Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Travels in Spain, Belmonte to Almagro

Almagro 1

“We are in the Spanish south.  The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicada hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom… the girls have black eyes and undulating carriages.”  –  Jan Morris,  ‘Spain’

More or less, still following the Ruta de Don Quixote we drove directly now from Belmonte to the town of Almagro, so far south in Castilla-La Mancha that it almost in Andalucía.  We arrived around about mid-morning, parked the car and made straight for the Centro Historico.

Almagro is an old town that was once much more important than it is today, two hundred and fifty years ago it was for a short time the provincial capital of La Mancha (1750-61) but religious decline set in during the reign of Charles III and it fared badly and suffered damage in the Napoleonic and the Carlist wars.

Eventually it was eclipsed by its neighbour Ciudad Real and it settled down to become  the quiet provincial town that it is today on, not being unkind, a secondary, less important, tourist trail.

The centre of Almagro is conveniently located inside a circle of modern roads so we circumnavigated it all as we walked through surprisingly wide and airy streets with the ubiquitous boxy white houses with little balconies and ornamental black iron grills over the windows where much of the town has been redeveloped to accommodate modern living demands.

Almagro x 5

Along the route there were churches, a wide open park and a convent, now converted to a Parador hotel.  We went inside as we usually do to take a look but Parador room and menu prices are not really for us so we weren’t tempted to stay and instead made our way back to the Plaza Mayor passing by the equestrian statue of the Conquistador Diego de Almagro and then entered the rectangular Plaza.

At a hundred metres long and forty metres wide it is flanked on both sides by a Praetorian Guard of weathered Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of green and fully glazed in a central European style this place is truly unique in Spain.  These galleries were originally open and used as grandstands for public events, religious festivals and even bullfights that were held here until 1785, when they were finally banned by King Carlos III.

We choose a table on the sunny side of the Plaza, ordered beer and wine and just sat and watched the activity while we nibbled the inevitable olives.  The bar owner shooed away some small boys playing football, telling them to play elsewhere and families began to arrive and the bar quickly filled up with chattering customers.

Almagro Plaza Mayor

We were staying at the Hotel Retiro del Maestre, a renovated old Spanish nobleman’s house on a street leading to the main square.  It was a friendly family run hotel with spacious and comfortable public rooms, a large outside terrace basking in the pleasant sun and was a nice room for us with a view over the garden where we let the afternoon gently slip away with a bottle of local wine, a game or two of cards and a couple of chapters of our books before out thoughts turned to evening meal.

The next morning breakfast at the Retiro del Maestre was simply wonderful and easily the best so far, in fact, if we were compiling a list of the top five hotel breakfasts ever then this would certainly be in there.  It was the usual thing in terms of content but it had clearly been lovingly prepared by the ladies of the house and the cook fussed around the breakfast room, making recommendations, making sure everyone was happy and brazenly fishing for well deserved compliments.

Almagro x 3

We planned to spend another morning in Almagro and we started with a visit to the Corral de Comedias, a sixteenth century theatre, similar to those that Shakespeare would have been familiar with in Elizabethan England, built in what was the courtyard of an Inn and which today is the only fully preserved example of a theatre of this type in the World.  It is amazing what gems you come across when you stray off the well beaten tourist track.

It is a working theatre still today and inside it is an immaculate example of a theatre of the golden age, built on three levels with galleries and private boxes running around all three sides of the still open courtyard.  It was an unexpected bonus for us but it didn’t take long to walk around and listen to the audio commentary so after we had finished we stopped for a coffee and compiled a shopping list of souvenirs that we could confidently carry back in our hand luggage and agreed on some local pottery and some water-colour postcards of the main sights of the town.

Now it was time to leave and start the next stage of our journey towards the City of Toledo. We had enjoyed Almagro and glad that we had included it in the itinerary, a lovely town and with a Plaza Mayor that went straight into my personal Top Ten.

Plaza Mayor Almagro

Eugene Schieffelin, William Shakespeare and Starlings in the USA

Eugene Schieffelin

Although the Sparrow and the Starling are on the conservation red list in the United Kingdom it is interesting that by comparison they are doing rather well in the United States.

The European Starling was introduced into North America in the 1890s, and quickly spread across the continent.  It is a fierce competitor for nest cavities, and frequently expels native bird species and is therefore widely regarded as a pest and has been blamed for a decline in indigenous bird populations, especially the infinitely more attractive Bluebird.

