History (La historia)

Quote of the Day / La cita del día

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

But does history look like history while it is in the making? Isn’t it true that the common names are always expunged? For surely history is about ideas, vested interests and celebrated names (later to become street names), the names listed in indexes and encyclopaedias? Because no matter how much oral history is set down, the victims of world-shattering events are doomed to disappear. Their interchangeable names appear on monuments and memorials that hardly anyone notices any more, not only their bodies but also their identities are relegated to oblivion.


Pero ¿aparece la historia, mientras sucede, ya como historia? ¿No ocurre que los pequeños nombres siempre se obscurecen? ¿Se trata de las ideas, los intereses y los grandes nombres, los posteriores nombres de calles, los nombres de los índices y las enciclopedias? Porque por muchos libros que hayan aparecido llenos de oral history, todavía es normal que las víctimas desaparezcan tras los acontecimientos. Ves sus nombres cambiantes en monumentos de piedra que ya nadie contempla, no han desaparecido sólo sus cuerpos, también han desaparecido sus nombres.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)

Religion Transmuted into Art (La religión convertida en arte)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

There are paintings, statues, retables, altarpieces, from small, forsaken churches scattered all over the provincial and diocesan museums in Spain. How can something that was originally in a sense utilitarian turn into a work of art? Utilitarian: an image that served to instruct people about their faith. The frescoes recounted the Bible to the faithful who came to the church and who could not read, the statues were there to be adored, to be invoked in prayer. So now they have been pu ton display in art galleries, side by side with comparable specimens. The content of the story told by the paintings has evaporated for most visitors, only the form counts now. Few people, except students of art history, can still distinguish the symbols of the evangelists, still know about the Old Men of the Apocalypse, are still familiar with the attributes of the martyrs. Religion is transmuted into art, because stories become images that signify only themselves. The twentieth-century viewer observes a narrative that he can no longer interpret, to which he has grown blind.


Por todas partes, en museos provinciales y diocesanos hay pinturas, esculturas, retablos, cuadros de altares de iglesias pequeñas y abandonadas. ¿Cómo puede cambiar algo que seguramente fue un objeto de uso corriente y convertirse en un objeto artístico? Objeto de uso corriente: una imagen para explicar algo a los hombres sobre su fe. Estos cuadros contaban una historia a los hombres que venían a la iglesia y no podían leer, las imágenes estaban allí para ser adoradas, para suplicar algo. Ahora están en salas, acompañadas por otras imágenes del mismo estilo y colocadas en fila. La historia en los cuadros ha perdido ya para la mayoría de los visitantes su significado, ahora cuenta sólo la forma. Únicamente el estudiante de arte conoce aún los símbolos de los cuatro evangelistas, aún sabe algo de los Antiguos, del Final de los Tiempos, aún conoce lost atributos de los mártires. La religión se convierte en arte, el significado se convierte en forma, las historias se convierten en imágenes que sólo se significan a sí mismas. El observador del siglo XX ve una historia que ya no puede leer, porque está ciego para ella.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)

Update to Mondays’ Weekly Quote / Noticia sobre la cita de la semana de los lunes:

These will continue to go ahead as usual but… for the rest of this month you can expect additional quotes on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays as well. This is because I’m very busy with Christmas and other things (as I’m sure you all are), and as a consequence I’m making very slow progress on some longer posts I’m currently working on. I’ll fit them in between the quotes as and when they get ready but in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the quotes!

Las citas de la semana seguirán adelante como de costumbre los lunes, pero … durante el resto de diciembre, también publicaré citas adicionales los miércoles, viernes y domingos. Eso porque estoy muy ocupada con la Navidad y otras cosas (cómo todos) y, en consecuencia, hago un progreso muy lento con algunas posts larguísimos en los que estoy trabajando en el momento. Los publicaré entre las citas a medida que estén listos, pero mientras tanto, ¡espero que disfrutéis de las citas!

The Archives of the Indies (El archivo de las Indias)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Scholars from all over the world come here [the Archivo de las Indias in Seville] to sniff around, to browse, to conduct secret investigations, because these portfolios contain everything to do with the colonies – per geographical region, per historical period, everything. EVERYTHING: cadastres, letters of supplication, custodial sentences, decrees, financial accounts, reports of military campaigns, letters from governors overseas, negotiations, plans for the layout of new cities, maps. That must be what God’s memory looks like: every centimetre, every second of every man and every spot on the face of the earth, described and recorded.


