Castilian Westworld

The Conecta festival and the city of Toledo were fantastic and I’m going to write a little about my experiences in a later post. One of the stranger things we encountered during a pre-conference day of round-table discussions was the Toledo branch of the Puy de Fou historical theme parks. Founded in 1977 by notorious rightwing politician and novelist Philippe de Villiers as an offshoot of his historical drama TV show Cinéscénie, the original Puy de Fou in Les Epesses became the fourth most-visited theme park in France after the two Disney parks and Parc Astérix.

At night the park stages a performance in which various historical tales are re-enacted in grand mythic style. Columbus sails to the new world, Knights Templar crusade, Visigoths battle Romans. It is a deeply uncanny place, especially the brand-new ancient castles with perfectly pointed brickwork. The park is right in the middle of in a region so rich in real ancient castles it is called Castilla-La Mancha.

I had been wondering about the potential for using this place as a location for a fanciful and historically inaccurate TV series of my own, but when fellow writer Pierre Puget told me about de Villiers’ political positions – he is an apologist for ‘illiberal democratic’ populists like Hungary’s Orbán – I rather lost interest.

In Buñuel’s footsteps

I’m going to be in Toledo all next week attending the Conecta European TV networking event, and sticking around a couple of days afterwards for a little city break which will probably involve bicycles at some point.

When I mentioned to my friend Svitlana that I was going there, she told me the city was beloved by Luis Buñuel. A little digging, and it turns out before the Spanish Civil War, when they were all alive and on speaking terms, Buñuel, Dalí and Lorca visited Toledo and, “fascinated by the mysterious air it gave off,” were moved to invent their own semi-satirical religious order/artists collective, the Order of Toledo. More about it in this article by Roberto Majano.

The principle activity of the order was “to wander in search of personal adventures” and the induction ceremony was to be stranded alone in the darkness of Toldeo at the toll of the 1am bell. This reads to me very much like a precursor to the Situationist activity of dériving around Paris. Perhaps Guy Debord drew inspiration from Buñuel?

Bonus anecdote: Buñuel hired a sex worker in the city, not apparently for sex, but in order to hypnotise her, because surrealist research doesn’t have to answer to ethics committees.