One of my favourite Spanish historical ballads is A Very Mournful Ballad of the Siege and Conquest of Alhama, also known as The Moorish King Rides Up and Down or Woe Is Me, Alhama! It was also one of the first Spanish ballads I’ve ever read in the original (Spanish learners take note – the text is that accessible). I came across it in a collection of ballads which I found in a second-hand bookshop in Southport in Lancashire; it was a university textbook from the 1960s. In A Brief (Literary) History of the Reconquista I have already shared an excerpt with you (and a shorter version a few years ago in The Moorish King Rides Up & Down) but the ballad deserves better, so today you’re going to get the full version – plus the Spanish original for those of you who can enjoy it.
La primera vez que oí hablar de Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, mejor conocido como El Cid, tenía unos diez u once años. De hecho, no había oído hablar de él en absoluto: lo vi en una película que dieron en la tele en Hungría. Fue una película de Hollywood de 1961, titulado El Cid, con Charlton Heston en el papel del Cid y Sophia Loren en el papel de Doña Jimena. Os recomiendo si os gustan las películas románticas. 🙂
La cita muy romántica – en el sentido literario – de esta semana es, entonces, de Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, escritor y rector de la Universidad de Salamanca en su tiempo.
I first heard of the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (The Lord), when I was about ten or eleven. Actually, I didn’t exactly hear of him: I saw him in a film, shown on Hungarian television. It was the 1961 Hollywood epic, El Cid, with Charlton Heston as the Cid and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. I recommend it to anybody with a romantic turn of mind. 🙂 The Cid was a Castilian knight in the eleventh century, who fought the Moors during the period of the Reconquista, that is, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors.
This week’s very romantic – in the literary sense – quote is from Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish essayist and rector at the University of Salamanca in his time.
La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:
La Reconquista! ¡Cosas tuvieron nuestros Cides que han hecho hablar a las piedras¡ ¡Y cómo nos hablan las piedras sagradas des estos páramos! Reconquistado su suelo, Castilla, que había estado de pie, se acostó a soñar en éxtasis, en arrobo sosegado, cara al Señor eterno.
(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)
The reconquista! The things done by our Cids which have made the rocks talk. And how the holy rocks of these plateaus talk! Having reconquered her land, Castile, who had been standing, laid herself down to dream in ecstasy, in peaceful bliss, with her face to the eternal Lord.
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.
The other day (okay, a few weeks ago, it took me a while to finish this post) I wrote a few lines about Covadonga in Asturias, the place where the reconquista, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors began in 722 A.D. If you haven’t read it:
…then you’d bloody well better 🙂 because today you’re going to get part two of the story that started in Covadonga: the story of the reconquista.
In keeping with Waterblogged tradition, we’re going to explore the topic through the medium of literature; I hope you’ll enjoy this brief history of the reconquista as told by Spanish historical ballads!
In the process of writing a brief literary history of the reconquista (the reconquering of Spain from the Moors), I found myself debating whether the tragic story of the seven princes of Lara should be included or not. On the one hand, it seemed difficult to leave out such a popular ballad from the era of the reconquista altogether; on the other hand, the brief literary history is already long enough without adding in something that, strictly speaking, is not so much a story of the reconquista but a story of a family feud. Upon reflection I decided that the famous story of the seven princes of Lara deserved a post of its own. To keep you busy while I finish the brief literary history. 🙂
There’s a popular saying in Spain, principally in Asturias, a province on the Bay of Biscay in Northern Spain, which goes:
Asturias es España, y lo demás tierra conquistada.
Asturias is Spain, and the rest is conquered land.
It makes reference to the Battle of Covadonga, 722 A.D. when the troops of Don Pelayo, king of Asturias, defeated the invading Moors. The battle is considered the starting point of the reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Moors (a long process of wars which ended with the taking of Granada in 1492). Legend would have it that Pelayo and his 300 defeated an army of 180,000 Moors. Historically speaking, it’s more likely that the Moors were not quite so numerous, nor Pelayo’s lot so few but – why spoil the legend? It’s still a famous victory for those defending their homeland.
As a consequence of Don Pelayo’s victory, Asturias has never been conquered by the Moors which explains the above saying.
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.
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.
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.
There were purple evenings, juicy as grapes, the thin moon cutting a cloud like a knife; and dawns of quick sudden thunder when I’d wake in the dark to splashes of rain pouring from cracks of lightning, then walk on to a village to sit cold and alone, waiting for it to wake and sell me some bread, watching the grey light shifting, a man opening a table, the first girls coming to the square for water.
(Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)
They even took me one night to a tenement near the cathedral and pointed out a howling man on the rooftop, who was pretending to be a ghost in order to terrorize the landlord and thereby reduce the rents.
(Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)
Incluso me llevaron una noche a un bloque de pisos cerca de la catedral y señalaron a un hombre aullando en la azotea, que pretendía ser un fantasma para aterrorizar al propietario y así reducir las rentas.
(Laurie Lee: Cuando partí una mañana de verano)
Did a man really howl from the rooftops in Cádiz in order to reduce his rent? Or did I just make it up?
The best way to find out is by reading the book. 🙂
¿Estaba, de verdad, un hombre aullando en la azotea en Cádiz, para reducir su renta? ¿O lo he inventado yo?
La mejor manera de averiguarlo es leer el libro. 🙂
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:
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.
The guide is a layman, he has a dusty grey complexion and talks down to us from his privilege of sharing in the sanctity of the site, a scholar, for the stream of dates and names gushes forth at great speed. He has a record to break, it seems, so I get no more than a glimpse of all there is to see, a mere smattering of the Arab cloister with harmonious pavilion in two styles, Gothic and Moorish, or as my Spanish guidebook says, “el gótico del elevada espiritualidad con el árabe sensorial y humano”. I can believe it: elevated, spiritual, humane, sensual, for before me I see high aspiration and beauty combined, and I hear the self-absorbed trickle of the fountain, but I am not permitted to linger here because the guide has already herded the others into the museum, and is waiting for me like a sheepdog.
Ribadesella is a small town in a spectacular setting at the mouth of the River Sella right under the Picos de Europa. Cliffs protect its wide sandy bay. You can surf, swim, go kayaking on the river or hiking in the mountains. Plus there’s a cave with 30 thousand year old cave paintings, practically in town.
Well may you wonder why you’ve never heard of it.
Perhaps because Ribadesella is the place where the Spanish go on holiday. You hardly hear a foreign word in the street. This is a different Spain from the Spain of package holidays.
Enjoy this short pictorial history of the town – brought to you by the Municipality of Ribadesella (and Waterblogged).
View of the Basilica from the cave church of Covadonga, Asturias
Quote of the Week:
It is not time that stood still here, although one would like to think so, it is the mountains. All that has moved is history, and all that has breathed are the seasons. Hot summers, harsh winters and the activity of man in between. Always the same: hunters, shepherds, farmers, descendants of Cantabrians and Goths. Never subjugated by Moors…
It is from here that the reconquest of Spain began. Reconquest is the proper word, but the prefix “re” encapsulates a long work of nearly eight centuries culminating in the victory of the Catholic Kings at Granada, and which began when the first Asturian king, Pelayo, defeated the Moorish troops at Covadonga in 718.
Today’s quote of the week is once again longer than usual: an excerpt from a book by the English travel writer, Laurie Lee – most famous for his autobiographical trilogy: A Cider with Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and AMoment of War. The first deals with his childhood, the second with him traipsing around the Spanish countryside in 1935 and the third with his experiences in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
The quote below is from A Rose for Winter, a book that recounts his visit to Spain about fifteen years after the end of the Civil War.
There exist certain similarities between the Spanish and the Dutch character.
The landscape of La Mancha dotted with windmills is no more rigorously divided into heaven and earth than the Dutch polder. It is an extreme division, unmitigated by temptations, valleys, romantic corners. Most of the meseta is as hard for a man to hide in as the flatlands of the Netherlands. A man is always visible between heaven and earth, silhouetted against the sky, and sometimes I think this has something to do with the extremism that characterises both Holland’s Calvinism and Spain’s Catholicism.
(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)
Existen ciertas similitudes entre el carácter español y el holandés.
El paisaje de La Mancha salpicado de molinos de viento no está más rigurosamente dividido en cielo y tierra que el pólder holandés. Es una división extrema, no mitigada por las tentaciones, los valles, los rincones románticos. En la mayoría de la meseta es tan difícil para un hombre ocultarse como en las llanuras de los Países Bajos. Un hombre siempre es visible entre el cielo y la tierra, recortada contra el cielo, y a veces creo que este tiene algo que ver con el extremismo que caracteriza tanto al calvinismo de Holanda como al catolicismo de España.
Perhaps that is the travellers deepest melancholy, that the joy of return is always mixed with a felling that is harder to define, the feeling that the places you have ached for since you first saw them simply went on existing without you, that if you really wanted to hold them close you would have to stay with them for ever.
But that would turn you into someone you cannot be, someone who stays at home, a sedentary being.
The real traveller finds sustenance in equivocation, he is torn between embracing and letting go, and the wrench of disengagement is the essence of his existence, he belongs nowhere. The anywhere he finds himself is always lacking in some particular, he is the eternal pilgrim of absence, of loss, and like the real pilgrims in this city he is looking for something beyond the grave of an apostle or the coast of Finisterre, something that beckons and remains invisible, the impossible.