Today was a white line day; hundreds of kilometres on the road and not much to show for it, unless you consider killing a baby deer an achievement.
I’m not one to blame other people, but it was Thelma’s fault. We drove to Sacedon with the idea of locating the ruins of the abandoned spa Real Sitio de la Isabela at the reservoir of Buendía, between the provinces of Cuenca and Guadalajara, where river crossing scenes were shot for the 6th instalment of Terminator: Dark Fate (2019).
Driving with Thelma, apart from incidents with Brad Pitt, also involves hopeless navigation and we ended up going alongside the wrong reservoir on the wrong bank, which was when Bambi made his appearance and was terminated.
It was the beginning of a bad day.
We moved on to the province of Soria to visit a location from Sergio Leone’s last western, and one whose two titles emphasise some of the confusion surrounding its making. Duck You Sucker/ A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)
James Coburn (Sean), who cleverly plays an IRA explosives expert before the IRA even existed, and Rod Steiger (Juan) star in a film, which employed the surprisingly rarely used medieval and Roman town of Medinaceli, perched on a hilltop, as medieval towns often are. Here a few street scenes were shot in and around the Plaza Mayor during the fighting at Mesa Verde. The bank was also in the main square, although it was a set constructed for the film.
Unfortunately neither the tourist information office nor the cultural centre had heard of the film and so I ended up informing the people I had hoped to be informed by. They did suggest that the baker might know something, but by then I was seeing more white lines (or maybe that came afterwards).
The sense of doom began to descend in a day where too many kilometres were being clocked up for too few gains.
And so for my third time, with little hope of reward, we drove into Candilichera, where many of the scenes of Doctor Zhivago (1965) were filmed, including the scenes of Yuri and Lara living their last days together in the ‘ice palace’ at Varykino, where the snow and ice were in fact manufactured using hot wax and marble dust as the snows refused to fall, and many winter scenes were actually shot in summer at 40 degrees, fur coats and all.
The battle on the frozen lake for example was shot near Candilichera in June with temperatures of over 30 degrees, using marble powder and plaster to simulate the ice. The Bolshevik cavalry galloping through the forest was filmed at Abejar, between the present day camp site and the Cuedar del Pozo dam.
The villagers of the tiny village of Candilichera couldn’t believe their luck when the studio offered to pay them the equivalent of two years’ harvest in order to use their land for filming the scenes at Varykino.
Mind you, the money wasn’t spread evenly, and when I first visited the village some inhabitants remembered that while some landowners were able to buy a flat in Soria with the money, others got nothing.
Visiting Candilichera today it is easy to understand why they chose this area to make Zhivago. The wide open spaces around the village still have an isolated feel and very little has changed apart from the occasional electricity pylon and an expansion of sunflower crops among the endless wheat fields. There’s even an abandoned railway line.
Near Candilichera they filmed the scene where the two Russian armies going to and from the front meet and have a bit of a disagreement with their officers, as well as the wheat field machine gunning of young cadets.
Once again there was no one around in Candilichera, although curtains occasionally moved suggesting that we were being watched from within.
Tails between our legs, we finally followed the suggestion of a friend and took refuge for the night in a monastery in the mountains of La Rioja called Valvanera, with pleasant rooms at 54€ for two in an amazing setting with an electrical storm and hail thrown in for free.
Monastery and convent accomodation is one of Spain’s best kept secrets, and if you don’t mind chatting with the occasional nun or priest, then you can find delightful bargains in beautiful settings and impressive monumental buildings.
There were also a suprising number of bikers staying that night, but I was too intimidated to ask why.