Reading and Spain

As this is typically a book blog, I’ll start this post with a shout out for the doorstopper I brought with me to Spain. At 774 pages, Elsa Morante’s Lies and Sorcery is a dual — and dueling — family saga set in Sicily in the early 20th century. At its simplest, this is the story of a family thrust from nobility because of marriage to a commoner. The child of that marriage is Anna, who is raised to do nothing, as her father believes their status will be restored. When Anna falls in love with her cousin, the cruelty continues. Of course he can’t marry her; she’s not worthy. Anna instead marries a poor scholar who adores her; the novel is narrated by their child. There’s drama on every page. If you need a long book for a long journey, consider this, newly translated by Jenny McPhee. When everyone else on my trip needed a read, I was still happy with mine. 

Spain! We began in Madrid, which looks a lot spiffier than the last time I visited, in the uncertain years after Franco died, in 1975. Now Madrid is a vibrant, sparkling big city. We enjoyed exploring its medieval neighborhood, called the Hapsburg Quarter. This was our first example of what we saw throughout Spain: preservation beside modernity. 

A day trip to 2,000 year old Toledo (Romans, Visigoths, and so on) included a stop at a studio that produces damasquinado, the Moorish art of laying gold or silver in black steel. I have two pairs of earrings, from my mother’s collection, of such jewelry. It was a treat to see a craftsman at work, and to think of my grandparents buying those earrings for my mom, probably in the 1950’s. 

On to Cordoba, for the mind-blowing Mosque Cathedral. Its history is head spinning and the structure is difficult to fathom.

In Seville, we visited another cathedral distinctive for its size — the largest Gothic structure in the world — and for its gold nave. 

Granada is home to Alhambra, perhaps the most romantic fortress ever constructed, in the mid 13th century by the Muslim king Mohammed ibn Yusuf Ben Nasr. Of course it changed hands, as things did in Spain, and became the palace of King Carlos V in 1492. Of interest: the American diplomat and author Washington Irving stayed at Alhambra in 1829 and advocated for its preservation. 

Valencia is both old and new, with a stunning plaza created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its shallow pools are deeply calming. 

Barcelona was our favorite place. Harry and I agreed that it was the one city we would gladly live in. It is endlessly interesting, sophisticated, worldly. We marveled at the work of Antoni Gaudi, seen in houses and apartment buildings and parks and at his great masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia cathedral. We savored our visit to the Picasso Museum, especially for his deconstruction of Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,” which we had seen at the Prado Museum in Madrid. We dined at La Balabusta, which serves Mediterranean food in the style of Ottolenghi. (The meat eaters weren’t as happy as I.)

A note to vegetarians like me: breakfast at all the hotels had plenty of options. Lunch was easy, too: tapas or a sandwich sin jamon. Dinner was trickier. Many restaurant menus had no vegetarian dishes, and I don’t like eating salad for dinner. Harry, fluent in Spanish, would explain my situation. Each time, they would serve me a platter of delicious, seasonal roasted vegetables — artichokes and peppers and asparagus — that made me the envy of the table. 

We stopped in quiet Girona, a medieval town featured in Game of Thrones. 

On the Costa Brava, we stayed at Park Hotel San Jorge and hiked the region’s gorgeous seaside path. 

We visited Figueres for Salvador Dali’s museum, which gave me a new appreciation for his work.

Our last stop was medieval Besalu. 

This is a long post but I can’t say enough about this marvelous country and its people. Each city and town and museum and cathedral deserves its own post. If you want more information about any of these places, email me. 

We’ll be back. And when we go, I’ll bring another doorstopper. 

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