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Memories of Salamanca, Spain

Cloister, Convento de San Esteban

In Spanish the expression for “handwritten” is “de mi puño y letra” – of my fist and handwriting. Today I was flipping through my Spanish notebook when I came across a page scribbled with several verses, an early attempt to write a poem on Salamanca. While in Spain, my favourite class was Spanish and Latin American literature. We had a passionate teacher by the name of Juanma (short for “Juan Manuel”) and he was the kind of person who could inspire even the most jaded individual.

Today, ten months after leaving Salamanca, I have finally finished the poem. It sounds marginally ridiculous in English but I’ve provided a translation all the same. Here are some numbered explanations that will help with the references to the city.

1: “Niebla” (Mist) is a novel and one of the most important works of Miguel de Unamuno, a leading Spanish intellectual of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He served as rector of the University of Salamanca for 30 years.

2: Guijuelo is a town close to Salamanca, famous for its jamón, the traditional Spanish ham.

3: University buildings and other landmarks in Salamanca are labeled in a distinctive, hand-painted red font. A key ingredient of the paint mixture is bull’s blood.

4: Salamanca is known as “The Golden City” because of the colour of its sandstone.

5: Unamuno and Cervantes, two great Spanish literary figures, are both deeply tied to Salamanca.

6: Unamuno often wrote poetry on the vast landscapes of Castile, extolling the infinite sky stretching above the plains. On my trips throughout Spain, I experienced that sense of wonder firsthand.

7: The Pinzón brothers, or Los Pinzones, were three famous Spanish navigators who sailed with Columbus on his first voyage to the New World. Two captained the caravels La Niña and La Pinta, and the third brother served as master of the Pinta. Coincidentally, Pinzones was the name of the street I lived on.

8: The astronaut is a quirky sculpture by the cathedral entrance. When contemporary sculptors restored the façade, they made up for missing parts by adding a signature of their own. On the other side of the doorway there’s a monster with an ice cream cone.

9: “Napolitana” is the Spanish way of saying “chocolate danish”, and I found the most luscious, most indulgent one of its kind in Salamanca. Filled with both white and dark chocolate, it was the ultimate power breakfast on those cold winter days.

10: A statue of Fray Luis Ponce de León stands in the courtyard where I had class every morning. He was a theologian, academic and lyric poet of the Spanish Golden Age.

Detail, New Cathedral

The cathedral’s west front

University courtyard

Niebla | Mist1

Paseando por las calles | Walking through the streets

La fragancia de pan y Guijuelo | The fragrance of bread and Guijuelo2

Nombres pintados | Painted names

en sangre de toro | in the blood of bulls3

Juventud, alegría | Youth, happiness

Piedras que brillan en el sol de Castilla | Stones that gleam in the sun of Castile4

Si pudieran contarnos | If only they could tell us

sus historias, sus secretos | their stories, their secrets

Sombras de Unamuno y Cervantes | Shadows of Unamuno and Cervantes5

Versos, palabras inolvidables | Verses, unforgettable words

Las noches de baile | The nights of dancing

El silencio de amanecer | The silence of dawn

Cielo castellano, sin límite | Castilian sky, without limit6

Suspiro por todo lo que gané | I pine for everything I gained

y luego perdí. | and then lost.


¿Quién era? | Who was I?

Estudiante, amante | Student, lover

Un hermano Pinzón | A Pinzón brother7

Un viajero, libre | A traveller, free

Si vas a Salamanca, la dorada | If you go to Salamanca, the Golden City

Busca el astronauta | Look for the astronaut8

Prueba la napolitana | Try the “napolitana”9

que comía todos los días | that I had every day

Y bajo el sonido de las campanas | And beneath the sound of the bells

Dale mis recuerdos a Fray Luis. | Send my regards to Fray Luis.10

Façade, Convento de San Esteban

Cloister, Convento de San Esteban

One of Salamanca’s many churches

Nightfall, Plaza Mayor

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. Salamanca is such a beautiful city! I was lucky enough to study in there too and seeing all your photos brought back some wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing your poem with us 🙂

    March 20, 2012
    • I really do wish I could have stayed there longer! Those nine months in Salamanca were really the best of times. It looks like you’ve done the entire Camino de Santiago – I’ve promised to walk it with my mum but we’ll probably start the trek at León. 🙂

      March 20, 2012
  2. I haven’t been to Salamanca, but I want to go there.

    March 20, 2012
    • You would love it Debra, it has to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Spain.

