Monday 18 May 2009

The Reading Pod Traveller

Gak! Just when I thought I could fling off all my clothes and leap about in floaty-light African cotton, it’s another gloomy, grey Tupperware Day here on the Mud Bank. Ah well, rather than whinge or whine or shriek or sob or go to bed and waste away and blame Guy for being English and wanting to experience at least a portion of his adult life in his own country, I will fire up my Reading Pod and take off around the world. I thought it would be fun to hop over to Europe first to sample the delights and food of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. These are all books that could be kept on a bedside table, or next to your comfiest chair and dipped into again and again. Please join me on the Pod if you’d like to – you’d be most welcome.

We’ll let’s start off in Spain, a country as close to my beloved Africa as you can get in Europe. Elizabeth Luard is the best possible person to introduce us to a lively, spicy slice of Spanish omelette in her hootingly funny, deeply poignant and endearingly eccentric memoir,
Family Life:Birth, Death and the Whole Damn Thing Although it starts off in England and ends back in that country with an interlude in France, the Spanish chapters are the warm heart of the book. The prose is dreamy, her line drawings a delight and the recipes increasingly resourceful. There are moments of hilarity, but these are tempered later in the book with Luard’s haunting account of her daughter’s death from AIDS. Certainly a book to treasure and return to time and again.

If you like to travel – and read - in short bursts, it would be hard to beat editor Lucy McCauley’s anthology of travel writing.
Spain : True Stories - Travelers’ Tales gathers its stories and journalism from writers over the last fifteen years. Authors include such luminaries as Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Barbara Kingsolver, Colm Tóibín and Louis de Bernières, whose ‘Seeing Red’ on the tomato-throwing festival of Bunol is hugely entertaining.

Norman Lewis is surely one of the unsung literary heroes of the 20th Century. More than half of his work is fiction but, among his devoted followers, it is travel and memoir that place him in the first rank. My favourite is
Voices Of The Old Sea about three post-war summers he spent in the remote fishing village of Farol, on what is now the Costa Brava. He documents without sentimentality the gradual decline and destruction of traditional ways of life under pressure from the arrival of mass tourism and environmental decay. The way of life of the people and their beliefs is so extraordinary you may find it hard to believe they lived on the same planet we inhabit today.

Where to next? A soupçon of France, perhaps? Then
Hot Sun, Cool Shadow : Savouring the Food, History and Mystery of the Languedoc by Angela Murrills and her husband, the artist Peter Matthews, is your book. It was more than a decade ago that their love affair with the Languedoc region of southern France began. One of Europe's oldest and most historic regions, it is rich with wonders including fairytale castles, wild white horses, Roman ruins, and Carcassonne, Europe's greatest fortified town. What really drew them to this area, however, was the locals' love of food and wine. As their visits to the region became longer, and their dream of owning a home intensify, they begin to discover another way of living - a slow paced existence based on gastronomic pleasure and the really important things in life - hunting for mushrooms, morning trips to the bakery, long lunches, and heated debates about the best way to make cassoulet. They discover ancient houses, take in the scenery that inspired artists like Henry Matisse, retrace the steps of Toulouse-Lautrec, and recreate typical dishes of the region; finally settling themselves in this staunchly independent agricultural region, where life moves slowly under the mellow sun. Fortified by mouth-watering recipes and gorgeous illustrations, Murrills’ gentle prose pays homage to the connection between the history, the food, and the people of the Languedoc.

It has to be Italy next, wouldn’t you agree? Are you an obsessive romantic? Well then, you simply must meet Lisa St Aubin de Teran. She takes us to Villa Orsola, deep in the Umbrian hills in her memorable account of refurbishing a palazzo in ruins in
A Valley In Italy. As the palazzo - with its loggia, noble balustrades, numberless rooms and urgently necessary plumbing - emerges proudly from the ruins, the book's spell begins to have its effect. The signora may be the umpteenth expatriate to describe a grape harvest but she does it beautifully. The fact is that the sheer enthusiasm of this unconventional enterprise finally gets to you. By the time her runaway imagination is converting a few pots of struggling lilies into fields full of fragrantly waving cash crop it is hard to stop yourself thinking this a jolly sensible idea. A Valley In Italy is a book you should read curled up in a comfy armchair with a glass of delicious, full bodied, garnet red Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. You’ll savour both, I promise!

Should we zip over to Portugal now? This land of bay leaves, baccalah and piri piri has stretched out her roots all over the globe. My first taste of Portugal was as a child. Not Portugal proper, but pretty close to the real thing, except with an African flavour. Every year, until things got horrid, we’d go to Mozambique, and in particular Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo), for school holidays. I can still remember the exotic foreignness of that city - the bustling markets, the striking colonial architecture, the tree-lined streets, the gloriously colourful houses and the cafes spilling out on to mosaic pavements. It was there, at one of those outdoor cafes where I had my first encounter with Portugal’s fiery piri-piri sauce. It took the ordinary prawn to volcanic heights and set my taste-buds jangling wildly.

Feeling hungry? Let’s journey to the mother country in Tessa Kiros’
Piri Piri Starfish : Portugal Found. “When she takes her family to live and travel in Portugal, she is captivated by the country and charmed by the old-fashioned way of doing things. Portugal has everything she loves - the markets, the sea, the beautiful old poussadas and, most especially, the food.”

Tessa draws the reader into a kitchen where traditional culinary methods have been handed down generation-to-generation, shared and refined with the help of family and friends who have watched, chopped, stirred and tasted. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what makes the understated peasant food of Portugal so beguilingly delicious and distinct from the cuisine of its near neighbours – I guess you just have to experience it.

