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Old 15th September 2008, 10:21 AM   #1
Tita
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Hi foreros and foreras,

I am very interested in travel writing as a way to discuss issues of intercultural communication and learning about other cultures. I teach Spanish in the UK, and have used the books by Chris Stewart with my students (particularly Driving over Lemons) as a way to prompt a discussion around that area, as many students are familiar with the author and his books, or at least with the genre. I really liked the interview with Chris that Ben did for one of his podcasts, by the way.

As quite a few members of the group seem to have a lot of experience of living in Spain, I would like to know your take on some of the issues that the books bring up.

Ben has invited me to make use of the forum in order to find out more, so over the next few weeks I hope you can join me in a conversation about living in Spain and the intercultural issues it raises for you. I would like to use some extracts from Chris Stewart's books to start off the discussion, so every few days I will be posting a short extract from one of his books to get us started.

I thought you might want to know what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it... I am a lecturer in Spanish at the Open University in sunny Milton Keynes , and I am really interested in the area of intercultural communication. I was born and brought up in Madrid, my mother is Spanish and my father English, and have always lived across those two settings and cultures... which is probably where my interest in intercultural stuff comes from! What I would like to do here is to learn about your take on some of these issues around intercultural competence, and use this as the basis for a paper I am writing for the next IALIC (International Association of Language and Intercultural Communication) conference, which takes place in Glasgow this autumn. I will also write the paper up as a research article to be published in a relevant academic journal.

I realise some of you might be a bit nervous about such a project, so I would like to stress that although I may refer to or quote extracts from the contributions to the discussion, I will do this anonymously,
abiding by the BERA ethical guidelines for research.If you want to take part in the forum discussion but don't want any of your contributions to be part of the research, just let me know, and I won't include any of your contributions in my work. I will also be very happy to let you have a copy of whatever I write, and of course your feedback on this will also be really welcome.

To start with, have any of you read Chris Stewart's Driving over Lemons, any other of his books, or any other travel writing on Spain that you would like to recommend to others in the forum?
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Old 15th September 2008, 11:43 AM   #2
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To start with, have any of you read Chris Stewart's Driving over Lemons, any other of his books, or any other travel writing on Spain that you would like to recommend to others in the forum?

Welcome Tita! OU Diploma in Spanish is one of the best courses I have ever done- congratulations! [it is a pity that there is no more advanced follow-on.]

Chris Stewart's "Driving over Lemons" is probably one of the best (and his best) books in the "aren't the Spanish and the Spanish culture strange?" genre that has spawned over the last few years. Some are almost "colonial" in approach!.

A few are good, some are reasonable, many are dire. The more you know about Spain and the Spanish (my specialties are al-Andalus, Lorca and the Civil War) the more some of these offerings appear to be implicitly patronising and trite. In fact, many in the sub-genre "I bought a run-down finca in the wilds of Spain" are so badly written they appear to be the result of somebody unwisely saying to the "author" that they should write a book about their experiences.


I have a good selection of travel books about Spain (ancient and modern) and will dig them out to provide a bibliography, adding my subjective assessments of each.

The discussion should be interesting!

Last edited by Juanjo; 15th September 2008 at 11:45 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 15th September 2008, 01:26 PM   #3
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Hi Tita

I read "Driving Over Lemons" back in 2000 (while living in the UK) because it was given to me as a present. I thought the book was a good read, but nothing more. I probably would have forgotten about it if it wasn't for the fact that I happened to do a 2 week Spanish course in Granada later on that year, and then move to Madrid a few years after that.

The book did not directly motivate me to go to Spain in any way, however the fact that I did end up in Spain probably means that the book has stuck in my mind more that it would have otherwise done so. I have to admit that I am not an avid reader of that kind of book anyway.

I also read a bit of Giles Tremlett's "Ghosts Of Spain" but left it in the UK by mistake. I generally feel awkward reading those psuedo-journalistic books because they seem like a good excuse to make certain big claims without having to back them up with thorough evidence, citations, academic peer review, etc.