      March 20, 2012
  3. Thank you for the pictures, they remind me golden days in Salamanca-la-dorada.
    I also like the rythm of your spanish verses, thanks for sharing!

    PS. Did you have the opportunity of seeing the Foucault pendulum in the Physics department? (view it on YouTube. I had just read the eponym book by Umberto Eco when I visited the place and was very impressed.

    I love your posts, they make me travel from my desk – I’m 65! Take care, Lou.

    March 20, 2012
    • You’re welcome Lou! I felt like the English translation just couldn’t convey the same rhythm, I’m glad you could read the poem in its original state. 😀

      Although I was there for all of 9 months, there were a number of places I didn’t get to see – the physics department being one of them! I will have to put that on my to-do list for next time, that pendulum sure is beautiful. Hypnotic, even. Thank you for sharing the link!

      You can be 65 and still go travelling, it’s never too late!
      All the best, James.

      March 20, 2012
  4. Lovely poem and beautiful pictures! (I actually read the poem out loud and even though I cannot tell whether my pronunciation is correct or wrong, it still sounds lovely!). I really want to learn Spanish!

    March 20, 2012
    • Thank you Bama! I thought it would be a nice way to break up my posts on Beijing. Spanish will be very easy after learning French!

      March 20, 2012
  5. A lovely poem and notes on a clearly special place and time. Your photos are also inspiring me to visit Salamanca before I leave Spain. Muchas gracias!

    March 21, 2012
    • De nada! Do pay a visit to Salamanca – April or May would be the best time. If you would like any tips or recommendations, just let me know!

      March 21, 2012
  6. Thank you for another beautiful post and the lovely poem! We did see the astronaut and also the frog on the facade of that church! Would love to return someday for a longer visit.

    March 22, 2012
    • The funny thing is I never did take a photo of that astronaut – the next time I’ll have to spend a few days wandering around Salamanca with my camera in tow!

      March 22, 2012
  7. Olé, olé y olé !!!!

    Gran poesía James, y gran dominio de mi lengua! Muy bello y abstracto, nostálgico y embriagador a la vez, capaz de embaucar a cualquier lector! Un derroche de imaginación, amigo mío.

    Finalmente, ya regresé y ahora tendré algo más de tiempo para seguir los blogs, cosa que me hace estar más contento 🙂

    Fantásticas fotografías de San Esteban, James. Noto que echas de menos España, no es cierto? 🙂

    April 9, 2012
    • Muchísimas gracias Javi!! Es una pena que casi nadie aquí habla español, ya me siento que estoy perdiendo lo que aprendí allí, poco a poco.

      Sí, es verdad que la echo de menos… creo que descubrí la mejor parte de mi cuando vivía en Salamanca. Nunca me he sentido tan libre, tan seguro en mi mismo… es por eso que escribí este poema.

      April 10, 2012
      • tengo el mismo sentimiento con mi francés… pero tranquilo, cuando se tiene una buena base de un idioma, como la que tu tienes en español y la que yo tengo en francés, es muy difícil perderlo. 🙂

        Ya sabes, que cualquier cosa que necesites en lo referente a mi idioma, puedo ayudarte en lo que sea 🙂

        Tight hugs!

        April 10, 2012
      • Gracias Javi, estos días estoy buscando un trabajo en que pueda practicar tu idioma. Es difícil encontrarlo pero soy optimista. 🙂

        Un abrazo fuerte!

        April 11, 2012
      • En tu ciudad, Hong Kong, o en España?

        Suerte, avísame si lo encuentras 🙂

        April 11, 2012
      • En Hong Kong – un puesto en España sería un sueño imposible con esta crisis!

        April 11, 2012
  8. Blood-Ink-Diary #

    Completely breath-taking! Loved the photo-essay. You ought to have a photo exhibition everywhere !!! Muy bien !

    August 24, 2012
    • I wish! I don’t think I’ve gotten to that stage just yet – there’s still so much to learn!

      August 24, 2012
      • Blood-Ink-Diary #

        You will do it – I know — your talent is stunning. Your time shall come soon. Cheers, my friend.

        August 25, 2012
  9. jambro #

    Eres de originalmente de Filipinas?

    June 21, 2013
    • Pues, soy de Hong Kong… aunque es un poco complicado porque soy canadiense también, y nací en Singapur. Tengo muchas ganas de visitar las Filipinas, nunca he estado allí!

      June 21, 2013

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  1. Salamanca: My Painting – Homage to a sandstone city in oil on canvas | The Daily Norm

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