In mid-October of 1929, Aldous Huxley and his first wife Maria Nys set out on a road trip through Spain in their scarlet two-seated Bugatti. Starting in Barcelona, where Huxley had attended a conference which left him bored and wanting to escape, they went south along the coast through Valencia and Murcia, on to Almeria, then west to Granada, Cadiz, and Seville, before heading north again to Madrid and back to France. The entire trip took abut five weeks. Shortly after returning, Huxley described Spain as “the strangest country in Europe … one of the oddest in the world even.”
The landscape of Almeria left an indelible impression on Huxley. He expressed the harsh extremes of the environment in a poem which appeared in the collection The Cicadas and Other Poems in 1931:
Winds have no moving emblems here, but scour
A vacant darkness, an untempered light;
No branches bend, never a tortured flower
Shuders, root-weary, on the verge of flight;
Winged future, withered past, no seeds nor leaves
Attest those swift invisible feet: they run
Free through a naked land, whose breast receives
All the fierce ardour of a naked sun.
You have the light for lover. Fortunate Earth!
Conceive the fruti of his divine desire.
But the dry dust is all she brings to birth,
That child of clay by even celestial fire.
Then come, soft rain and tender clouds, abate
This shining love that has the force of hate
Some thirty years later he recalled his trip in a letter to local professor Arturo Medina (who was married briefly to Almeria cultural fixture Celia Viñas before her death). Huxley saw the dry, barren earth as a kind of philosophical metaphor. The landscape of Almeria, he wrote, “seemed to express my own preocupation with the problem of ‘pure’ intellectuality, ‘pure’ spirituality — too much sun but no rain.” As they left the city of Almeria and entered the desert, “there was a tremendous wind and the sun was blazing — ‘the winds of doctrine’ in combination with ‘spiritual light’; but no moisture, none of the vegetative life of nature itself.”
The trip came at a critical time in Huxley’s intellectual development, a few years before the publication of Brave New World. He feared that growing materialism and rapid technological advancement would stifle independent thinking and spiritual growth. A fundamental humanistic element, he believed, was lacking from the twentieth century scientific mind.
Huxley recalled that they had driven south out of the city; he was clearly wrong, as such an itinerary would have taken them into the Mediterranean ocean. Instead, as the couple was moving on to Granada, they would have headed north and through the Tabernas desert.
The photograph above was taken in November from a now unused section of the old road to Granada. Huxley surely passed this spot, around the same date eighty two years ago.