My Sister Phyllis Pearsall Gross
And the Meaning of Truth
About Our Brother Tony...
Our Brother Anthony Gross
As a War Artist, ca. 1942
I am dedicating this page as a tribute to our brother Anthony (Tony) Gross. He and I were never quite as close as I was with Phyllis, though that is simply the way of two men as opposed to a brother and sister. But we began to know each other during his trips to New York to exhibit his paintings, and in 1953 we certainly cane to know each other a good deal better during the month I spent living with the family in Chelsea's Old Church Street.
Tony was always a good deal more direct than Phyllis, he did not share her habit of seeking out subtleties and certainties, and he usually tried to say just what was on his mind and nothing beyond. It's true that he sided with Phyllis in disagreements we later had about our father's will, but I'd like to assign this to no more than the generation dividing us and Papa's sudden departure for America forty years earlier.
My tribute comes in two parts, the main one being the reproduction of part of a memoir Tony wrote for family members, and I'll get to that in just a paragraph or two. But first I'd like to introduce to anyone who may be curious a side of Tony that not too many people may remember. My brother was not only a well-known war artist, engraver, and painter, during the Thirties he also embarked upon the career of film animation. Both Papa and Phyllis made much of his achievements in this field and informed me that one of his films gained praise in its day even from Walt Disney.
One day during the late Forties Papa and Phyllis took me to the basement of the Museum of Modern Art to see a special screening of this film. It was called Joie de Vivre (or Joy of Living) and was a delightful, whimsical romp co-authored with his friend Hector Hoppin that truly captured the spirit of its title. You'll see two long-legged beauties contending with weird plant forms, swimming nude, and directing the trains of a busy city as they are chased and courted by a would-be lover until they finally all surrender together and depart on a bicycle built for three.
This film was long a rarity, but thanks to the magic of the web, you are now about to see all nine minutes of Joie de Vivre. Welcome back to the visual world of 1934! As one commentator put it, "In my not very modest opinion I say that this is the best animated short film ever made. That's it!" You'll find this and a dozen other comments right after you've watched this film, which you are just about to achieve by clicking here:
The main part of my tribute to Tony comes from a brief memoir he wrote about his time in France and Spain as an art student during the Twenties. I've chosen the part that means the most to me, his tale of a long donkey ride he took from Madrid all the way up to the Basque coast. It displays Tony at his most vigorous and carefree and reminds me of myself at the same age when I was traveling in Greece. Unlike me, Tony was exceptionally strong in his youthhe boxed, he took bullfight lessons, he did everything a young man did during the age of Hemingway.
Obviously it took real physical strength riding a donkey over a route of some 250 miles, and it also took a happy-go-lucky outlook to even attempt it. The closest I can come to this is in 1958 when I was hitch-hiking from Athens down through the Morea (as the locals call the Peloponnesus). Before you remind me that hitchhiking is nothing like riding a donkey, I need to point out that you simply can't imagine what Greek roads were like during the late Fifties. In the Morea many were little more than broad trails of dust, and cars were few and far between (the joy being that in those days after waiting forever the people were so friendly that almost every car would pick you up).
I made it all the way from Athens across the straits to Corinth and then down to Patras, but beyond there hitching really became difficult. Some twenty hours later, after fitful dozing by the roadside, I finally made it to the inland town of Andritsena, where I found an inn. The next day I took up the hiking part of the hitchhike process, as cars had now vanished. I walked some six miles to my final goal, the ancient temple of Bassae, being at that time a fervent fan of the ancient Greeks. Things got worse on the way back...but enough of my mishaps, let's look at a real traveller, my brother Tony about to mount his donkey...
By now the season was well on--it was already the beginning of June, and the school would soon close for the summer vacation. Then my mother wrote to me "Why not buy a donkey and come home on that?" She sent me the money, and my friends and I along with a few extra ones who joined us for the occasion took ourselves to the cattle market. We quickly found a fine little fellow, a plump donkey which we all considered in excellent condition, and I bought it.
