Book: The Andalucía Guide, by Michael Jacobs. NEW, October 2013
Reading Michael Jacobs new book, published by Interlink Books makes me realize that I probably should not claim that I have been to Spain. Other than a short visit to Madrid, and drive through the Don Quixote La Mancha country, I only visited Andalucía.
Jacobs points out in the opening of The Andalucía Guide that eight generations of Moorish rule has left Andalucía more African than European, and totally different than the whole of Spain. It is an exotic region–not just in extravagant architecture and gardens, but also because its botanical and geological characteristics separate Andalucía from Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
I vividly remember passing through the Despeñaperros pass that separates northern from southern Spain, but at the time did not realize it has long been considered by travelers at the gateway to Paradise. In the midst of this dramatic twisting canyon, we stopped at a small restaurant/shop and bought Spanish cheese for picnics on our road trip explorations of Andalucía. Coming down from the mountain pass, you can suddenly see the glint of the sea. Somehow the landscape seems to come to life on the southern side of this great divide. (At the bottom of this piece, you can find a link to a You-Tube trip through the pass)
The other fact that did not occur to me when I traveled in southern Spain was how influential the literary and artistic Romantic era– in the second half of the 19th century– had been on my thinking about Spain. I have acknowledged here my debt to Washington Irving, one of the great popularizers of the romance of Moorish Spain. It was Irving who drew me like a magnet to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Jacobs says, “ Andalucía seems at times less of a real place than an invention of poets and story-tellers.” A theme that runs through this idiosyncratic Andalucía Guide is the impact of the romantic writers on the region.
Very individual in its choice of subjects and places, The Andalucía Guide‘s major divisions follow a rough chronological pattern. The author makes it clear that he has assembled a very personal selection rather than an making an attempt to cover everything. Interestingly, his focus seems to be strongly influenced by the romantics that he wants us to doubt. For instance, “Flamenco” and “Gypsies” and the “Moorish Age” each get a chapter and these are the three principal factors that delighted the romantics.
Throughout the book, the author quotes liberally from long-ago travelers who wrote about the region. The traveler who loves to read (that’s YOU, right?) will be delighted that so much attention is given to both Spanish and foreign writing about Andalucía.
The choice of subject matter of the few color photos, seeming almost an afterthought, further emphasize the author’s contention that our views of Spain are largely formed by the writings of the Romantics.
Some random tidbits from The Andalucía Guide that may be of practical use for travelers:
If you’re looking for Gypsies in their picturesque costumes, living in their caves–
Triana [a neighborhood of Seville] is no longer a gypsy suburb, and few gypsies remain in the Albaicín…those in Granada’s famous Sacromonte are now only used by the gypsies to put on tourist entertainments.
Beware of superstitions (shared by Andalucians and gypsies, it seems.)
The very mention of the word ‘snake’ is meant to bring on bad luck, and the only remedy is to shout afterwards, lagarto or ‘lizard.’
Every day I discovered new sources of bad luck, ranging from the c0lour yellow to a chance encounter with a funeral procession.
Jacobs is singularly unhelpful in answering the question he acknowledges that all tourists pose, “Where canthe ‘real flamenco’ be heard?” He says that fewer bars now have flamenco performances, because patrons want T.V. He suggests going to Peñas Flamencas–private clubs, but doesn’t give us a clue as to how to find them.
The chapter on food and drink warns you about the extremely late hours of dining in Seville and the south, later than any other part of Spain.
…it is not uncommon to have lunch as late as five in the afternoon or to dine at midnight. If you do insist on eating in a restaurant at times to which you have been used elsewhere in Europe, you will probably end up in the blandest of establishments. But you must also remember that Andalucians frequently forsake conventional meals altogether in favor of the tapa or bar-snack.
Ah, yes, I remember it well. We were roaming through one of the white villages that cling to a hillside in southern Spain and getting hungrier and hungrier as the time approached mid afternoon. No one stirred in the village–all taking a siesta. We finally found a bar that was open, and ate the tapas that they had available–delicious even if we had not been starving. However, one point that Jacobs does not mention is the Seville habit of standing at the bar for your drink, coffee, or even tapas. Rural areas are more relaxed, and you can sit at a table, but in Seville, a tired traveler’s tootsies will just have to put up with standing around until the approved dining hour of ten p.m. or later.
Jacobs agrees with the characterization of Sevillianos by English 19th-century writer Richard Ford.
One of the greatest promoters of Seville’s charms was Richard Ford, who was also one of the few people to write perceptively about its people, with their caustic humour, refusal to be hurried, and wild outbursts of child-like enthusiasm.
This book delighted me, and made me yearn to return to that “invention of poets and storytellers” that was so–yes, it was–romantic.
Finally, for those looking for the practicalities, about half The Andalucía Guide is devoted to describing specific towns. The appendix has a wealth of practical material, including vocabulary, time line and 23 pages of suggested additional reading. I have a few suggestions of my own below, but definitely not 23 pages.
What do you prefer in a guidebook? An encyclopedic “just the facts, ma’m” style, or the idiosyncratic choices of the author? Do you have a favorite guide to Spain?
MORE Andalucía Guide Information
For an up-to-date culinary tour of Seville and some gorgeous pictures, see this article by David Lebovitz.
To see what it is like to drive south through the Paso de Despenaperros, here’s a trucker in Spain on video. (Caution, if you suffer from car sickness, beware.)
You can see the my favorite books about Spain in this article.
The Andalucia Guide was provided to me by Interlink for review, however, they know that I will tell you what I honestly think. The highway photo is identified, and comes from Flickr. The others are my own. The first link to the book takes you to Amazon, because I am an Amazon affiliate and make a few cents off of each sale. However the 2nd link takes you to Interlink Books, so that you can buy form an Independent book seller.