Zaragoza, Guadalajara, Cartagena – don’t they sound wonderful?
Putting aside whatever these places are actually like, I’m simply talking about the sound of the word. The sounds of the syllables. To me at least, as a boy from High Wycombe (fairly non-descript town between Oxford and London), these places have always evoked a sense of exotic otherness which still make me want to visit them.
But the place or rather the word that does it for me more than any other in Spain is Salamanca.
I’m told it’s a beautiful city steeped in history, culture and architecture and is the linguistic heart of Castellano which all sounds lovely and pretty much as I imagine it to be. I say ‘I’m told’ as I’ve not yet been and this is because although my wife and I have lived in Granada for over a year now and have travelled extensively throughout Andalusia, we have yet to see much of the rest of Spain.
There are a variety of reasons for not having been to Salamanca yet including the perhaps familiar ‘haven’t yet got round to it as life gets in the way’, but one of the key reasons is in fact that I haven’t wanted to spoil my image of this seemingly perfect, exotic place. I guess you could compare it to meeting your heroes. Should you or shouldn’t you? Could they ever be as amazing as they are in your head? For example, I’d love to meet David Bowie one day, but only David Bowie the rock star, not David Bowie the normal bloke who has Cornflakes for breakfast. That’s just too much information.
To me, Salamanca has always symbolised all things Spanish and I look forward to seeing whether it is in fact as wonderful as I have heard or imagine it to be. So much so that this summer my wife and I will be having a trip through the heartlands of Spain including Segovia, Caceres and of course, Salamanca among other places and fortunately, we also have some friends there who I hope will be showing us their side of the city.
One of my favourite books is ‘The Art Of Travel’ by Alain De Botton where he talks about an 18th century French nobleman who has a room in his residence dedicated to England and all things English. However it is not necessarily the ‘real’ England, but the one that he has imagined and one day he indeed sets off to England to see it for himself but turns back when he gets to the coast because as Alain de Botton puts it:
“we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there.”
However, I’m going to perhaps be a little braver than our French nobleman and take my chances. Maybe I’ll be disappointed or even amazed, but at least it will be based on something real. Either way, I’m really looking forward to the trip and of course, I’ll be able to say I’ve finally been to Salamanca.
Maybe then I could try Zaragoza, Guadalajara, Cartagena or even somewhere like the province of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country, as that sounds fascinating. Which places sound interesting to you?