Unplanned Plans

I had started the year without any specific reading plans or lists because I knew I was not a good one for keeping to pre-planned plans when it comes to reading. I prefer to do my reading at whim.
So, I thought it was probably futile to have one and was not quite inspired to make any.
But then something changed.
And now, I think I do have one, and it’s one that I am quite excited about and feeling rather determined (or hopeful!) to see it through.

What happened was this.
I started an Instagram account sometime in December, after discovering the delights in being able to feast my eyes on a regular dose of book porn, through the various bookstagrammers’ feed out there. I was actually amazed to find that there are so many talented book lovers (cum photographers) out there who can effortlessly make books look so desirable as objects.
Creating the account was intended to mainly facilitate my ease of accessing to these feeds on a regular basis.
But when the new year started out on an unexpectedly rough note for me, I soon found myself in desperate need for a diversion of sorts.
As it happens, there was a book challenge hosted by some bookstagrammers that was taking place for the month, called the #AtoZbookchallenge, whereby one is to post a photo a day for each of the alphabets, relating to either book titles or themes or authors that goes with the particular alphabet each day.
Preferably, it should be books that are already on one’s existing physical TBR shelves.

I thought that sounded diverting enough.

And that’s how my unplanned reading plans came to be.
Here’s the A to Z of it.

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A¬†for Ali Smith, one of my favourite writers. I have been collecting a fair few of her works and reading my way through them over the last ten years. Still a couple of unread ones on the shelves, so I guess it’s high time I pick another.

 

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B for Bennett. Arnold Bennett’s masterpiece, ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’ has been sitting on my TBR shelves for long enough. Its time has come, I think.

 

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C for Charlie Connelly. Years ago, I was fascinated with Connelly’s idea for his two travel writing books – ‘And Did Those Feet: Walking Through 2000 Years of British And Irish History’, and ‘Attention All Shipping: A Journey Around The Shipping Forecast’. It’s strange how both these ‘fascinating’ books are still sitting unread on my shelves after all these years. :p

 

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D for Don Quixote. The sheer size of this tome is daunting for sure, but I really do want to have a go at it. Besides, I really love this Harper Perennial edition…. French flaps and deckled edges are my favourite combinations in a book. It also helps that Edith Grossman’s translation is so very readable (from the little that I’ve sampled).

 

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E for E. M. Forster. I had this packed along with me during my trip to Italy three years ago, thinking how good it would be to read this in Florence, where the book is set. Sadly, I ended up with not much reading done, but at least it was great fun setting up this shot with my friend at the hostel we were staying at, in Florence! ūüôā Time to take care of the ‘unfinished business’ this year.

 

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F for Father Brown. G. K. Chesterton’s endearing Father Brown makes for a rather unlikely, but certainly not unlikeable, mystery solving ‘Sherlock’. I love the cover designs and colours of this Penguin Classics set. Am actually in the middle of the red one, The Wisdom of Father Brown, and I can safely say that it’s as good as it looks!

 

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G for Geert Mak. ‘In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century’ is one of the books I am quite determined to get read this year. It’s an account about the year long journey Mak took back in 1999, across the European continent in his quest to trace Europe’s twentieth century history, before the world slipped into the twenty-first.

 

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H is for my favourite travel writer, H. V. Morton. Travel writing has always been one of my favourite genres, and not many can do it as good as Morton, I’d say. His writing is evocative of the old world charm and of a bygone era, brought vividly to life for the reader. It’s a pleasure to ‘see’ the world through his lenses.

 

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I is for ‘I Capture The Castle’. I have long heard of the many good things that fellow readers love about this coming of age modern classic, but have somehow still not gotten around to reading it for myself yet. It’s about time I ‘capture this castle’ too!

 

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J is for James. “When a man has neither wife nor mistress and leads a life which is both orderly and prudent, he does not invite the conventional biographical approach. Henry James was such a man. The richness of his life lies in his words and his relationships.” – Miranda Seymour. These lovely Konemann classics should be good enough incentive to finally get me started on some Henry James. Time to get acquainted with the man through his own words, as suggested.