BTW I studied the OU course "Viento en Popa" last year and really enjoyed it.
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Old 15th September 2008, 02:14 PM   #4
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Welcome Tita
I've read several of Chris's books and thoroughly enjoyed them but haven't really got any message from them about inter-cultural differences other than that they exist and you have to adapt. They've been recycled through the charity stall but I have read and kept:
"The Ghosts of Spain" - Giles Tremlett (Faber & Faber),
"The New Spaniards" - John Hooper (Penguin Books).
Both of these explain rather than comment on the way Spain has evolved and I still re-read parts of them from time to time.

As far as living in Spain as a foreigner goes, I'd say the communication problem is much more than just language. I live in a smallish town and don't think I'll ever integrate to any degree as the activities going on are not that appealing to me. Most are associated with the Church or culture in areas that don't interest me. I'd probably have the same problem in the UK so it's more about me than local culture I guess. Had I been associated with a Spanish family I'd probably have been roped in to some of them, who knows!
I'm also not into big gatherings of people drinking and making a lot of noise and mess, so the fiestas are not what keeps me here either.
That said there are enough aspects of Spanish life that I do find different and agreeable so I'm still here after 6.5 years.

Good luck with the project. I still have fond memories of several years hard work with the OU to obtain a BSC, it certainly was not the easy option & took some fitting in with project work in Scotland and Norway.
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Old 15th September 2008, 02:33 PM   #5
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Does one need to be resident in Spain to take part?
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Old 15th September 2008, 03:39 PM   #6
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i can talk to you about my experience during a full year in bournemouth, england. I lived with german, arabs, asians, and europeans. the intercultural exchange was very extrange to me, because we were going with mixed nationalities, there was no groups with each nationality, i feel very confortable with korean people. I had more friendship with germans and koreans than with spaniards

My first day in england was very extrange, because i called my hostmother the day before, she was an elderly woman, we talked that she and my hostsister elisa would be waiting for me to have dinner. But i was very tired because of the plain and the coach, and i fancyed go to have a beer with my spanish friend. She was very angry and she wanted me to go to another home, i told her sorry many times, but until one week after she was not very happy with me at their house and i think she never forgive me what i did the first night.


to be continued
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Old 15th September 2008, 03:48 PM   #7
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Travel writing very rarely interests me. It was not stories of Spain that brought me here, although I have read, and even (perversely!) written a few articles since living here. Airline magazines with their "Destination of the Month" are something I tend to avoid, as too the Travel section of the Sunday supplements.
However, I have read Chris Stewarts books and enjoyed them as when I lived in France I read and enjoyed Peter Mayle's books on life in Provence. But it was more with a sense of nodding agreement as I too experienced the frustrations that both of those authors were recounting. Not as a way of living vicariously through them. Perhaps the only travel book of a country I have not yet visited was "Around Ireland with a Fridge", by Tony Hawks, but that was because someone lent it to me and told me it was a good read. I wouldn't have bought it myself.
Giles Trimlett's "Ghosts of Spain" and John Hooper's "The New Spaniards" I have read (and enjoyed) almost out of a sense of duty to help me understand the country in which I now live. But mostly I explore the cultural byways of Spain in the company of natives, particularly with my girlfriend who as a teacher has taken as her life's work the education of an ignorant guiri.
However, the books, newspapers and TV news programs do help me hold up my side of any discussion about this fascinating country and do answer questions that I am still too ignorant to ask. So maybe I should read more of them.
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Old 15th September 2008, 06:34 PM   #8
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Old 15th September 2008, 06:43 PM   #9
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Hi foreros and foreras,

I am very interested in travel writing as a way to discuss issues of intercultural communication and learning about other cultures. I teach Spanish in the UK, and have used the books by Chris Stewart with my students (particularly Driving over Lemons) as a way to prompt a discussion around that area, as many students are familiar with the author and his books, or at least with the genre. I really liked the interview with Chris that Ben did for one of his podcasts, by the way....
To start with, have any of you read Chris Stewart's Driving over Lemons, any other of his books, or any other travel writing on Spain that you would like to recommend to others in the forum?
I'm afraid I see a slight terminology problem, here, which probably won't affect your thesis, but I feel I should mention it at this early stage. "Travel writing" means different things, particularly:
i) Writing about the experiences of particular journeys. This is the genre of Eric Newby, Colin Thubron, Bill Bryson, etc.
ii) Writing for people who intend or would like to travel. This is the kind of travel writing we see in Sunday newspaper supplements and magazines, destination guides, hotel/restaurant reviews, etc.

