftest, most exhausting sports). The sparkling wit of the decadent Spanish theater commences evenings at 11 as do most films. The most spectacular events, however, beside peasant flestas, were the colorful bullfights put on in large arenas every Sunday.
All this pageantry may be picturesque for the tourist, but it will not solve Spain's economic ills. The land of the Knight from La Mancha has not progressed much since his day.