El Escorial | If only the guards weren’t looking!

By Limor Shiponi

“Have you seen the library?” asked the guide. From my expression he continued “second floor up that staircase”. I was tired, dragging my feet up the stairs somewhat unwilling, mainly because of the heat. I reached a narrow wooden door and the view was blocked by a local guard ‘no photo!’. She moved back to her position to unblock a majestic sight that left me speechless.

Source: Flickr by Jess & Peter

Boy is that an amazing place! I walked slowly along the book-cases on one side and then measured the other side closely observed by the many guards.  The artwork on the ceiling didn’t interest me that much although it does have a beautiful effect; I was interested in the books – 45,000 printed works and around 5,000 manuscripts. Luckily some of the works are presented open, especially because of the beautiful illustrations they carry. The wooden cases are open at the front… covered with wire mesh.

I looked at the illustrated books with admiration and continued along the room. Suddenly my mind went ‘boing!!!’ I walked back looking at the manuscripts until I reached what made me stop – I was standing in front of the E codex of  ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’. There is no early music player in the world who doesn’t know about those cantigas, I play quite a few of them and now I was standing facing the original script.

“What’s the excitement?!” you might wonder. Well, art (fine art) is physical matter. You can touch the same thing the artist touched. Music is abstract, immaterial, you can’t touch it. The closest you can get is touching the score, the manuscript – and I was standing in front of something that lit my imagination at the age of sixteen – which was just like the manuscript, somewhere in the 13th century… I was really excited and willing to commit a ‘manuscript crime’ – push my finger through the wire mesh and touch the page. They were looking so I turned to the power of imagination, running my fingers along the lines, touching the illustration only at the edge, I promise.

That made me wonder about storytelling again – in today’s world it lacks the possibility of ownership. I find exactly that very lovely but maybe I’m one of very few. Storytelling doesn’t have even a manuscript since the tales role along millenniums orally and happen only in our minds – free spirits in perfect flexible form, leaving the main stage for human interaction and imagination.

Walking downstairs I met the guide again “did you see the Cantigas?” he asked with a smile. He too is highly interested in early music so we had some excitement exchange. But that’s not the end of the story. At the airport on our way back, passing through many passengers waiting for their flights I heard a voice call my name. As I turned around I knew I recognized it – it was the voice of the person who introduced me to early music many years ago – perfect ‘coincidence’. We were happy to meet each other after not meeting for a very long time. As I went through the stories of our trip I got to Escorial and he immediately asked me “did you see the Cantigas?” seems they are a common denominator among people like us. Then I got home and after a couple of days called my early-music partner whom I play together with for over 20 years. I told her about Montserrat and Escorial and eventually got to the Cantigas. I heard a short silence on the other end of the line and then an overwhelmed reaction “WHAT?! YOU SAW THE CANTIGAS?! GOD, I’M SO EXCITED!!!” followed by a quiet curious “did you touch it?”

She understood me all right 🙂

2 thoughts on “El Escorial | If only the guards weren’t looking!”

    1. Well, the bus was leaving and if you think you might have never left this place, wait for the story about the La Seo tapestries in Zaragoza…

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