El Escorial | It’s the pace

By Limor Shiponi

Years ago I asked storyteller David Campbell what to his opinion marks a good storyteller. There are many answers to this question. He told me about a similar conversation he had and the conclusion was “it’s the pace. It’s the pace”. In conducting we say that if the conductor knows to choose the right pace (tempo), everything else will settle in place perfectly. It’s like having the right heartbeat.

On our way from Madrid to Zaragoza we visited El Escorial – a historical residence of the king of Spain built by Philip II of Spain. I won’t go into the entire story but obviously, this place is about pace – perseverance which resembled the king’s nature. Comparing to other royal sites Escorial is plain yet majestic and what creates that feeling is what this post is about.

The entire building and its surroundings were erected in only 21 years – that’s rocket-speed considering similar undertakings. True, the king gave the workers a good reason to work fast, a reason that has the sound of Spanish gold, but even with this kind of motivation creating such an accurate building with such superb craftsmanship required something more – pace.

How did they do it? Well, I wish I could sit next to the guy who was responsible for the project’s Gantt chart… the possibility is not out of reach though – they left the entire documentation behind, in itself a masterpiece. There are so many amazing insights about this place for instance: everything was planned in advance to the last stone – you wouldn’t see a guy running around with a piece wondering where to bring it to – he knew exactly where it needs to go and could plan shipments in advance; the chiseling was done in a different place, not on site and no corrections were needed; they had a special unit in charge of supplying sharp tools constantly, no waste on dull blades and smaller amount of waste in any case; even the waste was used – to fill the space between the exterior floor plates; just imagine feeding and accommodating all those workers… the first element of pace was the perfect synchronization between everyone involved, without compromising the level of precision.

The building itself is structured in marvelous pace – the distances and sizes of construction elements create the right feeling they were intended to create – not too much, not too little – perfect. Each part of the building has its unique destination and is paced accordingly; the relationship with the environment – just right. One might think that such a building can make you want to go crazy a little but not – navigating through it you can feel someone has thought about the unsteady nature of the human soul – the building is much disciplined but it doesn’t suffocate.

That’s what I like about great music and storytelling – it moves forward with perseverance but the feeling is that someone is holding the steering-wheel with a human heart.

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