Tuesday, November 19, 2013

You Just Can't Get Good Help Anymore

Washington Irving, already a celebrity of sorts as a literary gent, takes his ease as a guest of the Governor of Granada in the palace/fortress of the Alhambra. Probably no site on the travel itinerary better suited his taste for romantic storytelling, tinctured with unvarnished malarky. Here he considers his situation in the hands of his staff, including (among others) Antonia, the de facto proprietress, and Mateo Ximenes, his personal attendant--considers, and finds it suitable:
The good dame Autonia fulfils faithfully her contract with regard to my board and lodging; and as I am easily pleased, I find my fare excellent; while the merry-hearted little Dolores keeps my apartment in order, and officiates as handmaid at meal-times. I have also at my command a tall, stuttering, yellow-haired lad, named Pepe, who works in the gardens, and would fain have acted as valet; but in this he was forestalled by Mateo Ximenes, "the son of the Alhambra." This alert and officious wight has managed, somehow or other, to stick by me ever since I first encoun- tered him at the outer gate of the fortress, and to weave himself into all my plans, until he has fairly appointed and installed himself my valet, cicerone, guide, guard, and historiographic squire; and I have been obliged to improve the state of his wardrobe, that he may not disgrace liis various functions; so that he has cast his old brown man- tle, as a snake does his skin, and now appears about the fortress with a smart Andalusian hat and jacket, to his infinite satisfaction, and the great astonishment of his comrades. The chief fault of honest Mateo is an over- anxiety to be useful. Conscious of having foisted himself into my employ, and that my simple and quiet habits render his situation a sinecure, he is at his wit's ends to devise modes of making himself important to my welfare. I am in a manner the victim of his officiousness; I cannot put my foot over the threshold of the palace, to stroll about the fortress, but he is at my elbow, to explain everything I see; and if I venture to ramble among the surrounding hills, he insists upon attending me as a guard, though I vehemently suspect he would be more apt to trust to the length of his legs than the strength of his arms, in case of attack. After all, however, the poor fellow is at times an amusing companion; he is simple-minded and of infinite good humor, with the loquacity and gossip of a village barber, and knows all the small-talk of the place and its environs.
So Washington Irving, The Alhambra, composed around 1829, available here.  I'd say that anyone who condescends to his tour guide "simple-minded and of infinite good humor" ought not be surprised if he finds himself first in the queue for the guillotine. 

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