EL ESCORIAL: GRAND FINALE OF OUR “DIVINE SPANISH SYMPHONY”
Friday, May 23 was truly a magical day on our Tour of Spain. I did not quite realize how special it was until later in June, when I pieced together all four movements of our Divine Spanish Symphony.
Salamanca, the university city, was the opening Allegro movement. Avila, the walled city of stones and angels, was the Adagio, a slow and flowing movement. Segovia was the Scherzo, the quickening rhythm and that built up to a grand finale, the fourth movement, an Allegro, as we crossed the snow-capped Guadarrama Mountains to reach El Escorial, elevation 3,300 feet.
The El Escorial countryside was beautiful. But I did not fully appreciate the magic of that day until the sunset. That’s when the Grand Finale of our Spanish Symphony was played out at El Escorial, after Elizabeth and I had unexpectedly enjoyed a private tour of this enormous palace. It was built between 1567 and 1584 by Phillip II, one of my past incarnations.
GRAND FINALE OF MAGICAL DAY
What made May 23 so magical? Everything, actually. But especially the end, the grand finale that unfolded when we arrived at El Escorial. I still get goose bumps every time I think about it.
But first, let me tell you what I knew about El Escorial before we got there. It was not much, really. I don’t like to dwell on my past lives beyond deleting the karma that they had left (see Phillip II ceremony).
I had found out, for example, that El Escorial was a monastery. I did not know it was also a royal palace. I knew that it was built by Phillip II after his father, Charles V, split up the Holy Roman Empire in two, giving his son the bigger part (his brother Ferdinand got the Austrian empire – see Re-stitching Holy Roman Empire, May 17). I did not know that Phillip was personally in its design and adornment. And that’s about it.
The rest, I was hoping, would come to me through the magic of geomancy. Just as the revelations about my past lives as Constantine/Theodosius resurfaced in Delphi, Greece, three years earlier (see Magic of Delphi, Clearing Ceremonies, Oct 2011). I was not wrong…
Since Elizabeth and I knew that both planning and improvisation are prerequisites for great trip experiences, we only booked our first hotel in Barcelona. The rest of the trip, we figured, we would wing it. We’d look for a hotel every night depending on where we ended up.
An intuition guided me to make an exception in Salamanca the night before. I booked a 4-star hotel for that evening in El Escorial. What sold me on it was the line that it was “a 10-minute walk from the monastery.” And since I was getting tired of looking for expensive parking garages, I jumped at the opportunity to be so close.
As it turns out, there were also other reasons my Spirit guides led me to it.
We got to the hotel in late afternoon. The NH El Escorial hotel was a charming, “old world” kind of a place. Perfect for our tastes. Illuminated by the setting sun, its “Maria Theresa”-style facade glowed like gold.
The hotel clerk took forever to check us in. When he was finally done, I asked him about the visiting hours of the monastery.
“It closes at six,” he said. I looked at my watch. It was 5:55.
“Guess we’ll have to take the tour of it in the morning,” I said to Elizabeth.
While the porter and Elizabeth went to our room with bags, I drove our car to an underground parking garage in the city block behind the hotel. It took three left turns to find it. Finally I did.
After getting out to the street, I tried to get my bearings and see where our hotel was. Turns out I had to walk to it up a steep narrow lane.
When I reached the level of the hotel garden, something made me turn my head to the right. There was a large statue facing away from me. I was drawn to it as if by a magnet. My heart told me that was Phillip II.
I looked all over for a sign that would confirm it. There was none.
When I got up to our room, I saw from the balcony that the garden with the statue was right in front of us, just under our window.
It was right under that tree in the center of this panorama picture taken from our balcony.
“Let’s go for a walk and see the monastery at least from the outside,” I told Elizabeth.
On our way down to the lobby, I told her about the garden statue that drew me like a magnet when I was coming back from the parking garage. We stopped to talk to the hotel clerk at the reception.
“Who is that statue of?” I asked him.
“King Phillip II,” he replied. “He was the one who built El Escorial.”
Bingo! I knew instantly that I had been guided to it. My heart’s intuition was confirmed.
So we walked out to the garden at the back of the hotel to take some more pictures.
Of course, it was actually the five centuries-old patina leaving its mark on the stone.
After that, we strolled on up the gentle slope toward where we were told the El Escorial monastery was. The setting sun was projecting long shadows off of everything. A perfect time for pictures, I thought.
ENORMOUS YET AUSTERE PALACE
The first thing that struck us as we were approaching the El Escorial palace was its enormous size. Later, we found out that the area of the main rectangular building is 33,000 m² (355,000 sq ft). Including the grounds, the El Escorial encompasses 22 sq miles (56.4 km²).
By then, I had found out that this was both the royal palace and the monastery when it was conceived. Which helps explain its size.
“It makes the Buckingham Palace look small by comparison,” I remarked to Elizabeth.
Of course, the latter palace is in the heart of London where space is limited. The Queen of England has several other estates that are much bigger than El Escorial.
The second thing that struck me was how simple the design was. It felt downright austere, especially compared to contemporary renaissance designs in Italy or France, for example. Here’s what Wiki says about the palace design.