The Sparrow and the Starling together with the Pigeon are the only three unprotected bird species in North America, they are all introduced and there are more of them than all the other birds put together.

European Starling

The European Starling is resident in the US because in 1890, a wealthy American businessman called Eugene Schieffelin introduced sixty Starlings into New York Central Park and then another forty the following year.  In doing so he radically and irreversibly altered America’s bird population because today European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and even into Mexico and their population is estimated at over two hundred million.

Schieffelin was an interesting man who belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another.  In the nineteenth century, such societies were fashionable and were supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of an era that had no way of understanding the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem.

Actually, in his defence, some recent revisionist thinking has concluded that the introduction of the Starling was perhaps not as devastating has had previously been suggested and one thing is certain and that is that is was not nearly so thoughtless as the introduction of the European rabbit to the continent of Australia in 1859 by a certain Thomas Austin who wanted them there to satisfy his hunting hobby.

rabbit

The effect of rabbits on the ecology of Australia has been truly devastating and entirely due to the rabbit one eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct and the loss of plant species is at present uncalculated. They have established themselves as Australia’s biggest pest and annually cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture. The introduction of the rabbit was an ecological mistake on a monumental scale!

Similarly the humble hedgehog to the Hebrides Islands in Scotland. The prickly interlopers were introduced in 1974 in a misguided act of biological control of slugs and snails. As the numbers of hedgehogs spread across these islands, so the breeding success of many of the internationally important populations of wading birds decreased. A link was made – hedgehogs are partial to eggs, and these hedgehogs were emerging from hibernation just as the birds were laying a smorgasbord of eggy delight. Now the UK Government spends thousands of pounds of taxpayers money trying to eradicate them.

When he wasn’t tinkering with the environment Eugene Schieffelin liked joining clubs and societies and his obituary in the New York Times in 1906 listed his membership of The New York Genealogical and Biographic Society, The New York Zoological Society, The Society of Colonial Wars, The St. Nicholas Club, the St. Nicholas Society and the Union Club of New York which in the 1870’s was generally regarded as the richest club in the world. Obviously Schieffelin had too much money and too much time on his hands!

Birds of Shakespeare

There is an alternative story behind the introduction of the European Starling. It is said that Schieffelin belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in the complete works of William Shakespeare because they they thought it would be nice to hear the sound of the poet’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of America. If this were true he must have been unusually familiar with the works of the Elizabethan bard because Shakespeare’s sole reference to the starling appears in King Henry IV, part 1 (Act 1, scene 3): “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”

As well as the Starling Schieffelin was also responsible for introducing the House Sparrow, which was released into Brooklyn in New York in 1851 and by 1900 had spread as far as the Rocky Mountains and is today common across the entire continent. The sparrow too is regarded as a pest as it is in Australia where it was introduced at roughly the same time, paradoxically as an experiment in pest control.  How badly wrong can an experiment go I wonder?

Schieffelin wasn’t always successful however, probably just as well, and his attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Interestingly the House Sparrow gets four mentions in Shakespeare’s works, in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida. The full list of avian references in the works of Shakespeare were researched by the Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and recorded in his book published in 1916, ‘The Birds of Shakespeare’ and they are the Blackbird, Bunting, Buzzard, Chough, Cock, Cormorant, Crow, Cuckoo, Dive-dapper, Dove and Pigeon, Duck, Eagle, Falcon and Sparrowhawk, Finch, Goose, Hedge Sparrow, House Martin, Jackdaw, Jay, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Loon, Magpie, Nightingale, Osprey, Ostrich, Owl, Parrot, Partridge, Peacock, Pelican, Pheasant, Quail, Raven, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swan, Thrush, Turkey, Vulture, Wagtail, Woodcock and the Wren.

Some people research some very strange things!

I have told you before about my Dad’s schoolboy notebook about birds, well, this is his Starling page…

Dads Starling Page

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love

Juliet's House and Balcony Verona Italy

Juliet’s House in Verona

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.”

Visiting the Italian city of Verona considered it essential that we find and see Juliet’s house in a cobbled courtyard tucked away in a side street.

Supposedly the location of the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s love story, Juliet’s house is a popular romantic shrine and tourist honey-trap where lovers leave messages to each other on the walls and attach the dreadful love-locks to the fences and the railings.  This is a problem of course so there are attendants on duty to make sure visitors only do this in one specially designated spot because if there wasn’t some control the courtyard would be quickly covered in untidy graffiti and more ironmongery than an average Home Depot store!

