Dispatches from Spain 2: Salamanca

Some cities are distinctly literary. Buenos Aires springs to mind. It has the largest number of bookshops per capita of any major city and was home, at least for a while, to Borges, Ocampo, Cortázar, and Neruda. Of course there’s also London, Paris, and New York. Slightly less famous is Salamanca.

Roaming around for a weekend, I saw all kinds of literary winks and nudges in the historic calles. I lost count of the images and sculptures of the noble knight on his steed alongside his buddy on a donkey (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, of course). Cervantes’s portrait carved in stone, along with portraits of other notables, adorns the Plaza Mayor.

There were also numerous cafes and restaurants named for Miguel Unamuno, the great writer/philosopher/academic. Unamuno was rector of Salamanca University from 1900 to 1924, but was forced into exile by the dictator-general Primo de Rivera. After several years, he was finally allowed to return in 1930. Legend has it, he began his lecture with, “As we were saying yesterday . . . “

I also saw at least one cafe named for the Romantic poet Gustavo Bécquer. Orphaned at 11, Bécquer himself only lasted another 23 years. In that time he wrote works that influenced a whole generation of Spanish language poets and which are still taught in schools today.

One night my family dined in Cafe Novelty next to the seated statue of the writer and academic Gonzalo Torrente Ballester. Apparently, with its view of the plaza, this seat was his favorite in the cafe he frequented for 25 years. The statue was made by his friend Fernando Mayoral.

One of the highlights of the city is, of course, the cathedral. It’s one of the most storied buildings I’ve ever been in. We spent several hours in there listening to the audio-guide. Every single porch, transept, side chapel and painting has its own fascinating history.

I also loved the little Archivo General de la Guerra Civil. It’s a museum dedicated to artifacts relating to the Spanish Civil War. An image of Picasso’s “Guernica” created, like a collage, from tiny photos of civil war heroes was stunning, and I also enjoyed the old newspaper clippings and 1930’s photos.

Salamanca is a dazzling city. Not only is it full of history and great architecture; it has an abundance of quiet streets full of little surprises: gardens, statues, religious art on the walls. A writer’s delight.

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