 

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K is for Kate O’Brien. “O’Brien exquisitely evokes the harem atmosphere of (Irish) convent life, the beauty and the silence, the bickering and the cruelties…… If novels can be music, this is a novel with perfect pitch.” ~ Clare Boylan. Having loved Antonia White’s Frost in May (another coming of age novel with a convent school setting) when I read it some years back, I have been meaning to read O’Brien’s ‘The Land of Spices’ for some time now.

 

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L for The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart of Making, by master woodcarver, David Esterly. “Awestruck at the sight of a Grinling Gibbons woodcarving masterpiece in a London church, Esterly chose to dedicate his life to the craft – its physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands.” I have been saving this on the TBR shelves, waiting for just the right moment to savour the journey. I think I should wait no more.

 

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M for The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Having collected a fair few of the sisters’ (Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah) individual memoirs, biographies, correspondences and writings but without having read any in proper yet, maybe this would be a good place to start getting acquainted with this extraordinary family!

 

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N for Nabokov. I have decided that this will be the year I read my first Nabokov. And it’s gonna be a toss between The Luzhin Defense, and Pnin. Probbaly The Luzhin Defense….. am in the mood for some chess, I think. These Penguin Classics editions are my favourites. Such beauties to hold and behold, don’t you think?

 

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O is for Orlando. Once described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’, this was Virginia Woolf’s¬† playfully ingenious tribute to her intimate friend and one-time lover, Vita Sackville-West. This has been biding its time on my TBR shelves for some years now. Thanks to this challenge, some of my sadly neglected books are being brought back to the fore!

 

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P is for Pollan. Michael Pollan’s ‘A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams’ tells the inspiring, insightful, and often hilarious story of Pollan’s quest to realize a room of his own – a small, wooden hut in the forest, ‘a shelter for daydreams’ – built with his own admittedly unhandy hands. It not only explores the history and meaning of all human building, but also demonstrates architecture’s unique power to give our bodies, minds and dreams a home in the world….. Don’t we all need a place like that?

 

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Q is for Q’s Legacy, by Helene Hanff. After reading and loving Hanff’s 84, Charring Cross Road some years back, I immediately went about tracking down her other works too, and was more than happy to net this omnibus of hers which holds four of her other memoirs (as well as Charring Cross Road). Q’s Legacy tells of how a library copy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of lectures On The Art of Writing, became the foundation upon which her own writing career took shape. This is a tribute to her mentor whom she had never known except through the printed page.

 

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R for Rainer Maria Rilke. I was thrilled to find these two beautiful hardback Vitalis editions of Rilke’s work at what was once Kafka’s cottage but is now a books and souvenir shop along the Golden Lane in Prague, six years ago. I know I should have brought home a Kafka or two with me instead, but these happened to be in the bargain bin that day….. and I happen to prefer Rilke to Kafka, anyway. :p

 

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S is for Sarton and solitude. “May Sarton’s journal is not only rich in the love of nature, and the love of solitude. It is an honorable confession of the writer’s faults, fears, sadness and disappointments…. This is a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude.” ~ Eugenia Thornton. Solitude has always been a subject that is close to my heart. Can’t wait to read this.

 

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T is for A Treasury of Mark Twain. I found this lovely Folio edition in almost pristine condition at a second hand bookshop in Paris five years ago. I’m ashamed to confess that it’s still ‘almost pristine’, sitting patiently on the shelf waiting to be taken out of its slipcase to be read. Will need to rectify that soon!

 

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U is for Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 – 1939. The seven pairs featured in this volume are H.G. & Jane Wells, Vanessa & Clive Campbell, Radclyffe Hall & Una Troubridge, Vera Brittain & George Caitlin, Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murry, Ottoline & Phillip Morrell, and Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell. These couples are said to have triumphantly casted off the inhibitions of the Victorian age while pursuing bohemian ideals of freedom and equality. Time to take a peek at how it’s done back then, I guess.

