Thursday, September 24, 2009

The estrado: We aren't in Windsor Castle anymore

For centuries, Spanish women retained a Moorish custom that surprised foreign visitors.

[The estrado in the Museo Casa de Cervantes in Valladolid, where he lived between 1604 and 1606. The first edition of Don Quixote was published in 1605.]


In Chapter 20, Oriana was in her chamber when she learned that Amadis had been killed, and she collapsed. Mabilia "turned and saw Oriana lying on the estrado as if she were dead..."

What's an estrado? In Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española, published in 1611, Sebastían de Covarrubias defined it as: "The place were ladies sit on cushions and receive vistors."

There's a little more to it than that. Properly speaking, the estrado was a raised wooden platform in a corner of the room, but its name became synonymous with that room, which was used for receiving visitors and was usually the most richly decorated room of the house. A wealthy woman might also have an estrado in her personal chambers.

The raised dias offered protection against cold, damp floors. It would be covered with a rug or mat. Tapestries and draperies on the walls would also help keep out the cold. The furnishings, such as tables and desks, were low because the women sat on cushions, pillows, or low stools.

There they would sit and spin, sew, embroider, read, write, play music, receive visitors and chat with them there. Female visitors would join them on the estrado, but males would sit next to it on chairs. (Cervantes, little respectful of customs, described the estrado as a good place to take a siesta.)

The estrado, a custom inherited from the Moors, endured in Spain until almost 1700.

Amadis of Gaul takes place in far-off exotic locales -- exotic to 14th-century Spanish audiences -- in this case, in far-off exotic Windsor, which is written "Vindilisora" in the original Spanish text. The author knew about Britain only second- or third-hand at best, and so the details, including the names of places as well as their furnishings, are sometimes imprecise.

Every now and then a detail pops up that reminds us that this fantasyland was made in Spain.

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