Lost and found

Universitas Studii Salamanticensis

Decluttering is a very modern phenomenon, and one that I actually enjoy, not that anyone who knows me would believe, as I am always surrounded by masses of stuff. Even as I write, I have hardly any room for my elbows. On my right there are sheaves of papers as I am proofreading a brochure; on my left is another similar sheaf, plus my phone, a pen and last year’s edition. Obviously I’m not looking at them because I am writing this.

However, it is because of the brochure that I have had to declutter my gmail account very seriously. It is clogged to the brim with emails and pictures for the brochure, as well as emails back and forth to the group that is involved and no one deletes anything. I am so looking forward to finishing so I can delete them alllllll!

But for the time being I thought I would take a look to see what I didn’t need from the beginning of my email account. 2006 to be precise. To my joy I found lots of photos – they take up a lot of space, I thought delightedly. I shall delete them. I had to have a look first, however and just as well I did or I would have missed this plaque.

After my mother died in 2006 my eldest daughter was helping me to clear her flat. My mother had lots of interesting things and so Kasia took photos of them to help me decide what to keep. This photo of this pottery seal from Salamanca was amongst them. I was thrilled to find it – I would have been even more thrilled to find the seal itself as I had bought it in 1974 as a gift for my stepfather. I always felt it was one of the things he really treasured – he was not a hoarder or even a keeper of things – but he kept this and one book I gave him. I don’t know what has happened to that either.

So I didn’t get rid of these photos – I had to find other emails to delete in order to make room, but I began to reminisce about Salamanca – especially the University.

I had only just managed to enrol in October 1974 – it was my year abroad, the year I had beeen so looking forward to, though when it actually happened I didn’t want to go at all, and the weather was beginning to get cold. I hadn’t looked at a map before I went, and neither had any of the other foreign students and we were not prepared for the fact that Salamanca is on the plateau 2673 feet above sea level. I should have realised – I’d been to Madrid in the winter when it was minus 18 degrees celsius. Still, I and my fellow students – from all over the world, were not ready for the wind and the rain and then the snow.

The bureaucracy to enrol was unbelievable. Franco era, guardias, armed soldiers everywhere, papers to f ill in, photos to produce etc, etc. But finally I did it and thought I would go to some lectures.. that’s what I was there for, after all.

I’d come from Sheffield where there were 2000 girls to 8 000 boys. A nice ratio, but no one thought much about it. Here in Salamanca there were about 10 per cent girls. And everyone was very conscious of it. I was sitting next to a boy at one point and taking notes – mainly words I didn’t understand and he leant over and told me what they meant in English. Very helpful and I was very grateful.

A few days later I was there again and this time he sat very far away from me with his I suppose girlfriend. She shot daggers at me with her eyes – those were still the days when if you had a novio or boyfriend you had to get married to him – and keep him from straying. All very stressful as I wasn’t remotely interested. And nor was he. But she was taking no chances.

Who knows what would have happened, however? We never got a chance to find out because a week or so later some students threw some eggs as a protest at the rector of Valladolid University. The uni was closed so this was seen as a wake up call for hundreds of students all over the country to go on strike. This meant that most of the universities in Spain were shut down for the year until the situation was sorted. Strikes, marches, riot police everywhere.

As I never read or listened to the news I had no idea about any of this until I sauntered to the university one day and tried to get in. Well, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The police could see i wasn’t a native so they were actually quite polite towards me , but the atmosphere was far from pleasant. I can’t say that I ran away, but I did get out as fast as I could – never to return except as a tourist in 1992

One of the most beautiful ancient buildings of the world – older than Oxford – much smaller of course, the university is in one of the most impressive medieval towns of the world.

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