A few minutes later I had bought donkey bags, bridle, and all other necessary items for a donkey. We were now in the middle of a crowd of gypsies, and after paying for a round of aguardiente (spirits), we managed to escape with the donkey, already named Rucio by my Spanish friends, after the most famous of all Spanish donkeys, Sancho Panza's own.
We got the donkey back to the Calle de la Libertad and tied him to a lamp post. I quickly paid my bill, packed my bags, and loaded up the donkey. The whole street was out on their balconies or at their windows waving to me as I left. Gloria told me to call at her village near Valencia, but this was quickly canceled when she imagined to herself the picture of my arriving at her parents on a donkey!)
I went off towards La Sierra de Guaderama. But as soon as I turned off at the end of our street, Rucio and I found ourselves in tram lines, and within a minute a tram was tinkling away at me trying to pass. From that moment it was absolute hell. Traffic coming at me from all sides, people insulting me, trams trying to passhowever I knew my way and kept doggedly on and slowly the traffic began to subside, and gently I found myself out on a country road.
I sat down on a grassy bank and let Rucio munch the grass and reflected. The weather had turned to a very hot sunny day, the first day of summer. I pulled my top clothes off me and tucked them into the saddle bags, got up and wandered off again.
I caught up with another traveller, carying a box of sardines on his head, and soon a third, an umbrella-mender. We carried on together, the sardine vendor depressed by the hot sun, which was turning his sardines rotten, and the umbrella-mender equally sorrowful as he thought that with the summer starting early he wouldn't have any umbrellas to mend!
We came to a village, Colmenar Viejo, and I followed my companions into the posada, I found some hay and oats for Rucio and tied him up in his stall. Then I came out for some supper and found that the whole village was in great excitement, as the following day was its festival.
I stayed for the Festival and met an elderly Spanish painter, who specialized in village scenes under moonlight. Eventually I tore myself away from this charming village and its festival and started up into the Sierra. I spent another night in a village, before crossing the Guadarrama, where I was told that at this season there was an excellent shortcut across the Sierra. It was easy to findat the top of the mountain the track divided into two, and I should take the right hand fork.
Away we went, Rucio and me. Up and up into the mountain. Till reaching the summit, I saw a shepherd quite near the track, with a sheepskin over his back and a large umbrella. But as I went up to him, his dogs attacked me. The more he told them to stop, the harder they charged. I pushed through them and asked him the way. He sniggered and explained he was testing his dogs. He had told them to attack with the word (in Spanish) to heel! I spent some time, a half hour or so with him. He pointed out to me Lobos (wolves) on a nearby hillside--saying at this season they were not dangerous. I left him and carried on until I reached the fork at the top and to my bewilderment, there were three tracks, not two as I had been led to believe.
So I tossed up and took the middle one, which after a couple of miles petered out. I could see a road at the bottom of the mountain and decided to make for it. Then with Rucio and the saddle bags and the canvas thongs cutting into his bottom, I hanging on to the thong and the bags, we tumbled down the hillside, eventually we reached the bottom only to find a barbed wire fence. We skirted this until we came to a gate. I opened this and we went through. There was only a grass verge of twenty yards between us and the road.
We rushed ahead, and disaster befell us. It was a bog, and Rucio sank in until only his head was showing, and the saddle bags were resting on the grass. Luckily at this moment two stonebreakers appeared around the bend, and seeing our predicament stepped forward, seized the bridle, and with a colossal heave lifted Rucio bodily out of the bog.
We crossed on to the road, where I thanked them. When I told them I was looking for a posada, they told me "Come with us" and with that dumped a huge basket of tools on Rucio's back. His knees sagged as the weight hit him. There was nothing I could do about itand the tired beast and myself did the two or three miles into the village in their company. As we passed the posada, they nodded to it, and we said god speed to each other, they took their bags, and I entered the inn.
