Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sleep like a king

Castles, palaces, citadels, and luxury hotels await travelers from around the world.

[The fortress in Alarcón, in western Castilla-La Mancha, was built in the 8th century and has rooms for up to 28 guests, including a room at the top of the tower, along with a fine restaurant, bar, and garden.]


Spain is full of historic buildings and gorgeous scenery. In 1928, King Alfonso XIII decided to take advantage of this by creating an agency to set up hotels in these locations to promote tourism.

It turned out to be a good idea. Paradores Nacionales de Turismo now offers close to 100 hotels, each unique and memorable, with outstanding restaurants. Many offer the chance to relive history.

A good way to start planning your adventure is by searching the Paradores website, which comes in Spanish, English, French, German, and Catalan. Chose your style: castle, citadel, convent, monastery, historic building, modern building, palace, or regional location in splendid settings. The site is media-heavy, with photos, videos, maps, interactive features, helpful links, histories, and everything else they can think of to tempt you to make a reservation.

Some paradores have "unique rooms" which may have special historical interest, extraordinary amenities, and a few are even allegedly haunted. (Friendly ghosts, of course.) Often paradores have play areas for children. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to make reservations from overseas.

The room rates aren't always cheap, of course, but the special promotions can be affordable. In any case, with all the information online, it's easy to imagine a visit, and dreaming is free.

Portugal has a similar system of "pousadas." Visit I recommend the castle at Óbidos, where I have stayed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chapter 27

How Amadis fought with the knight who had stolen the damsel from him while he was sleeping, and how he defeated him.
[Montségur Fortress, France, near the Pyrenees. The Cathars succumbed to a siege here in 1234-1244, and the fortress was destroyed and later rebuilt. Legend says the Holy Grail was at one time here. Photo by Gwyneth Box.]


While Amadis and the lady were speaking, a knight came to them fully armed except for his head and hands. He was tall, robust, and obviously strong. He said to Amadis:

"My lord knight, they tell me ye seek a damsel whom I brought here. I did not take her by force from you in any way, for she wished to come with me rather than stay with you, so I must say that I have no reason to give her to you."

"Then show her to me," Amadis said.

"I have no reason to show her to you," the knight said, "but if ye say she ought not be mine, I must prove it to you by battle."

"Surely," Amadis said, "I shall prove to anyone that ye do not have her by right if the damsel does not grant it."

"Then ye are in battle," the knight said.

"That shall greatly please me," Amadis said.

Now know ye that this knight was named Gasinan, and he was the paternal uncle of the woman Angriote loved, and he was the family member whom she most loved in the world. And because he was the best knight at arms in his lineage, she managed her affairs by his advice.

They brought Gasinan a large horse. He took up his arms, then Amadis also mounted and took up his, and the lady, who was named Grovenesa, said:

"Uncle, I beg you not to let this battle happen, for I would be greatly saddened if anything bad were to happen to either of you, for you are the man whom I love most in the world, and this knight swore to me that he would put an end to what Amadis promised Angriote."

"Niece," Gasinan said, "how do ye believe that he or any other man could make the best knight in the world fail to keep his word?"

Grovenesa told him:

"So help me God, I hold this man to be the best knight in the world, and if he were not, he would not have entered here by force of arms."

"What!" Gasinan said, "Do ye think so highly of him for getting past the gates and those who guarded them? Truly, that was fine knighthood, but I do not fear him much for that. If he is so skilled, now ye shall see it, and may God not help me if I fail to protect the damsel as best I can."

Grovenesa backed away, and the knights charged at each other as fast as their horses could go, lances lowered. They struck each others' shields so bravely that their lances were immediately shattered, and their shields and helmets collided with such force that it was frightening to see. Gasinan, who was weaker, was thrown from his saddle and fell hard, but he got up fast for he had great strength and courage. He put his hand on his sword and moved toward a stone pillar that stood high in the middle of the courtyard, for he thought that there Amadis could not harm him with his horse, but if he approached, he could kill him.

