"To be alone by choice is one of the great luxuries of the world. I went to Spain alone."
Mary Lee Settle, Spanish Recognitions - The Roads to the Present
I was instantly smitten by this book.
At 82 years old, Mary Lee Settle flew into Madrid, hired a car and started exploring Spain. She followed the path of the Moorish conquest across Spain then the Christian reconquest southwards.
She talks about times and wars I knew little about but to her were memories, and as someone who knew young Americans who came to Spain to fight battles that were not their own.
As a traveller and historian Settle's experience was charming and thought provoking and at the same time her story telling is compelling as she unwinds Spanish history through her journey and invites more research into the events she only touches on.
When I finished the book, although sad that it had ended, my knowledge of Spain was a little deeper and my want to learn more of its history even greater. She's had many reviews debating her historical accuracy but I loved the book. Not just the roaming and history, valor and challenge but the way she writes grabbed me from the first line and continued throughout the journey.
Mary Lee Settle:
".... I had all day to roam ....... How can you know ahead what you are going to see, find, lose, discover any more than who you are going to fall in love with the day after tomorrow?"
Settle didn't speak Spanish, which I thought perhaps hindered her trip and understanding but another of her quotes set me straight:
"To be a stranger in a strange land, as travellers have been for centuries, is to keep astonishment alive, see as a child sees, retain one's awe, astonishment, and wonder."
And as I'm thinking that awe and wonder has paled in my travels this quote brings me up sharp and reminds me where I need to revisit and soon.
"If you cannot relearn wonder again at the Alhambra, you may as well stay at home and die."