a wandering woman writes

Friday, April 28, 2006

An afternoon in Plasencia

I fall more in love with Extremadura every visit.

A fresh opportunity to wander an Extremeño town fell from brilliant blue Spanish skies Wednesday when a friend announced she would be driving to Plasencia, and wouldn't mind carting along a wandering blogger.

What is it about me and Extremadura?

Partly I suspect I just love the name.

I love the contrast between harsh sounding "Extremadura" and the proud, elegant towns I find there. Young Extremeños jumped at the chance to make their fortunes in the New World in the 16th century, and many of the most famous conquistadores - among them Cortés, the Pizarros, and Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean - hailed from inland Extremadura.

When I visited Trujillo in August, the Turismo guide insisted that the New World's riches landed in the Crown's accounts cien por cien while the returning conquistadores made fit with titles and Renaissance palaces. Extremadura is awash in stunning palaces, ornate Cathedrals and perfectly preserved medieval town centers, remnants of wealthier, more powerful days. An inland, out of the way place, Extremedura made it to the 21st century largely intact by growing modern towns around her architectural gems, seemingly without losing a single, well-placed stone.

I arrived without a map, this being a fairly spontaneous wander, but I easily found my way to the Plaza Mayor.

Plasencia's Plaza Mayor is long and set somewhat akilter. Like the Plaza of Cáceres, it has a busy, things-to-do feel, carrying itself like a working plaza with places to go and groceries to buy.

The portly gentleman clinging to the bell tower of the 16th century town hall is the abuelo mayorga, and if we believe the waiter in the first cafe to the left, he's been waiting to ring the bells since the ayuntamiento was built.

Wandering through Plasencia's narrow streets on a hot spring day with the heady scent of orange blossoms hanging in the air, I felt absolutely nothing like the poor woman below, immortalized in stone, although I did consider her worth a photo. The palace of a less than happily married aristocratic couple, perhaps?

Just beyond the Plaza Mayor I spotted a sign for the Plaza de las Catedrales, so I headed there next. Plasencia boasts two cathedrals: the new, 16th century model, never completed, and the Old Cathedral, a lovely 15th century specimen that has managed to hold on to an elegantly simple Romanesque facade despìte having been cannibalized during the construction of its younger sibling.

To escape the heat, I paid my 3 euros and visited the Old Cathedral's cool, green cloister and the striking Capilla de San Pablo, an odd mix of Romanesque and Gothic. I made one last stop before heading back into the sun: the reliquaries in the Cathedral museum, each sheltering a carefully labelled saint's appendage, or bone, or wisp of hair.

From the Cathedrals, I wandered to the Plaza San Nicolas, passing more palaces and Romanesque churches, then followed Plaza San Vicente Ferrer to the impressive Parador (state owned hotel), housed in the restored convent of San Vicente Ferrer. From the Parador I ducked under a stone arch into a cool, dark alley running between two palaces.

A small hand-lettered card on the door on the alley's right side caught my eye. Se puede visitar... The note offered a visit to two patios, a kitchen and a hunting museum, just for ringing the bell.

I rang.

Slowly, very, Spanish summer heat slowly, soft footsteps grew louder, until a grinning 40ish caretaker opened the door. He happily showed me in, then explained, in detail, why I could only see the rooms listed on the index card outside. (He carried on so much I wondered if I wasn't expected to offer money to see the absentee owner's private quarters, on the first floor.) From the lush, green patio of the younger palace (16th century) we crossed to the older palace, where we entered through a simple patio, just as meticulously maintained.

Thrilled to have a rapt audience, my guide escorted me through the hunting museum of the Marqués de No Se Cuál, mounted after his death by his eldest daughter. Heads, skulls, and horns covered the walls: jabalís, deer, mountain goats, wolves, a lynx, partridges, many with handwritten inscriptions of where and when they met the Marques' rifle. We wandered photo by photo in the museum's entryway, as my guide pointed out the collection's owner and his famous companions, among them Spain's King Alfonso XIII.

After checking out the ebony inlaid camp desk, we tramped back through the patio to the palace's highlight, an incredibly intact 13th century kitchen.

As we talked, the caretaker came to life, encouraging me to picture the preparations for a grand Medieval banquet here, smoke rising out of the firepits, unlucky young pigs turning over a spit, servants running in and out of the patio with platters of food. He giggled with delight when I commented on the coolness inside the palace's stone walls, and demanded I measure the thickness in arm-to-elbow measures (2 1/2). My host then took the opportunity to lament the rush of modern construction, when things have to be finished when the client demands, and not when the artesans, or their offspring, should doing the job well take more than one generation, carefully finish their work. Granted, he did comment on the fact that today's artesans are paid, which we agreed was an improvement as we headed back to the patio.

