A Voice In The Crowd: More about Cantabria and Salamanca
By By Jim Spellman
When I drive through the Wisconsin countryside, I
frequently say to myself, There´s no place in the
world as beautiful as this! In some ways that´s very
true, but Cantabria, the northernmost province of
Spain, matches Wisconsins scenery and then some.
Cantabria is bounded on the west by the province of Asturia and The Peaks of Europe (wherein lie the caves containing Cro Magnon drawings, which to view, one must register about a year in advance and meet strict requirements), on the north by the Cantabrian Sea, on the east by Province Viscaya (Pais de Vasco, the Basque country) and on the south by Leon, Palencia and Burgos, three provinces of central Spain.
As I mentioned last time I wrote, the plateau to the south is arid, as evidenced by the dry river beds and the need to draw subsurface water and conserve it for irrigation. To the north of the coastal divide, which in many places rises to 7,500 feet and remains snow covered until early summer, the flora is lush, much like that of western Oregon and Washington. Its lesser hills, forested with conifers and deciduous trees, resemble those just to our north in beautiful Wisconsin.
However, our visit was focused, not on the countryside, but on the city of Santander and the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. And what a focus! As we alighted from our bus at Hotel Sardinero across the boulevard from the beach of the same name, I was immediately reminded of Monterrey and San Francisco in California. Deep, wide beaches were interspersed between outcroppings of rock, the eroded remains of hills which long ago had sloped into the sea. Far off to the west, I could see one of the city´s several golf courses meandering back and forth atop a hill flattened by eons of weather.
Within Santander, the entire coast is decorated
with a wonderful triple-tiered boardwalk paved, not
with wood, but with native granite and marble. Frequent spaces in the pavement are filled with beds of oleander, geraniums, roses and other blooms. Arbors shading many of the benches along the walkway are uniquely braided with the branches of ancient seaside pines.
Much of the pedestrian traffic are runners and walkers who can enjoy the seaside sights and breezes while getting their exercise. The day we arrived happened to be a very cool July 5th, much to the disappointment of those in our group, and those tourists, who had envisioned becoming bronzed while basking in the sun on the clean fine sand of the
spacious beaches lining the shores of both the sea and bay. However, the chill of the previous day disappeared when the next day´s warm sun proved it was July.
Because of its deep and safe harbor, Santander, the capital of Cantabria, is a commercial, manufacturing and shipping center. As a result, there are more and better-paying jobs than in most other parts of Spain. Industrial incomes and payrolls support many accompanying service businesses, so the entire economy prospers. Many people in this area own what are unavailable in other parts of Spain, single family homes.
The prosperity also makes it easier to buy the
elegant clothes which Spaniards treasure. Wherever I´ve been in this country, the people, men, women and children, on the streets after 7 in the evening are dressed to kill.
Gambling is legal in Spain. Many of the jobless
roam the streets selling lottery tickets, every bar
has at least one slot machine, and cities all have one or more casinos. The huge white-turreted Casino de Santander stood across the street from our hotel. Those who paid the small admission charge to wander about inside, described it as sumptuous and grand, much like those seen in movies. It sports not only games of chance but restaurants, bars and a huge discoteque.
Because I must go now, Bilbao and the awesome
Guggenheim Museum will be saved for next time. Until
then, I remain, A Voice In the Crowd, Jim Spelman
Jim Spelman is a local attorney.