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Brent Robillard

The 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. They’d have to be.

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 Moors.
At 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 town’s 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 what’s 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.

Down 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.

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 Madrid’s city life.

© Brent Robillard May 2007

 I am the author of two novels, Leaving Wyoming and Houdini's Shadow. 
 Watch for Leaving Wyoming and Houndini's Shadow wherever good books are sold, or check out 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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