People are crying up the rich and variegated plumage of the peacock, and he is himself blushing at the sight of his ugly feet. ~ Sa’Di
This peacock and I became pretty good friends one spring. Or maybe he just tolerated me invading his space on a regular basis. But I’d like to think we were, on some level, friends. After the first week, he would always be hanging around my favorite bench when I showed up. We ate lunch together nearly every day for four months. Well, I ate lunch. I think he mostly watched to see if I was going to drop anything. Feeding the peacocks wasn’t encouraged in the Campo Grande.
I met Pea when I was living in Valladolid, Spain, doing historical research in the Archivo General de Simancas, about 10 kilometers outside of town. I spent an amazing four months there, spending hours every day immersed in the documents of ambassadors and diplomats and of kings and queens of the late sixteenth century. Valladolid was a bustling, modern city, yet one replete with history around every corner. The Plaza Mayor dates from the very early 1500s. The town was the birthplace of Spain’s future king, Philip II. Ferdinand and Isabella were married there in 1469, and Christopher Columbus died there in 1506. The Casa de Cervantes was home to Cervantes and his family between 1603 and 1606, as he labored to finish his masterpiece, Don Quixote. And Semana Santa, or Holy Week in Valladolid is one of the most spectacular celebrations in all of Spain. I was fortunate enough to experience Holy Week activities there and in Madrid during my stay.
Simancas is amazing all by itself. The town is small, with the unmistakable signs of having been there seemingly forever. Around one corner, visitors can find a glorious bridge, with more than fifteen arches, which sits amid older, less-fortunate remains of old walls. Ruins look as though they could easily be from falling under attacks during the battles between Moors and Christians in the tenth-century. Weather-worn stone buildings dot the small streets, and there was a charming little bar that served a marvelous brandy and frittata, followed by a very strong coffee, in the mid-mornings.
But the village is dominated by the Simancas Castle, which houses the archives. The building itself is historical, as it was the first modern building –and note by modern I’m talking the late 1400s– designed to house the important state documents of the kingdom. Philip II, understanding that history was best remembered in written form, made Simancas the active archives of his global empire. At best estimate, the Archivo General houses more than 33 million documents, containing both private and state papers significant to the history of Spain.
That’s why I was there, to research in those marvelously old papers. Once in the morning and once again after the noontime break visiting Pea, I’d walk up the stairs that people had walked on for more than 500 years, duck through the old wooden door, and find a place at a table in the old Great Hall to immerse myself into stories centuries old. One of the first days I was there I opened up a folio of letters and discovered one penned by Queen Elizabeth I of England, complete with fanciful signature and her symbolic crest embedded in red wax over the ribbon which had once sealed the letter for travel.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that moment was one of the reasons I later became an archivist. At the time, I was simply a history geek, talking to a peacock in the park about what I learned and saw that day. I don’t think Pea cared much, but he listened well. Even to the crazy American woman who spoke English to a peacock in the park on her lunch hour.
[Note: This post is #16 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button at the lower left of the page for more information.]