I asked about supper, and the lady said bring your food and I will cook it. I went off, found a butcher and baker and arrived back with my purchases, and after a short time I had a good supper. I visited the village and found it full of holiday makers from Madrid. Next morning I went on to Buitrago. Here I stayed a while at a posada run by a handsome young woman who engaged me to paint her house! Finally I came out of the Sierra, and in the evening light I sat by the roadside before entering the village posada.
It was a beautiful evening, the tall grey poplar trees, the distant mountains were blue in the setting sun. I left entering the inn till rather late and found that the only place left for me was by the entrance door. I took Rucio into his stable, looked after him, munched my own food while filling a sack with straw and laying it down in my space. I was soon fast asleep. In the middle of the night I was woken by the creaking of a huge gate opening and looking up saw the bellies of six mules striding over mebut I was soon asleep again. At the end of the large room, around which we, the travellers were all sleeping on the floor, was a sort of stage on which was placed a matrimonio, a huge bed, from which the proprietor and his wife overlooked their guests.
The following morning I was away early and reached the first town of any importance so far on my travels, Aranda de Duero. It was a Sunday, I found a posada and checked Rucio in, then I went to visit the town. As I wandered around, I began to realize the state I was in. All my clothes were torn to shreds from crossing the Guadarrama, my shoes were in bad shape. I was dirty, and in fact as I was admiring the church a stone whizzed by me. I realized that the children were taking me for a tonto (a village idiot).
As a number more stones followed, I tooks sanctuary inside the church. but a few moments later as I dared to come out, a veritable hale of stones fell about me. I espied a cabaret on the other side of the square and made a dash for it. I found myself among Sunday crowds and joined them for a meal. After finishing this, I crept out and found my tormentors had gone home. So I returned to my lodgings, found another suit, and borrowed needle and thread from the proprietor's wife. I spent several hours making one suit out of two.
I called for hot water and had a bath and a shave and in general pulled myself together. On the following day I bought myself some espadrillos (canvas and string shoes). Put away my loose cheviot tweed trousers, through which the straw pricked me at night. Bought some corderoys, a basque _berrete_, a _faja_ (a belly cummerbund), and generally adopted myself to travelling with a donkey in Spain. I must have done some drawing in Aranda, but do not remember anything in particular. I called the proprietor for my bill, but while waiting for it he insisted on my drinking a copa of aguardiente with him. I paid and was off.
A few miles further on I started to add up my bill in my head again and found that I had been grossly overcharged, but there was no going back now. I had travelled three kilometres, which would have added nine kilometres to my journey, so I wrote off my loss.
By now I was beginning to settle down to my journey. I was making about 15 to 20 kilometres each day. Rucio and I were beginning to know each other. Whenever I stopped, so did Rucio, even a kilometer away, and if I wanted him to join me, I had to go back and fetch him.
At one village I came to, I was chided for giving Rucio too many oats, half the quantity would be sufficient. But my critic did not realize that Rucio was walking great distances every day, for when I left this village, Rucio dashed out ahead of me, running for the first time I had had him and only stopped at a patch of grass he had noticed on his arrival at the village. Here he stayed for several hours grazing. So after that I put Rucio back on his normal rations.
I passed several large villages, including Lerma. The country was beginning to become greener, A muleteer invited me up onto his wagon seat, pulled by six mules, and it was a pleasant relaxation chatting to him with the landscape passing me by slowly. While I was drawing abreast of this wagon, I noticed that his dog was sound asleep on a cradle slung beneath it.
I came to a largish village on a Sunday. There was a large village green with little houses and a huge Castilian church dominating everything. The place was empty of inhabitants, so I decided to draw it. I had hardly started when the bells in the church started ringing, and soon the parishoners were coming out of their houses towards me.
They came up and started to menace me with their fists, and I understood that they were angered at my working on a Sunday. The crowds around me grew more rowdy until at last a priest pushed his way through and questioned me, but finding my Spanish bad, talked to me in French. I offered to stop painting and apologized. He told the villagers that I was French, and that the Fremch often work on Sundays, that I had apologized, and he had forgiven me. With that they all dispersed.