Amadis charged at him to attack, and Gasinan struck with his sword on the face of the horse, which made Amadis irate and want to deliver a blow with all his strength. Gasinan stepped back, and the blow hit the pillar, which was solid stone, and knocked a piece from it, and Amadis's sword was broken into three pieces. When he saw that, he felt great concern since he was in danger of death and had no means with which to defend himself. As fast as he could, he dismounted his horse.

Gasinan, who saw that he was in trouble, said:

"Knight, grant that the damsel is mine, if not, ye are dead."

"That shall not be," he said, "unless she says that it pleases her."

Then Gasinan charged at him and began to attack on all sides, for he had great strength and sensed that he could win the damsel. But Amadis covered himself with his shield so well and for so long that all the blows landed on it or missed him. Several times he struck with the hilt of his sword, which had remained in his hand, delivering such blows that he made Gasinan's helmet twist back and force on his head.

So the battle went on for such a long time, while the ladies and damsels were amazed by how Amadis could carry on without a means to attack. But once he saw that his chain mail had been cut open in many places and his shield had grown small, he put everything in a life or death move and came at Gasinan with great ire so fast that the other had no time to attack. They grabbed each other, each trying to throw the other down.

This went on for some time, and Amadis never let go and allowed the other to escape. They were near a great stone that was in the courtyard, and Amadis shoved with all his strength, more than anyone would have thought he had for he was not big, and threw him onto it so hard that Gasinan was completely stunned and could move neither hand nor foot. Amadis quickly took up the sword that had fallen from his hand, cut the laces of his helmet, and pulled it from his head. The knight came to a bit but could not get up, and Amadis said:

"Base knight, ye have caused me great trouble for no reason, and now I shall avenge myself." And he raised the sword as if he wished to strike him.

Grovenesa shouted, "Oh, good knight, by God! Have mercy and do not do it!" She ran at him weeping.

When Amadis saw that it would hurt her so, he acted even more as if he meant to kill him and said:

"Lady, do not beg me to let him go, for he has caused me so much trouble that by no means shall I fail to cut off his head."

"Oh, my lord knight," she said, "by God, order us to do anything ye wish and it shall be done as long as he does not die."

"Lady," he said, "there is nothing in the world to make me stop except for two things that I wish ye to do."

"What are they?" she said.

"Give me the damsel," he said, "and also swear to me as a lady of good faith that ye shall go to the first court that King Lisuarte holds and there ye shall give me the other gift that I shall ask for."

Gasinan, who was become more aware of his surroundings, saw that he was in great danger, and he said:

"Why, niece, by the mercy of God, do not let him kill me! Have pity on me and do as the knight says!"

She granted Amadis what he had asked for, so he moved away from the knight and said:

"Lady, I shall make good the promise that I gave ye, and ye must keep the one that ye swore to, and do not fear that I shall ask for something that will go against your honor."

"Many thanks," she said, "for ye have done all that is just."

"Then, now bring the damsel that I seek."

The lady made her come, and the damsel knelt in front of Amadis and said:

"Truly my lord, ye have striven greatly for me, and although Gasinan brought me here by trickery, I know that he loves me well, for he wished to fight rather than give me back."

"My dear lady," Gasinan said, "if it seems to you that I loved you, may God help me, ye have seen a great truth, and I beg you to remain with me."

"So I shall do," she said, "if it pleases this knight."

"Truly, damsel," Amadis said, "ye have chosen one of the greatest knights that ye could find, but if this is not your pleasure, then tell me or do not blame me for anything that may happen to you."

"My lord," she said, "I would thank God very much if ye were to leave me here."

"In the name of God," Amadis said.