 

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V is for Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith. This doorstopper of a biography may look daunting, but from what I’ve read (the first two chapters), it is highly readable and a very engaging one, too. I just need to try harder to not let the other books distract and detract me from staying on course! Hoping to also get around to reading some of his letters too.

 

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W is for Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Bishop is one of my favourite poets, and it’s time I start reading one of the many volumes of correspondence I’ve been collecting. Just realized that this photo has another three Ws that can fit the challenge too…… Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, Deborah Mitford’s Wait For Me, and a volume of Woolf’s letters. Looks like I’m really spoilt for choice!

 

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X is for Michael Dirda’s Bound To Please: An eXtraordinary One-Volume Literary Education. Yes, I know it’s abit of a cheat but it’s the closest ‘X’ I have on my shelves. :p This lovely collection of essays were responsible for introducing me to many a great writer and their works. Dirda’s enthusiastically persuasive essays made me want to read almost every book that is recommended. A great book to dip into, but a very ‘bad’ one for the TBR shelves!

 

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Y is for Yates. “Richard Yates was acclaimed as one of the most powerful, compassionate and accomplished writers of America’s post-war generation. Whether addressing the smothered desire of suburban housewives, the white-collar despair of office workers or the heartbreak of a single mother with artistic pretensions, Yates ruthlessly examines the hopes and disappointments of ordinary people with empathy and humour.” High praise indeed, but I have to confess that it was mainly the fabulous cover that sold the book to me!

 

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And lastly, Z for Zweig. I have read and loved Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas, but have yet to read any of his full length novels in proper. Think I’ll start with this one. “In this haunting yet compassionate reworking of the Cinderella story, Zweig shows us the human cost of the boom and bust of capitalism. The Post Office Girl was completed during the 1930s as Zweig was driven by the Nazis into exile, and was found among his papers after his suicide in 1942.”

 

Not sure how long it will take for me to complete this A to Z reading list, being the slow reader that I am. What I do know is that right now, I’m feeling pretty enthusiastic about it, and that’s a good start!
Let’s just hope that I won’t be stuck at ‘D’ for a long, long time…….

ūüôā

Had you loved macaroni more than books….

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And you were unhappy and sickly
Oh sublime poet of Recanati,
who, cursing Nature and Fates,
searched inside yourself with horror.

Oh never did those parched lips of yours smile,
nor those feverish, sunken eyes,
since… you did not adore the maltagliati,
the egg frittatas and macaroni pie!

But had you loved Macaroni
More than books, which cause black bile,
you would not have suffered harsh illnesses…

And living among corpulent fun-lovers,
you would have lived, ruddy and jolly,
to perhaps ninety or one hundred years.

a poem by Gennaro Quaranta in response to the pessimism of the poet Giacomo Leopardi of Recanati, who mocked the love the Neapolitans had for pasta, in his composition ‘The New Believers’ (1835).

I love pasta, but I am quite sure my love for it can never be more than my love for books!
Seriously, can anyone really prefer pasta to books? Really??
Anyway, I hope that doesn’t mean that all of us book loving people can’t live ‘ruddy and jolly up to ninety or a hundred’ now. ūüėČ

So, while half the blogging community is headed over to Paris in July (a delightful annual event hosted by¬†BookBath¬†& Thyme for Tea, which I had greatly enjoyed last year but sadly¬†will have to give it a miss this year), I will be heading off¬†a little more to the south….. ITALY!¬†

This will be¬†my first time visiting Italy, so naturally I am rather excited and looking forward to having two and a half weeks to enjoy some wine and cheese tasting¬†under the Tuscan sun, to¬†sunbath (and ¬†bake!) along the Amalfi coastline, to¬†walk among the¬†ruins of Pompeii, to¬†take in the rich history and culture of Rome, to marvel at the masterpieces preserved¬†at Florence, and basically to just stuff myself with lots of pastas, pizzas & gelatos! ūüôā

If you know of anything that¬†is¬†a must-see, or must-do, or must-try, please don’t hesitate to drop in a comment. It would really be much appreciated.

