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di Jan Morris

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2234119,072 (3.83)5
Spain is one of the absolutes. Nothing is more compelling than the drama, at once dark and dazzling, of that theatre over the hills - the vast splendour of the Spanish landscape, the intensity of Spain's pride and misery, the adventurous glory of a history that set its seal upon half the world. This work explores the country.… (altro)
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Mostra 4 di 4
Got a bit bogged down in the architectual terms for parts of churches. But otherwise a fascinating read. ( )
  KittyCatrinCat | Aug 29, 2021 |
Spain is a large European country, with a long history and rich cultural traditions, which differ in many ways from other European countries, and one might expect that there is a lot to say about that. Nonetheless, Jan Morris's Spain is just a very thin booklet of a mere 147 pages, not including the index. The book was first published in 1964, when the fascist Generalissimo Franco still ruled the country with an iron fist, and the book was revised in 1979, after the death of Franco, when Spain became a constititional monarchy. In such a small book, there is only time for the essentials or the core of Spanish culture.

The focus of Spain is very much on the culture of the Spanish nation, while history is merely mentioned in an illustrative manner. Stylistically, Jan Morris is an excellent writer and the descriptions of the country and its people are powerful and evocative. Nonetheless, readers of the book now, may find the author's approach a little bit too terse.

It isn't made clear how extensive the 1979 revision of the book was, but the book still carries the weight of the Franco era, and in many ways the book seems unable to represent the current situation in Spain. One might assume that at a deep level, the Spanish culture is unchanged and that there is an essential core Spanishness that is of all ages. Nonetheless, the Spanish people have changed a lot, and particularly by the present, Spain is a very different country, not just looking back at the early 60s, but also by comparison with the late 70s. For instance, Morris makes a point of a Spanish way of saying goodbye, to show how deeply Spain is a Roam Catholic country, which is all true, but in all my time in Spain, I have never heard anyone say "vaya con Dios", although the expression is readily recognizable. And, although perhaps officially the police may still be so-called, I think even Spanish people will avoid referring to the "Guardia Civil" and particularly in Franco's time they were a very strict and stern police force.

Why read an old travel guide? The relevance of reading this book is not greater that reading a travel guide about Spain published a hundred years ago. The book is very, very general, but readers will find very little information to prepare for travelling there. Probably the best motivation for reading this book is, like my own, a sense of nostalgia: readers who already know a lot about Spain may find it a nice, and short read to dip into a past experience. Another reason, could be to read it as part of the author's collected works, acknowledging the fact that Jan Morris is a very good writer, and read the book on the strength of its prose. ( )
  edwinbcn | Feb 10, 2017 |
This author always offers the reader such craft, such structure to her prose, her sentences and books, each chapter usually ending with a neat twist, a counter-point, which causes us to pause and mentally review the entire chapter again, to grasp that point she has made. There always is one.

Much more than just writing a ”travel book", Morris always offers the reader a historical perspective, an ambience that is often not liable to ‘date’, and Spain, despite being unrevised since publication still holds essential truths of both country and culture.

Wonderfully evocative, as is usual with this author, this work grips in the hard, macho, way that exposure to Spain and the Latino culture, language and history does, with a romantic thrill and a need to re-visit, or to first know. ”There never was such a palimpsests as Spain” Morris notes and refers to that music, that Gypsy flamenco and identifies the echoing layers of Greek, Phoenician, Arab, and even Jewish songs that, in fact, we CAN hear, if we listen! There is a piece on the infamous Inquisition and, for the peoples on this side of the Spanish Main, the “Leyenda Negra” was a fact, not legend … the best that the American heretics could hope for, if they fully recanted, was - in God's mercy (?) - was to be strangled before being burnt at those infamous ‘Auto-da-fe’ stakes.

With a bow to H.V. Morton, Morris acknowledges that she is not the first to thrill to the “Man of Mancha”, or to the Feria of Seville, that grand paseo of Andalusia, when ”the hotels cautiously double their room-rates” or of Spain itself, but she still brings her own engaging and scholarly perspective to the tapas and feasts, that form this country of contradiction – of past glories, inquisitions, riches, failure, political turmoil, civil war, dictatorship and future promise.