Our tour over, I wandered up through the judería back to Plaza Santa Ana, where I happily waited for my ride while savoring two claras and two delicious tapas (carne con salsa and salchichas, if you must know) for 2 euros at the bustling Café Santa Ana.

Wandering lesson of the the day: Never walk by a handwritten note taped to a very old door.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Scenes from a first visit to Lisbon

Notice how I've already labelled this my first visit? As much as I hate to make my syrupy Spanish guidebook right when it guaranteed me I'd leave Lisbon longing to return, I did.

How could I not love a city built on 7 hills?

-1-The city
Lisbon is a walking city. There's hardly a hill I climbed or a corner I turned that didn't leave me with a vertical slice of blue, a quick view of the river and the sea beyond. I loved Victorian houses as a child, for the same reason; I loved wondering what was around the next corner or at the end of the next long, dark hallway. In Lisbon, as in San Francisco, the city Lisbon most brought to my mind, what's around the next corner is often water.

The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa called Lisbon a "confusion of houses" -- and it is! A lovely, lovely, higgedy piggedy confusion of houses. I think that's part of what reminds me of San Francisico: a city built on hills, a city on a bay, brightly colored cablecars running up and down unnavigable hills, sailboats making a quick escape to sea under the red Golden Gate-styled 25th April bridge....

I found Lisboetas open, down to earth, and slow-moving enough to look you in the eye and indulge in a few quiet moments of call-response (Portuguese to Spanish) about anything, or nothing.

-2-Chikatachikata....clackety clack
The Spanish taxi gods chose to laugh at my hard-learned mistrust of early morning transport this trip. My taxi arrived 2 minutes after I called him Saturday, leaving me alone at the Salamanca train station at 415 am, a full 50 minutes before my train. The man in the station coffee shop was at his usual routine, dishing out "hard love" to the old men who spend every night with him while delivering my cafe con leche with the doting demeanor of a grandfather greeting me when I'd just woken up and crawled out to the family kitchen. As though he knows HE has to get up at this ungodly hour, but me, hija mía, let's take good care of me, forced to join him.

My travelling companions barrelled around the corner about 445. Once we got through the obligatory kissing, compared train snacks, and calculated actual hours slept the night before, we clambered aboard and found our seats.

-3-Never travel without merienda.
During our trip to Dublin, Nieves introduced me to homemade membrillo and cheese sandwiches. She didn't disappoint this trip, either. We feasted our way across Portugal with little sandwiches of her mother's fig preserves and dry sheep's cheese, sweet bollos which we promptly stuffed with white chocolate, pipas, oranges, dates,toasted maíz, and bocadillos of jamón with tomato for the main meal. The American college student in our train car contributed the best of American cuisine: cherry Bubbelicious. All you could chew.

-4-Rain expands my vocabulary

Our first day, Lisbon generously handed me the perfect opportunity to pull out some of my favorite Spanish expressions, and learn a new rain word. We arrived to soft drizzle (my chance to try out llovizna and chirimiri) that every now and then would spontaneously morph into chaparrones - fierce, pounding downpours that left us no choice but to duck into the nearest cafe for tea and pasteis de nata. No choice, I swear.

The champion chapparón hit while we were climbing through a residential neighborhood on our way to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and gave me one of my favorite Lisbon memories: three traveling Salmantinas, hovering in a doorway for at least a half an hour, laughing, as the waters rise below us and two raging rivers roar down either side of the cobblestone street. Plenty of time to show off my lloviendo a mares (raining seas) and lloviendo a cantaros (raining jugs-full). And the Salmantinas? They picked up "raining cats and dogs".

Lisbon is a city of miradoures, landscaped lookouts where tourist snap photos, mothers gossip while their children play and old men play cards. It's a lived-in city, a city just the way I like them - not perfect, full of faded, gritty corners, but alive and spirited, and, again, lovely, right down to her sidewalks.

A short list of What I Brought Home from Lisbon:
A bottle of Espenheira ginghina, a tasty cherry liqour I watched Lisboetas drink from small plastic cups outside the tiny bar selling it.

A packet of Piripiri (little chili peppers)

A new respect for New York taxi drivers. We feasted our away across Portugal, then whiteknuckled our way around Lisbon in death defying taxi rides. Two, yes, two taxi drivers chose to approach our hotel careening through an emergency room parking lot at what felt like at least 60 mph.

A fado song, something about "Ayy, Maria", still echoing in my brain.

The word saudade.

