Monday, December 29, 2008
We took the bus to Salamanca—for a detailed description thereof, see earlier post titled “Get on the Bus!” The bus in Spain, is a far lovelier and classier affair than it is in the US. For Greyhound trips I usually prepped by not showering for three days and practicing talking to myself while rocking back and forth. Anyone will sit next to a crazy person, and some will sit next to a stinky person; but the combination is deadly.
For Spanish bus trips (and mind you, I mean intercity), you purchase a ticket which assigns you a seat. The buses are designed with one seat on one side of the isle and two on the other. The seats recline, and have trays, like plane seats; but have more room than coach, which is how I travel. As you climb on the bus, a little holder next to the driver’s seat has plastic sealed headphones, which you are free to take on the way to your seat—and you want to do that if you want to listen to music pumped into any of 8 channels, or if you want to hear the film that’s going to play at some point.
J. & I lucked out and got the front seat both going and returning. By lucked out, of course, I mean we had my luck and as the song goes, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” The windows on long haul buses go ALL the way down. Really. Just ceiling to floor. And that means the front seat view goes all the way down. And that means that like it or not, my primary view, in each direction was the driver’s skill. The first guy wasn’t too bad. I managed to read most of the way, with the help of the overhead reading light—since we were leaving at 6 am, this was something of a necessity—and I even napped some.
When we pulled into the bus station in Salamanca, I was tired and grumpy—a result of my three hours’ sleep, and the fact that we’d been on a bus for two hours. It’s odd. I fall asleep whenever in a moving vehicle (that I’m not driving—and once or twice in ones I was). I fall asleep as soon as the plane takes off. I fall asleep when the train pulls out, or by the time the bus hits the city limit. But I always wake from these naps unrested and unhappy. We checked into the “RoomMate Vega”—a lovely hotel. We went up to our lovely room and discovered the phone didn’t work. Just for kicks I tried the WiFi—same luck. But we weren’t in Salamanca to log on, we were there to tour.
Salamanca is special; J.’s parents both studied here, at the oldest Western University (Universidad Salamanca), they met and fell in love here. And J.’s mom had grown up here as well. Because of its importance to the family, J.’s dad was nice enough to send us a planned out walking tour, with information on all the points of interest he thought we should see, so in addition to the different parts of the university where they had studied, we also saw the houses where each had lived. We walked the road (Tostado, I kid you not!) that J.’s dad walked to school every day. J.’s mom was one of the first three women to earn Juris Degrees—they’re not doctorates, here (sorry, Dassi), but they are graduate degrees—in Spain.
Salamanca, even without the family connection, is special. The buildings are gorgeous! And that’s even before one goes inside them. The stone walls are engraved with many beautiful images. Where Madrid has beautiful buildings near statues and some with statues on top of them, Salamanca’s buildings are statues.
The university and “new” cathedral are in the same plaza. I say “new” because it was completed in the 19th Century. The “new” cathedral is attached to the old by a wall, so when touring one, we were able to walk into the other.
We ended up climbing the tower, an arduous task that reminded me that fat girls may show up in art, but we don’t often show up on the tops of cathedrals.
But I did. J. did it with me.
Oddly, once we were up there, the hardest part was finding the way down. Going down was tough enough (tiny spiral staircases suck!), but actually finding the exit was a challenge in and of itself. Still, it was more than worth it. The view from atop the cathedral is, as you can see, amazing. I prefer the view of the spires, up close, that I got from climbing that high. The spires are beautiful from afar, but the detailed work that goes into building such a thing and making it beautiful from afar can only be appreciated from up close. “Yay!” for whoever built that god-awful staircase.
One last thing about this cathedral (and then maybe something about cathedrals in general). This cathedral was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in Lisbon several hundred years ago. When one climbs into the rafters (part of the maze of entrances and exits connected to the tower), one more clearly sees the cracks. We’re not talking about a minor bit of squiggly line across a wall, here. In places, the rock, easily 18 inches thick or more, has been cracked clear through and one can see the sun pouring in from the other side. Parts of this cathedral is being helpd together with metal bars that keep it in place. Lisbon, by the way, is more than 200 miles away from Salamanca. The damage here is astounding. I cannot begin to imagine the damage done to the amazing work that is a cathedral—any cathedral—closer to the epicenter.
And that brings me to cathedrals in general. As is the point of cathedrals, I’m sure, I am overcome by a sense of awe whenever I walk into one of these structures, big or small, famous or not. But my sense of awe is rarely aimed where it is intended to be. I am not in wonder of G-d’s greatness (and if you know anything about Jews, you know the way I spelled the name above indicates my general belief in that concept). I am in wonder of both the beauty of which humans are capable and the hatred and pain of which they are full. So much of cathedrals comes down to the voluntary giving of lives on a massive scale as well as the immense gifts of artistic talent poured into conveying the beliefs that built the walls. I am in awe of the human drive to religion which asks so much of those who have so little—and what does it give back? I think of the poor of whatever parish I am in and the time and money they spent giving their lives meaning through the building of this monument to their beliefs and I am angered that their beliefs asked this of them—but then I’m angered at myself. What gives me the right to deny the meaning they felt they gave their lives? Who am I to say it is inappropriate to ask such sacrifice of anyone?
So I keep going to cathedrals—and synagogues and mosques—in each of the cities J. and I visit.
Posted by Leah Cassorla at 11:47 AM