Eruditos de todo el mundo vienen aquí [el Archivo de las Indias en Sevilla] a buscar, a rastrear, a realizar el trabajo de detective secreto, porque en estos carpetones está, por épocas, por colonias, todo, TODO: catastros, súplicas, sentencias, órdenes, proyectos, informes de campañas, cartas de gobernadores, partes de navegación, censos o como se llamaran entonces, negociaciones, planos de ciudad, mapas. A algo así debe de parecerse la memoria de Dios, cada centímetro y cada minuto de cada lugar y cada hombre descrito y conservado.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)

One Century a Minute (Un siglo por minuto)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Zaragoza. Apart from two nuns and an old lady, I am the only visitor in the Bellas Artes Museum, which has a section devoted to archaeology. The nuns overtake me at the rate of one century a minute and then I am truly alone in the prehistory of Spain.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)


Zaragoza. Junto a dos monjas y una anciana, soy el único visitante en el museo de Bellas Artes, que albergaba también un departamento de arqueología. Las monjas me adelantan a una velocidad de un siglo por minuto y entonces es cuando estoy realmente sólo en la prehistoria española.

(Cees Nooteboom: El desvío a Santiago)

 

España: Europa y no Europa (Spain: Europe & Yet Not Europe)

La cita del día / Quote of the Day

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

España es brutal, anárquica, egocéntrica, cruel; España está dispuesta a ponerse la soga al cuello por disparates, es caótica, sueña, es irracional. Conquistó el mundo y no supo qué hacer con él, está enganchada a su pasado medieval, árabe, judío y cristiano, y está allí con sus caprichosas ciudades acostadas en esos infinitos paisajes vacíos como un continente que está unido a Europa y no es Europa. Quien haya hecho sólo los itinerarios obligados no conoce España. Quien no haya intentado perderse en la complejidad laberíntica de su historia no sabe por dónde viaja.

(Cees Nooteboom: El desvíó a Santiago)


Spain is brutish, anarchic, egocentric, cruel. Spain is prepared to face disaster on a whim, she is chaotic, dreamy, irrational. Spain conquered the world and then did not know what to do with it, she harks back to her Medieval, Arab, Jewish and Christian past and sits there impassively like a continent that is appended to Europe and yet is not Europe, with her obdurate towns studding those limitless empty landscapes. Those who know only the beaten track do not know Spain. Those who have not roamed the labyrinthine complexity of her history do not know what they are travelling through.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

El carácter español (The Spanish Character)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week

Cees Nooteboom bw
Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

El carácter español tiene algo monacal, incluso en sus grandes reyes hay un dejo de anacoreta: Felipe y Carlos construyeron monasterios para ellos mismos y vivie- ron durante mucho tiempo de espaldas al mundo que debían dirigir. Quien ha viajado mucho por España está acostumbrado y espera en medio de la nada un enclave, un oasis, un sitio vuelto hacia dentro, amurallado, a modo de fortaleza, en el que el silencio y la ausencia de los demás causa estragos en las almas.

(Cees Nooteboom: El desvío a Santiago)


The Spanish character has something monastic about it, even in their great monarchs there is a touch of the anchorite: both Philip and Charles built monasteries for themselves and spent much time in seclusion, turning their backs to the world they were required to govern. Anyone who has travelled widely through Spain is accustomed to such surprise encounters, and indeed anticipates them: in the middle of nowhere an enclave, an oasis, a walled , fortress-like, introverted spot, where silence and the absence of others wreak havoc in the souls of men.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Soria (Spain)

Today’s quote is much longer than usual but it gives you a flavour of Cees Nooteboom’s style of travel writing – and a feel for the Spanish town of Soria. Enjoy!

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom bw
Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Génie de lieu is the phrase used by the French when a particular site emanates something very special and remarkable.