A travelling companion who, having taken full advantage of her stay in a city that posts vital information in Portuguese and English, can now knock your socks off with her English elevator impression (her "going up" is particularly strong) and her dramatic recitation of the emergency instructions posted with the firehose in the hotel hallway ("To access firehose, break the glass...") I'm afraid to ask what new vocabulary she picked up during her middle of the night viewing of "The Tina Turner Story" on Portuguese TV, joyously undubbed.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Link today, Lisbon tomorrow

Lisbon report tomorrow, I promise. Today got completely away from me, as the first day of a vacation week should do.

Meanwhile, I found this MP3 blog today. Every entry is a visit to a song, a personal tour of a cut from a blues, or jazz, or who knows what recording, many of them Bsides, others the original recording of a classic, many of them taken from vinyl. The MP3s are posted temporarily, to give you enough of a taste to send you out to find your own copy of the recording. But it's the posts, and the background and the links that had me hanging around for far too long tonight......


Friday, April 21, 2006

Bacalao in my future

Off to Lisbon to see how real Portuguese food compares to the incredible stuff I miss, desperately, so desperately, from RI restaurants. Okay, and from one particular ex-novio's amazing grandmother.

See you back here Tuesday. Meanwhile, I got a kick out of this story, from Worthwhile. I have long used craig's list to find jobs, post jobs, find apartments, find Spanish teachers, you name it. There's a Madrid craigs and a Barcelona craigs, now, so you know...

Happy weekend, everyone.

(How do you say that in Portuguese?)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Semana Santa, late....

My fellow wandering woman confessed she knows very little about Spain's Semana Santa celebrations and asked for photos, but I, poor sneezing correspondent that I was last week, didn't snap a single shot. I captured the scene above last year, as the charros entertained the crowd waiting for the Easter Sunday procession to arrive at Plaza Mayor.

I've been waiting for the 2006 Semana Santa photos to surface online, but I'm growing impatient, so here's a site with sights and sounds from Salamanca's Semana Santa, 2005:

This absolutely haunting procession passed by my window while I was reading, Good Friday, por la madrugada.

el descendimiento
: the Good Friday service in Patio Chico, when a empty coffin is marched to the Old Cathedral, and Christ is taken down from the cross.

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The Week, On Immigration

I meant to post this a while back. The Week had an excellent roundup of columns from the US, all dealing with the proposed immigration law in the US.
I enjoyed the editorial, as well, on the same subject. Found myself singing one of my favorite Indigo Girls' lines:

"I think we were on the same boat back in 1492."

Funny how little things change, really. My great great grandfather walked off a whaler onto the streets of New Bedford, MA, absolutely illegal, in the days when no respectable business would hire an Irishman. He enlisted in the Army to earn a living and make himself legit, and died at 33 in a Union military uniform. Not so unlike the immigrants of today, really, was he?

Anyway, my "line of the week" on the subject comes at the end of this comment from Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald (as quoted in The Week):

And this wave of immigration will surely change America, just as the Irish, Chinese, Italians, and Eastern Europeans did when they came in waves in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then, nativists also predicted catastrophe. And guess what? The newcomers all became Americans, adding new flavor to the melting pot. So it will go with Latinos, given some time.

“An influx of people doesn’t threaten our national identity.

It is our national identity.”


There once was a blog from Nantucket...

Now this is fun.

I happened onto the "musical instrument" category, but you can punch in any old keywords you like and voila! limericks!

I feel a little guilty posting this without writing my own, but you should feel free to comment in limerick form. In fact, I'll invite you to always feel free to comment in limerick form. Or haiku if you prefer....

My two favorites from the music category:

Acoustically by John Weigel

On the Spanish guitar my technique

Of unamplified strums is unique.

I acoustically play

In my singular way,

Causing strings to detune and to squique.

aflaunt by Virge (Virgil Keys)

There was a fair flautist named Anna

Took to lying aflaunt on the piana.

Though her flute skills were flawed,

Anna's fans all adored

How she'd flaut in a flirtatious manner.

The author adds that, in his opinion, FLAUT really should be in the dictionary,and I, for one, agree with him.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

High Stepping

My name is Erin C.

And I was a band nerd.

There I've said it. If you all choose to surf away to cooler climes, I'll understand. I just thought it was time I came clean.

Last week's Semana Santa bands left me nostalgic for my trusty white band cap, and the thousand bobby pins I'd commission to hold it just so, perfectly stiff, so that from a distance, no one, but no one, would know I was a girl. Girlishness was reserved for flag bearers and baton twirlers. I was a manly piccolo player.

You must know I did not march in just any old marching band. I was 1 of more than 300 (I kid you not) members of Purdue's All American Marching Band, proud owners of the world's largest bass drum. Four drum-men pulled the drum and a 5th jumped into the air to swing out a note. (Still not kidding.) In fact, the year I marched we unveiled the world's largest cymbals, both of them, veering at each other across the field until they crashed in the center.

