A Book with a History

The book is green with golden letters, cloth bound. Sunlight faded the spine into autumnal yellow so that you can no longer make out the title and the author very well. When you open it, the yellowed pages rustle, feeling slightly stiff to the fingers. The title page is followed by the picture of the author printed on smooth, glossy paper that contrasts with the coarser pages that follow it. I turn the pages and think: they don’t make books like this anymore.

And then there’s the way it smells. The smell of decades which lingers on  your fingers even after you put the book down.

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Time and Chance Happens to Them All

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, a novel about the 18th century collapse of a bridge in Peru in which five people were killed, is neatly bracketed by the opening and the closing chapters titled, respectively, Perhaps an Accident and Perhaps an Intention. The titles refer to the question that the Franciscan monk who witnessed the disaster was wrestling with: why did those particular five die? Brother Juniper expanded a great amount of effort and energy in trying to find the answer (but if you want to know what he came up with, you’ll have to read the book).

Vanitas (Adriaan Coorte) Photo by zullie via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA 2.0]
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Clase de literatura (Literature Class)

Scroll down the page to read this in English

Acabo de volver del Instituto Cervantes de Londres – de mi primer clase de literatura en español. Esperaba que volvería a casa más sofisticada y con una experiencia de haber hablado en español mucho tiempo durante de las dos horas del clase sobre literatura, y bueno, quizá también con el título de un libro que tendré que empezar a leer para el próximo clase.

Que no.

Volví a casa con una fotocopia de los primeros treinta páginas de un libro argentino y el deseo de cambiar el curso. Si lo puedo, a esas alturas.

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Eight Catalan Surnames (Ocho Apellidos Catalanes)

Have you ever seen somebody from a distance and sussed their nationality at first glance, without even having heard them speak – because they looked so stereotypical?

(All right, excluding Japanese tourists.)

Well, we did, last Sunday.

¿Has visto alguna vez a alguien de la distancia y adivinado de dónde es, a la primera vista, sin que lo has oído hablar – porque se parecía tan estereotípico?

(Bueno, excluyendo a los turistas japoneses.)

Pues, eso es exactamente lo que nos pasó el domingo pasado.

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Westminster

Overheard outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday afternoon as I passed two middle aged women.

Oí esto fuera de las Casas del Parlamento ayer por la tarde cuando pasaba dos mujeres de mediana edad.

Woman 1: No, it happened on the bridge.
Woman 2 (animated): Oh right… shall we go and have a look?

Mujer 1: No, lo ocurrió en el puente.
Mujer 2 (animada): Vale… ¿Vamos a echar un vistazo entonces?

Well, that explains why the bridge was more full of pedestrians than ever.

Bien, eso explica por qué el puente tenía más peatones que nunca.

(So much for terrorism.)

(El fracaso del terrorismo.)

 

God’s Chosen People?

The other day, reading a history of Spain by Juan Eslava Galán, I came across the following paragraph:

Spain had become the defender of the honour of God. Theologians and thinkers (not so many of these latter) became convinced that Spain and God were united in a pact. God promoted Spain to the rank of the chosen people, protected her and granted her riches and power (the Americas) in exchange for which Spain acted as his armed arm on Earth, champion of the true faith against the error of the Protestants and the Turks.

España se había erigido en defensora del honor de Dios. Teólogos y pensadores (de estos hubo menos) llegaron al convencimiento de que España y Dios estaban unidos por un pacto. Dios la había promocionado al rango de pueblo elegido, la protegía y le otorgaba riquezas y poder (las Américas) a cambio de que ella ejerciese como su brazo armado en la Tierra, paladín de la fe verdadera contra el error de protestantes y turcos.

This notion of the pact with God and the chosen people put me strongly in mind of the Hun-Hungarian legends which I read as a child.

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Nine Quirky Facts (Nueve hechos raros)

Nine Quirky Facts I Read Last Year

Books are not merely a source of entertainment but also of knowledge… (today’s cliché). How many of the following nine facts do you know?

Nueve hechos raros que leí el año pasado

Los libros no son sencillamente una fuente de entretenimiento, pero también lo de conocimiento… (cliché de hoy). ¿Cuáles de los nueve hechos siguientes ya sabes?

