EXCERPTS from Chapter Four
A picturesque stone bridge, the Puente Picudo, crosses the Ega River and leads to one of the most important structures in the city, the 12th century church of San Pedro de la Rúa which sits atop a hill with a sweeping curved stone staircase leading up to it. Built in the Romanesque tradition but with distinctly Moorish influences as well as a rose window worthy of a Gothic Cathedral, additions over the centuries have resulted in an eclectic but beautifully integrated combination of other styles including Baroque and Rococo. Much of the building was obscured by scaffolding and was basically off-limits during the time I was in the city due to what are apparently ongoing efforts to maintain the ancient building. During the reign of Spain’s Phillip II in the 1500s, half of its exquisite cloister had collapsed when the adjacent castle of Zalatambor was destroyed in a battle during a particularly tumultuous period in the history of the region. At that time, the kingdoms of Spain, Navarre, Aragon and Castile (and the French and Dutch) were aligning and realigning with and/or against each other in the ever-changing political landscape of that era...
...On one of those lazy walks around the city, I came upon a small cobbled square with a low wall on one side and with the back and other side wall created by the outside walls of an old church. The heat and humidity were oppressive and the long stone bench that ran the width of the square against the back wall was partially shaded. It was close enough to the city’s tourist office that the cobblestone street in front of it saw regular foot traffic.
What struck me was that the entire length of the bench was filled with people (clearly tourists and pilgrims) glumly staring straight ahead as if waiting for the building opposite the square to transform into a robot and start moving (it didn’t.) There were some brief, hushed exchanges, a couple of the women were listlessly fanning themselves. I had this almost irresistible urge to pace up and down in front of them exhorting them “lighten up!”, “get up and st…re…tch!”, “OK, let’s SING!” I knew it would be problematic given there were several different languages but I knew with just a little time and patience I could get a rondo of Row, Row, Row Your Boat going. I saw it, I heard it. We would laugh and sing and then later we would go in search of a place to get tapas and wine where we could continue to laugh and sing well into the night…our very own mini-United Nations only without the oppressive annoyance of a security council. As we bid each other goodbye, addio, adios, adieu, auf wiedersehen in the wee hours of the morning to return to our lodgings we would look up into the starry night sky and forever after remember the estrellas that we saw the night we all met in Estella. I smiled as this scenario played out in ever more elaborated detail in my head…the inner life of the solitary traveler. One of the Italian women caught my eye and smiled back as she made room on the bench for me to sit beside her…almost as nice.