As observed from past experiences, I don’t think I will end up getting much reading done while on the go, so out of the stack above I’ll only be bringing¬†E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View with me (with the intention of reading it in Florence).¬†Since I will also be¬†taking along my ebook reader with me (which by the way, is sufficiently ‘overloaded’ with ebooks), no worries about me having nothing to fall back on,¬†alright? ūüėČ

Things will be rather quiet here for¬†awhile (as if it hasn’t already been), and should my attempts to put up some¬†‘live’ photo shots while¬†on location fail, then I’ll probably see you all when I get back, all brown and toasted!¬†

Meantime, have a great July, everyone!!

Happy reading……

Perfect Match

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These two lovely tatted bookmarks were made by my best friend’s mum. Don’t you think their colours (and pattern) are a perfect match for the Bloomsbury collection? So very pleasing to the eye…..
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Yet another piece of said best friend’s mum’s handiwork.
Yet another perfect match, I must say.
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I wonder if anyone else agree with me that this one here has a rather Moorish feel to it? Anyway, I think it should find itself quite at home within the pages of A Stranger in Spain. ūüėČ

IMG_7493a I think the picture sufficiently speaks for itself.

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I am especially fond of this metal charms bookmark. Looking at it never fails to put a smile on my face. I got this from one of the shops along the Golden Lane (where Franz Kafka’s house once was) within the Prague Castle grounds a couple of years back.

Well, I hope the photos¬†had been¬†as fun for you as it was for me, putting them up. ūüôā

Happy reading, everyone!

A mishmash of recent readings

IMG_7423aIt’s been quite a while since I last finished a whole proper book, the last one being Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy, which I did enjoy for the most parts of it (the boarding school setting, the coming of age tale, a murder mystery). I was just a bit let down with the last quarter of the book, especially with the character development of the main narrator of the story. Anyway, although it does look like I have nothing much to show for (in terms of completed books), I have however, been enjoying a very satisfying time dipping into a number of different (yet related in some ways) books at the same time.

I was really excited to dip into Women on the Left Bank and wasted no time diving into it. But I didn’t get very far into the first chapter before I was diverted to check out a Janet Flanner’s essay on Alice B. Toklas entitled Memory Is All,¬†thanks to the thoughtful supply of notes included by the author in Women on the Left Bank. Flanner’s essay was a delight to read. It beautifully captured the poignancy of Toklas’s later existence after the death of Gertrude Stein, her companion for 38 years. It also has a mention about Toklas’s memoir What Is Remembered (which by the way, had just conveniently arrived in the mail during the week), so of course I had to take a look at that too, didn’t I?

IMG_7429 I really do find the subject of Paris and the lives of the many women who¬†decided to make the¬†city¬†a place where they re-define themselves and carve out the kind of¬†lives and¬†possibilities that they seek and¬†long for, to be endlessly fascinating. And I am finding Lucinda Holdforth’s True Pleasures to be indeed, very pleasurable reading. I¬†am very much looking forward to¬†continue exploring¬†Paris¬†with Holdforth, as she takes me along the footsteps of¬†Colette, Nancy Mitford, Edith Wharton, Marie Antoinette and Coco Channel (to name a few).¬†¬†

IMG_7425When I did finally manage to tear myself away from Paris and her women, I made a hop over to Italy. And who better to take me there than my favourite traveller, H. V. Morton. On the smattering of¬†knowledge I’ve managed to glean from Morton’s A Traveller in Italy thus far,¬† some of the more interesting facts include: that the Milanese walks twice as fast as the Romans and can tell a story or a piece of scandal without stopping or blocking the pavement; that Milan and Venice were well noted for their hairwashes, bleaches and dye during the Renaissance; and that a Scottish village exists in the Alps, north of Lake Maggiore where the men were found to be still wearing kilts up till the early 1900s. By the way, this¬†was also a recent new arrival to the stacks, and I just love the shade of green that it’s in! Such a lovely used copy (almost pristine) and in a hard to find edition, too. Am so happy with this find. ūüôā