Although the courtyard has become a major destination for tourist pilgrimage the house of course has no connection at all with the bard’s fictional characters and although it is old and looks authentic enough, the balcony was actually added in 1936 and declared to be “Juliet’s house” by the city authorities in a blatant attempt to cash in on the Shakespeare connection and to attract more tourists.

The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a dainty bronze statue of a graceful Juliet and people were waiting impatiently for their turn to be photographed with the heroine and to touch her right breast which is supposed to bring good fortune but I was worried that public groping was ever so slightly inappropriate so I steered clear, chose to do without the good luck boost and on the way out decided not to waste my money on a lottery ticket next weekend.

Have you been to Verona?  Have you been to Juliet’s house?

Juliet's House Verona

“Ever a shadow, he disappears, all but utterly, from 1585 to 1592….There is not a more tempting void in literary history, nor more eager hands to fill it”  –  Bill Bryson on Shakespeare.

It is an interesting fact that thirteen of the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare were set either completely or partly in Italy and if we rule out the ten English history plays (which naturally have to be set in England) then half of the remainder of the major works are set in the Italian states and no one knows for sure just why.

Read the Full Story…

William Shakespeare Verona Italy

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall of Love Letters

Juliet's House Verona

In Verona we considered it essential that we find and see Juliet’s house in a cobbled courtyard tucked away in a side street.  Supposedly the location of the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s love story, Juliet’s house is a popular romantic shrine and tourist honey-trap where lovers leave messages to each other on the walls and attach the dreadful lovelocks to the fences and the railings.

A wall in the courtyard is provided for people to leave their messages but all around there are strategically placed attendants keeping a careful watch to make sure no one touches the precious walls of the building itself.

Read the full story…

 

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (3)

  

It’s nice to feel useful (3) …

About this time of the year I start to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Last year my favourite was can pubic hair grow more with regain?” and rather disappointingly I have nothing to really compete with that in 2013 but carrying on, here are my top ten:

Being a student of history I am going to begin with a selection of wildly inaccurate historical searches.

The first one is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  I think I am obliged to point out here straight away that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

I imagine that what the question referred to was really about starlings in the USA because here there is a connection.  The introduction of the starling to USA is said to be the responsibility of a man called Eugene Schiefflein who belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works on the basis that they thought it would be rather nice to hear the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of new world America.  Obviously they didn’t realise that this had the potential be an ecological disaster on the same scale as introducing the rabbit into Australia!

Showing a similar lack of historical knowledge is my second search term, “Was El Cid a Muslim?”  Now, El Cid was the great Spanish hero of the Catholic Reconquista which drove the African Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula so I imagine any suggestion that he was a secret Muslim will have poor Charlton Heston spinning in his grave.

Following a visit to Castilla-La Mancha in 2009 I wrote a number of posts about El Cid and I expect the enquirer was sign posted to one of these.

El Cid 1

Next on my historical howlers list is Napoleon Monument in Moscow” What? In his periods of sanity Napoleon did some rather good things but most of the time he was a tyrant and a dictator and a warmonger and in 1812 he invaded Russia and did unspeakable things to the Russian people who were unfortunate enough to be in his way as he marched his army to Moscow.  When he got there the Russian people burnt the city down and so with nowhere to stay for the winter he was obliged to march all the way back again during which his army did more unpleasant things to the Russian people.

I imagine that the chances of there being a memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte in Moscow are about just as likely as there will be a statue of Adolf Hitler.

La Colonne de la Grande Armée Boulogne France

There is however a monument to the French Emperor in France at Boulogne-Sur-Mer so perhaps that is where the search engine went looking?

Moving away from history to travel I do hope that in some small way that my posts will provide some useful information for fellow travellers – here are some of my favourite search question:

Firstly – “Places to get laid in Europe” and believe me if I had the answer to that one then I would probably be inclined to keep it to myself!  Perhaps the enquirer was thinking about the red light district in Amsterdam or perhaps they found their way to my post on the Grand Tour of Europe?

Grand Tour of Europe

Stansted Screening

Next  in  this section is Do I have to take my shoes off at Stansted airport?” and what sort of odd question is that?  The answer actually is sometimes depending on how much the security staff at the airport want to irritate travellers on that particular day.