A few days later, while approaching over a slight hill, I noticed ahead down by a bridge a number of men looking over the edge of the road. Only their heads were visible for a moment before all diappeared. Then I saw approaching me a man wearing a felt homburg hat, a creased town suit, and wrinkled tie. I noticed he was also wearing espadrillos on his feet and that he had obviously not shaved for several days. As we came abreast of each other he looked intensively at my donkey and its bags and at me. He saw a botijo, an earthenware water carrier, dangling from one of the baskets.
He greeted me in bad French "Tu es Francais?" to which I answered yes. Then he continued "Tu ramasses des botijos, and again I said yes. Then he added in French "To sell in France," and again I answered in the affirmative. He was obviously delighted to have the opportunity of airing his French in front of his companions, who had by now climbed out of the ditch and were looking on. He then gave them a nod as much as to say I was O.K., and they relaxed. Then with a low bow he waved me on.
On arrival at the next village I found them all agog. "Had I seen any bandits?" "Had I seen anything untoward?" I told them what I had seen and asked for a posada. They took me to a charming inn, run by a pleasant plumpish young lady, who when I asked her for lodgings answered that "she was full up." At that moment a muleteer arriving from behind her, looked me over very carefully and told her I was alright. Then with a smile she accepted me saying "She had to be so careful these days."
I recounted my adventure to them, and they congratulated me on still being alive. "That yes, there was quite a trade in earthenware pots made in the district, with French boys coming over to buy them."
At midday we ate all three together a most delicious cocido. At lunch time I often made a meal of an onion, fresh bread, and olive oil, washed down by a stream of red wine squirted down my throat out of a leather bota. Then I would sleep from 1 pm to 3 pm, the hottest period of the day, in the shade of Eucalyptus trees or others, with Rucio tied to the trunk of the tree, sleeping beside me.
Once I was awakened by a sharp prod. I looked up and there were two Civil Guards looking down at me. I clambered onto my feet, and as they were looking in my baskets, I emptied their contents on the ground for their inspection. They hemmed and hawed, looked at my passport, and left me.
Another time I was woken by an old lady. On looking around me, I found Rucio had gone. The old lady was pointing angrily at two black ears sticking out over a field of oats, and promptly belabored him with her stick, saying all the time that the field belonged to her. I managed to grab the rope hanging from his collar and tied him up again.
I had not realized that Rucio was a donkey stallion until one evening, while we were going through a small village, a stoutish and pleasant lady was riding home on her lady donkey. As is the custom, she was sitting sideways over the animals's buttocks facing backwards, and she did not see that Rucio, realizing her lady donkey was in heat, was dangling a great pole between his legs. As we passed each other, he rose on his hind legs; the lady donkey was clearly interested and started to dance around. The peasant woman, now realizing her position, started belaboring both donkeys for all she was worth, and Rucio in particular, but by doing so she fell off with her two legs in the air, and swore at me for traveling with such a dangerous beast.
I was following the Great North Road, the Carreterra de Francia. It traversed the limestone countryside, La Meseta, the table land maintaining a steady 1000 meters above sea level. It was a fine, flat landscape crossed at intervals of 10 to 15 kilometres by ridges of barren rocks. While the crops were still standing it was a pleasure to see, but once the harvest was in, it became a desert. It used to take me the best part of a day to cross from one ridge to the next, with Rucio following a mile or so behind me! The road crossed the ridges of bed rock with bumps and dips, as the subsoil protrudes above or below the level of the road, but luckily for us on both sides of the road there were dusty pathways wide and soft enough for the hooves of donkeys, sheep, goats, or mules.
The general colour of everything is ochre. The sky slightly greener, the foreground pinker. In the evening the shadows are blue, and in early morning everything is aglow with light. Rucio followed the soft track, putting up his own tiny dust cloud. Occasionally he trotted but usually he walked or ambled along, stopping wherever possible to munch a weed or a clump of yellow grass.