An All American Marching Band with a sense of the ridiculous.

I marched one season before my parent's divorce sent me out in search of a job. I feel rhythm everywhere and from everything. What could possibly compare to marching down a street or dancing wildly around a football field to the beat of 30 drummers pounding their hearts out?

Today my nostalgia carried me over to the Purdue band site for a march down memory lane.

We played this as we made the Block P, a football field sized P of white-capped musicians.

And we played this every halftime to a thundering chorus of Midwesterners, hats and hands clasped over their midAmerican hearts.

So, there I was a few minutes ago, high stepping my way through my brief marching career, when it surfaced. A wisely repressed band memory. THE memory. Right up there with the graceful if fatally-timed fall overboard that earned me my Chicago sailing nickname: Splash.


As an oversized, "all-American" marching band, we would spell out words on the field, you see. We could spell anything.

The music holder attached to my wrist held my marching instructions -- coded letters and numbers that told me in what direction to march, when and for how many steps. On the fateful, memorable day in question, I, unfortunately, was the designated "end" man, leading my little squad of 4 around the field. Yep, Splash. In the lead.

I don't remember how it happened. Patriotic euphoria over the day's rendering of "I Am An American"? A strong prairie wind in my marching instructions? Well placed worry about Monday's chemistry exam? Whatever the cause, I lost myself, and marched my squad straight out behind the squad next to us. I went left when I should have gone right, 3 loyal piccolo players in tow.

And on that sunny October day in West Lafayette, Indiana, before 40,000 spectators in Ross Ade Stadium and who knows how many Hoosiers watching back at home....

the proud Purdue marching band blasted away at the Hail Purdue fight song

and marched to the end zone


spelling out


That unexpectedly long tail on the F was 3 gullible piccolo players, and their fearless leader.

Rumor has it the amazing marching PURDUF morphed as it travelled down the field. Four white hats bobbed in panic then dashed into place.....

as PURDUF became PURDUE.

When I left the band to take a job at the local cinema, the band director never said a word. He always seemed so happy to see me behind the candy counter.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

It's a year, yesterday!

A sideways glance at the calendar today told me I'd managed to sneeze and sleep my way through a milestone.

Yesterday marked the first birthday of this blog! Yep, I sweated blood exactly 366 days ago at this very desk, trying to figure out just what it is a beginning blogger blogs when a beginning blogger begins to blog.

So I'll thank you for reading and commenting and generally hanging around, and I'll let you in on a bit of wandering-woman's future. I suspect a move to typepad is on its way, mostly because I'm not sure I've ever seen a blog more in need of categories (have you?), and yes, at a year I think it's time I finally invested time in a masthead and (gasp) something more like design. So look for her to some day load just a little more "pretty."

Yet another postscript:
This being an anniversary, of sorts, I googled my way here, where I was told to shower myself with paper gifts today, in celebration of 1 year. Maybe a new book, or a notebook, I think. (Having read this anniversary page, I have to add: I might have considered marrying had I known about the musical instrument gifts at year 24, or the "original poetry tribute" all of you would have had to write at year 46. But the thought of investing 44 years in a relationship only to be given groceries strikes me as odd...)

Thank you for reading. It's fun to play with my electronic notebook, but it's even more fun to know it's connected to all of you.


La palabra más bella

A quick stop at Expatica tipped me off to a contest sponsored by the Escuela de Escritores to find the most beautiful word in the Spanish language.

Spanish speaking "notables" have been invited to submit their nominations, along with the general public. All submissions, notable or not, must include a short note defending the intrinsic beauty of the chosen word. I've confessed more than once to being madly in love with the Spanish language; the contest entries remind me how much I also love the way Spanish speakers talk about their native language, the way they identify with, define and explain words, with a three dimensional tenderness I don't often find in English speakers.

I find it amusing to see how people chose their words. Some entries propose words with beautiful meanings: madre, amor, amante. The politicians were big on meaning, and acted like....well..... politicians as they prepared their entries. Zapatero, the president of the Spanish government, chose generosidad, because "it makes us more human". Rajoy, the opposition leader, chose palabra (word), because a man's word is his most important asset, according to Mr. Rajoy. Other political figures chose verdad, and libertad, and república. Words as ideas.

Writers, on the other hand, and many of the non-notable entrants, wrote about the feel of the word, the acrobatic demands on the tongue, the percussive explosion as the word leaves the mouth. My favorite non-notable entry is the following:


(A berberecho is a tiny, tasty litle clam I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago in a Salamanca pulpería. I can highly recommend both the word and the ración.)

Berberecho. Said the Madrileño who nominated it: "It has a CH and 2 B's. What more do you want?"

My kind of wordsmith.

I haven't voted yet, although most of my favorite Spanish words do already appear on the ballot:

azahar orange blossom
albahaca basil. Just say it, it's gorgeous.
libélula firefly
almohada pillow, another Arab-derived beauty

I've long loved calabacín , as well, and berenjena. Zucchini and eggplant, in English, but oh! how the sound of them in Spanish. It's enough to make you eat your vegetables.

Cucuruchu is another favorite, a delightful word I kicked myself for not sharing with you here. Happily, I've been given a second chance. It means?

Ice cream cone.

Ojalá is high on my list, though I am never happy with translations. "If God wills", shall we say, Spaniards? Another Arab-born Spanish beauty.

And my favorite Spanish word? It's already there, and I suspect in the end it'll earn my vote. Perspicaz. It means clever, astute, shrewdly intelligent. Perspicaz. A beautiful Spanish mouthful.

What's your favorite word? In Spanish? Or any language?

Postscript: Lila Downs, the Mexican singer/artist, wrote one of my favorite entries, nominating the word camino (road, path, route). Her reason?

Porque es donde siempre he andado y me hace pensar en tomarlo sin tener que imaginar dónde me lleve, y es mi guía para el presente.

Because it is where I have always walked (been, existed, in a sense), and it makes me think about taking it without having to imagine where it might carry me. It is my guide for the present.

Ah, a wandering word. I knew I liked Lila Downs.


Why we travel

I stumbled onto a NY Times slideshow I love yesterday, entitled Why We Travel. It's a delightful photo tour of people from everywhere, somewhere else.

The opening slide, a middle-aged blonde estetician from Burbank (Illinois) floating down a river in the jungles of Jamaica with her cabinet-maker husband, pulled me right in. You might have to know Burbank to understand. Let's just agree it's a long way from the jungles of Jamaica. Yet there they are, my fellow midwesterners, exploring the Caribbean far from the beach resorts, wistfully wondering, in the comment that accompanies the photo, what it might be like to be shipwrecked in the Caribbean.

The tour just gets better from there.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006


When I get to shore I want to take a good look around.
When I get to shore I want to sink my bare feet into the wet sand,
drill my way down to my ankles and calves
and watch the water rise around the edges of the foot-hole I've made.
When I get to shore I want to remember how it felt to be out here
never tiring but never seeing land, just a horizon that goes on forever.
I remember that last piece of land,
before I pushed off, fell asleep and
found myself floating effortlessly out here in the middle.

Preserving life with a jacket I can't see.

When I get to shore I'll stay close to the waves.
One quick tag and I'm gone again.

When I get to shore, I wonder.
Will it be the same shore?

my poem, not my photo...


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog

with a wander.

Salamanca is scurrying around preparing for the premiere events of Semana Santa: police blocking off streets for the night's pasos, women and little boys lining up at the peliquería to look their best for a procession, camera crews guarding their hard-won scaffold perches, Salamantinos buying bread like New Englanders before a snow storm. I almost hate to leave, watching all the excitement. Still, I wander off dark and early tomorrow (530 am!) to Los Ancares Lucenses, to break in my new hiking boots and my new nifty pack.

I'll see you back here Easter Monday.
Enjoy the long weekend, if you have it.

Update, noon Thursday The bad news: My throat is sore, my eyes are wet, my cough is deep and my heart is heavy. I woke up with a cold and for reasons I have yet to completely decipher, I let the group know I'd miss the trip.

The good news, if you like to read my ramblings, is that I now have 4 empty days ahead of me, and am likely to hang around here.

Happy Easter. aaaaaaachoooo!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

La Cueva de Salamanca

Saturday I packed up my camera, my notebook and my favorite odd talismans and wandered off in search of the notorious Cave of Salamanca. The iron gate that welcomes you to the cave faces a cuesta I've climbed a hundred times before, just off Calle Pablo across from the Plaza del Concilio de Trento. It's a wide passageway of shallow stone stairs rising from San Pablo to the Cathedrals, and, further on, to the garden of Calixto and Melibea.

For the first time, I found the gate wide open. No sign, nothing to indicate what might lie beyond, just an open gate and a bread crumb path of plaques and cloth banners to guide me through. The cave was restored for the Iberian American summit hosted by Salamanca last October, and now is open, daily and unattended, for free wanderings, like the Casa de las Conchas and La Salina.

The cave of Salamanca is actually not a cave at all, but the crypt of the ruined 12th century church of San Ciprian. Cave or not, it has a sinister reputation. According to legend, here Satan himself taught fortune telling, palm reading, spells and black magic to 7 students for 7 years. Some say he took on the form of the sacristán (caretaker) of the ruined church during the lessons, others a hand on a chair, still others a male goat. However he dressed himself, all of the accounts agree on the students' tuition: one human soul. At the end of the 7 years, so the story goes, the students drew lots to see which of them would settle the bill by spending the rest of his life in the cave of Salamanca - in service to Satan.

A plaque greets you as you enter (liberally paraphrased from my scribbled Spanish notes):

Every city has its special places in which history and legend cross.....
Some say a temple on this site was first founded by Hercules, other by the Arabs or Celts. There are those who say it leads to a labyrinth of secret tunnels running under Salamanca. Or worse, directly to the underworld.

The plaque is black, by the way. The reflection you see in the photo is the ruin of the church behind me, and the photographer, yours truly, if you look hard enough.

According to the plaque, this cave made Salamanca's reputation as a powerful place of satanists and black magic. Latin Americans began to use the word "salamanca" to describe dark hidden places where shamans practiced black magic. A long list of Spanish authors, Cervantes, Torres Villaroel, and Calderon de la Barca among them, wrote about the cave in their works. Even Sir Walter Scott mentions the cave of Salamanca in a poetic passage about a wizard.

Touring the restored area, you roam around an open courtyard, which I suspect was once the cave, accessed from the sacristy above. You also get a fascinating look at the original wall, Roman at the base and Arab above, that encircled Salamanca before the present wall was erected in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Despite its dark history, the site is beautifully restored. Steel walkways and staircases carry you through a restored tower, up to 2 balconies and into a dark hole where you see an excavated piece of the primitive wall, along with the archaologists' chart describing the earth and artifacts found at each level. The balconies host a haphazard exposition of pieces unearthed during the the excavation: Roman tombstones, romanic columns from the original church, an iron door from the tower, stone tombs from the necropolis of San Ciprian.

The church of San Ciprian was one of the first churches built as part of the Christian repopulation of Salamanca in the 12th century. In a delightful bit of irony, Salamanca dedicated the church that would become notorious for black magic to San Ciprian, who was a wizard before converting to christianity. In the 16th century the crumbling church was torn down, and its stones used in the construction of Salamanca's New Cathedral. All that remained of the church, tucked into this dark hole in the wall of the city, was half of the sacristy and the 23 stairs descending into the darkness of the crypt.

The tower that stands over the site is known as the Tower of the Marques de Villena, although it apparently never belonged to that unfortunate gentleman. The guide posts in the cave called de Villena a celebrated "nigromante" - a practitioner of black magic. Back at home my Biography of Salamanca describes Enrique, Marques de Villena as an avid student of the sciences: astrology, mathematics, alchemy and philosophy. I wonder if that was enough to win a "black magic" label in 16th century Salamanca?

Legend names the same Marques de Villena as the student who lost the draw on the day tuition was due. Locked in the crypt, he used all that he had learned to trick the maestro and win his freedom. He hid himself in a clay jar until Satan, panicked at the site of an empty prison, rushed out in pursuit of his prisioner, without closing the crypt door. The Marques made it out alive, but lost his shadow, which stayed behind in the crypt, in the hands of Satan, who had grasped at it desperately as he struggled to stop the fleeing prisioner. The Marques, says the legend, walked the rest of his life through the sunny streets of Salamanca - without ever casting a shadow.

From "The Ride to Melrose" by Sir Walter Scott

A wizard of such dreaded fame
That when, in Salamanca's cave,
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Questions of Travel

What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

Elizabeth Bishop, from Questions of Travel

I've spent the last week making, changing and rechanging travel plans. For good or for evil, I seem to want to dream my travel dreams and have them, too. They call that
wanderlust, don't they?

I'll spend Semana Santa here hiking with a club from Salamanca. The following weekend my intrepid Salmantina travel companions and I take on Lisbon. In June, I join my brother on his first trip to Ireland, which we hope will include a visit to the Aran Islands, a glimpse of Grace O´Malley's castle and a quick peek at Leitrum, the county from which Timothy, the first American Corcoran, sailed against his will as a conscripted British sailor. July will find me sailing the rivers of Galicia, I hope, and in August, it's Oxford, for a week's writing course and maybe a chance to throw the odd pot. (Why am I certain any pot I throw will be odd?)

And you? Hurry now, que la vida son dos días y uno llueve.


Dos Días

I was having one of my dangerous between-meetings lunches the other day - 2 glasses of Ribera and two very tasty pinchos, when the friend on the other side of my wine glass let this slip, mid-paragraph:

"La vida son 4 días"...

Life is 4 days.

You're grinning, aren't you? There's more. Her comment led me to this gem, a classic Spanish saying if I ever learned one:

¡A vivir, que son dos días y uno llueve!

Get living! Life is 2 days and one of those 2......

It rains.

Some days I feel so wonderfully at home here.


Friday, April 07, 2006

A wandering woman writes about home

My fellow wandering woman has been musing about "home" this week, in two lovely, perfectly kinetic posts.

In The Journey as Home, she muses on the scentscape of Antwerp, where she now wanders, that of Istanbul, her last stop, and New Zealand, where her journey started. Her post stayed with me all day, bringing back my own cherished scentscapes, from the sweet scent of wet stone that leads me up Calle Tentenecio on rainy Salamanca days, to the dry seaweed and salt sea air aroma that always takes me back to Rhode Island, where I grew up on the edge of a bay. As I step out from safe employment to whatever's next, much too gingerly most days, her post reminds me I'm only headed to my familiar and beloved in-between.

In Another Idea of Home, she continues:

Many things have become 'home' for me. My childhood home is gone but the time and the people I grew with are still there, in reality and in memory. There are new friends who have quickly grown into familar old friends who become another home to me; there are the places I have loved and still love, and oddly enough, the taste of a nice red wine can also inspire something akin to a sensation of homecoming. Airport departure lounges, Singapore on a break between flights, the cabin of the big jet taking me home, taking me someplace new; the journey ... all are familiar.

Home: a smell, a taste, a sound, a person, a place, a time ...

I remember the moment when Salamanca became "home"; in a flash, in Patio Chico, I knew I was right where I should be. Home that night was an Ella tune (Duke's Place) and a bass solo. Now I'd add morcilla with rice, my fellow Salmantinos' musical castellano and the cling clang conversation of ancient bells, answering each other on the hour.

If you haven't yet wandered over to visit a wandering woman writes about her world, you're missing a daily feast of words and images.


Wishing Verbs

Moving back and forth between languages sometimes produces the most delicious images.

Today as I edited the Spanish lesson that forms the heart of one of the newsletters my marketing team sends out every week, I stumbled across a little word changeling I just can't get enough of.

In a lesson on the subjunctive, the Spanish teacher who prepares our lessons translated verbos de deseo as "wishing verbs".

Wishing verbs.

How absolutely delicious!

I need to use more "wishing verbs".

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Casa Lis and Catalunya

If you'd like to see my less-than-spectacular Casa Lis photos looking better, post-Photoshop, skip over to John's site. Then check out his photo tour of Girona, which has convinced me I need to fit Catalunya into my travels soon. I've fallen in love with this creature hanging onto a pole for dear life. Is it a cat, really, John? The paws looking almost beaverish, or minkish...I pictured a horrible flood and this poor critter trying to escape. Know the story?

He's also put together a wonderful gallery of photos of doors in Catalunya which is well worth the trip over.


Can you say pero 1000 times fast?

Oh! So many blog ideas, so little time.

I need to run off to my Spanish class with Bego, where I hope to repeat pero and claro and dólares until I get that darn single r down.

Perfectionism carries through to second languages, I assure you. It's a bit like golf: I'll be working my whole life on that r, I suspect, struggling to sound just ever so slightly more like a native. I'll never get there, of course, but just working on it gives me confidence. No, my r just isn't Salmantina, and the luego I let slip without thinking has way too much e in it, but hey, I've done my time at the Spanish driving range. That's got to count for something.

Will back late this afternoon to post!


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Casa Lis

A couple of weeks ago, John, who so generously feeds me architecture links, asked me to take my camera along on a walk by Casa Lis. I boldly marched inside, camera in hand, John, only to discover why you found so few Casa Lis photos on the web. My trusty Canon was quickly confiscated. I wandered around the museum with a lovely little numbered keyring, which got me my camera back, but didn't help you see inside Casa Lis.

So we'll show you the exterior view and you'll just have to stop by Salamanca and see the interior for yourself. :) I love Casa Lis, because I have a spectacular view of the front entrance, lit up like neon, the scene you'll see on the opening page of the musuem web, and because the building is such an expected joy - a modernist jewel, framed by wrought iron and stained glass, smack dab in the middle of Salamanca's historic center. A museum of Art Noveau and Art Deco surrounded by Renaissance palaces and simple, perfectly preserved Romanesque churches.
The building, my "Biography of Salamanca" tells me, was constructed between 1904 and 1905 by Joaquín de Vargas, a Cádiz-born architect who was the architect for the Diputación Provincial (provincial government) and the Diocese. Originally the home of Miguel de Lis, Casa Lis passed to a religious order before being purchased by the city of Salamanca. The museum opened in 1995, to showcase both the building and the Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces donated by a Salamanca-born collector, Manuel Ramos Andrade.