Then he asked for his horse, and Grovenesa wished him to remain for the night, but he did not do so. He mounted it, said goodbye to her, ordered Gandalin to take the pieces of his sword, and left the castle. But first Gasinan begged him to take his sword, and Amadis thanked him very much and took it. Grovenesa had him brought a lance. And so he took the road that led straight to the tree at the crosswords, where he thought to find Galaor and Balais.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Amadis in France: a timeline

Although the translation was not faithful, Amadis of Gaul and its sequels were a smash hit in France in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.

[Lujanes Tower and House, Plaza de la Villa, Madrid. The tower was built in the early 1400s and the house in the late 1400s for the Luján family. Photo by Sue Burke.]


1525 - After his defeat by Emperor Charles V (King Carlos I of Spain) at the battle of Pavia, King Francis I of France is brought as a prisoner to Madrid. Legend says he is held for a while in Lujanes Tower, where, to help pass the time, his sister Margarita reads him Amadís de Gaula; when he returns to France, he asks Nicolas de Herberay des Essarts to translate it.

Herberay, besides being an artillery officer, is a man of letters with a large library that includes many Spanish works.

1540 - His translation of Book I is published and enjoys such great success that it is reprinted three times in that year alone.

1541, 1542, 1543 - His translations of Books II, III, and IV are printed and meet with equal success.

1544 - Herberay translates Las Sergas de Esplandían by Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, the story of Amadis's son.

1545 to 1548 - Herberay translates Lisuarte de Grecia, and Amadis de Grecia Book I and Book II by Feliciano de Silva. He either skips or does not know about Florisando by Ruy Páez de Ribera, an austere and moralizing book, and Lisuarte de Grecia by Juan Díaz, another moralizing book in which Amadis dies and which had failed commercially in Spain.

Herberay writes with a fluid and elegant style that wins him lasting acclaim, and his versions of the Amadis series are reprinted until the 17th century, some volumes as many as fifteen times. However, he and subsequent translators also adapt Amadis to French courtesan tastes by suppressing the moral and didactic elements and increasing the erotic content, even introducing new incidents.

1546 to 1626 - Six other Spanish novels of chivalry outside the Amadis series are published in France, as are works of the matter of Britain (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and related stories).

1551 to 1574 - Six more books in the Spanish Amadis series are translated into French, three of them by Jacques Gohory, who adds allegorical and occult elements to the texts.

1559 - Thresor des douze livres d'Amadis de Gaule by Étienne Groulleau is published in Paris. It collects extracts from letters, discourses, and declarations and lamentations of love from the twelve Amadis books as models of urbanity and eloquence for those "who wish to learn the rules of good taste" in self-expression. It is reprinted twenty times by 1606.

1577 to 1581 - The first seven of the Italian continuations of Amadis are translated to French.

~1589 - Anthony Munday translates Amadis of Gaul Books I to IV into English from the French, and it enjoys success in Great Britain.

1594 to 1615 - Three more books are translated into French from the German continuation of Amadis. In all, twenty-four books are published in French about Amadis and his descendants, compared to thirteen in Spain.

1612 - Don Quixote de la Mancha is translated into French.

1684 - The opera Amadis by Jean-Baptiste Lully opens in the Paris Opéra, and is later performed at Versailles. King Louis XIV had asked poet Philippe Quinault to compose the libretto. It is a success, tours Europe, and remains in the repertory until the 18th century. Amadis's still-popular monologue "Bois épais" ("Deep woods") is here on YouTube.

1737 to 1781 - Amadis and other chivalric novels are re-edited. They inspire poets and painters in the 1800s, including Eugène Delacroix.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chapter 26 [final half]

[What Amadis must do to rescue the damsel, and who he meets in the castle.]

[The Ambassador's Hall of the Nazaríes Palace (left) and the towers of the Alcazaba Fortress (right), of the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain. Photo by Cindy Van Vreede.]


Amadis rode for a long while in the countryside, making his horse suffer more than it deserved. Eventually he heard a horn, and he went in that direction, hoping that he would find the knight there. Soon he spied a beautiful, well-guarded fortress in front of him on a high, isolated hill. When he arrived, he saw tall walls and strong towers, and the gate was tightly closed. The guards saw him and asked him what kind of man he was traveling armed at that hour.

"I am a knight," he said.

"And what do ye seek?" they asked from up on the wall.

"I seek a knight who took a damsel from me," he said.

"We did not see him," they said from up on the wall.

Amadis went around the castle, and on the other side he found a small open gate and saw the knight who had taken the damsel. He was on foot, and his men were removing the saddle from his horse, which would not fit into the doorway otherwise. Amadis, knowing it was him, said:

"My lord knight, wait a bit and do not go inside before telling me if ye were the one who took a damsel from me."

"If I took her, ye guarded her poorly," he said.

"Ye stole her from me by force and guile," Amadis said. "It would not have been so easy otherwise, and surely ye did no courtesy nor won any fame as a knight."

The knight told him:

"My friend, I have the damsel, who wished to come with me of her own free will. I insist that I did not force her."

"My lord knight," Amadis said, "show her to me, and if she says so, I shall cease to ask for her."

"I shall show you her tomorrow inside here, if ye wish to enter according to the custom of the castle."

"And what custom is this?"

"Tomorrow they shall tell you, and do not take it lightly if ye venture for her."

"If I were to wish to see her now, would they let me in?"

"No," the knight said, "because it is night. But if you wait until day, we shall see what they can do here." And he went inside and shut the gate.

Amadis went off into some trees, where he dismounted and spoke with Gandalin about many things until morning. When the sun rose, he saw the gate open, so he mounted his horse and approached it. He saw a fully armed knight there on a large horse. The gatekeeper told him:

"My lord knight, do ye wish to enter here?"

"I do," Amadis said. "That is why I have come here."

"Then first I shall tell you the custom, so that ye may not complain," the gatekeeper said. "I tell you that as soon as ye enter, ye must fight this knight, and if he defeats you, ye must swear to obey the lady of this castle, and if not, they shall throw you into a vile prison. And even if ye win, ye may not leave but must continue forward to where ye shall find another gate with two more knights. And further on, another two knights, and ye must fight all of them the same as the first, and if ye are so skilled that you comport yourself honorably, besides gaining great fame at arms, ye shall have the right to what ye seek."

"Surely," Amadis said, "if ye speak the truth, this place carries a high price for those who come here, but be it as it may, I still wish to see the damsel that they have here, if I can."

Then he entered the gate of the castle. The knight shouted for him to protect himself and charged at him, and Amadis at the knight. Their lances struck each others' shields, and the knight broke his lance. Amadis put him on the ground so bravely that he broke his right arm. Amadis came over him, put his lance on his chest, and said:

"Ye are dead if ye do not grant your defeat."

The knight said:

"My lord, mercy," and showed him his broken arm. Amadis passed him by and went forward, and saw another gate with two armed men, who told him:

"Enter, knight, if ye wish to fight with us. If not, ye are captive."

"Truly," he said, "I would fight before willfully becoming as a prisoner."

He covered himself with his shield, lowered his lance, and charged at them, and they at him. One missed with his blow, but the other struck Amadis, pierced his shield, hit his left arm, and broke his lance into pieces. Amadis struck him so hard that he threw both the knight and his horse on the ground, and the knight was knocked so senseless by the fall that he did not know where he was.

Amadis charged at the other, who was still on his horse, and though his lance had no iron tip, which had remained in the shield of the other knight, he struck him on the helmet and took it from his head, while the knight struck Amadis on the edge of his shield at an angle such that the blow had no consequence and the lance was unharmed.

They put their hands on their swords and gave each other great blows, then Amadis told him:

"Truly, knight, it is madness to fight with your head disarmed."

"I shall guard my head better than ye shall guard yours," he said.

"Now we shall see," Amadis said.

