Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Meanwhile, on Pillage Street
This is Calle Expolio.
You could also call it "the Salamanca street until recently known as Gibraltar".
Before you smile at the irony, I should tell you that the name change isn't Salamanca's way of protesting that Gibraltar is still in British hands, as it has been since the beginning of the 18th century.
I won't tell you much about the reason for the name change. I'm convinced it's one of those Spanish controversies I just don't know enough about Spanish history, or the Spanish constitution, or anything, to comment on. I've heard both sides, watched friends bang fists and raise voices about it, and finally come to the conclusion that nobody's really talking about Calle El Expolio when they talk about Calle El Expolio.
El Expolio, a lovely, thin little street, runs by the (national) Archive of the Spanish Civil War, housed in a elegantly restored building here in Salamanca, and then by Casa Lis, a turn of the century Modernist home now serving as a museum of Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Past Casa Lis, El Expolio leaves you no choice but to climb up toward the Old Cathedral and the city center through Patio Chico, a large, treelined patio where Salmantino celebrate events as different as the summer jazz festival and the Holy Week descent from the cross. Back at its beginnings, where you'll find the tile in my photo, El Expolio offers you a steep descent down to the Roman Bridge, and my door, or an equally steep ascent up to Plaza John XXIII and the New Cathedral. In short, El Expolio is a street with character.
To summarize months (or more?) of legal battles, Catalunya, one of Spain's automonous regions, fought to take the Civil War papers that originated in Catalunya and were taken after the War to Salamanca's Archive back to Catalunya, and won. Here's where I'll ask you not to worry about the context for the purposes of this post - a constitutional battle is waging in Spain, and Catalunya is central to it. So a political party, and much of the region where I live, particularly Salamanca's mayor, resisted the removal of the papers. Dramatically. Passionately. Fiercely.
As I understand it, trucks pulled up early one morning - or maybe it was late one night - and legally carried the disputed papers away.
With the battle lost and the papers gone, Salamanca's mayor made an executive decision. He changed the name on the street plaque posted on the wall of the Archive from Gibraltar to El Expolio. The Pillage. Pillage of historical papers, in his opinion, I gather.
Now on to the point of this post! Because I loved Calle Gibraltar, I was less than happy the day I dropped down from the Cathedrals toward home, only to meet El Expolio instead of Gibraltar. Struck me as an ugly name. Pillage.
A few weeks later, I've learned to always approach home via El Expolio.
Because now that the editorials have been written and the marches held, now that the newspaper photographers have all gone home, the once quiet corner of El Expolio and Tentenecio is a lively, first rate people-watching spot.
Confused foreign tourists wander aimlessly, turning their maps one way, then another, trying desperately to find Calle El Expolio. I have always met a lot of people close to this corner - as they asked me for directions - but now I'm cornered, daily. I climb down the hill every afternoon, bread in hand, clearly a local.
Still, it's the Spanish tourists I enjoy most. Those who arrive in small groups wait for the lost foreigners to clear out of the way, then snap two pictures: one of the entrance to the Archivo de la Guerra Civil, and the other of the street tile you see above. I love how the man of the family almost always catches my eye, just to see if I understand his interest, and when he finds that I do, I love how he grins ear to ear. Some shrug shoulders, in that Spanish "y eso, qué?" way. Others comment aloud to the Salmantina with the bread - "Es el famoso, ¿no? El famoso."
The busfuls of Spanish tourists who hike up Tentenecio behind their tour guides now fill the narrow stone canyon with laughter and voices and controversy. "Pillage of whom, by whom?!?" commented one man in a group I stepped aside for the other day. He was immediately taken to task by a tall man in a leather coat, and I listened to them battle their way up toward the Cathedral. Another woman tried to wave me by, courteously, but I waited, delighted, while her husband took his two photos. "I already have my photo," I told him, as he struggled to capture the new street tile. They both grinned.
I do have to add a travel comment: Both Casa Lis and the Archive are well worth a visit, should you find yourself in Salamanca. I haven't seen many of the photo snapping Spanish tourists actually enter the Archive, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The permanent exhibit is riveting, and easy to follow, and when I visited, they were offering a spectacular temporary exhibit of Robert Capa photos and articles.