Simon Doubleday November 18, 2015


It is August, but the road ahead is covered with mist and rain; we are driving to Noia, on the coast of Galicia. The rain gets harder. We park by the supermarket, interrupt Mass in the Franciscan church, and drink chocolate. Across the street: a bookshop. It is in bookshops that all good stories begin— even the very short ones.

Nobody but the owner is inside. In the display case by the window, many books published by Toxosoutos, local publisher in Noia. We browse, and at once, a title stands out in Gothic script: A nobreza miñota e a lírica trobadoresca [The Nobility of the Miño Region and the Troubadour Lyric]. It is our friend Henrique Monteagudo’s newest book.

When a title jumps out at you, like a cat in front of the car, you slam on the brakes. You also follow the cat. In Henrique’s book, I follow a story that is new to me, though I have spent years in the company of one of the characters, Alfonso the Wise. It is the story of noblemen and countesses in the south of Galicia in the thirteenth century: how troubadour lyrics began to flourish in the courts of families like that of Johan Soarez de Chapela. And in the closing pages, how young Prince Alfonso, first came into contact with the lyric-language he loved, Galician-Portuguese, in the town of Ribadavia.

Returning from Noia, I add one last footnote to the story of the Wise King.