Frog's Warning to University Students

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Europe » Spain » Castile & León » Salamanca
August 13th 2019
Published: August 14th 2019
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Issy says she’s run out of clean clothes. I ran out about a week ago, which I suspect is no news to her; the bed in our hotel room is very big and I’ve noticed that she’s been making good use of the very far side of it. We could spend about 200 Euros getting the hotel to wash our clothes for us and send them back individually gift wrapped, but we decide instead to save some money and spend some quality time together in a nearby laundromat. I think the last time I went to a laundromat was about forty years ago when I first had to travel for work, and the company I was working for was too stingy to pay for the hotel to wash them. I’m probably lucky they agreed to pay for the hotel.

We decide to explore the University precinct. First stop is the massive stone carving above the main door of the old University building, which is known as La Puerta de Salamanca. It is apparently famous for a carving of a very small frog sitting on top of a skull in amongst a vast array of other stone carvings. No one is quite sure why it was put there, although it’s supposed to bring you luck if you can spot it. I think a lot of people probably get lucky; there’s a man selling frog paraphernalia right in front of the door, and his stall has a picture of the whole carving on it with the location of the frog circled in red. One of the Trip Advisor reviewers gave the carving only one star on the basis that she saw it and still failed her exams. One theory on why it was put there was as a warning to all the young male students of the dangers of being distracted from their studies by their carnal desires. Under this theory the frog is actually a toad, which was the Spanish symbol for prostitution, and the skull represents death. Apparently there were a lot of prostitutes in Salamanca in earlier times, and the whole place was rife with syphilis and various other unsavoury and potentially fatal diseases. The frog’s really small, and it’s unrecognisable to me as a frog at all, so I’m not sure how effective the warning might have been to your average testosterone charged university student.

We move on to Las Escuelas Menores, or Minor Schools building, which houses the beautiful 15th century La Cielo Salamanca mural on the ceiling of one of its darkened rooms. The mural depicts astronomical and astrological subjects, and is apparently the only surviving third of the original painting.

We walk across the alleyway into an ancient building housing some of the University’s original lecture theatres, a library, and a chapel. I can’t find Issy and am then a bit shocked to find her sitting in the chapel. She says she just wanted to test whether the roof really would fall in if she went into a church or a chapel, and so far it seems to be holding up well. The lecture theatres are very old and impressive. The comfort of the seats seems to vary widely from padded couches at one end of the spectrum right down to single narrow beams with no backs at the other. I assume the latter variety were used for lectures on some of the slightly less interesting subject matter.

We move on to the facade of the New Cathedral. We looked at this a few days ago, but this was before we knew that one of the carved figures on it was an astronaut. We agree to start from opposite sides to see if we can find him, but there are lots of carved figures and he’s proving very elusive. To make matters worse there’s no one here selling astronaut paraphernalia, so we can’t cheat and look at a picture of the facade with him circled on it. Our necks are starting to get sore so we decide to abandon the search in favour of cocktails in a small square next to Plaza Mayor.

I’m still struggling to understand even small snippets of the Spanish conversation I’m overhearing when we’re out and about. Issy suggests I should try listening to some Spanish TV to see if that might help. I tune into a dubbed version of “Criminal Minds”, but the only words I’m picking up are the names of the characters, and I’m pretty sure these are the same in Spanish as they are in English. This all serves to reinforce my earlier conclusion that I must really suck at learning languages.

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