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Last Year’s Best Reads? (Or Self-hosted vs Hosted)

In the past week I’ve been engaged in looking at my statistics… And since the blog moved from being self-hosted to wordpress.com during the year, I had to collate the statistics manually, a task during which I found myself evaluating the pros and cons of…

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Mediterranean Vote

Stuck indoors with Young Friend of the Elephants, who is engaged in the fifth labour of Hercules (cleaning the Augean Stables, aka her bedroom) so I thought I’ll take a look at the results of the Mediterranean Mondays vote: it was dismal. (Scroll down to see the results.) Political apathy I could understand but this apolitical apathy?

So I made you a slideshow:

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Click Here to Vote

The results so far:

Travel photos: 2
Bits of history: 2
Holiday destinations: 1 (the second one was me testing the poll)
Travel anecdotes: 1
Bits of poetry: 1

(A politician would have presented this in percentages to hide the fact that hardly any of you bothered to vote but I’m not a politician.)

Mediterranean Mondays

Much as I love the Mediterranean, in the past few months I found that I could do better things with my Sunday than writing blog posts. 🙂 This morning’s sunshine finally gave me the push to make up my mind that Sunday’s Miscellany will be moved to Mondays, when regardless of the weather, I’ll be stuck in an office all day anyhow and will want to cheer myself up with thoughts of sea and sun…

So I suppose we herewith rename the miscellany, to mark the change.

And while I’m making changes, I thought I’d invite your thoughts on what would you like to see more of in this feature about the Mediterranean? As it’s the only feature of the blog in which I’m committed to a publishing schedule, I still intend to keep it reasonably short but I think I might as well do away with the self-imposed 300 word limit (which I often failed to stay within anyhow).

You’re invited to vote on which of the topics we had in the last year you’d like to have more of – or let me know if there’s something new you’d like me to include – Spanish pop songs anybody? 🙂

In the meantime I’m off to enjoy the weather; you’ll get a dose of Mediterranean sunshine tomorrow. 🙂

Andalusian Slow-Roast Pork

Travelling educates your mind; and if you travel with Mr Anglo-Saxonist, it also educates your taste buds. He’s a great believer in eating the local food.

In ages bygone, after you returned from abroad, you could only eat exotic dishes again if you found a restaurant run by immigrants near your home. But one of three things you can thank the internet for is that you can now find recipes and source prime ingredients from just about anywhere in the world. (The other two are Project Gutenberg and my blog.)

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It’s Not Like Anybody’s Going to Read It

I’m only an accidental blogger: when I started, I didn’t even know that blog was short for web log or what a blog is actually for.

It all started during the summer holidays in 2015 when I had nothing better to do. Exactly one year ago today, in fact. Fed up with the way my family pulled faces at the dinner table whenever I tried to share my clever thoughts about books with them, I typed my latest earth-shattering insight into my husband’s website editor instead…

Pride and Prejudice… manages to be witty about something utterly mundane. Jane Austen is all about character observation and style. The plot is not important.

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How to Fail as a Blogger (In Five Easy Steps)

The other day I carelessly volunteered for  a guest post on Bloggers’ World and feeling that I ought to write something that might actually interests people there instead of boring them with my pet obsessions (such as Herodotus or the continuing Brexit wars), I hit upon the subject of blogging advice: How To Be A Successful Blogger. Between you and me (don’t whisper it outside these walls), I’m not qualified to give such advice; nevertheless, after a year of blogging I’m not entirely without expertise…

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Sea, Sailing, Sunset…

Okay, so it was a very hard week at work, in the evenings I was both tired & busy and I’ve done almost no blogging at all (although I did make some progress on a bilingual post with my first ever author interview)…

…I think it’s time to chill.

So that’s Malta over there on the starboard, people – taken from a sailing ship last autumn. If you consider this poor fare for a Sunday, more Malta stuff here, including a good book on Maltese history. 🙂 Happy Sunday!

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Spaniard’s Inn

Today’s miscellany is a swindle… because the Spaniard’s Inn is not actually anywhere near the Mediterranean! The Spaniard’s Inn, in fact, is a pub in Hampstead Heath in London. Although, clearly, Spaniards are involved – which is my excuse for writing about it here. (That, and that it was passable weather today and I went to Hampstead Heath.)

Sign_for_The_Spaniards_Inn,_1585_AD_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1131506.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia.

