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Spy Who had Class

The cover of Herb Hahn’s copy of the cassette of The Spy Went Dancing by Aline, Countess of Romanones

It was the summer of 1971. Lenore, my BW (beautiful wife) and I booked a fly/drive tour to Spain. The BW was teaching Advanced Placement Spanish at Spring Valley High School in Rockland County, NY. A number of her students had been to Spain, but she had never been there. So, we had to go. Her department chairman had been to Spain numerous times and suggested that we use his travel agent, Bill Griffith, whose specialty was planning customized trips to Spain. Bill ran his/our itinerary by his sister, who happened to be Aline, The Countess of Romanones. She made a few suggestions and gave her brother the final approval.

We flew into Madrid, picked up a rental Seat, stick shift. Oy vey! Our hotel in Madrid was the Pintor Goya, walking distance to the Bull Fighting Ring. We went there the following day. We walked to the Prado Museum, walked around Madrid and the Plaza Mayor, drove to Segovia...but the real story is about the Countess, Aline, to her friends. From Madrid, we drove west to the region of Extremadura, to Trujillo where Bill Griffith owned a 500-year- old dwelling. Further west, the Countess said to stop in the little village of Santa Marta de Magasca, not on the map, to check out the hand-loomed rugs at the ancient rug factory in the center of town. We bought a rug, but that was the year the stevadores were striking, plus, President Nixon imposed a 10 % surcharge on imports that summer. So, we had it flown in and picked it up in New York...it was still a bargain. Next stop westward bound was the Finca Pascualete, located on a famed Extremedura estate that has been in her husband's family for nearly 800 years. The Palacio itself was built in Roman times. Neither the Count nor the Countess were at home but the Guardessa (housekeeper) ushered us in anyway and gave us a tour of the Palacio, and then fed us. Over the door to the Countess' bedroom was a sign which read Condessa and over her husband's door was the sign Conde. Interesting.

One of the ten best-dressed women of the world, the rich, beautiful, Aline Griffith from Pearl River, New York, during the early years of World War II, was working as a model for Hattie Carnegie in New York City. On a blind date in Manhattan, she met a recruiter for the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, and was sent to Spain as an Intelligence Agent. It was 1943. In Spain, she met and later married her husband Luis Figueroa y Perez de Guzman el Bueno, Count of Quintanilla, later Count of Romanones. He passed away in 1987. He only learned about her spying after they became engaged, and was opposed to his wife's placing herself in harm's way. As a result, she withheld from him a great deal of what she was doing. She developed a grand and impressive social life and after a night of partying with politicos and aristocracy, passed the gossip bandied about on to the Office. She said: "I got accustomed to living with a certain amount of tension: I would have frightening encounters, and I would be quaking, and I couldn't tell Luis." It took its toll—mostly, she says, in the form of "a not very elegant diarrhea." Her circle of acquaintances included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, as well as the bullfighters Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez.

The Countess has written several books about her exciting life. She is in her nineties and now lives in Spain and in Manhattan off Park Avenue, and is still writing books. Her friends include Ivana Trump. I have a copy of her book on cassette, The Spy Went Dancing, which she herself narrates. The paperback was published in 1990. It is the true story about the search for artworks stolen by the Nazis and the hunt for a mole who stole NATO secrets. Her partner in this episode is her close friend Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Here the plot thickens. According to the FBI, the Windsors were Nazi sympathizers. The Countess says "preposterous, the duchess was extremely American and one of the most patriotic women I've ever known".

But one thing is certain; the Countess is a classy and interesting person. Her first book about her career as a spy was titled The Spy Wore Red. The hardback was published in 1987. She then wrote The Spy wore Silk in 1991. The list goes on, but Aline's first book, The History of Pascqualete is quite different from all her other books. In it, she researches her husband's family history and his family estate. The owner of several large ranches worked by tenant farmers, the Count had never visited his property in the province of Extremadura. But Aline persuaded him to make the trip. With her urging, they transformed the estate, Pasqualete, into a warm, hospitable country home complete with a private chapel, swimming pool, and airport. I suspect the book is out of print, but I was fortunate to find a copy in the local Finkelstein Library, in Spring Valley, New York. It was published in 1964. 

  Some of Countess Aline's acquaintances (from left) Lauren Bacall, Tyrone Power, Audrey Hepburn and Ronald Reagan

Back to our itinerary, we kept driving west to Caceres, close to the border of Portugal...but that, in itself, is another story. There we turned around, stopping overnight at a lovely old Parador that was previously a monastery and is now a government run B&B. We turned the rental car in when we returned to Madrid. From there we took a bus south to Andalucia, accompanied by our own personal guide. A lot of Jewish history there ...the statue of the Rambam in Cordova, Granada and the Alhambra, and on to Seville and a live flamenco performance. We did it all by bus. And that is just skimming the surface...we did so much more.

So thank you Bill Griffith whom we first met in Pearl River, NY, and thank you Aline Griffith, the Dowager Countess of Romanones, for a memorable trip to Spain. Now the BW could face her students and speak with some authority about Spain.

Post Note: I completed my story November 28, 2017. Two weeks later, December 11, 2017, Aline Griffith passed away at age 94. 

 

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