Although we often left the Carreterra to reach a village or hamlet, we would soon pick it up again. On one occasion on arriving at a fine town, as I approached it, I found a river barred the way. On the far side a group of women were washing clothes. I jumped on Rucio and prodded him forward, but half way across the river deepened, and Rucio was soon swimming, and I beside him. When the women saw that there was no danger, they rolled over laughing their heads off. I crossed through the town soaked through, but no matter, it was a sunny afternoon, and I was soon dry again. But when we reached the Sierra de Burgos, I decide to cross it by the highest pass, and we left the Carreterra for good.
As I entered a fine mountainous area with trees and green pastures, I was just thinking to myself how pleasant it would be to stay in such a pleasant place, in the shade with tinkling streams in the ditches and butterflies and flowers, such a contrast to the mesesta. But being short of cash, I thought I should carry on without stopping to reach Burgos, where I had arranged at the post office to pick up my money. But as we were walking along the little road, I spied a silver coin in the road, a duro (a five pesetas piece). That was it, the Gods meant me to stop here. I left the road to reach a small hamlet a short distance away. I reached the village but found it completely empty--the villagers were all away harvesting. An old lady came along, and I asked her if there was an inn, she shook her head and said her son was the Alcalde (the mayor) and he would be back at sunset and that I should await his arrival. Which I did.
In the dusk a whole crowd of villagers came in, and the Alcalde looked me over and said "Thou shalt stay with me." He asked me if I had any money. I said I had a duro. O.K. he said, follow me. I did, was given a room with a bed and a jolly good plate of soup and supper. We chatted a bit, but all and everyone were tired out and went to bed. The next morning when I woke, the only person left on the farm was the old lady and myself. She begged me that when I reached Burgos I should buy her a sweepstake ticket--the National Sweepstake draw was the next day--and gave me a peseta to buy it. She refused to take any money for the night's ledging and meal. So I was forced to leave without paying. When I arrived at Burgos that evening, I found I had by error left behind a perfectly new pair of army boots! So I felt she had won her sweepstake after all.
In Burgos I found myself a Casa de Huespedes run by a wife of a member of the Guardia Civil. He looked me over, looked at my papers and eventually was a great help. I had traveled the last mile or so before the town with a couple of Limpia Botas, boot-blacks, young boys going to the city's feria (fiesta). They were very poor--but then I had only a duro on me as well! At the post office the money from my gallery was waiting for me. The Guardia Civil sergeant planned my trip to the sea for me, via Vitoria, Miranda de Ebro, Bilbao and Bermeo.
I left Burgos with regret. The weather was changing, and I remember following a long, long road along the edge of a lake. I was so thirsty, I foolishly dropped on my hands and knees and drank some of the brackish water. I cannot remember Vitoria except the heat had gone, the weather was grey all the way to Bilbao. I left Bilbao in a hurry and went on to Bermeo (where I had a rendez-vous with a fellow student from the Academia).
I arrived at Bermeo on a Sunday, and as I reached the last hill before running down into the port of Bermeo, I caught up with some young men walking out on a Sunday afternoon. They muttered something in Spanish about a lout and his donkey. So I flared up and used some bad English swear words. As they were sailors, they at once knew the meaning, but we were soon conversing together, and when I told them I had come from Madrid and asked whether they knew the names of my friends in Bermeo, we soon became companions.
When I arrived in town, the word had gone out that I was a Milord Ingles out for a bet from Madrid to Bermeo on a donkey. However my friends soon settled this exagg-eration. I was put up at the hotel, and then the lake water I had drunk a few days before hit me, and I was as sick as a dog. However a doctor dealt with me and kept me just on the edge of illness. It was not until I decided to leave for England that the diarrhoea really attacked me, on the bus to the train. On reaching the railway station, I had to leave my trousers in the lavatory.
I caught the train, and next morning I was in Paris and that evening in London, and then and only then were the ulcers on my legs and my diarrhoea cured by a good old-fashioned English doctor, and the food cooked by my mother brought me back to life. When later I wrote to the hotel at Bermeo to ask for my donkey, I was sent such a bill for his food that I had to leave him in lieu of payment. Thus ended the story of Rucio.
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