Memories of Salamanca, Spain
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.
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