Friday, December 30, 2011

Where Home Lies (Part I)

If you divided Spain into four quarters, the town of León would sit in the middle of the one no one knows about. In this town I spent fourteen years since my birth: this translates into a deep, spiritual bath in its very particular personality, and countless afternoons full of beautifully lit sandstone and terracotta. Talking about it would take me several hours of passionate speech on its virtues and its flaws, so I will reduce it to "a town of beautiful architecture and sybarites".

Rear view of the apse of the town's famous cathedral.

The architecture of my town is one tight potpourri of artistic styles: from the sophisticated elegance of Spanish Baroque to the primitive imagery of Romanesque, from the restraint of the forties to the sheer greatness of its walls, built by the Romans. Everything is tossed together in a big architectural cocktail, one of constant evolution and change through many generations of modifications and improvising. It is this town, full of vibrant humanity, that constructs, destructs, improves, glues, re-purposes and preserves as change prints its mark on the seasoned stone, the battered brick and the crumbling mortar. Never before I had felt to compelled to touch the aged materials, as one stares in the eyes of an old man, to feel its noble battles with time.

House of Botines (left), designed by Antoni Gaudí.

Plaza del Grano (Grain Square), a cobblestone shrine of peace during the day.

At the Calle Ancha (Wide Street). Building range from the 17th to the 19th Century.

The people are a rather singular segment of the life in León. As with most Spaniards, you will notice that same relaxed sense of life at the tune of good food, rest, family time and personal wellness. The Leonese, by tradition, have had a fame of brute or unrefined (cazurro), or hicks. However, as you cruise the streets giving quick glances at its natives –with faces stretched by the cold and burned by the sun in the Summer; solemn and serious-, you will itch with curiosity about the ladies' fur coats, the shiny German sedans cruising the streets and the expensively decorated establishments. In all our brutishness and despite the current crisis, we Leonese appreciate luxury in its rawest, most durable and conservative form. It is a long-settled philosophy of buying with greatness, giving with generosity, and contributing to social order through one's own image in the group. Being well dressed or furnishing one's business with noble materials is proof of one's intentions to contribute to a greater collective wellness, good taste, and memorable splendor. Hence I qualify us as a rather unrefined group of sybarites.

This admirable business, Tommy Mel's decided to go all-American in historic León.

More will be coming soon, related to my actual experiences in my town, and that strange feeling of being a foreigner in your birthplace. There's plenty of photos of very personal places in town!

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