But cathedrals schmathedrals.
Salamanca also has one of the oldest universities in the world. It is the oldest Spanish University. It is a university so old, and with such a deep history that it makes Harvard look like a baby school, just getting on its feet. J.’s parents studied there. The buildings are primarily close to each other, but are casually spread over the old part of the city in a way that I’m sure makes sense to someone. We walked through on a weekday, so there were plenty of students milling about (yes, on the week before Christmas), many of them American. The upper, or university schools, and the minor, or prep schools, each have a “patio.” The minor schools’ patio leads to the upper schools’ patio (which is larger, but not nearly as pretty), facing the cathedral. There are no benches, as I expected there would be—and as there are around the minor schools’ patio—but there is a statue in the center.
It feels, oddly, more like a blank spot at the center of a great deal of busy areas than a place to gather and talk, meet to go to lunch, or study before classes. The patio for the minor schools, in contrast, feels like a cloister.
In another (but close by) area, around the side of the cathedral, is a plaza called Anaya. Plaza Anaya is bordered by several schools, including (and this is largest here) the school of letters and philology. The inner courtyard is, again, much like a cloister, but on the walls are painted names, each with a similar (though there are differences) design above it. These are the names of persons who have earned their Doctoral degrees. The doctoral, in Spain, is a rough equivalent to post-doc work in the US. There is a dissertation (called a thesis) involved, much as there is in the US, but the course of studies is a little longer and comes after certain other levels of graduate degrees. Therefore, a JD, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is not a PhD, and neither is an MD. Each of these has a PhD possible in the field, but that is designed primarily for those who wish to teach rather than those who intend to practice. So, one can earn an MD, practice for some years, but if one then wants to return to academia and teach, one must take a few more courses, and write a dissertation to earn a PhD of medicine in addition to the MD. Personally, I just like the idea that one gets to leave one’s mark—name and year under the design of one’s major—after one completes this arduous task. Maybe an idea for back home… hmmm.
Both Madrid and Salamanca have street performers. One sees them more in Madrid, but the styles are very different in Salamanca. Madrid street theatre, generally consists of human statues who stand in busy areas not moving until someone throws change in their hat. These are heavily made up to look like statues—or like characters from movies, or like kids’ toys. Very few street performers in Madrid are of the street musician style. We did have one person get on a Metro with us with a CD player attached to a speaker, and an accordion, who then proceeded to play an incredibly bad version of “Autumn Leaves” at us all, but that’s about the limit of what I saw. In Salamanca, on the other hand, I saw a man sitting on a street leading to the cathedral with a guitar in his hands, playing and singing flamenco. He was an old man with a beautifully clear voice, despite the cigarette that had clearly been sitting, lit, between his lips for decades. His beard was white except where it had been stained yellow from the tobacco.
(This is the Casa de Conchas--as you can see it is covered in shells. It is the home of the theology school. There were musicians playing all up and down this street)
On another crowded street, lined with shops that tried at once to sell to the young, hip, college students and the tourist crowd, was a man singing a Flamenco song. “Sounds extremely painful,” I said to J. He replied it’s supposed to; that Flamenco is about pain. But I had meant that he was using his vocal chords badly. Of course, what do I know? Maybe that was the point.
(My favorite sign--so well said!)
Salamanca was gorgeous. The university was wonderful. The notes from dad were great. It was a very special tour. We had spent the night, and then spent the last two hours of hour last day running like crazy to fit in two convents, one of which was home to the first African Dominican nun—she’d been a princess abducted into slavery but turned down a marriage after her freedom was bought to dedicate her life—and they’re trying to have her canonized. The other was home to some stuff I honestly don’t remember and have no photos so—because we weren’t allowed to take photos. Personally, it meant little to me. I think there was an important Virgen there, but the Virgen I liked best was at the New Cathedral; her face was the most well formed face I’ve ever seen on a saint.
Also, the buildings in Salamanca almost always have fascinating and beautiful inlaid ceilings--as is true of most of the older buildings I've seen in Spain. Here are a few from Salamanca.
***WARNING*** The next section has no photos--believe me, you wouldn't have taken any either.
At last, we made it to the bus station and this time didn’t wait for an invite to board the bus! Actually, this time the driver didn’t climb down, even, he just popped the doors for the baggage and waited for us. All seemed well. It was 6 pm and already dark out, but I had my book out because the lights were on and I knew I’d have a reading light once we got underway. As per the routine, of course, we had the front-row view. The driver didn’t turn on the reading lights when he turned off all the other lights and pulled out of Salamanca. (Oops! Forgot to mention, we started out a little late because a guy asked permission to go potty.) I was toying with the idea of asking him to turn on the lights, when Jaime, sounding alarmed, explained it was highly illegal to talk to the driver. We soon discovered why.
I have been in last-minute-face-off positions with oncoming traffic as I tried to pass on a two lane; deciding whether to hit the brakes or the gas can be thrilling. Unless one has neither at her disposal and is in a bus being driven by a maniac who has decided to pass a semi. This would have been enough to keep any girl from asking for her reading light. But no. Things got worse. The DVD start up happened three or more times; I’d remember if I had been planning on watching, but American comedies dubbed in Spanish ain’t my thing, y’all. As the driver attempted to start the DVD and steer simultaneously, J. & I held hands. I have arthritis. I have not been in this much pain, nor, I’m sure, inflicted as much in a long time, arthritis included!
And then we reached the first toll booth. All seemed well, and our driver was decelerating with traffic; until we got just under the little roof thingy they have on those things. He then hit the gas as if he were racing against the gate that was going up at moderate speed. We won. All three times. But I wasn’t happy about it. And none of this was the worst. No. That was reserved for Madrid traffic; it always is. Madrid traffic sucks under normal conditions. We were speeding off the highway—Spanish highways put ours to shame in the US (Surprise!)—when suddenly something small, red, and awfully car-like slowed down in front of us, apparently moving with the traffic in front of it. Our driver, however, did not.
I’ve been an EMT, I’ve been in the US Naval Academy (for like two seconds), and I’ve been through things like bus bombings in Israel. I’ve pissed my pants listening to Katyushas overhead in a sealed room while visiting a friend. I’m not easy to scare. But as I heard myself screaming involuntarily (as the driver finally decided to apply ALL the brake power available to him), I realized that a lap-belt was not going to do much of anything to keep me from heading head first through the front window. I was suddenly pissed at J. for getting the seat behind the driver’s Plexiglas.
But we made it back alive, I guess that’s good enough.