Rather than risk you all going squiffy-eyed and dizzy over too many books, I’ll leave you with those until the next time I fire up the Pod when maybe we’ll travel even further afield. Until then, I do hope you enjoyed this journey


Elizabeth said...

Tessa, a splendid post.
I love going to visit places in books almost as much as I do in real life.
I know Lisa St,Aubun de Teran's earlier books and look forward to reading this one.
I just got a Kindle thing as a present and now can get books delivered without leaving the house.
Two super books about Morocco are The Caliphs's House
by Tahir Shah and
A year in Marrakech by Peter Mayne.
I'm currently writing a Morocco one - like lots of other people, I'm sure.

Delwyn said...

What wonderful recommendations thank you Tessa.

I'd like to add the books of Marlena de Blasi - starting with 1000 days in Venice , moving down to Tuscan Secrets, An Unbrian Love Story and A taste of Sthn Italy - all very edible!

Happy Days

pink dogwood said...

omg, I love this post. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I say that your blog enriches my life in so many ways :)

Anna Lefler said...

Awesome! Love the reading pod!

Thanks for the lovely journey and hope all is well with you...



karen said...

There is always so much to look at and absorb in your blog posts. I absolutely love the illustration today, and the virtual travel-pod and lovely pics! x

Jinksy said...

Think I have jet lag from so much travelling in one afternoon...

Yoli said...

Oh thank you dear Tessa for taking us along!!! What a lovely post! I love the image of the zebra!

Irene said...

You certainly made me very curious, as these are the very books I enjoy reading the most. I absolutely love reading about other people's adventures in other countries, being sort of a home body myself. So, you see, I have to live vicariously through them and pretend I'm there with them, but I have a large imagination. I'll have to put these books on my reading wish list, which is getting longer by the week. There is not enough time to read them all, woe is me.

JuneMoonToon said...

Very much enjoying the reviews and the art. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

With this wonderful post, you remind me what I love so about Europe, what I have been missing and the timing not altogether off the mark.

Great books all of them I'm sure. I have added them to my list.

Carah Boden said...

Fantastic selection. Thank you. France, Italy, Portugal, Spain...some of my favourite places - and all of which I'd rather live in than this rain sodden, wind-blown isle (and I'm in the north-west, where it's even worse!). I totally empathise with you - curses to the damn husbands!

Had a look at your art website - fabulous. Amazing colours and images. Oh to have such talent. And fantastic on a grey dull day like today to have the imprint on my retinas!

Holly said...

This was lovely! Thanks, Tessa. Having just returned from the West Indies, I feel as if my wanderlust has been attended to for a bit, but when it's nagging at me again, I'll certainly keep these in mind.

Grace Albaugh said...

Oh you are a dear! Thanks for the great reading list. I can hardly wait to get started.

Rosaria Williams said...

I'm curious and excited about these trips, mouthful and eyeful of wonderments. Lovely. More, please...

Eleonora Baldwin said...

I am in love with the African version of "cow jumping over the moon"! How clever. Actually one of my favorites so far (may I swipe it and display it on my blog like it were an art gallery?)

This is truly a magnificent post.
I love visiting places recounted in books. I take the books with me on the journeys and get a double bonus literary perk.

Ciao classy lady

Caroline said...

Oh, thank you Tessa for this delightful post! I absolutely adore Spain - in fact will be going next month to explore again. I've lived in many countries around the world but haven't yet visited Italy or Portugal - your photos are wonderful - that lime green wall with pink frame is my absolute favourite - it positively zings! I can't wait to get to the bookshop to look out for some of your recommendations too! Oh and last, but not least, love your quirky painting of the zebra jumping over the moon. What a talented lady you are!!

sallymandy said...

Tessa, you put so much energy and enthusiasm into this travelogue/book review! A pleasure to read; lovely pictures; and now I want to visit every place. Thank you for writing this for your readers. You're very generous! xo, sallymandy

A Cuban In London said...

Oh, my God!! If the price we have to pay for the weather earlier this week is posts like these, bring rain and thunderstorms, please. Preferably on a postcard from souther Spain or France. I absolutely loved this outing, definitely one of those reads that is as magical as it is concise, punchy, carefree and entertaining.

There's rain forecast for Sunday. Maybe we could have a sequel ;-)?

Greetings from London.

Renee said...

Tessa what an outstanding post. I totally went away with you.

I have to say the pictures were all so beautiful. My particular favourite was the zebra in the sky.

Love Renee xoxo

Debra Keirce said...

Alluring, amusing, bewitching, impressive and inspiring! You definitely deserve the award I've bestowed upon you! Come to my blog to pick up your "Splash" award when you get the chance!

JuneMoonToon said...

Tessa, I so don't know what I'm doing in this bloggin' world, but there's an award for you over here --

Sarah Laurence said...

You always bring sunshine and moonlight to my day. That field of poppies is just gorgeous! I enjoyed this virtual trip very much, thank you.

Polly said...

Thanks so much for these recommendations! I love travel writing and reading about experiences of those who tried to build their lives in other countries, and especially those countries that you mentioned. I absolutely love Italy and loved reading Under the Tuscan Sun even though it's a little too popular and the film was awful!

I'm going to read that French book you recommend.

Bee said...

There are almost too many good things in this post! I've only read the Luard memoir, so lots of good recommendations. Your pictures are all wonderful . . . but I especially love your very own illustration. So magical.

(As for the weekend weather, wasn't it awful? I hate that combination of rain and whipping wind.)