For me, the museum is well worth a long leisurely visit for the stained glass alone. The collections of jewelry, vases, sculptures and dolls are impressive, if a little overwhelming. Now that I've visited a few times, I tend to wander slowly through the atrium and out to the balcony to wonder at the glass on a bright Spanish day. Finally, I always head to the early 20th century art glass, where I spend a while wishing and sighing. Casa Lis has a way of tranforming me directly into Nora Charles, Mrs. Thin Man. I leave as Nora Charles every time, sipping a martini in my Manhatten apartment and bantering with my mustachioed Mr. Thin Man, while I watch precious little Asta walk all over my art deco couches and threaten my noveau glass. :)

Thanks to your request for photos, John, I ran into a mousepad of the atrium stained glass, which I promptly purchased to allow permanent access to my Nora Charles deco mood. If I start blogging witty mysteries, you'll understand.

The photo that opens this post is a scan of the brochure. The last two photos are the back entrance, from Calle El Expolio, and the view down El Expolio, from Patio Chico, both on a very dreary day. Apologize for the quality of the photos!


Tuesday, April 04, 2006


We must be steady enough in ourselves, to be open and to let the winds of life blow through us, to be our breath, our inspiration; to breathe with them, mobile and soft in the limberness of our bodies, in our agility, our ability, as it were, to dance, and yet to stand upright.
TS Eliot

What is it about me and Mr. Eliot these days? Right between the eyes.

Not my photo, by the way. Dreamstime.


April Fool's, a little late

OK, I admit to being late, but Google's April Fool's joke was hysterical. Read through the FAQs and virtual tour; this is really well written. Almost makes me want a job at Google, in the Spoofs and Gags department.

As they say at Google Romance:

"When you think about it, love is just another search problem."

At long last, the cone

Sunny, sunny, Sunday morning, after savoring my El Pais, a marmelade-smothered tostada and a frothy café con leche in the Plaza Mayor, I paid my 6 euros to go along on the Turismo walking tour of Salamanca. I was the only extranjera and the only Salmantina, a fun and not uncommon combination for me.

I didn't learn much I didn't already know, to be honest, or see much I hadn't already toured on my own. Not surprising, I suppose, considering I've had a 2 year head start. Conchy, our guide, had to summarize 2700 years of history in 2 hours and 5 buildings (Casa de las Conchas, the Clerecia, the old University, and both Cathedrals.) I would love to have a cup of coffee with Conchy, one of these Sundays after her tour. Something tells me she's got more stories to tell than she can spill in a two hour walk.

We joined the Sunday morning frog-hunting clamor in the Patio de las Escuelas Menores on our way into the University. Salamanca's been invaded by tourists these last few weekends, and the 40 or 50 of us squinting, waving, pointing, murmuring and sighing in heartfelt frog-missing disappointment produced a wave of noise that rumbled up the stone walls surrounding the patio, over our heads, between our feet and down Calle Libreros, in both directions. A rogue wave of oohs and ahhs and "don't you see it yet's? that I suspect went on long after I was home.

The highlight of the tour for me, you ask?

Why, I found the cone! The ice cream cone! And like so many things I go out looking for, it was right under my nose. Or to the right of my astronaut, as the case may be.

I introduced you to the astronaut a while back. Seems stonemasons have a tradition, when working on a restoration: They leave a trace, two or three small pieces, representative of the era in which they do the restoring. A little "we were here" to confuse the tourists of the distant future. And so Salamanca came to have one of my favorite landmarks, a required stop on the Wandering Woman tour, an astronaut living among the gargoyles and saints and tortured souls of the New Cathedral. I'd seen pictures of the ice cream cone, close-ups of the cone, just as I'd heard vicious rumours that it was somewhere on the Puerta de Ramos - close to the astronaut. But I'd never seen it, live, in its native habitat. Where was the cone?

Two hours with Conchy provided the answer. Right there, on the Puerta de Ramos I've admired and photographed a hundred times before, across from my friendly faux-gothic Astronaut, sits the lovely creature you see above, diabolically munching on a delicious triple scoop. Monkey, perhaps? Evil cat?

I'll say it again. You've got to love a town with an astronaut - and an evil ice cream wielding primate - on its 16th century cathedral.


When the tour ended, and Conchy tried to bid us all goodbye, she was interrupted simultaneously by 2 of my Andalucían tour compañeros - an older man from Sevilla and a young woman from Córdoba - with 3 words: ¿Y el archivo? Seems the group couldn't believe the tour had ended without a visit to Salamanca's now notorious Calle El Expolio. Conchy agreed to tell Turismo they should add it to the itinerary.

If the tour includes a visit to the Archive, I'm all for it. Might even tag along again...