These are examples of my travel goals:
So far I have two objectives for the Spain part of my trip. I’ve done a ton of background reading for this leg, including Michener’s exhaustive and exhausting Iberia, Zoellner’s chapter on the AVE high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid in his wonderfully researched Train, Jack Hitt’s mostly enjoyable memoir of his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon and Cervantes’s Don Quixote. I’ve also digested a stomach churning account of the Spanish Inquisition, and browsed several other weighty tomes. After all this, here’s what I’ve come up to do in Spain: I want to find a good bowl of paella and an English edition of Jan Morris’s Spain. That’s it, you say? Bear with me, though. (I know that’s bearing a lot.)
For more than nine hundred pages, James Michener took me on a detailed tour of every city, town, village, church, farmhouse, pasture, topographical feature, tuft of grass and unturned stone there was to see in Spain. At the end of his saga he came to the conclusion he’d never had a decent bowl of paella in all of Iberia. At one point, though, he did eat barnacles scraped off some shoreline rock and loved them. He ate a partridge that he said smelled putrid but was delicious. But not a single helping of paella came up to the standard of what he said he could get in New York. That’s like going to Italy and saying you didn’t find a decent lasagna anywhere. First of all, how can you screw up paella, which presumably can be assembled from the leftovers in your refrigerator? Given my pedestrian taste buds, I’m betting I’ll can find many fine examples of paella throughout Spain. (I better, because that’s about all I plan on eating while there. I’m certainly not ordering anything you can gouge off the bottom of a boat, and I’m not getting anywhere near one of those partridges.)
The Jan Morris book is a bit of a nerd quest. James Theroux referenced Morris’s Spain in his can’t-put-downable The Pillars of Hercules. A thorough search of my branch library, Kindle and Google returned an “unavailable in your region” message. Morris is an (now) Englishwoman, and the book was acclaimed when it was published just back in 1964. How can it be only available in the UK and Australia? I gotta believe a well-stocked bookstore in Barcelona or Madrid must have an English edition for sale (although Michener did note the Spanish are famously provincial when it comes to non-Spanish authors, save for him and Hemingway, of course.)
Not that I need another book on Spain to read, mind you. Jan Morris’s story interests me, though. She’s transgender and underwent sex change surgery to turn her from a man to a woman long before it became all the rage (so to speak), and decades before she’d ever have to fret over which public bathroom to use. To top it all off, she re-married her former wife, making them at once a same sex couple without having to hit the dating scene. Question: Did they have to divorce first? (I did acquire her Conundrum, which is a memoir of that whole experience. It has to be the paella of memoir writing if there ever was one, and I can’t wait to dig in.)
Other than these two quixotic quests, I guess I will have to at least gawk for a moment at that Gaudi monstrosity of a church…in Barcelona, is it?... because I know I’ll be asked.