Then he hit him on the shield with such a fierce blow that the sword passed through it, and the knight lost his stirrups and fell. Amadis, seeing that he was in trouble, struck him on the head with the side of his sword, stunning him, then put his hand on his shoulder and said:

"Knight, ye protected your head poorly, and ye would have lost it had I given ye a proper blow."

The knight let his sword fall from his hand and said, "I do not wish to lose my body over more madness, since ye have given it to me once already. Go forward."

Amadis asked for the knight's lance, which lay on the ground, and he gave it to him. When he arrived at the next gate, he saw ladies and damsels up on the castle wall and heard them say:

"If this knight goes over the drawbridge in spite of the three, he will have achieved the greatest knighthood in the world!"

Then three well-armed knights came out at him on large and beautiful horses, and one of them told him:

"Knight, become our prisoner or swear that ye shall obey the lady of the castle."

"I shall not be prisoner, as long as I can defend myself," Amadis said, "and I do not know what the will of the lady is."

"Then protect yourself," they said.

And together they came at him so bravely that they almost knocked him off his horse. Amadis struck one so fiercely that he put the iron tip of the lance into his ribs, and there he broke his lance just as the others broke theirs on him. They put their hands on their swords and attacked so fiercely that those who watched could only marvel, for the three knights were valiant and accomplished at arms, and he whom they had before them did not wish any shame on himself.

The battle was brave but it did not last long, for Amadis, showing his strength, gave them such blows that his sword reached their flesh and heads. Soon he had them to a point where they could take no more and they fled to the castle, with him in pursuit. When he reached them, one of them dismounted, and Amadis told him:

"Do not dismount, for I shall not let you go unless ye declare defeat."

"Truly, my lord, I shall do that willingly," he said. "All those who have fought you ought to do so after what ye have done."

And he gave him his sword. Amadis returned it and went after the others, and saw them enter a great hall. At its doorway he saw at least twenty ladies and damsels, and the most beautiful of them said:

"Stay, my lord knight, for ye have accomplished much."

Amadis stopped and said:

"My lady, have them grant that they were defeated."

"And what does it matter to you?"

"Because they told me at the gate that I needed to kill or defeat them, and in no other way shall I receive what is my right."

"But they told you," the lady said, "that if ye were to enter here in spite of them, that they would grant you the right to what ye seek, so now say what ye would wish."

"I seek the damsel that a knight took from me on a riverbank while I slept and brought her to this castle against her will."

"Be seated now," she said, "and the knight shall come and speak for himself and ye for yourself, and each one shall have his chance. Dismount for a while until the knight comes."

Amadis got off his horse and the lady had him sit beside her, and she said:

"Do ye know a knight named Amadis?"

"Why do ye ask?" he said.

"Because all the guards that ye see at this castle are placed against him. And I tell ye well that if he were to enter, he would not leave here by any means until he went back something that he promised."

"And what was this?" he said.

"I shall tell ye," the lady said, "if ye promise that ye shall use all your power to make him break his promise, whether by arms or by other means, for he did not do it rightly."

Amadis said:

"I tell you, my lady, that anything that Amadis may have promised, I shall try make him end in any way I can with all my strength."

She, who did not understand why he said that, said:

"Then know ye, my lord knight, that this Amadis whom I have spoken of to you promised Angriote d'Estravaus that he would make me be his lover, and this is the promise I want you to make him break, since such a bond should be made voluntarily and not by force, as God and reason both wish it to be done."

"Truly," Amadis said, "ye are right, and if I can, I shall make him end it."

The lady thanked him very much. But he was not less happy, because by carrying out his promise he would end it.

"And by chance," he said, "are ye, my lady, she whom Angriote loves?"

"My lord," she said, "I am."

"Truly, my lady," he said, "I hold Angriote to be one of the best knights in the world, and to my thinking, no well-bred lady would fail to esteem such a knight, and I say that not to go back on what I promised, instead I say it because he is a better knight than the one who made that promise."