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I Read Therefore I Write

Herodotus wrote because he wanted to record the events of the recent past so that great deeds would not be forgotten. The Spanish conquistador, Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote because he was annoyed by what somebody else wrote about men he knew and fought with. García Lorca wrote because poetry bubbled up and out of him, like water from a fountain on some sun-drenched Plaza Mayor… and Hemingway, you suspect, wrote at least in part because through writing he could live the lives of men whose manliness, courage or sheer bloody-mindedness he admired.

P. G. Wodehouse wrote because it was better than working in a bank. (I’m all with him on that one.)

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Taking Myself Seriously

I decided to take myself seriously as a blogger from now on. (Well, somebody has to.) So I signed up for a basic photography course with the so-called Blogging University – those of you who live your lives on WordPress.com you know what I’m talking about, the rest of you, don’t waste your time looking it up.

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Chocolate con churros

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Chocolate con churros in the Chocoletaría San Ginés in Madrid. Photo by Chocoletaría San Ginés.

Chocolate con churros – hot chocolate with churros – is a Spanish breakfast treat. Churros are a doughnut-type pastry, deep fried and eaten dipped into thick chocolate. It was Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico who sent the first shipment of cocoa to Spain in 1524, and Spanish monks adapted the Mexican drink replacing the spices with honey, sugar and milk; the recipe was guarded by the crown as a state secret for over a century.

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Street Art in St Ursula Street Valletta

Saw this on the wall of one of the buildings in St Ursula Street, Valletta, Malta.

St Ursula Street – Triq Sant’ Orsla for those of you who speak Maltese 🙂 – is a narrow street with blocks of flats, running lenghtwise on the peninsula towards Fort St Elmo, and terminating in a row of steps at the opposite end leading up towards to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Auberge de Castille.

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Sephardi Orange Salad (Ensalada sefardi)

Our last trip to Spain took us to the Extremadura region in the west by the Portugal border where we based ourselves in its capital Mérida, in a flat opposite one of the aqueducts. If you ever want to take a photo of your offspring on a swing with a Roman aqueduct for backdrop – head for Mérida. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it boasts one of  the most impressive collection of Roman ruins that you can see outside Italy – not to mention other sights.

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The Pale Green Loeb Volume

Loeb Classics in Foyle’s – Greek is green, Latin is red – just like it used to be

Recently – as you might have noticed – I read the introduction to Ulysses Found by Ernle Bradford. (This sort of thing happens when you update your Amazon wish list for Christmas.) Now I’m not into the OdysseyI’m one of these people who prefer the Iliad. But I’m going to read Ulysses Found (just a subtle hint for family members in case they come passing this way), and maybe, who knows, it might lead onto greater things, like reading the Odyssey in full after all these years. Who knows, I might even end up liking it!

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Mediterranean Miscellany

I love the Mediterranean. Why is anybody’s guess, although sun, sea and history have all got to do with it. And languages.

And so here I’m introducing a short & lightweight Sunday feature that mostly will have very little to do with books: a collection of odds and ends, a miscellany of the Mediterranean. From travel photos to anecdotes to recipes  – I’ll be sharing anything and everything that evokes the Mediterranean landscape, people and their history. In no more than 300 words (a welcome relief to everyone).

So here’s to those unforgettable sunny days in the Med.

 

The Book I’ve Never Read

…nor am I like to, is Gambling: A Story of Triumph and Disaster by the former England captain of cricket, Mike Atherton. I feel slightly ashamed about not having read it because he scrawled a personal message inside for me: he said he was “really, really sorry” for what he’d done to me. Which was very handsome of him and I do appreciate it but as I have absolutely zero interest in the history of gambling, this is not going to make me read his book.
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The Lonely Reader’s Lament

I started book blogging because a really important (well, to me) idea would hit me during Sunday dinner and I would try to share it with the family… only to get this look of: “you’re not telling us something about Sophocles again!… surely?” Yes, I’m afraid I am. My family doesn’t share my more obscure tastes, such as Herodotus or Spanish literature… or Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langewiesche… or poetry… or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry… or… all right, they just don’t generally share my taste in reading. Full stop.
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You’ve Been 404’d!

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…”

Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus

Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished. Read it here:

Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

(It’s much better than it originally was.)