Note from the Editor: Cal Corso. Actor, poet, frenetic wild child and the natural leader of this band of hooligans. Orphaned as a small boy and raised by his aunt. Moved to California in 2017 accompanied by Jude Moonlight where he fell in with an odd assortment of characters and has since been leapfrogging from the backseat of his car to the old movie theaters on the fringes of town, from the bars, cafes and pool halls in and around the city of angels up the golden coast to the cliffs of Big Sur.
Occasionally he makes trips to Spain, which he claims to be his mother country, though this has yet to be confirmed or denied. He began these trips somewhat recently. His first was with a girl he knew, way back when, to Madrid and later into Toledo, the historic capital of the old Spanish kingdom.
I’ll let him take the reigns from here, since I think he might be able to tell the story better than I.
Why thank you, Ren. Now let’s see…where was I?
Oh yes! Now I remember. I’d just come in from Madrid, on the train which leaves out of the Atocha station at the edge of town, or close to the edge of where I’d typically run around in Madrid, between Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace to the west, the Paseo del Prado to the east, the Reina Sofia museum to the south and the Grand Via to the north. The Atocha train station sits at the southeast corner of this domain. It’s the heart of the city. El Centro. Easily walkable by day and night, anchored in its center by the Puerta del Sol.
Anyway, I only start in Madrid because that’s where I started way back when; and while it is the heart of Castilla and the La Mancha region, at least officially speaking, the true heart and soul of Spain, at least for this humble pilgrim lies in Toledo.
Why is it, for me, the heart and soul of Spain? Well for one thing, I’m one of those old-fashioned cowhands who thinks that to truly get to know a place, you have to dive into its history. As I mentioned, Toledo is known as the Imperial City and once served as the capital of the old Spanish Kingdom. It’s long history of steel-working and sword-making date back to the Roman Empire. In fact, today you can purchase some of the finest steel blades produced in all the world.
I might have even pictured myself as some valiant knight just once or twice, between every glimpse of medieval architecture as I walked the town’s narrow, labyrinthian alleyways. By the way, I’ve always been a good navigator, and I got lost almost every time I walked from one end of town to another. Not that I minded in the slightest, since each time I discovered something new. A cafe, castle, cathedral or chocolatier I hadn’t yet seen.
The real crux of the matter is this, most of what you see there has been around for many hundreds of years, and when you imagine the old kingdom rising to prominence from this city perched on a hill surrounded by the river, as a moat surrounds a fortress, you can’t help but get swept up in its beginnings and visualize those knights and soldiers walking beside civilians up and down the streets every day.
Now yes, my ancestors do come from this part of the world, it’s true; and you might have heard that I was orphaned as a young lad and so maybe there’s some part of me that’s always seeking to better understand where I come from. Maybe lineage is more important for me than it is for others, and with that comes a deeper appreciation for history. But I’ve never been one to remember dates or any one king or queen’s name.
In Toledo, I was far more caught up with simply being in a place that was, and still feels very much like the heart of Castilla, the heart of Spain. Maybe it was the surviving architecture, or maybe the people. Maybe yet, the prevailing sense of quiet whenever I looked out over the rooftops or turned down some secluded street corner that lent itself to something bigger, and older, than what I could see with my own pair of eyes. In any case, it wasn’t something that I intellectualized too deeply or even thought twice about. I just felt it. It hit me the moment I first set foot in town and in some ways, it’s stayed with me ever since.
Few places in Toledo left so great an impression on me as one particular point near the Alcazar, the main castle on the west end of town. As you pass through the main courtyard there, beyond the statue of Cervantes and down the stairwell descending toward the ravine, you’ll find a pathway leading to an overlook with a view of the bridge crossing the river.
I wrote a sketch not long ago when I was there.
from the city
an outpost, abandoned
dry, graffiti on the walls
I stand, try to frame
the sky at dusk
and the river…
the bridge of cobblestone
the whole world’s waiting
from the gaping canyons, high
to the European sundowns
as the mighty knights cry:
Welcome to Toledo, brother
in the shadow of the dawn
we are but ghosts, old
soldiers, still at night
you might hear
& your shoes are torn
you’ve got no sword,
you’re like a man
without a name
yet in your heart
your family mark,
know we’re with you all the way
“Carry on, dear son,” I hear
“I am ever at your side.”
so I take my shoes and ride in the night
‘Neath the stars
of the Spanish skies
I can relate to that old painter El Greco, the Greek who decided to set up shop in Toledo, where he lived and worked for the latter half of his life. Much of his work can be viewed throughout town, in various cathedrals and also at Museo del Greco, in the Jewish Quarter, on the opposite end from the Alcazar.
My own favorite El Greco painting is actually in New York City, but still it’s a view of Toledo, as the name indicates. I think it honors much of how I personally feel about the city. Toledo, a place so closely tied to the surrounding land, river and sky that all seem to be one singular force, some kind of phantasmal city where the ghosts of knights reside, keeping their vigil, still honoring an age-old devotion. Even in death.
There’s a monastery close to the El Greco museum. San Juan de los Reyes, it’s called. Saint John of the Monarchs. I pictured myself living there, as a monk. I figured if any city allows for a life of humble living, of quiet study and reflection, it’s Toledo. Not exactly a rambunctious town, but certainly one where you can take a pause, a moment of silence, and reflect on those who’ve come before. In this city, after all, it’s like they’re never really gone.