There are no Knights Hospitallers of of Saint John of Jerusalem in Soria today, but a vestige of the cloister they built in 1100 still stands, a sketch, a hint of what was once the arcade around the inner courtyard. It is early in the morning, wisps of mist float over the river, which is narrow here and courses swiftly and darkly along the banks lined with reeds and tall greenery. The pointed arches are interlaced and look like arabesques suspended in a void. It is a truly secluded courtyard, a tangle of roses against the walls of the little church, gladioli and man-high daisies sway under the poplar trees, but the square space between the four walls is unoccupied. That is what makes thecourtyard so enigmatic: it is open to all sides, wind and air and voices blow through the apertures, it is free-standing, it is out of doors, and yet I am inside a Moorish courtyard. The shape of the ruins indicates what it must have been like, the walls of that long-vanished cloister still surround me. I enter the small church. I see several tombstones with Hebrew lettering, the arch over the apse is Arabic. There are two curious canopy-like structures, one domed, the other conical, next to and in front of the spot where the main altar must have stood; the canopies are Christian, and so in this small deathly-quiet space the three worlds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam come together in a symbiosis that is unique in the world today.

Why are some places famous and not others? Why does everyone talk of Autun and Poitiers and you never hear a word about Soria, while it has one of the loveliest and most moving Romanesque portals of medieval Christianity? Every true lover of Romanesque art should see the façade of the Santo Domingo and the cloister of San Pedro. They are, with the San Juan de Rabanera and the San Gil, treasuries with the most wondrous details. Florid capitals crown pillars with plant motifs, to which such subtle irregularities have been introduced as to make the stone come alive, Arab influences, the artful manner of showing nudity (by depicting vices), winged lions with birds’ heads which remind me of Persepolis – all those stories and admonitions and decorations that were carved a thousand years ago by master craftsmen and that survive here in the dry, harsh climate of Soria, they are truly worthy of pilgrimage. You find yourself wishing you had an outsize magnifying glass through which to study the carvings: a capital-scope. The decorations oare often miniatures in stone, and if you want to read what the images have to say, you must come armed with a dictionary of Biblical and Christian icons and symbols. I confess to a heartfelt irritation when I cannot interpret precisely what the pictures are trying to tell me.  What used to be common knowledge is now the reserve of experts and scholars.

What, I wonder, is so attractive about all this? I am standing in front of the Santo Domingo. Not famous, so there is no tourism, a quiet corner in a quiet town. Is it the simplicity, if that word is at all justifiable? The piety? The unshakeable totality of a world view? The idea that it was made by people and for people to whom this was not “art” but reality? That a story was being told in stone which everyone already knew by heart but wanted to see and hear again and again – just as Greeks (and Japanese) still flock to see their ancient tragedies? I don tknow. What I do know is that this low, almost squat façade, in which the tympanum takes up relatively little space, exudes great force and emotion. The idea that this was ever new. New! Just finished, hewn out of those almost golden blocks of hard stone! How proud the makers were, how everyone in the province crowded to see the sight!

The figures in the tympanum are so small that you have to get up close to see them. Even then you must crane your neck, because the four rows into which they are crammed are straight up above you, not in front of you. With the four ascending registers on the archivolt securely fixed in your gaze, each made up of a variety of scenes, you find that they lack that rigid and hieratic quality which, for the sake of convenience, we tend to label “primitive”. Indeed, they are both lavish and droll, with their oversize, pious gnomes’ heads protruding from richly pleated garments. And everything happens the way it is described in the Good Book and has been preserved in countless surviving images and no doubt in countless others long since lost: the head of teh Baptist is severed, God fashions the body of Adam from clay, the Annunciation, the adoration of the Magi, the same old stories, only this time not in paint, not in silver, not by Rembrandt, not by Manzú or Rouault, but carved, unsigned, by vanished hands in the hard stone of a barren Spanish province, where serenely they await the end of time.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Corpses & Titles (Cadáveres y títulos)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

In 1453, Don Álvaro de Luna, grandmaster of the Military Order of Santiago and prime minister under King Juan II of Castile, received the title of Count of San Esteban de Gormaz. That title still exists – Spaniards don’t like throwing things away, not corpses and not titles either…


En 1453, se le otorgó a don Álvaro de Luna – gran maestre de Santiago y primer ministro de Juan II de Castilla – el título de San Esteban de Gormaz. El título existe todavía – los españoles no tiran las cosas tan fácilmente, ni cadáveres ni títulos…

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago / El desvío a Santiago)

God’s Siesta (La siesta de Dios)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

I want to enter the cathedral, but even God sleeps after his midday meal in Spain, so I linger in the cool forecourt, face to face with allegorical statues unwondering at my presence.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)


Quiero entrar en la catedral, pero incluso Dios duerme la siesta en España, así que me quedo durmiendo en el fresco antepatio, cara a cara con las imágenes alegóricas que no me ven.

(Cees Nooteboom: Desvío a Santiago)

The Historian

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

…the historian, not even the history philosopher, no, just the academic, a drone as big as a man, working his life away in archives and monastery libraries which he leaves briefly once every so many years to announce, with modest jubilation, the discovery of another piece of the puzzle hitherto missing, a piece that expands the puzzle even further.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Roads to Santiago

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Ten years ago I resolved to drive to Santiago, and so, eventually, I did – not once but several times — but because I had not written about it, I still hadn’t really been there. There was always something else that needed thinking or writing about, a landscape, a road, a monastery, a writer or a painter, and yet it seemed as if all those landscapes, all those stories of Moors and kings and pilgrims, all my own memories as well as the written memoirs of others pointed steadily in the same direction, to the place where Spain and the oceanic west come together, to the city which, in all its Galician aloofness, is the true capital of Spain.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Pizarro & Atahualpa

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Pizarro leaves Trujillo with 130 men, forty cavalry and two small cannons…

Pizarro captures Cajamarca during the Inca’s absence and sends a messenger with an invitation to Atahualpa. The latter arrives with 6000 men, and within thirty-three minutes a centuries-old empire lies in ruins. The divine Inca is carried to the main square of the city on a golden litter, the feet of the son of the Sun are not permitted to touch the ground. Servants sweep the street ahead of the procession. But Pizarro has ordered his soldiers to take up positions in the surrounding buildings and he himsef, a towering figure on his horse (an animal unknown to the Incas), rides towards the Inca. The Dominican monk Valverde holds out a Bible to Atahualpa; he doesn’t know what it is and lets the holy book fall to the ground. This is the signal for attack. The two small cannons are fired, the Indians panic, 2000 unarmed Incas are massacred, Atahualpa is taken prisoner.

But it is only in our minds that he was defeated by fewer than 200 Spaniards and forty horses. He, however, was defeated by beasts with feet of silver, creatures that were semi-human, centaurs. Or in the shape of a legend of white gods who were fated to return. His downfall was not brought by the power of his adversary, but by an interpretation, and by the time the Incas realised that it was too late.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Tacitus vs the Newspapers

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

…during the Second World War he [Jorge Luis Borges] had considered giving up his habit of not reading the papers (because it made more sense to read the classics), but had decided instead to spend some time every day reading Tacitus on a different, early war. In a world like his, in which events repeat themselves ad infinitum, his decision was not without logic and Tacitus had the advantage of a superior style while, in his view, the content remained essentially the same.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

When In Seville…

… do as the sevillanos do.

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

What can one do when the temperature rises to 40°C? Do as the Sevillans do: sigh, and wait until the sun has set to go out in search of coolness in gardens and churches to stroll along the Guadalquivir, but at a slow pace, until night spreads itself out like a black cloth over the city and the river, over the twelve-sided tower where the merchant ships set sail for the Indies, over the palm trees and the rose bushes, the lilies and the cypresses in the gardens of the Alcázar.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Intruder in the Alhambra

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

The pink walls of the Alcazaba are tinged with a different shade each hour, the disciplined gardens around me, the eroded brick of the fortifications which seem to bleed in places, the gates and patios I saw that day, the excruciating intricacy and refinement of the decorations in corridors and pavilions and then suddenly, in the midst of it all, rises Charles V’s Renaissance palace like an intruder clinging to the remains of that vanished Orient, a proclamation of power and conquest.

A severe statement, a massive square enclosing a magnificent circle, a courtyard the size of a town square, one of the most lovely open spaces I know, as if even air could express the advent of a new era and a new might. Columns are curiously akin to trees, the multicoloured chunks of rock that nature once pressed into these marble thunks to make a superior kind of brawn, bear witness to a new military caste deploying its forces worldwide to destroy empires and amass the gold with which armies are fed, palaces built, and inflation generated. Skulls of oxen, stone tablets commemorating battles, iron rings decorated with eagles’ heads that once served to tie up horses, winged women of great beauty reclining dreamily on the pediments, their broken wings half spread, there is no more tangible evidence of the confrontation that took place here than those two intertwined palaces: the one extroverted, out to seduce, the other haughty, self-absorved; over and above the hedonistic bloom of the sultans the imperial edifice points to the might of the other, earlier caesars who ruled Europe long before the armies of Islam came and went.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Palace of Charles V in Granada
Palace of Charles V / Palacio de Carlos V, Granada
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Land of Giants

Leer esto en castellano

Or The Windmills of Don Quixote

Unexceptional

The Lonely Planet guide about the La Mancha town of Campo de Criptana reads:

One of the most popular stops on the Don Quijote route, Campo de Criptana is crowned by 10 windmills visible from kilometres around. Revered contemporary film-maker Pedro Almodóvar¹ was born here, but left for Madrid in his teens. The town is pleasant, if unexceptional.

