Monday, 20 March 2017

Spanish stories

Food. History. So many stories layered upon stories. And it wasn't until I had almost gone round the clock on a journey through eastern and southern Spain – beginning and ending in Barcelona – that I started thinking about Spanish writers.

Staying close to a magical area of Madrid known as the Barrio de las Letras (District of Letters), I  came across quotations and dedications embedded in the pavements celebrating the golden age of Spanish literature.

In the Plaza Santa Ana at the top of the hill we found statues of poet Federíco García Lorca and 17th-century writer Calderón de la Barca.

And further down the slope lie the streets where Cervantes and Lope de Vega (1562–1635) lived and were buried.

A contemporary of Shakespeare as well as Cervantes, Lope de Vega was a wildly prolific writer who wrote more than 1000 plays, poems, sonnets, novels, novellas and articles. He clarified the form of plays from four or five acts down to three and made them more accessible to mass audiences, and his plays are still performed today, both at his home where you can take an excellent tour, and at the Teatro Español on the plaza.

Study, Casa Museo Lope de Vega

It may be because of Lope's tempestuous love life that he isn't commemorated with a number of statues, as is Cervantes.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Plaza de España de Madrid

Contemporary writers

After searching six bookshops, I came to the conclusion that books translated into English are few and far between. This is surprising given the number of Spanish speakers worldwide, and especially in the US market. There's a handful of well-known writers such as Carlos Ruiz Zafón and (women at last!) María Dueñas, whose debut novel The Time in Between (2011) became a word-of-mouth phenomenon that catapulted her to the top of bestseller lists.

I managed to find some titles by Oxford University lecturer Javier Marías, reputed to be one of the best novelists worldwide, Enrique Vila-Matas and Lorca. But there was nothing by journalist and novelist Rosa Montero, one of the generation who spoke out during the Spanish Civil War. At the moment I'm engrossed in a novel set during that terrible time, The Sleeping Voice by Dulcie Chacón (2006).

After finding four books, I would have loved to have room for Madrid Tales, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2012) published by Oxford University Press, USA, with its map to locate the stories – hopefully available via OUP in Oz.

Editor remembered in Barcelona

On the hill far above Park Güell, I was delighted to find this viewpoint dedicated to a local, Joan Sales i Vallès (1912–83), one of the most famous Catalan novelists of the last century, as well as newspaper editor, publisher, poet and translator.

But who could resist a visit to the Hotel Oriente, with three-time visitor Hans Christian Andersen and reputed to be Ernest Hemingway's favourite place to stay in Barcelona? Although it's been refurbished, it retains the old-world grace of that time.