“Philip engaged the Spanish architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, to be his collaborator in the design of El Escorial. Juan Bautista had spent the greater part of his career in Rome, where he had worked on the basilica of St. Peter’s, and in Naples, where he had served the king’s viceroy, whose recommendation brought him to the king’s attention. Philip appointed him architect-royal in 1559, and together they designed El Escorial as a monument to Spain’s role as a center of the Christian world.“
“El Escorial is austere, even forbidding, in its outward appearance, seemingly more like a fortress than a monastery or palace. It takes the form of a gigantic quadrangle, approximately 224 m by 153 m (735 ft by 502 ft), which encloses a series of intersecting passageways and courtyards and chambers. Philip’s instructions to Toledo were simple and clear: “Produce simplicity in the construction, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation.”
The same type of simplicity and austerity was reflected in Phillip’s choice of clothing (above picture). At a time when European monarchs wore elaborately gilded clothes, like Henry VIII (left), Phillip’s simplicity stood out by contrast.
And so did Queen Mary I’s of England, Henry VIII’s daughter, and Phillip’s wife until her passing. Mary was also a model of simplicity and modesty (see her painting below versus other royal women of that era). Both she and Phillip dressed more like clerics than the monarchs they were.
You see, Queen Mary I was one of Elizabeth’s past incarnations. As a firstborn daughter of Queen Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, in a way, Elizabeth was also returning home on our Tour of Spain. And she actually speaks Spanish.
Alas, she never got to see El Escorial in her lifetime as Queen Mary I. She died at Saint James Palace in London in 1558, one year before husband started his plans to build El Escorial. So 456 years later, she got to see what her erstwhile husband had been up to after her passing. 🙂
We strolled along the northern wall of the palace to a side entrance. Uniformed guards stood in front of it. I looked at my watch. It was 6:55 PM, almost an hour past the time the hotel clerk said the monastery would be closing.
“Is the palace still open?” I asked one of the guards.
“Yes, it is,” she said. “For another hour. But you’ll have to hurry if you want to see it.”
What followed was like a fast-forward film. We basically ended up giving ourselves a private tour of this enormous palace. At times, we were being hurried up by the attendants who seemed anxious close early and head for home.
Pictures were not allowed. But I still managed to sneak a few of an interior courtyard through a window, and down in the crypt, the pantheon where all Spanish kings are buried since the early 16th century, including that of Phillip II (second from top) and his father Charles V (first on top).
The wall of battles and the library are file photos. In many cases, I recognized the face in the pictures before actually confirming it in the wall inscriptions. It was quite an amazing experience – time travel of sorts back 500 years.
By the time we emerged from the palace with five minutes to spare before closing time, I felt as if I had been running a marathon by sprinting. What awaited us outside, however, was the crowning moment of the grand finale. A spectacular sunset view of El Escorial.
Those two panoramic pictures have been etched in my mind as the signature pieces of our entire Tour of Spain.
The time of the last picture was 7:01 PM. Our private tour was over. The guards were free to go home.
AFTERMATH: DINNER CONCERT
As the sun was setting, we walked back to the hotel through the town of El Escorial.
Here are now view of the eastern sky taken at sunset from our balcony.
To keep things simple, we decided to “dine in” – have a dinner at the hotel restaurant. The setting was beautiful and the waiter great. But our steaks seemed to have come from a cow that thought she was a goat. Tough as can be.
Still, we did not let that spoil our mood. After dinner, I walked over to a baby grand and gave an impromptu concert. A man came over and started to hum and then sing some of the tunes. Later, he told me he was a singer and that he enjoyed my music. The waiter also raved about it the next morning at breakfast.
“My of my, you even played some of the piece we listen to here all day,” he said.
Meanwhile, I did not realize that Elizabeth had filmed some of it. The sound is terrible as I sat on a creaky chair. But it will give you a feel for the atmosphere. I am playing the second movement of Schubert’s Impromptu in this clip.
And thus ended May 23, a day full of magic that will be etched in our memory forever, along with the Divine Spanish Symphony that came to me later (on June 17 – see below).
Little did we know that more magic was to come the following day. So stand by for that…
Here’s now that new music video – Divine Spanish Symphony – which includes my recording made in Nov 2013 and some film clips with Spanish motifs.
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ORIGINAL CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ VIDEO
And now, here’s the original recording of Concierto de Aranji=uze, made on my Arizona Clavinova in Nov 2013…
Having just watched this video again for the first time since Nov 2013, I was amazed to see that the film clips I used it actually depict many of the sights Elizabeth and I had visited on our Tour of Spain.
Keep in mind, that the idea about this trip had not come to me until late January 2014. So two months earlier, our Spirit guides were already priming us for it.
Amazing how both subtle and clever they are… Now I understand why that piece first came to me in March 2009, while I was still in Arizona, just before moving to Maui. It was a five-year prelude to this Tour of Spain, and to the magic of May 23, our grand finale before entering Madrid (see “Concierto de Aranjuez” in Bob Djurdjevic’s Piano interpretation, Full Version, Mar 10, 2009).
NOTE: SYMPHONIC FORMS
Gospel, John 15:12-17 for May 23, 2014
12 This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.
13 No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
14 You are my friends, if you do what I command you.
15 I shall no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know the master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father.
17 My command to you is to love one another.