In the professional or semi-pro world of travel writing, the term "travel writing" alone generally refers to the second, more lucrative form. This kind of "travel writer" reserves the term "travel narrative" to refer to the kind of writing about journeys which laymen usually consider "travel writing."

Leaving this aside, and without having read the Chris Stewart books (I'm sure they are excellent, I have just never got round to them), if I understand their subject matter correctly, I don't see how they fit into any definition of travel writing, except incidentally. They may be about cultural encounters and misunderstandings, the kind of experience often associated with travel or journeys, but unless I am mistaken they are not about the journey itself, which I would have thought was indispensable. I expect their publisher doesn't mind them going on the "Travel" shelf of bookshops if they sell OK from there, but that doesn't make them travel writing.

In this sense, I'll mention "Spanish Steps" by Tim Moore (2002? 2003?). It's written in a humourous vein, was marketed to a large extent taking advantage of the "Driving Over Lemons" phenomenon, and is probably inferior as literature (at least, it sets my teeth on edge in places, though at least it is funny). But its theme - the author did the Camino de Santiago accompanied by a donkey - makes it unarguably Travel Writing.

The Camino is a natural subject for travel writing, because its unidirectional nature is matched by the life-changing effect it often has on people - quality travel narrative often involves a parallel inner journey or transformation. And Spanish travel writer Paco Nadal, an expert on the Camino, recently wrote something like this: "The Camino is best followed when you have reached a certain age, when you have suffered a loss or when your life is in crisis, and it is best walked alone."

In fact, if there is no inner journey, the result is likely to be pretty dull, lists of places, monuments, events and whatnot, when what is interesting is how the writer is affected by these things. That's one reason the young Eric Newby was a far better writer than the elderly one, even though his writing technique improved over time. By him and specifically about Spain, though, I only remember reading a fine chapter about the Easter processions in Seville in "On the Shores of the Mediterranean."

Laurie Lee's "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning," is a classic about Spain travel, and I think I have read it, but so many years ago that I can't really say more about it. Gerald Brennan and "South of Granada" should probably be mentioned as well, though it's not travel writing as such. In fact, Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia," probably includes more about journeys, not just the internal one of Orwell's disillusionment.

A recommendation: one of the most entertaining travel books about Spain I have read is "The Bible in Spain," by George Borrow, published in the middle of the nineteenth century. Borrow was an off-beat adventurer who became an agent for the (English) Bible Society, which sent him off to Spain to distribute the things among the supposedly heathen Spanish, who unsurprisingly threw him in gaol, from which Borrow stubbornly refused to be released until he received an official apology. He probably makes most of the stories up or at least distorts them to show himself in a good light, but even so the result is extraordinarly perceptive and amusing ("The Bible in Spain" was a bestseller at the time - I was amazed to find a copy at my mother's house which had belonged to my great-grandfather, probably even his father).

One travel classic I have occasionally looked for unsuccessfully is Richard Ford's "Handbook for Travellers to Spain," another nineteenth century publication, mostly because I have often seen it cited as a source of sensationalist distortion of the truth. There is a famous sentence from it, something like "A Spanish knife is for cutting bread and killing a man, and I advise my readers to have nothing to do with it."

Incidentally, Baedeker aside, travel writing seems to be something of a British genre, in its Travel Narrative form, at least. So one interesting question might be why - is it because the British make better or more prolific travel writers, or is it because we are more enthusiastic consumers of the genre?
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Old 15th September 2008, 09:32 PM   #10
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Ben, you should fire the camera operator for interrupting you like that

Just checked my copy of New Spaniards and it was indeed updated in 2006 - definitely worth a read.
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Old 15th September 2008, 09:49 PM   #11
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JohnRoss, did you know that Chrome is advising against visiting your site?
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Old 16th September 2008, 11:37 AM   #12
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I have a good selection of travel books about Spain (ancient and modern) and will dig them out to provide a bibliography, adding my subjective assessments of each. The discussion should be interesting!
Here is the bibliography promised. Please note my comments are very subjective: other readers will probably disagree with some of them.









