The manner in which everyone speaks of and honors these beasts bears testament to what Cartuja is all about: homage to a centuries-old tradition and to the Carthusian line itself
Oddly, for as much time as we spend in Spain, my husband and I had never ventured to the southwestern portion until a few years ago. I don’t know why; I think he saw it as part of a greater excursion one day to Portugal. Besides, for that particular trip his fixation was Valladolid (because he liked the sound of it). Val-la-do-lid. Very musical. As a musician, he wanted to see if the city itself “sang” to him as did its name.
As official navigator, or as my husband prefers, “social director,” I approved the stop under two conditions: that I cart along Delibes’ The Heretic and check out locations mentioned, and, from Valladolid we make a sharp left down to Jerez. The city sits a stone’s throw from a place that had long been on my Spain bucket list: Yeguada de la Cartuja, the world-renowned stud farm and breeding facility for the Spanish Carthusian horse. I have a “thing” for horses in general. But Spanish horses? They are an obsession in a class of their own, one clearly linked to my love affair with Spain.
For those unfamiliar, Cartuja sits on seven acres of rolling landscape adjacent to a 15th century monastery not far from Jerez. There, Carthusian monks, long departed, first bred Carthusians. Today, mobbed in season by hordes of clamoring tourists, for about $20 U.S. the facility conducts guided tours. Coming from Jerez, motorists take Avenida de Medina Sidonia, a main drag, then follow the pink Yeguada signs south around a series of rotondas to the Autovia. Most hotels also run or arrange tours.
I won’t go into the specifics of the tour. The Yeguada’s website does a nice job of that. I will say, in retrospect, when I think of Cartuja the last thing that comes to mind is “tour.” What does is an afternoon we spent at the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris viewing Monet’s “The Lily Pond.” The tourist sitting on the circular bench rubbed her feet; glancing about the room she called to her group, “They all look the same to me.” Obviously, she missed the nuance of light, or maybe she couldn’t or didn’t want to see it. Who knows? I do know this much: she would be wasting her time at Cartuja.
The Yeguada exists like enchanted Brigadoon in the mists of time. Tucked back off the Autovia, it is impossible to actually see it. But then one doesn’t go to “see” Cartuja, but to feel it somewhere deep, where memories stored remain forever. For the Yeguada de la Cartuja is more than horses and breeding horses; it is life and nature and Spanish culture reacting simultaneously.
I first sensed this upon driving up the service road leading to the main entrance. Under a spreading carob tree, two magnificent residents stood spooning, heads and necks lovingly entwined in I assume what amounted to equine foreplay. The lovers stopped for a moment, looked over at us, and then promptly turned their attention back to each another. Cartuja’s entire lexicon was captured in that moment—nature at its fullest, animal intensity combined with mystical spirituality specific to sacred places.
My husband and I took the tour. Our guide, Alita, was knowledgeable and I learned a lot about horse breeding, Spanish style, that is, with complete respect for the animals Alita referred to as “national treasures.” The manner in which everyone there speaks of and honors these beasts bears testament to what Cartuja is all about: homage to a centuries-old tradition and to the Carthusian line itself. But I must tell you, I don’t think I really got the full thrust of that until the end, when in the facilities arena we experienced the most moving of allegories that for me, at least, brought the entire experience into perspective.
Something I wrote a while back, just after we went, conveys it better on close reading than I can now at some distance.
…a distant sound of thunder abbreviated our conversation. Everyone in the grandstand turned toward two massive iron gates. Swinging wide, the gates disgorged a charging herd of thirty magnificent stallions. The crowd gasped. Wildly the stallions charged about the arena, their movement guided by the snap of their trainer’s whip on the soft earthen floor…through the gates a gang of rowdy young colts came running and stomping; the trainer eyed them carefully for signs the play might be getting out of hand. Like the stallions, they too exited wildly, charging full force up a hill to the security of their corral… A few moments passed and the soft strains of Concierto de Aranques came wafting from a booth above the arena. Once again the gates opened; through them a herd of twenty or so mares strode slowly in. Behind them a trainer gently nudged a group of spindly-legged foals. By instinct, each found its mother and immediately began to suckle. One foal, looking a bit lost, was guided to the only mare without her child. Accept for the music, you could hear a pin drop from an audience of two-hundred completely immersed in the emotional enormity of the moment.
We didn’t speak much on the way back. My husband, a man we affectionately call “Guido the Guide,” missed a turn, and we had to backtrack a bit. I think his mind was elsewhere. I know mine was.
Author’s note: You will notice that the horse being ridden [photo 4] has the
absolutely minimal bridal. When they are not being led or shown, the
horses run and hang out quite freely on all seven acres.
About Saffron Flynn:
Saffron Flynn is a veteran of the publishing scene. She has worked as editor, senior copywriter and news and feature journalist for major dailies in the United States. She taught creative writing at Stroudsberg University, PA, and was a Spanish Language Film Acquisitions Coordinator for Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Princeton, NJ.
For her Ruins Saffron was awarded a First Honorable Mention by the Quincy Writers Guild.
Featured image/Diego Velazquez, PD per Wikimedia Commons
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