And my favourite travel question is two things I didn’t know about Spain”.  There are actually about two million things I don’t know about Spain so the chances of me providing the illusive final two for this enquirer are very remote indeed.  I did a post once about ‘ten things I didn’t know about Spain’ but this wasn’t ever meant to be a definitive list and I am fairly certain that I could have kept that theme going forever.

Iconic Spain

From history and travel I move to sex because it is estimated that well over half of all web searches are about this subject.

My first enquiry is just simply “knobs and knockers” !  Interestingly however I once worked with someone who used the office internet to make this very same enquiry.  She was restoring an old Welsh Dresser at the time and although her enquiry was completely innocent she had some explaining to do to the IT section when she received the unexpected results of her search.  I have made a few posts about doors and windows so I expect that’s how my blog was identified in search results for this particular question.

Catalonia Spain Door Detail

I like the next one better – “see through girls’ clothes” and once again if I had the answer to this one I would surely be a millionaire.  It reminded me of my post about X-Ray Specs which seemed to suggest all sorts of peeking opportunities but in fact never actually worked (or so I am told!)

And so I wind this post up with a couple of random questions that I cannot seem to place into a category.  Firstly a really dumb question – “French dog waste management” and I can only assume that the person asking the question has never actually been to France because the answer is simple – there is no dog waste management in France and the French people just allow their canine companions to poop all over the streets with total disregard to other pedestrians.

Finally for this year I really like this one – “do you need a CRB check to hold a childrens’ party at Mcdonalds”Probably not such a daft question when you think about it and the answer is probably yes!  I wrote about birthday parties so perhaps this is where the question was directed?

Only just excluded from my top ten this year – What is a Mole?”, “What did houses look like in the middle ages?” and these what year is the baby boomers let me?” which, as far as I can see makes no sense at all!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

Juliet's House and Balcony Verona Italy

Romeo and Juliet – Verona

Supposedly the location of the famous balcony scene from Shakespeare’s love story, Juliet’s house is a popular romantic shrine and tourist honey-trap where lovers leave messages to each other on the walls and attach the dreadful lovelocks to the fences and the railings.  

Although the house has become a major destination for tourist pilgrimage the house of course has no connection at all with the bard’s fictional characters and although it is old and looks authentic enough, the balcony was actually added in 1936 and declared to be “Juliet’s house” by the city authorities in a blatant attempt to cash in on the Shakespeare connection and to attract tourists.

Read the full story…

Venice, Verona and Padova

Venive, Verona and Padua

The holiday club all wanted to visit Venice of course so the plans began with an expectation that we would be spending four days in the famous waterlogged city but during the search for suitable accommodation it soon became clear that the price of hotels was some way beyond our normal hotel room budget so I started to look for alternatives and very soon found something suitable in nearby Padova – the Hotel Grand Italia right next to the train station.

Read the full story…

Verona, Juliet’s House and the Piazza Signori

Juliet's House and Balcony Verona Italy

Piazza Brà, the central square with its richly decorated houses, immaculate streets and gardens and busy pavement restaurants had a prosperous, self assured atmosphere and we ate our Brek self-service pasta lunch while people rushed by on the adjacent pavement and the sun broke through the thin clouds and filled the Piazza with welcome rays that emphasized the pastel shades of the buildings and the geometry of the bricks and stones of the medieval city wall close by.

Read the full story…

Verona, The Amphitheatre

Verona Italy Amphitheatre

“There is no world without Verona walls                                                                           But purgatory, torture, hell itself                                                                                     Hence banished is banish’d from the world                                                                      And world’s exile is death”                                                                                      Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

The good thing about travelling to this region of Italy and not staying within the confines of the Venetian Lagoon is that there was the opportunity to go beyond the watery city and see so much more and today our plan was to travel west and visit the ancient and famous city of Verona.

Read the full story…

In the Footsteps of William Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare Verona Italy

“Ever a shadow, he disappears, all but utterly, from 1585 to 1592….There is not a more tempting void in literary history, nor more eager hands to fill it”           Bill Bryson on Shakespeare.

It is an interesting fact that thirteen of the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare were set either completely or partly in Italy and if we rule out the ten English history plays (which naturally have to be set in England) then half of the remainder of the major works are set in the Italian states and no one knows for sure just why.

Read the full story…