Ten years ago we read a book by Jan Morris – Venice – a love letter to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It’s all you need to know about the place. At the time of reading it seemed to be a contemporary book but was, in fact, written in 1960 – which shows how little Venice had changed over the decades.
Her book, Spain, written in 1964 but revised over the years, details a country much-changed since its first publication – the most obvious being the death of General Franco in 1975 where this book ends, as Morris says: ‘among the paraphernalia of parties, elections, strikes, protests and graffiti.’
Morris is an evocative writer and this book is a rich, poetic travelogue mixing history, personal observations, art and culture. Its chapters are themes rather than a chronological account: Wild Spain, Sol y Sombra (about Andalucia), The Soldiers – and Aliens. Cecilia Eales’s beautiful watercolours bring the book further to life.
The writer Gerald Brenan said it was ‘perhaps the best book ever written on Spain.’
Here’s a segment from the book:
‘You are seldom halfway in Spain. It is either fearfully hot or frightfully cold. You are either a good man or a bad one, either very rich or very poor, either a fanciful church-goer or an out-and-out disbeliever.
The light is brilliant, the atmosphere is preservative, the colours are vivid – so vivid, for all the vast monotony of the meseta, that sometimes this seems like a painted country, as the mauve and purple shadows shift across the hills, as the sun picks out a village here, a crag there, as the clouds idly scud across the candlewick landscape of olives or cork okas, and the red soil at your feet seems to smoulder in the heat.’
If any book about a country makes you want to leave for it the next day, this is it.
Sun and shade.
© con jamón 2013