*brushes cobwebs off blog*
Well hello again. Did everybody have a good Easter? Mine involved Scotland, snow, a(nother) massive Kindle binge, and a disappointingly small amount of chocolate. On the other hand I did spend a lot of time reading up about Sugar, Cod and Salt, (yes, I was on a commodities kick), so maybe there’ll be time for Chocolate yet…
Now, as regular readers may recall, I teased you all a couple of posts ago with the briefest mention of my upcoming collaboration with Rod Younger’s new online bookshop and web resource Books4Spain. In my (only very slightly biased) opinion, it’s a great initiative, with a team of enthusiastic and very knowledgeable contributors, and should become an essential bookmark for anybody who wants to know more about Spain in all of its rich and multilingual diversity. Not to mention the adorable editorial assistant JJ, whose exploits you can follow via the Books4Spain twitter feed.
Rod’s mission is to help readers discover that
Spain is not just about sun, sea and sangria, it’s about the Moors, the Reconquest, El Cid, Hernan Cortes, conquistadors, the Golden Age, Don Quijote, the Camino de Santiago, flamenco, Rioja,Ribera del Duero, paella, seafood, the Alhambra, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Velazquez, Goya, Murillo, Andres Segovia, Joaquin Rodrigo, Carmen, Napoleon, Wellington, the Spanish Armada,Catalunya (Catalonia), Andalucia, or Andalusia if you prefer, Rafael Nadal, Fernan Adria – the list goes on and on.
And it’s about great contemporary fiction too, so if you head over to the reviews section, you’ll find my first collaboration with Books4Spain, which is my review of the new English* edition of Maria Duenas’s blockbuster novel The Seamstress (orig. El tiempo entre costuras). Here’s a taster, just to give you an idea, but seriously – head on over, read the whole thing, enter the competition to win a free copy, and then stay and have a look around:
So I’m going to be travelling a lot over the next four months – three or four work trips to Spain and two to the US. And as you know, I love to read. I have a long history of schlepping piles of books across international borders (you have to take a lot because you never know what kind of reading mood you’ll be in when you get to wherever you’re going, OBVIOUSLY) and then hitting a bookshop on the first day and leaving my carefully-chosen piles completely unread. It’s a pathology. I’m chronic. And I’m usually very close to my budget airline luggage limit…
And so, after much to-ing and fro-ing, and with enthusiastic encouragement from Mr Booksonspain, who is nothing if not a pragmatist when it comes to the need for books (*because it wasn’t the cats who ordered the 35 mystery novels by a single author that have appeared in our house during the last 6 weeks*), I have finally acquired my first Kindle. And you know what? I *adore* it. I have the 3G version, which means free international web access, which means, yes, I have been able to download stuff on it from here in Spain even when there’s no WiFi available. It also has a rudimentary web browser (currently under development, not sure whether it’s permanent) which has been something of a lifesaver when circumstances have required emergency email access.
So I’m in A Coruña for work, I have a free weekend, and I had this great idea: to figure out what the Edwardian lady travellers I’m currently researching saw while they were here in 1908 (Annette Meakin) and 1910 (Catherine Gasquoine Hartley), and to figure out how many of those things are still recognisable today. Typically, I spent *way* too much time last night designing a Google map to help me achieve this. This is actually the beginning of a small pilot for a bigger project I’m putting together, using geospatial data and visualizations to explore how travellers and tourists have interacted with specific sites through time. It’s a work in progress, and the dynamic version isn’t ready to be shown to the world, but you should be able to get an idea from this screenshot:
What you can see on the right of the screenshot is a map of Coruña’s old and new towns, with the markers I’ve inserted to show places mentioned by Meakin (yellow markers) and Hartley (blue). My route today is marked in green, beginning from the Hotel Riazor on the left of the shot, and proceeding anticlockwise in a large and untidy loop. It took me about 3.5 hours all told, including lunch at the Petite Bretagne on the Rua Riego de Agua (Tudela salad – recommended!), many (many!) photographs, and a stop for meringues at La Gran Antilla (of which more later…). On the left of the screenshot you can see a list of the entries associated with the markers for Hartley and Meakin, which are mostly relevant extracts from the two books I used as my sources, Meakin’s Galicia, the Switzerland of Spain (1909), and Hartley’s Spain Revisited: A Summer Holiday in Galicia (1911). In the dynamic version of the map, you can click on a marker and read what the author had to say about the site you’re looking at.
We’re all used to dealing in national stereotypes, but what happens when an Englishman turns his lens on himself, only in a foreign language? Revista de Libros has a delicious review of a recent book called El viajero impertinente: Andanzas por España de un excéntrico inglés (The Impertinent Traveller: the Spanish Wanderings of an English Eccentric, 2010) by ‘Percy Hopewell,’ an English writer resident in Spain. According to Dolores Payás, one of the book’s virtues is that ’ la mímesis del autor con el alma ibérica es casi perfecta’ ‘the author’s imitation of the Iberian soul is almost perfect,’ but she blasts its prologue, by the Spanish writer Tomás García Yebra, as so constrained by lazy stereotypes that, she says, he can’t possibly have read the book before putting pen to paper.
I’ve already confessed my rather expensive obsession with early 20th-century English-language writing on Spain. This summer, one of my projects was to track down a particular, very obscure book by one of the writers I’m researching for my new project. I knew from a scattered range of sources that early in the 20th century, the scholar and translator Rachel Challice had put together a large, illustrated album, designed to attract English readers to the Galician spa town of Mondariz Balneario. The album, listed by the Biblioteca Nacional as Monograph of Mondaris [sic] and dated by them to 1906, is held by very few other libraries and shows up in fewer than half a dozen Google links. Obviously I could have waited for an opportunity to go and look at the copy in Madrid, but where’s the fun in that? When a copy came up on a collectors’ site, I negotiated a 10% discount, and eventually got it for … gulp … a low 3-figure sum. And now it’s mine! (Except for pages 11 and 12, which are unaccountably absent…)
The album fills in some important pieces of the puzzle I’m piecing together in my new project on the commercial and cultural networks connecting England and Galicia in the early 20th century. Rachel Challice is almost entirely forgotten now, but in the decade before her death in 1909, she was a well-known writer on Spain, also familiar to English readers as the translator of the popular Spanish novelist Armando Palacio Valdés. She was something of an entrepreneuse too, and owner of Challice’s Spanish Information Bureau, which operated out of Great Winchester Street in central London. Challice put together the Monograph in collaboration with the Peinador brothers, Enrique and Ramón who ran the Hydropathic establishment at Mondariz; they had previously published a Spanish-language album, which Challice draws on for the sumptuous illustrations, and for the two accompanying essays by medical doctors, outlining the science behind the waters. The text of the main section, however, is written by Challice herself, and evidently with a clear eye not only on her assigned mission of attracting English travellers to the Peinadors’ establishment, but also on promoting the Spanish Information Bureau as ‘the only authorised British agency’ for wholesale orders of Mondariz mineral water (17).