Imagining Aranjuez

I first heard the Concierto de Aranjuez or En Aranjuez con tu Amor in an album by Il Divo, and it continues to be one of the most powerful and emotional songs I have ever heard; no other song has given the sound of a Spanish guitar as much importance as this.

Composed by a Spaniard—Juaquin Rodrigo—it tells the story of a place where the words “dream” and “love” become more than just metaphors for things that will never materialize past imagination; where there is a rumor of gardens with crystal fountains that whisper to the roses about lovers who are no more. But places remember things people don’t or refuse to. Here, the colorless leaves being swept by the wind carry memories of a love once had. Here, he says, love is hidden in the sunsets, in the breeze, and in flowers.

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Ducks swimming in the Tagus River, the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula.

It is one of the my favorite and most popular Spanish classical songs in the world, which is why I simply had to go to Aranjuez too see it for myself. But as I was getting off the cercanias stop, I was surprised to find no people at the station, no buzz from the chatter of tourists figuring out where to go first. There were no souvenir shops full to the brim with random trinkets and maps of the town. There were no taxis waiting outside, charging exorbitant prices for a three-minute ride to the town center. There was only a bus with a handful of people waiting to leave the stop for their destinations. I was sure that I had gotten off at the wrong place, and had landed in a random suburb outside of Madrid. But a sign told me that I had indeed gotten off at Aranjuez.

So my friend and I walked on, passing streets upon streets of closed shops, stopping only to look at the maps on our phones, and hoping that we would find an open restaurant to eat at before continuing our day trip to Aranjuez. We chose to eat al fresco at a restaurant called Casa Pablo, which we later found out was one of the bigger establishments in the area. Here, I learned that Aranjuez seemed to refuse the modernity of Madrid, despite its close proximity to it, and that the people valued the intimacy that comes with living in a town of about 50,000.

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A view of the Palacio Real from the gardens.

It was as if everyone knew everyone. Groups that sat on separate tables slowly merged together; old men sat down for a glass or two of cerveza, while their wives chatted about the latest gossip or compared the latest news about their children and grandchildren.

We ate lunch slowly, feeling no need to be in a rush to explore the rest of the town. I found out that Aranjuez is known for their strawberries, and that there is a Tren de la Fresa (Strawberry Train), that takes the rider on a historical journey on the second railway ever to be built in Spain. The journey, I’m sure, would have been something else entirely, but my friend and I opted for the shorter ride with less fanfare.

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Tiny strawberries in orange juice for dessert at Casa Pablo.

Walking along the cobblestoned streets to the Palacio Real, I could feel its history, could vaguely hear the gallop of horses approaching the courtyard. And I began to understand why Rodrigo’s lyrics are the way they are. It was, I realized, a story about life in an era long gone. But the large open space and lack of sightseers hurrying to get to their next monument allowed me to stop, absorb, and actually see myself in the Aranjuez that Rodrigo described. It was a majestic place, but in a subtler way.

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A corridor leading to the Palacio Real in Aranjuez’s old quarter.

It was easy to imagine how one could fall in love in this town. It was easy to picture a white train sweeping along the floor of the Palacio Real and bells being rung to signal yet another union. And this town, according to a large tarpaulin hanging in one of the restaurants near the palace, is also the wedding capital of Spain. In fact, the wedding gown of Queen Letizia is on display at the ground floor of the Palacio Real.

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A fountain at the Jardin del Palacio de Aranjuez.

Aranjuez, I knew, was exactly the kind of place I imagined myself living in, where its residents reveled in the simplicity of everyday life, and where it was okay to sit on a bench and do absolutely nothing.

There’s a certain romance in deserted streets; the sun high up in the sky; and the sound of children playing in the river. I suppose, in a sleepy town like this, there would always be enough time to be carefree; and on a hot day, there would be no better place than the river to cool down.

How different, I wondered, would life be if it was always like this? I imagined that here, I would be content with my one bedroom apartment. My view: the courtyard and gardens of the palace. Life would be simple. It wouldn’t be in a constant state of hurry. I would walk around at night, sit on a bench in the gardens, and know that things were exactly the way they were supposed to be.

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