I have a part of Spain, you see. It’s mine, and you can’t take it from me. It’s the part of Spain I find myself thinking of longingly when I am not there, the little city nestled between Castilla y León and Portugal, astride the storied Duoro River, filled to the brim with Romanesque treasures and kind people.
Of course, if you don’t already know, I write of Zamora.
It is, perhaps, curious that just a few years ago (2009!) I had never heard of the place. Indeed, I hadn’t thought to study all Spain’s provinces and capitals, but I was not totally ignorant of its geography. Nonetheless, when Mario told me where he was from, I had to ask him where that was. (Shameful? I sincerely hope not.) I remember our delightful correspondence—emails and text messages and handwritten letters—that came in droves at the beginning, referencing his ciudad natal, his hometown. He wanted to introduce me to it, to show me around its winding casco histórico, buy me Toro wine, introduce me to his parents.
It was in November 2009 that I first laid eyes upon Zamora, a sleepy little town perhaps, but bustling with good cheer all the same. It seems fitting now that the late-autumn morning had dawned foggy and cool. Fog lends the city an ethereal glimmer. Too keyed up to notice, I was a bundle of nerves, anxious about making a good impression on my suegros. I like to think that Mario, too, felt some of this nervous energy. (Probably not.)
The city, of course, enchanted me from the beginning, as it enamors all who take the time to truly experience it. There were throngs of abuelos seated outside of churches, their knarled old hands clutching wooden canes; little old ladies who walked arm in arm, fur coats and all, sometimes three abreast; the smell of freshly-baked pastries and long loaves of bread and anise cookies emanating from every shop we passed.
We strolled down Santa Clara, Zamora’s main thoroughfare, a path now as familiar to me as my high-school hallways once were. We paused to admire the Roman bridge, the Douro River. We reached the castillo, built between the 10th and 12th centuries. From there we ventured on to the cathedral, a source of faith and hope and social life for much of Zamora’s long history. All of it—large and looming, small and meek—leaves me breathless.
But as much as I can say about architecture, the true measure of a place is its people and its food.
My in-laws know every third person in Zamora, and walking down Santa Clara with them on a Sunday is a time-consuming activity. There is a kindness about the people. No one will let you pay for coffee. There is always a neighbor or a friend showing up with Valencian oranges or homemade sloe liqueur or special cakes. The shoeshine man will have your shoes fixed in two days. The apples sell for less than $0.80/pound most days. That glass of wine will only set you back about $2, and it is perhaps the most delicious wine you’ve ever tried. That huge wedge of the highest-quality sheep’s milk cheese? Get it at the factory, and you’ll be munching on the cheapest, best cheese you’ve ever eaten.
In Zamora, high schools set quinces in corners. It’s like their version of an air freshener, and oh what an air freshener it is. There is always a friend just five minutes away. There is always a bar open, always a terrace to sit at, always a cup of coffee waiting.