Tales from the Alhambra, WashingtonIrving, 1830,
Romantic Moorish stories and myths

Gatherings from Spain, Richard Ford, 1846,
English romantic writer -historical interest only

Viaje a España, Théophile Gautier, 1850,
Spanish translation of French Romantic writer- historical interest only

Marching Spain, V.S. Pritchett, 1928,
First-class writer, good observations

The Face of Spain, Gerald Brenan, 1950,
Seminal study of Spain in the 20s and 30s

The People of the Sierra, Julian Pitt-Rivers, 1954,
Excellent seminal study of Grázalema in Franco's time

South from Granada, Gerald Brenan, 1957,
One of the seminal studies of Spain

Spain, Jan Morris, 1987,
Good travel writer- book a bit dated by now
.
A Guide to Andalusia, Michael Jacobs, 1990,
Excellent historical travelogue

Lorca's Granada, Ian Gibson, 1992,
Indispensable for lorquistas- boring for others

Culture Shock-Spain, Marie Louise Graff, 1992,
Good intro to Spanish culture

A Literary Companion-Spain, Jimmy Burns, 1994,
Reasonable- not great.

Between hopes and memories, Michael Jacobs, 1994,
Very good historical travelogue

The New Spaniards, John Hooper, 1995,
Good overview of modern Spain

A Traveller's History of Spain, Juan Lalaguna, 1996,
Good historical survey linked to places
.
Spanish Hours, Simon Courtauld, 1996,
Literary travelogue- reasonable but not great

Roads to Santiago, Cees Nooteboom, 1997,
One of the better "Camino" books

The Factory of Light, Michael Jacobs, 2003,
Well written book about everyday life in a Spanish village

The Alhambra, Robert Irwin, 2004,
Well researched, excellent counterpoint to Washington Irvine

Duende, Jason Webster, 2004,
Lightweight but knowledgeable pursuit of flamenco

Ghost of Spain, Giles Tremlett, 2006,
Excellent up-to-date overview of Spain and its phantoms

¡Guerra!, Jason Webster, 2007,
Lightweight record of Civil War, narrowly missed wastepaper bin.

To these should be added:

Iberia, (2 vols) James Michener (mid-60s)
First-class description of Spain and its people

As I walked out one Midsummer morning, Laurie Lee, 1969
A great read by a skilled writer (and poet) that has met much criticism over the years.

A Moment of War, Laurie Lee, 1991
Another good read, again much criticised that it did not represent reality.

[And of course there are many,many others trying and failing abysmally to emulate Chris Stewart’s excellent first book-Driving over Lemons- (his later ones were IMHO repetitive and not as good). These normally hit the wall on their way to the wastepaper basket when I got frustrated either with incorrect information, patronising tone or just plain bad writing!].
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Old 16th September 2008, 02:29 PM   #13
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And then there's "Fabled Shore"- from the Pyrenees to Portugal by Rose Macaulay - published in 1949 and beautifully written.
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Old 16th September 2008, 03:05 PM   #14
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Thanks for the recommendations. You just made my Christmas list for me.
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Old 16th September 2008, 03:43 PM   #15
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Thanks, Graham. Please see PM.
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Old 16th September 2008, 07:55 PM   #16
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Ok I just bought the New Spaniards from amazon.com
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Old 17th September 2008, 09:57 PM   #17
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Does one need to be resident in Spain to take part?
No, of course not!
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Old 19th September 2008, 01:04 AM   #18
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John Ross: Ford's Handbook can be found, for example here, but you'll need a few pesetas to spare. I haven't read it through, but it's not all as blood and thunder as your quote suggests. It's really the book about Spain that led to all the thousands of others that have come since, and it should definitely be on Juanjo's impressive list! Also I'd like to add Elizabeth Nash's two books, in Signal's "Cities of the Imagination" series, on Madrid and Seville. They're not really "I was there" travel, but they go more deeply into the cities than most other stuff in English.
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Old 19th September 2008, 11:35 AM   #19
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John Ross: Ford's Handbook can be found, for example here, but you'll need a few pesetas to spare. I haven't read it through, but it's not all as blood and thunder as your quote suggests. It's really the book about Spain that led to all the thousands of others that have come since, and it should definitely be on Juanjo's impressive list!