¬†IMG_7430And while I am still¬†making my way through¬†Italy, I also managed to pop my head into Elena Kostioukovitch’s Why Italians Love To Talk About Food and got myself better acquainted with the Tuscan landscape, its food and also its people. This is quite a lovely¬†volume to dip into, if you are interested to learn more about the Italians and their food¬†culture (with a bit of history as background), as¬†it is attractively organized according to region and colourfully designed with illustrations, maps, menus and glossaries. There is also an interesting foreword by Umberto Eco, for whom Kostioukovitch is better known as¬†the writer’s Russian translator.

Weaving in between my time spent with the women in Paris, and those spent on the Italians and their food, I did also manage to read a rather creepy short story by Daphne du Maurier, Don’t Look Now. It was my first taste of du Maurier’s short stories. I usually avoid¬†horror¬†stories at all cost, but I was curious to see what kind of horror du Maurier’s kind¬†is so I decided to give it a try. I have only read¬†Rebecca (which I had quite liked) prior to this, and I do have another collection of her short stories The Breaking Point, as well as a couple of her memoirs. I can’t say that I liked the nature of¬†the story in¬†Don’t Look Now (the ghost of a dead child following a couple’s visit to Venice) very much, but I did find the writing and the pace rather engaging. And since I have not been totally spooked out yet, I think I might just give¬†her next creepy story another go. Let’s hope I don’t regret it. :p

Enough about me and my meandering kind of reading. What about you? What good stuff have you all been burying your noses into lately?
Do share. ūüėČ

A Traveller in Little Things

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It is surely a rare experience for an unclassified man, past middle age, to hear himself accurately and aptly described for the first time in his life by a perfect stranger! This thing happened to me at Bristol, some time ago, in the way I am about to relate. I slept at a Commercial Hotel, and early next morning was joined in the big empty coffee-room, smelling of stale tobacco, by an intensely respectable- looking old gentleman, whose hair was of silvery whiteness, and who wore gold-rimmed spectacles and a heavy gold watch-chain with many seals attached thereto; whose linen was of the finest, and whose outer garments, including the trousers, were of the newest and blackest broadcloth. A glossier and at the same time a more venerable-looking “commercial” I had never seen in the west country, nor anywhere in the three kingdoms. He could not have improved his appearance if he had been on his way to attend the funeral of a millionaire. But with all his superior look he was quite affable, and talked fluently and instructively on a variety of themes, including trade, politics, and religion. Perceiving that he had taken me for what I was not‚ÄĒone of the army in which he served, but of inferior rank‚ÄĒI listened respectfully as became me.

Finally he led the talk to the subject of agriculture, and the condition and prospects of farming in England. Here I perceived that he was on wholly unfamiliar ground, and in return for the valuable information he had given me on other and more important subjects, I proceeded to enlighten him. When I had finished stating my facts and views, he said: “I perceive that you know a great deal more about the matter than I do, and I will now tell you why you know more. You are a traveller in little things‚ÄĒin something very small‚ÄĒwhich takes you into the villages and hamlets, where you meet and converse with small farmers, innkeepers, labourers and their wives, with other persons who live on the land. In this way you get to hear a good deal about rent and cost of living, and what the people are able and not able to do. Now I am out of all that; I never go to a village nor see a farmer. I am a traveller in something very large. In the south and west I visit towns like Salisbury, Exeter, Bristol, Southampton; then I go to the big towns in the Midlands and the North, and to Glasgow and Edinburgh; and afterwards to Belfast and Dublin. It would simply be a waste of time for me to visit a town of less than fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants.”

