Walking back from Puerta Zamora
Now that I think about it, there are plenty of things for tourists to see in Salamanca: the cathedrals, the university, the Plaza Mayor, the galleries and exhibitions, the Ieronimus tour through the upper towers of the cathedral where my houseguest and I took the pictures accompanying this post.
Still, the question made me think of an acquaintance I'd studied with at a Spanish school. She invited herself to visit me during my first summer in Salamanca, then sat in my living room, pouting. I quote: "We have old churches in France. Why would I want to see another old building?" If the stories behind all those old buldings and the people who lived them don't interest you, you may want to skip Salamanca and head straight to the closest amusement park. Somehow that's what the word "tourist" brought to mind.
What hit me today, walking back from a trip to Puerta Zamora to pay the rent and bill the clients, was how very much there is for a traveller to see in Salamanca.
My most recent houseguest was the perfect Salamanca traveller. She took her time, she asked to stop to "tomar algo" (get a drink) in every irrestible corner we met, she spotted people, guessed at their stories and took her time wandering through my favorite tortured-soul-harboring cloisters. She sat happily in Plaza Mayor for what seemed like hours, watching a group of children play while their parents enjoyed a cold drink. She asked questions and always listened to the whole story, thirstily taking in the history of this small town so unlike either her adopted home (Chicago) or her hometown (Rugby, North Dakota, population 2939).
You have to pay attention to truly see Salamanca. Slow down, soak in every stone, and pay attention.
I paid attention today as I walked home from my errands. I watched my neighbors come and go while I waited for my landlady in Puerta Zamora. Neighbors of every possible shape, size and age; dozens of besos; a good handful of healthy masculine slaps on the back. As I walked toward home, I told the gypsies I wouldn't be contributing with a shake of the head. I read the posters pasted along walls to see what concerts, courses and controversies were planned for the week.
Then I wound my way home past older Salmantinos out for a paseo through the Plaza, most accompanied by a cane, a cap and two or three cronies, many strolling with their pareja, elegantly dressed, arm in arm. I dodged out of tourists' photos and listened to first year students lament their course schedules as they walked behind me. I tossed a few coins to the sittar player who's been hanging out by the New Cathedral.
As I made my way down the hill toward my house, I passed 3 sweater-vested old men hunting chestnuts under the trees that line the hillside. The approved method appears to be the following: whack at the lower limbs with your cane. When the chestnuts have fallen and broken out of their thick green shells, kick the best specimens aside with your cane, so you can later scoop up the whole harvest in just one stoop. If I had an oven, I'd hunt for a batch myself.
Two of the men I like to call the "Exercisers" passed by during the hunt, and seemed to make mental notes to head back later with a bag for carry their harvest home.
I live close to a popular running and walking trail along the river, and so daily I see the Exercisers - almost always in single sex groups - a line of 50 something women in shiny white running shoes gently gossiping their way to better health, or the three older gents in brightly colored (and I mean brightly colored) nylon running suits, enthusiastically enjoying each other's company on what I can only guess to be a doctor or wife-ordered walk. I have a 70 year old mother who lives alone in Rhode Island, and I find myself wishing her similar paseos and river walk companions.
One of the chestnut hunters claims this year's free harvest is first rate. ("¡Son gorditas!") It takes time to hunt chestnuts. Takes time to sort them out, comment on their size and scoop the best of them into your bag. Takes time to rest and chat between tree shakes.
Just like it takes time to travel, even in your own town.