Segovia and Avila

26th April 2014 1 comment3527 views

The Roman aqueduct in Segovia compels: “They Were Giants in Those Days.”  That aqueduct makes modern civilisation below it look dwarfish.  I have no other awed comment, really, except maybe: hooray for Vitruvius, not that he architected this personally.


At the other end of town is the medieval Alcázar castle, which I might call fairytale:


except for imagining how even more freezing it would have been in the Middle Ages without modern clear plastic to block the huge empty windy windows:


and if this was medieval luxury, as Cristina remarked, what of the peasant in his hovel?  Though maybe the hovel was warmer?

Evidently they weren’t exactly giants in those days:


But their long pointy crakow-style shoes, obviously inspired by silverfish, gave them good nimble ground-vision:


In one great chilly room in a place of honour was a very strange version of Bosch‘s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych: all the people and beasts had disappeared, apart from the wistful peering face alleged to be that of Hieronymus himself, which is structural.  Turned out this was part of a series of real-size images of celebrated paintings with all persons and creatures removed by photoshop, done by award-winning Spanish artist and photographer José Manuel Ballester who also takes photos of mainly empty urban landscapes.


Ahem, the photographer protests vociferously at the angle of this photo, but personally I think this gives context.

In desperation to warm up, we shared the signature regional meal of suckling pig so tender that you can carve it with the edge of a plate.  In future we would avoid restaurante El Bernadino, having noticed too late that it was founded in 1939, thus probably by a victorious right-wing Franco follower, not to mention the jolly sow in its window popping out suckling piglets for roasting; tee-hee, they won’t cook me, just my babies: 


Evidently a lot of Japanese visit Segovia, since the street signs are in Spanish and Nihongo, though the Chinese can also benefit:


If Segovia was extremely chilly in early April, then Ávila—to which we were heading for interview gigs—would freeze the balls off any brass monkey.  About the Province of Castilla-La Mancha—full of castles, just as named—it’s said: “Nine months of Winter (Invierno), Three months of Hell (Infierno),” which is the Summer.   Consequently you really need to be a saint to live in Ávila, which Saint Theresa and Saint John of the Cross both did.  Whose sadistic idea was it to found an order of barefoot monks in Segovia? My favourite explanation of “balls and brass monkey” is that a brass triangle—called a monkey—held iron cannon balls ready for use aboard a man o’ war but, the coefficient of linear shrinkage of iron and brass being different, in very cold weather the cannon balls would pop off and roll about. 

Of course the Cathedral of Ávila is ostentatious (and photography is strictly forbidden, tee-hee, unlike in Segovia Cathedral):


and the completely intact city walls look as fresh as when first started in 1090, like bales of resined new straw quite a bit stronger than ordinary sandstone:

wallsHere, for the special benefit of James Goddard, are the same towers ungilded in black and white:


We particularly liked the surreal Museum of Tatty Taxidermy within the Convent of Santo Tomás of the triple cloisters.  For linguistic reasons a few male saints get to be called Santo rather than San.  Otherwise, San Tomás would become Santo Más, St. More, with the passage of time.







Probably Clive Barker advised the museum.

Stuff them all!  God will know the names He gave them!…


The convent was enlightening:

iluminado…but at last: a semi-sheltered corner with sunshine, and Batman could bask:


In a souvenir shop, the Brazilian chap in charge confided his hatred of Ávila, lured there by love from a language school in Brighton, and now confined within the walls amongst umpteen churches, summoned daily by bells to sell stuff to tourists. Here is his prison by night:


To diminish his misery slightly, we bought a repro 18th Century one-shot pistol originally made in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow, where Tolstoy’s idyllic estate was as well as a major armaments manufacturer since the time of Peter the Great.  War and Peace, eh?

A warm welcome in Ávila awaits beer lovers in La Cigueña (The Stork—they were in the sky and on rooftop nests), which has a dozen draught taps, plus great goat’s cheese tapas, as well as dozens of bottled beauties.  A chap at the radio station told me about the Stork while we were sharing ciggies on its outside balcony.


1 Comment

  1. Interesting and amusing piece Ian and lovely photographs Cristina (and Ian if you took any). The only things that bothers me here is the Christ-like pose Ian seems to be adopting more and more.

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