From the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid to the Puerta de Madrid in Alcalá, and vice versa, there are 30 kilometers in a straight line. Hundreds of thousands of souls in pain cross them every day in one direction and the other by train, bus or car to study or work. Fewer are those who dare to connect Calle de Alcalá with the streets of Alcalá for the sheer joy of getting lost in them. They do not know what they lose. One of those orders to which, being close, we do not take the account they deserve. Alcalá, the name of the most famous door and street in Spain, is Alcalá de Henares. Thus, with the name of the Arab castle that dominated it and the surname of the river that surrounds it. The Complutum of the Romans. The cradle of Cervantes. The headquarters of the university that Cisneros founded. A city-city, and not a town, like others that are more traditional, declared a world heritage site 23 years ago, long before Unesco set its sights on the Plaza de Cibeles. A respect.
More than the holy children Justo and Pastor, precocious martyrs whose remains rest in the crypt of the magisterial cathedral, Miguel de Cervantes and Manuel Azaña are the true lay saints of Alcalá. Right at the intersection between their birth houses, on the corner between Calle Mayor and Calle de la Imagen, seated on a granite bench, some bronze Don Quijote and Sancho watch time and people pass by in a sculptural ensemble of doubtful taste. inaugurated a few decades ago. It is by no means the prettiest, but it is the most portrayed in the Madrid city. Like that on weekends there is a line to take selfies with them, as if they were, what do I know, Rosalía and Tangana, and then upload them to Instagram by cheating on Alonso Quijano or sniffs at Sancho Panza.
Around, on the cobblestones and under the arcades of Calle Mayor, a recurring set of Christmas announcements, a war is waged with no more casualties than the line of customers. The one maintained by the dozens of bars that offer a free tapas menu with a drink, the kind that you eat with two beers, or have dinner. In this, as with truckers and gas stations, the eye does not fail. The busiest are the best. Another thing is to catch a table. While the miracle is working, you can entertain the wait by falling into other temptations: those of the fashionable stores, the bookstores or the cuquis pastry shops of this and the adjoining Calle de Libreros, with the forceful crust and the donuts of Alcalá heroically resisting the onslaught of Manolito croissants and cinnamon rolls.
The best thing, however, is to wander around and let yourself be carried away by the locals. The so-called garrapiñados (for the homonymous almonds made by the Poor Clare nuns), proud of their cleanliness of Complutense blood, and the New Alcalaínos of all origins. They know. For example, that the best corners are camouflaged in the corralas and interior patios that pierce the blocks of the historic center. At this time of year, picking up a candle in the sun at Las Retintas, the oldest tavern on the Plaza de los Irlandeses, a former Jewish quarter, and sitting down to watch and hear the native and foreign flora and fauna pass by is a godsend for anyone. of the three cultures.
Talking about loves
And it is that in Alcalá, except for the university, which is still five centuries later the university proper, with its famous façade and its no less famous Trilingual Patio, almost all the buildings were previously something else. Schools, convents, barracks, prisons. And sometimes, all of that in succession. Starting with the new parador, an old convict prison and the legendary lot of the truck where Carlitos and his friends played in Tell me, exquisitely restored a decade ago, in whose state-of-the-art bedrooms and spa architecture magazine will consummate their love not a few couples of celebrities taking advantage of the proximity of the capital and the relative anonymity of the periphery. Speaking of love affairs, the nearby and spectacularly restored Central University Library, formerly the Prince’s Barracks, where so many imaginary and wild hazing have eaten entire fifths of paratrooper recruits from all over Spain, is today the temple open 24 hours a day where, in addition to brooding for their partials, the students eat their mouths.
If theirs prospers, they could always marry, or not, in the recently restored San Ildefonso chapel. Or in the magnificent plenary hall of the town hall, the former convent of the Agonizers, where there is always time to get divorced in the modern and nondescript courthouses in the Plaza de la Paloma. Those who do not divorce from Alcalá, and do not even give a break in their relationship by emigrating to warmer lands in winter, are the storks, which have become strong in domes and cattails and they only need to pay the IBI to be citizens full right. The nest of the dome of the Bernardas church looks especially beautiful in autumn, wall to wall with the archiepiscopal palace, official residence of Bishop Reig Pla. Yes, the one who said, in a sermon on Good Friday, it is not known whether, knowingly or not, that homosexuals go to men’s clubs and find hell, God forgive him.
Outside the walls, the temptations of Alcala surpass the beauty of its architecture and its history. If it is not good, bad it must be that there is not a performance of a touring company at the Teatro Salón Cervantes. Or an exhibition of painting or photography in the Chapel of the Oidor or the House of the Interview, where Columbus sold his trip to the Indies to Isabel la Católica. Or a flea market, or a speed painting contest, or a street music marathon. Or a classic in the Corral de Comedias, another treasure from the 16th century hidden in the guts of the arcades of the Plaza de Cervantes, the true social heart of the city and a general meeting point, presided over by another sculpture by the omnipresent Cervantes feather at the ready, also known as The puppet by the natives.
If you are not a believer, you can always cross yourself at the Forges roundabout, the Quevedo award, something like the Cervantes of humor, which the immortal Antonio Fraguas collected shortly before his death in the same beautiful auditorium of the university where, the next 23 April, the poet Cristina Peri Rossi will collect, from the hands of the King, the Cervantes proper, before listening to the exciting Therefore let us rejoice of the university choir and the tormentor Carnations of the prickly pear. If one is more of communing with nature, a walk through the Cerros Park, or the Henares riverbank, with its ducks and meanders, with a happy ending in Filato, the penultimate cry in local to see, be seen , have a vermouth at noon or a gin-tonic mid-afternoon to the love of the stoves on the Balinese beds on the terrace. It has already been said. Alcalá is a whim of the gods. Only Buddha was missing.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.