A while ago I had an idea for a (grown-up) younger person’s novel, about the ghost of a Priest from the Spanish Inquisition, who – for his sins – had been condemned to tread unnoticed amongst buildings from his own time, until one day he meets….(hey, the idea’s too good to share).
But where to set it?
A trawl through my stack of guide books suggested Salamanca.
I schlepped West from Madrid by rail, passing visually stunning towns like Avila, Segovia and Toledo along the way, before finally walking out of Salamanca railway station and into a thick wall of dull architecture:
WTF? Had I made a major blunder?
‘Plaza Mayor’ I requested of my taxi driver, more in hope than expectation; I’d seen pictures, but I well know how the camera can lie – a handsome square mile does not Nirvana make.
He dutifully dropped me off – under cloak of darkness I rode steps up to Plaza Major, through one of the corner arched entrances, and it was love at first sight – to date, Salamanca is the most visually stunning, vibrant and well-adjusted city I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.
Salamanca manages to reconcile the best of a rich historic past, and some of Spain’s most impressive architecture, with the livelier pursuits of a hedonistic student population, made up of both Spaniards and an impressive number from overseas, who place Salamanca at the top of the list of Universities to put linguistic theory into practice.
In fact it’s this heady cocktail of Spanish and visiting students that makes the modern city of Salamanca so special, as they play out their years of living dangerously against the same University backdrop that coloured the days of the Spanish Inquisition and the lectures of Fray Luis de Leon, as well as the opportunistic Columbus.
Every weekend, alumni from years gone by travel from towns and cities both near and far, and descend upon Salamanca for riotous nights, which no doubt remind them of the days of their own youth and make it difficult for anyone else to find a room.
So two pieces of advice:
1: never arrive in Salamanca at weekend, if you haven’t already booked a room, and
2: Avoid the Summer hoards and go in University term time – Spring and Autumn preferably (Winter can be bloody cold and Calle Major is a wind tunnel).
Plaza Mayor Salamanca
A great writer once drew a distinction between night writers and those who did their work in the day. Dostoievsky was, he noted, in the former camp… and I believe it shows in the shady quality of his writing – which sticks to the human soul like hardy bacteria – whereas Tolstoy did his meticulously chronicled work in the day.
I suppose the same measure could be applied to photographers, and I’m definitely a sunset and twilight photographer, if for no other reason than I never seem to get to bed early enough to catch the rising day and on the occasions I’ve taken sunrise photos, it’s been at the end of a sleepless night or on my way home to bed.
But this does not mean I’m blind to the beauty of the morning sun, in this case as it illuminates the sandstone facade of Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. This photograph was taken early in the morning, at the height of the summer months, after a sleepless night. When the days are so long, going to bed seems almost a wasted effort and a lost opportunity to meet the day.
I have boxes of Salamanca transparencies, but scanning is one of my least favourite tasks – but, like that Salamanca novel, I hope to get round to it eventually.
Touching Hands (above)
Much photography is about ideas, and I can’t recall if I was aware of the potential in the mid day shadows on Plaza Mayor before shooting this picture, or it was a spare of the moment thing. Either way, it works quite well for me.
In fact I’ll put a print of this image on my own living room wall while I’m thinking about it.
One of the best gigs in Salamanca has to be Cafe Corrillo, on Calle Melendez, which the last time I visited was owned by two jazz-loving brothers, who kept the place plentifully supplied with indie, jazz and other live acts in the small live venue in the basement.
I’m not big on jazz, but there’s a great vibe about the place from breakfast til late.