Quite right! [In 1845 published his Handbook for Travelers in Spain, in two volumes. A second edition (1847) was in one volume, and the material left out was published in Gatherings from Spain (1846).]

Also I'd like to add Elizabeth Nash's two books, in Signal's "Cities of the Imagination" series, on Madrid and Seville. They're not really "I was there" travel, but they go more deeply into the cities than most other stuff in English.
I agree entirely with freddy- Elisabeth Nash's "Madrid" and "Sevilla" are excellent, well written and informative and were missed out of my bibliography. [The series "Cities of the Imagination" also has good books on "Havana" and "Buenos Aires among others.]

I should also have added "Los Viejos Cafés de Madrid"(2003) by Ángel del Río López which gives an excellent well researched view of the capital´s café society in the 19th and early 20th centuries, whose tertulias often formed the basis of artistic, literary and political movements.
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Old 19th September 2008, 12:02 PM   #20
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Hola again,

I've been lurking over the last few days, and I'm delighted to see so many different responses to my posting, and of course, it's always great to hear from OU-ers past and present (Juanjo, Legazpi, Greytop, and others).

Juanjo started off by making the point that Chris Stewart's Driving over Lemons belongs to that "aren't the Spanish and the Spanish culture strange?" genre, and there is indeed a lot of that in his books. Juanjo points out that some of these books are "almost "colonial" in approach!", and my students have also talked about this issue, and were a little irritated by various episodes in the book that present Spain as a slightly backward place, and where the author appears to be rather patronising... Perhaps we can come back to that later...

Richardksa points out that he isn't particularly interested in travel writing, but has "read and even (perversely!) written a few articles since living here." I have to say that struck a chord with me, as I don't particularly like travel writing either, and tend to find it rather irritating, although I am (perversely too!) drawn to it for my research. I liked the way Richardksa puts it, that we might read these books "more with a sense of nodding agreement as I too experienced the frustrations that both of those authors were recounting. Not as a way of living vicariously through them."

But I have a feeling that a lot of people do live vicariously thought them, and through the very popular TV programmes on living abroad that are constantly on TV. Not sure if you´ve seen any of these, or what your thoughts are about this, but currently for instance on British TV there are two on, one about a family living in Italy, and another about a guy who´s started a vineyard in France, and I wonder what the attraction is for viewers... any thoughts

I'm glad JohnRoss picked up on the terminology problem, and indeed I agree that the term travel writing doesn't really cover this, but I used it as shorthand. Settler narratives? Living abroad writing? None of them sound particularly catchy, so suggestions are welcome!
Interesting that this sort of book is under travel in bookshops, next to the travel guides etc, rather than under fiction (are they fiction?) or autobiography (!?).

Thanks to all of you who provided other titles. I have (perversely!) read quite a few of them, and several others (Ghosts of Spain, for instance) are waiting patiently on my bookshelf!. Richard Ford's Handbook of Travellers is absolutely superb - any my interest in all of this started when I read some of these 19th century books on Spain (including George Borrows The Bible in Spain too - I agree, JohnRoss, it's great fun!).

I suppose that one of the things that fascinated me is how so many of the more contemporary books on Spain (I mean these novels/living in Spain narratives and travel narratives) seem to just come up with some of the same clichés, tropes, "tópicos" or whatever you want to call them as the ones in some of these classics by Ford, Burrows, Laurie Lee, o Gerald Brennan. It´s as if it is difficult to write about Spain (or perhaps even to try to make sense of it) unless it's through the lens of these "tópicos"... which might bring us back to Juanjo´s point about some of these books being almost "colonial" in their approach...
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