He then gave me some particulars concerning the large thing he travelled in; and when I had expressed all the interest and admiration the subject called for, he condescendingly invited me to tell him something about my own small line. Now this was wrong of him; it was a distinct contravention of an unwritten law among “Commercials” that no person must be interrogated concerning the nature of his business. The big and the little man, once inside the hostel, which is their club as well, are on an equality. I did not remind my questioner of this‚ÄĒI merely smiled and said nothing, and he of course understood and respected my reticence. With a pleasant nod and a condescending let-us-say-no-more-about-it wave of the hand he passed on to other matters.

W. H. Hudson, A Traveller in Little Things (1921)

Some of you may be more familiar with Hudson’s¬†classic¬†travelogue ‘Afoot in England’ where his sensitive observations of nature, people and buildings are¬†charmingly recorded. In comparison, A Traveller in Little Things may be a lesser known work of this author, who was also a naturalist and ornithologist who grew up studying the flora and fauna¬†in Argentina.¬†Hudson eventually gave in to¬†the yearning he had always had for England when he settled down¬†on English¬†soil in 1874.

This collection of essays offers a delightful range of interesting titles such as A Story of a Walnut, A Wonderful Story of a Mackerel, Wild Flowers & Little Girls, and A Story of Three Poems, among others. You can take a closer look for yourself at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7982 , if this sounds like your cup of tea.

And if you do find that these form of travel writing does indeed appeal to you, you might want to also check out another writer who is great at travelling in the little things, H.V. Morton. Morton’s style of writing and the wealth of stories he has to share of the people and places that he encounters, are sheer reading pleasure that is bound to appeal to the ‘traveller’ in each of us, little or large. ūüėČ

A Stranger in Spain

I have been collecting H.V. Morton’s books on travel writing ever since discovering his classic ‘In Search of England’¬† a couple of years ago. I love the feeling and sense of time and place that his writing style evokes of the old-world. It is the kind of travel writing that is tinged with a kind of romantic nostalgia. I also love the¬†covers and printing format that the¬†publisher Methuen Publishing has adopted in their editions of the books. They have that classic look and feel¬†to them which I find really appealing.

Have you ever come across any books¬†that has the gist of its pages’ contents summarised and printed as title headings at the top of every alternate page? The one which I am now reading, A Stranger in Spain, has. Isn’t that novel?¬†I find this truly refreshing, not to mention very helpful too, as a travel book.

 

I probably would not have pulled this off the shelves to read at this time if not for the fact that a very dear friend of mine has just embarked on her ten day Spanish adventure. And myself, being close to an ignoramus as to the geographical, historical as well as cultural aspects of the country, I thought this would be a good opportunity to read up and gear myself in the hope of being able to carry out some form of ‘intelligible’ conversation with my friend when she comes back. :p
Surprisingly, I find myself rather enjoying the reading, more than I had expected.
H. V. Morton writes with much humour, charm and sincerity, as he takes the reader on a leisurely tour through a country where the past is very much alive, and its people just as bustling and alive too.

A Spaniard was standing on my feet and I was holding a small child : in other words, the autobus was almost full. In some amazing way, more people managed to force themselves in, driving those who were already standing into even closer intimacy.

Sitting in front of me were two nuns, who wore immense wimples of starched linen, but they were more architectural then wimples: they were really a survival of those elaborate and laundered headdresses of the Middle Ages, like the hennin, or the steeple, which towered, slanted and drooped in infinite variety through the fifteenth century, with many a reproach from the pulpit and many a compliment from the troubadour.
They were designed not for a small motor-bus but for an ample world of gateways, and I noticed with admiration how skillfully the nuns wore them from force of habit and, like cats, which know the exact width of their whiskers, were aware to a fraction of an inch how much they might move their heads without causing a linen collision above them.
It was curious to think that a naughty headdress which was designed as a provoking piece of  coquetry should have come to rest upon the heads of nuns.

H.V. Morton, A Stranger in Spain ~ Chapter IV