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FEATURE: Songs of Salamanca: The Soundtrack To My Summer In Spain

February 27, 2017 11:00 am

Words by Elizabeth Gibson 


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The summer of 2015 I was based in Salamanca, Spain as part of my university year abroad. It was a strange but wonderful experience: the region of Castile and León in summer is usually pretty hot, but that year in particular there was a heatwave that had drastic effects on the way we, and the Spanish population as a whole, lived from day to day. There is also the fact that Salamanca is a World Heritage Site. Most of the region operates under strict building regulations, resulting in a place that feels completely stopped in time. As a result, my memories of those months are of hot, hazy days; beautiful, surreal nights; and music – plenty of music. Here are the songs of my Spanish summer:


1. “Marlene on the Wall” – Suzanne Vega

I had already been a fan of Suzanne, but in Salamanca I really got to know her music. This song is quite mysterious: it may be about domestic abuse but it is hard to tell for sure. However, there is a clear sense of hope that runs through the song. In the cool early mornings I would leave my accommodation and head to University. Salamanca is quite hilly and the walk involved lots of hopping up and down flights of steps. It was fascinating watching the town wake up and seeing little birds flitting about in the birch trees. “Marlene on the Wall” was a good song to listen to as I made that early walk. It is folksy and therefore gentler on ears that have just woken up than a pop or rock song would be. I’ll now always associate it with my Salamanca mornings.


2. “La Sagrada Familia” – Alan Parsons Project

Although I was familiar with Alan Parsons Project and loved “Days are Numbers”, I only discovered “La Sagrada Familia” when our art history teacher played it after teaching us about the titular basilica. It is an amazing, dramatic song for an amazing, dramatic place. I’ll never forget my first visit to the Sagrada Familia when I was fourteen; how I stood at the foot of the Passion Facade and looked up and was just awed by how tall it was. This song is on the list to represent my classes: I studied Spanish language, literature, history, art, economy and society at the University of Salamanca, which is the third-oldest university in Europe, after Bologna and Oxford, and is deeply respected. It is a beautiful, and lovely place to study.


3. “Boys Do Fall in Love” – Robin Gibb

Classes would be over in the afternoon, and with the heat being at its peak the only things you could really do were have a siesta or just relax indoors and try to stay cool. I would return to my room to work, write poetry, and listen to eighties new wave music. I loved Bee Gees but hadn’t heard Robin’s solo music before, and “Boys Do Fall in Love” blew my mind. I couldn’t stop listening to it, and now it transports me back to those lazy afternoons, and the sounds of the rustling leaves on the tree outside my window while pigeons cooed in the background.


4. “L’Abandon” – Céline Dion

Once the heat started to ease off I would slip out with my camera and head into the city. Salamanca at dusk is a site to behold: there is nothing quite like the silhouette of the old town with its two cathedrals and the magnificent Clerecía building standing against a pink-purple sky, dark clouds of birds swirling around them. “L’Abandon” was written by one of my favourite songwriters, Jean-Jacques Goldman, and is about living on islands. For me, however, the lyrics also fit Salamanca: they evoke a paradise in which humanity, nature and a kind of magic all merge together. Salamanca in the evenings was very much that.


5. “Oh Yeah” – Roxy Music

This was the song on the list that I knew the best before going to Spain, but my time there helped me connect to it more deeply. I would listen to it as I wandered through town at night, and the feeling of togetherness in the song – which talks about how hearing music on the radio can connect people – really matched with what I saw around me. With the days being so hot, the nights were when everyone came out to enjoy themselves and the streets and squares were full of people chatting, eating and dancing. The ancient buildings would be lit up; the New Cathedral would shine golden and mighty and the green stained glass of the Casa Lis was like an angel or lantern in the night. The atmosphere was unique and incredible.


6. “Para Mí” – Blue Diamonds

Time for a Spanish song, and one I got to see performed live night after night. In the Plaza Mayor – the main square of Salamanca, which you may know as being the setting of the film Vantage Point – groups called Tunas would entertain the crowd. They wore traditional attire, sang and played guitars, accordions and other instruments. They would often go slightly crazy and jump on and off chairs, pull faces and serenade people. I filmed this video of the Tuna de la Medicina performing “Para Mí” (For Me) by Blue Diamonds, followed by “Nos Vamos a La Cama” (Let’s Go to Bed), from a TV show called Los Lunnis. These would often be the last songs they would play before finishing for the night. The Tunas were great fun and really lit up the square with their music and personality.


7.  “Supermujer” – Georgina

Although I was based in Salamanca I visited a number of other towns and cities. There was Toledo, which is famous for Don Quixote and is a vibrant mix of cultures. There was Leon, bursting with flowers and interesting architecture and boasting the Chalice of Doña Urraca, the alleged Holy Grail. There was Segovia, with its jaw dropping aqueduct and pretty mosaics. As we were returning on the coach from one of our trips a song came onto the radio. I thought at first it was “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits. However, it was “Supermujer” (Superwoman) by Georgina, a feisty song about being a strong woman. Now it reminds me of being on the road in Spain, of all our excursions – but also of arriving back in Salamanca, which will always have a very special place in my heart.


If you would like to read more about my experiences in Spain, I kept a blog: I hope you enjoy it, and happy travels!


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