¡Por supuesto ... Viva España!
  John_Vaughan | Jul 19, 2012 |
"Spain is one of the absolutes. Most States nowadays are willy-nilly passive, subject always to successive alien forces. Spain still declines in the active mood. She is not a great Power, but in her minor way she is one of the prime movers still - still a nation that sets its own standards."

Jan Morris, travel writer extraordinaire shows us an in-depth look at Spain in which we traverse time and space, examining the rich and varied history of the country. We are exposed to Spain's triumph as a world power and her slow but inevitable slip into relative obscurity on the world stage. We see her domination of world events and her global isolation, her tolerance and persecution of peoples, her Jekyll and Hyde personality. This duality plays out over the history, the landscape and the peoples of Spain.

One thing I believe is most important in travel books is providing a flavour of the country to readers. Jan has this talent in spades. Here's a taste of Spain in Jan's description of the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

"Blood runs, men are often wounded, poor padded blindfold horses are gored, the bull inevitably dies and is dragged out for beef. They crowd all around, that Greek chorus of the bull-ring, with its little cigars clenched between its teeth, its cardboard sun-visors on its foreheads, its one-peseta cushions plumped beneath its bottoms on the hard seats - the crowd all around seems animated, to the foreign eye, chiefly by a brutish lust for blood."

Morris ties in the history of Spain to explain her slow evolution from world power to industrialized nation. She portrays the Spanish as a fearless and sometimes brutish people, quoting Philip II as saying he "ruled the world with two inches of paper." She also notes though that "between 1814 and 1923 there were forty three coups d'etat" and that Spain was "strategically so inessential that the First World War contemptuously passed her by." The truth of this is such that when I was learning about WWI, I never questioned why Spain wasn't involved.

The other attractive aspect to this book is the writing. As always with Jan Morris, the writing draws you in with its rich, descriptive detail. She's able to dig into the truth of a place, to get to core of what it is to live there. The sentences just drip with gorgeous imagery.

"You are seldom halfway in Spain. It is either fearfully hot or frightfully cold. You are either a good man or a bad one, either very rich or very poor, either a fanciful church-goer or an out-and-out disbeliever. The light is brilliant, the atmosphere is preservative, the colours are vivid - so vivid, for all the vast monotony of the meseta, that sometimes this seems like a painted country, as the mauve and purple shadows shift across the hills, as the sun picks out a village here, a crag there, as the clouds idly scud across the candlewick landscape of olives or cork okas, and the red soil at your feet seems to smoulder in the heat."

The best thing about Jan's books is that they're not just about travel. She includes literary references, historical detail, personal memories and more. My copy was less than 200 pages but felt so full. It was the home of Roman emperors, a bastion for artists like Goya, Dali and Picasso, an inspiration for Hemingway and a country that at the time believed "Cervantes mocked its pretensions of chivalry in the book that is said to have killed a nation."

This book was published in the mid 70s and I wondered how this wonderful picture of Spain could still be current. Here Morris references the Spanish Civil War, an event only 30 years prior to the book. From this I could only imagine that her description of Spain would be somewhat archaic in today's age.

"The time-lag still makes Spain an anachronism among the nations. Her industrial revolution is really only happening now, and in many ways she retains the simplicity, even the innocence of a pastoral nation."

Morris does update her books with every publishing but barring a complete rewrite and a return to Spain, I don't think she can accurately capture what Spain is today. The most you can hope for in this book is a description of the Spain that was. Nonetheless though, the book is a fantastic introduction to a country full of conflicting opinions and traditions. ( )
  theduckthief | Feb 4, 2010 |
Mostra 4 di 4
Condensing a remarkable range of history into its 155 pages, including descriptions of monarch Joan the Mad, Moorish occupations and giddy imperial ransacking, Spain is written in non-linear fashion, with every chapter starting from a different part of the country and exploring the genealogy of particular features (such as religion or water). A good read for the curious holidaymaker or for anyone susceptible to "the contagion of Spain".
aggiunto da John_Vaughan | modificaGuardian, UK, Jo Littler (Jun 27, 2012)
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Spain is one of the absolutes. Nothing is more compelling than the drama, at once dark and dazzling, of that theatre over the hills - the vast splendour of the Spanish landscape, the intensity of Spain's pride and misery, the adventurous glory of a history that set its seal upon half the world. This work explores the country.

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