Having decided some time ago to try and find a giant Andaluz donkey, as they are in danger of extinction, I have done quite a lot of research into the breeding of donkeys. I have been told by the owner of the Xalo sanctuary that he will sell me a burra Andaluza, so I will shortly be going there to see her and consider whether she is suitable.
One things leads to another and a Spanish teacher in the school where I work has lent me a copy of Platero y Yo by Juan Ramón Jiménez (1914). This ‘prose poem’ is an elegy to Andalucia. Platero is the name of the narrator’s donkey and the entire narrative is a conversation with the donkey as the writer observes Andalucian village life. It is a beautiful piece of writing.
At present I am regularly consulting with my Andaluz gipsy friend, a retired donkey dealer who is advising me about the Andaluz race of donkeys. I showed him the Jiménez book as we talked in a bar. He had no idea that it existed, nor did he express any interest in it! He is a man whom literature has never touched. I would not be surprised if he is illiterate anyway, but I didn’t think of that when I shared with him my enthusiasm for Platero y Yo.
There is something deeply reassuring about a man who is advising me on the finer points of buying a donkey but has no interest in books about donkeys! It is perhaps as reassuring as meeting a pilgrim on the road to Santiago who has never visited a website about the Camino, nor read a book by anyone famous telling the world how ‘changed’ they have been after ‘their’ Camino.
Unfortunately, one cannot turn back the clock and simply become illiterate. It would be nice. But I am stuck with my literate life and it is also my job as a teacher. As I reflected on the book, it occurred to me that I should name my burra ‘Platera’, the feminine form of ‘Platero’. It means ‘silvered’. The giant Andaluz donkeys are silver-grey and they have incredibly beautiful faces with a delicate pointed nose, slightly more elegant than your average donkey.
I’m reading Platero y Yo in Spanish, but there are translations available. On the Amazon site you can read the introductory pages of the bilingual edition
If you like donkeys or Spain, or both, this is a treat. It is the essence of Camino without the complications people bring to the Camino with their incessant chatter and their definitions and egos. Enjoy.
Postscript (Monday 22nd November)
I have only just realised! The narrative style of Andy Merrifield (talking to the reader while addressing his donkey) is completely ripped off from Platero y Yo. Not influenced by, but simply copied. I was a bit slow to realise this, just as I was slow to notice all burros are called Platero or Moreno (thank you Toad!) I’m grateful to Merrifield for the numerous donkey references and links to other books, but I’m not impressed by his originality any more. I thought his style was great until I discovered it is simply an echo of a much greater literary talent: that of Juan Ramón Jiménez.