John Dos Passos (1896–1970)
From John Dos Passos: Travel Books & Other Writings 1916–1941
“I am mad about Spain, the wonderful mellowness of life, the dignity, the layered ages,” John Dos Passos wrote a century ago, toward the end of his first trip to the Iberian peninsula in 1917. He was particularly enamored by the countryside: “we passed every now and then, long strings of mule-teams, with little tinkly bells and the drivers, wrapped like Romans in their mantas striding along behind.” And perhaps above all, he admired the evidence of Spain’s multi-millennial history and traditions, evoking “the strata of civilization—Celt-Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, and French.” As his biographer Townsend Ludington concludes, “Spain was the most important factor among many in shaping Dos Passos’s ideas and forming the way he saw the world.”
After a second trip in 1919–20, Dos Passos wrote more than a dozen magazine pieces about his travels. He heavily revised a number of them and wove them together into a semi-fictional book-length montage, Rosinante to the Road Again. In one the book’s essays, “The Donkey Boy,” he spins a narrative featuring an American tourist who encounters and accompanies a young muleteer, and we present it as our Story of the Week selection.