Select one of the keywords
Spain in Mind: An Anthology    by Alice Leccese Powers order for
Spain in Mind
by Alice Leccese Powers
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2007 (2007)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Take a trip to the wonderful and historical country of Spain - not just in the present day but in past centuries - as seen through the eyes of such renowned writers as Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and many more. Presented in an almost pocket-sized paperback edition and edited by Alice Leccese Powers, whose previous In Mind series have been very popular, Spain in Mind is the ideal book for those thinking of visiting Spain, those who are traveling there, or those who wish to know more and want something easy and interesting to read. The beauty of a collection of travel stories is that they can be read over short periods of time. More than a travel book, this offers historical, political, critical, and anthropological insights into the country that more and more people visit every year.

Having just come back from a week's vacation in Spain on the Costa del Sol, this book was an ideal companion for the long plane ride over, and I was able to sample and experience many of the tastes and sights Spain has to offer according to Spain in Mind. (I was born in Spain and spent the first eighteen years of my life there, before coming to California.) Calvin Trillin writes at length and descriptively about the famous Spanish peppers known as pimientos de Padrón (his main reason to journey to Spain), and which he eats in vast amounts. Trillin has even tried growing the peppers in his native New Jersey, but so far has failed, and has to return to Spain often to satisfy his addiction. On one family get together, I was able to experience these pimientos and while I don't hold them in such high esteem as Trillin, it was wonderful to read about a famous dish and then be in Spain to try it for the first time.

Alice Leccese Powers starts the book with a comprehensive and enchanting introduction that brought back all the memories of Spain for me, and will serve as an excellent introductory course for those who've never been to Spain or simply don't know much about the culture. On the matter of the renowned Spanish siesta, Powers indicates that it is still very much alive in this dynamic and modern world: 'Although there are reports of the decline of the midday siesta because of the pressures of modern life – commuting, two-family households, a bustling economy – it is still difficult to find an open pharmacy in Madrid in the middle of the afternoon.' I can attest to this firsthand with regard not just to pharmacies, but to many different stores, even the parking! Between two and three in the afternoon, parking is free in my hometown of Fuengirola, presumably because the meter maids are taking their siesta.

Sadly, bullfighting is still very much alive in Spain, with colorful posters covering every bare space of public wall and the lionized torero or bullfighter shown in regal splendor. Hemingway's piece is about a long 1959 battle between two bullfighters who challenged each other to kill the most bulls. While it isn't my cup of tea, the writing is of course Hemingway: uniquely described with brevity and accuracy. Powers wonderfully balances this with a Henry James piece. The author has this to say on the subject of bullfighting: 'Yet I thought the bull, in any case, a finer fellow than any of his tormentors, and I thought his tormentors finer fellows than the spectators.'

George Orwell writes of the civil war and the part he played in it. Barbara Kingsolver writes about the unique flora, fauna and way of life on the Canary Islands. Chris Stewart, a one-time member of Genesis and now British expatriate, writes of living on a farm in Spain. There is even Rose Macaulay, traveling on her own by car in the 1940s – a rare thing – who does not seem to like Spain that much, choosing not to visit the tourist-clogged south, and voicing a distaste for many things; nevertheless providing a unique eyewitness account bursting with detail.

Powers balances the prose with quite a few poems from e. e. cummings, Billy Collins, W. H. Auden, John Dos Passos, Langston Hughes, and Andrew Marvell. While a map of the towns along with some photos would have enhanced the book, Spain in Mind is a wonderful mixture of material, covering three centuries, from very different writers moving to or visiting Spain for many different reasons. We see Spain through their eyes, and live Spain through their hearts.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Travel books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews