Laurie Lee – As I walked out one midsummer morning was another book club choice. I was originally a bit disappointed when this was chosen after reading Cider with Rosie and not really enjoying it. When the book arrived I was even more upset; I am sure Laurie Lee didn’t walk around Spain wearing jeans as shown on the cover. The only positive for me was that this one was set in Spain and one particular part in Almuñecar where I used to live. In fact I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.
It is a true story set in the 1935 of the Stroud poet Laurie Lee setting off to London armed with just his violin in order to do some busking and have an adventure. He later decides to catch a ferry to Vigo in Galicia and he then walks (!) through Spain right down to the Andalucian coast. I found this element of the unknown really fascinating. Today if we go travelling we normally have money and are also able to communicate with our family. My journey from Almuñecar to Santander seemed adventurous enough and I drove in a car (admittedly a banger over 20 years old). He knows nothing about Spain apart from the Barber of Seville and that Barcelona has nuts, but he manages to set of on this amazing, lone journey.
Along the way Lee gives quaint descriptions of the Spanish, which could seem patronising but are also affectionate. He meets lots of poor locals willing to give him shelter. One humourous part for me is when he goes to the Post Office to pick up a letter and it is filed under E for Esquire. He makes some interesting observations such as the Civil Guards are the poison dwarfs of Spain, in my experience nothing much has changed. In Toledo he visits a beautiful gorge, Pena Gajera where he discovers it is the local traditions to throw criminals over. Folklore tells of an innocent girl who was miraculously saved but this doesn’t stop other criminals being thrown over subsequently.
Lee reaches Almuñecar just as the Civil War is starting so to protect identities he refers to it as Castillo. He describes it as “grey almost gloomily Welsh”. This isn’t my experience of the area but his writing and descriptions of the Spaniards are so interesting as is his journey through this country on the verge of a Civil War. It was admittedly written in the 1960s so some parts may have been embellished but it is still a great piece of travel writing.