Actually, unexceptional doesn’t even begin to describe the town if you arrive by train (Campo de Criptana is on the mainline from Madrid to Albacete, the capital of Castile-La Mancha). Downright ugly might be a better description: as in many Spanish towns, the railway station is on the outskirts, in this case surrounded by industrial buildings of little appeal. Luckily, Campo de Criptana is a small place and fifteen minutes walk will bring you to the centre of town.

Which is unexceptional.

Statue of Cervantes, Campo de Criptana

But you don’t really want the centre of town. You’re a reader, a reader of Don Quixote at that, and what you want is the famous windmills, the giants that Don Quixote fought. Head uphill from the unexceptional Plaza Mayor with its obligatory Cervantes statue, through the Albaícin – the old Moorish quarter -, through the narrow cobblestoned alleys, between whitewashed houses edged in indigo blue… it sounds better already, doesn’t it? There. As you turn the corner, you spot your first windmill. And there are other nine to come.

Continue reading “Land of Giants”

Tierra de Gigantes

Read this in English

O los molinos de Don Quijote

Nada excepcional

El artículo de Lonely Planet sobre el pueblo manchego Campo de Criptana dice:

Una de las paradas más populares en la ruta de Don Quijote, Campo de Criptana está coronado por 10 molinos de viento visibles desde kilómetros. El respetado cineasta contemporáneo Pedro Almodóvar¹ nació aquí, pero se fue a Madrid en su adolescencia. El pueblo es agradable, aunque nada excepcional.

De hecho, la frase nada excepcional ni siquiera comienza a describir el pueblo si llegas por tren (Campo de Criptana está en la línea principal de Madrid a Albacete, la capital de Castilla-La Mancha). Feísimo podría ser una mejor descripción: como en muchas ciudades españolas, la estación de tren está en las afueras, en este caso rodeada de edificios industriales poco atractivo. Afortunadamente, Campo de Criptana es un lugar pequeño y quince minutos a pie te llevará al centro de la ciudad.

Lo que es nada excepcional.

Statue of Cervantes, Campo de Criptana

Pero la verdad es que no quieres el centro de la ciudad. Eres un lector, un lector de Don Quijote además, y lo que quieres son los famosos molinos de viento, los gigantes con los que luchó Don Quijote. Diríjase cuesta arriba desde la Plaza Mayor con su obligatoria estatua de Cervantes, a través del Albaícin, el antiguo barrio morisco, caminando por los estrechos callejones adoquinados, entre casas encaladas y bordeadas de azul añil … ya suena mejor, ¿no? Ahí. Al doblar la esquina, ves tu primer molino de viento. Y hay nueve más por venir.

 

Continue reading “Tierra de Gigantes”

The Oddest Motive for Walking the Camino de Santiago

There is an old route of pilgrimage, or rather I should say several routes, leading to the town of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. It is known as the Camino de Santiago, St James’s Way, and it is actually a whole network of routes starting in various parts of Spain; the most popular and famous remains the camino francés, the French Way, which starts in France and climbs over the Pyrenees before traverses Northern Spain. The Camino continues to be a very popular walking route and not just for religious pilgrims.

If you complete the walk, at the end you can obtain a certificate, as you can read in today’s quote below by Dutch author, Cees Nooteboom.

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

Everyone who had completed the journey on foot or on a bicycle, could, if they wished, obtain a rubber-stamped document from him and have their names registered in the great book. “Many times people burst into tears right here,” he had told me, pointing in front of his desk. He had shown me the ledger, too, a sort of account book, written in longhand.

He had turned the pages until he spotted a Dutchman, a chemistry teacher, “not a believer”, motive: “thinking”.

He had appreciated that, he said, people came up with the oddest motives, but “thinking” was seldom among them.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)