Category Archives: Escape artists and Travelogues

The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society – Chris Stewart

Almond Blossom Appreciation SocietyDuring my first three years in Spain I read every book on the country that I could get my hands on. The travelogues that I most enjoyed came from a bygone era – Orwell’s outstanding Homage to Catalonia, the brilliant Voices of the Old Sea by Norman Lewis, to name two of my favourites. Apart from Duende (another great book, but is it all true?), the only contemporary book of this genre that I really enjoyed was Driving Over Lemons, by Chris Stewart, with its quiet and pleasant tales of setting up home and farm in Andalusia’s Alpujarra mountains.

Well, Chris Stewart is back, with part three, The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society. It’s much the same as the first two instalments, lots of amusing encounters with the locals, and local animals (in the first few chapters we cover dung-beetles, an escapee parrot, and the usual errant sheep), but if Chris Stewart is living your particular dream, then this book will be just as enthralling as the first two.

Personally, having been in Spain for a while, I now tend to judge contemporary Spain books on how much I can still learn from them about Spain, and on that count ABAS is doing pretty well. So far I have discovered that a Carmen (leafy enclosed patio in Granada) is only a Carmen if it has a view of the Alhambra, that the Moors would verbally threaten olive trees that produced no fruit, and that I must read more Michael Jacobs… Thanks Chris!

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Errant in Iberia

  This book covers my (Ben’s) first three years in Spain, from my reasons for escaping the UK, to how I met Marina, and a few other ‘intercambios’ along the way, and the first journeys to unknown corners of the country.
Discover wild fiestas, strange confrontations with Spanish culture and family life, the renovation of a decrepit flat in Madrid’s old quarter, and an intimate portrait of Lavapies, a traditional inner city ‘Barrio’.
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Duende – a journey into Flamenco

  Jason Webster moves from academic Oxford to Alicante to learn Flamenco guitar, sleeps with his boss’s wife, commits car-crime with gypsies in Madrid, then goes cold-turkey in Granada. Don’t believe the bad reviews, whether the content is all true or not, it is almost impossible to put this book down. See also his follow-up, Andalus.
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Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia

  Chris Stewart really does live the broken-down-farmhouse dream. Lost in a river valley in rural Andalusia, he renovates his home with basic local materials, sheers sheep, and bemuses the bemusing locals. This book rightly deserved the huge success it enjoyed when first published in the UK, and marked something of a resurgence in ex-pats tales from Spain.
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As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

  No travel writer loved walking as much as Laurie Lee. With no Spanish and nothing to support him but his violin, Lee manages to cross Spain on foot, narrowly avoiding death from dehydration on the way. With Spain on the brink of war, he finds a country desperately clinging on to the last vestiges of stability. He finally ends up in a fishing village in Andalusia, where he too gets involved in the unfolding events. Beautiful descriptions of landscapes and lives told in Lee’s famous lyrical tones, and a journey we would all love to make. If you enjoy this, then don’t forget the sequel, A Moment of War.
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Voices of the Old Sea, Norman Lewis

  A classic work of anthropology by a classic travel writer. In the 1950’s the village of Farol in Catalonia is inhabited by leather-fearing fisherman and stray cats. Life centres around a feud with the dog village, and worries about the non-arrival of the tuna shoals. Then a black-marketeer arrives with designs on bringing tourism to the doomed beaches of Farol, and a thousand years of subsistence fishing are wiped out in a flash. It’s just lucky that Lewis produced this vivid documentary before it was too late.
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Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain.

  Having settled in Valencia with his Flamenco dancer wife, Jason Webster sets out on a treasure hunt – to discover the legacy of the Moors in Spain. With his Moroccan friend Zine (who he apparently finds working as a modern day slave in Almeria), Webster criss-crosses Spain picking up fascinating evidence of what survives of a magnificent civilisation that was kicked out of Spain around six centuries ago. Meanwhile, his companion, Zine, picks up other things of interest, that land both of them in an STD clinic in Seville… An entertaining and informative take on all things Moorish. Don’t miss out on his other book, Duende, as well.
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