The International Writers
For more than a thousand
years, the tightly clustered homes have clung precariously to the hillside,
baking through the summer months, and shivering through cold winters
victim to numerous migrations from Iberians to Romans and Visigoths to
moment I stepped off the bus in Chinchon, the rain stopped. An
hour later the first rays of sunshine broke through the cloud
cover. I get the feeling things are like that here serendipitous,
or just outright lucky. Theyd have to be.
the doorstep of Madrid, Chinchon is only a forty-five minute bus
ride to the south through rough hills rubbed raw and red-brown
with pitted granite outcrops amid impossible olive groves. If
you want to step back in time, this is the place to do it. Few
places in Europe boast a Medieval village as well preserved. The
trip is only 6.30 for a return ticket, and you can catch the buses
on Avda. del Mediterraneo.
From the bus stop on the edge of town, I climbed the serpent-like
streets toward the city centre. Without warning, the road unfolded
onto an irregular-shaped plaza, surrounded on all sides by some
two hundred and fifty lopsided, wooden balconies perched dangerously
over restaurants and shops that stretched cavern-like back from
the square. A portico on the far side opened mysteriously onto
a footpath that quickly disappeared into a maze of streets. And
even mid-week in early May, a few tables and chairs spilled into
the plaza sheltered by lively-coloured umbrellas.
Above the plaza, the skyline is dominated by the Renaissance Church of
the Assumption and the towns famous Clock Tower. The pastel-coloured
Lope de Vega Theatre is also visible to the left of the church. Oddly,
over the church altar is a masterpiece by Goya, whose brother once served
as chaplain here.
Upon my arrival, the Meson de la Virreina beckoned, and I enjoyed a cold
cerveca served up in a white porcelain stein, with a plate of olives on
the side. Indoors, I was able to view the array of tapas available, from
roasted peppers and tripe, to Spanish sausage and broad beans. A tiled
sign on the outside wall tells diners that this was once the house where
the bullfighter "Franscuela" convalesced after a brutal goring.
Once again serendipity had struck the town, as he and other toreros since
him, have organized a yearly Bullfight Festival in a make-shift corrida
in the middle of the Plaza Mayor. The week-long event draws tens of thousands
of madrillenos each season, and balcony owners make a fortune renting
out the prime seats. The festival takes place in mid-August, although
you can get a taste for whats to come on July 25th when Chinchon
celebrates the feast of St. James.
After browsing through the shops, which capitalize on the local artisanry
of metal working and pottery, I left the plaza for the castle further
up the hill. In ruins now, it was once a formidable fortress built to
stay the Moors from Toledo. You can still walk around the walls and admire
the lofty views of the town and surrounding countryside.
But if your intent
is not to stay, and all you can spare is an afternoon, buses pass every
hour by the Convent of the Poor Clare Nuns at the foot of the town, ready
to drag you from the sleepy rural landscape and slip you back into the
quickened pace of Madrids city life.
from the castle is the Hotel Parador, once an Augustinian
Monastery, and now the best place to stay in Chinchon. The Parador
offers thirty-eight modern rooms and two suites, as well as a small
restaurant. Rates start at 200 a night for a double. I visited the
Cloisters, which are open to the public and offer a small quiet
place to sit and contemplate your journey.
© Brent Robillard May 2007
I am the author of two novels, Leaving Wyoming and Houdini's
Watch for Leaving Wyoming and Houndini's Shadow wherever good books
are sold, or check out www.leobrentrobillard.com
for more information.
"Robillard's prose achieves a keen-edged grace that is almost mesmerizing....there
is a knuckle-and-bone hardness to it....a restless, inventive sense of
craft, a refusal to be tied down....As if in homage to the great escape
artist himself, Robillard raises the tension in scene after nail-biting
scene, packing his novel tight with danger. Between escapes, assaults,
seductions, betrayals and further escapes, Houdini's Shadow presents itself
as spectacle, just as surely as Houdini's own death-defying stunts did....Robillard,
clearly a gifted storyteller, can at times make you wonder, with that
old magician's dazzle, Just how did he do that?"
Globe and Mail
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