Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gaudi's Capricho

It was good to see that Google’s home page on Tuesday, June 25th was in homage to a great Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, who lived from the mid 1800’s to the first quarter of the 20th century. He resided and did most of his work in the eastern part of Spain, in the province know as Catalonia. Many of you have been to Spain and seen his wonderfully colorful and almost silly creations which make cement, iron and stone seem to flow nonsensically and blossom and grow into bright botanical creations. His monuments are so imaginative and innovative that seven of them were inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage in 1984, (see link below.) The guy was a genius and definitely broke the mold and opened up a whole new territory for architects the world over to explore.

If you have visited Barcelona and seen his beautiful cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction, or his fantastically bright Parque Güell, or walked downtown and looked up at the facades of many apartment buildings he designed, you know what a surreal experience it is to see his work. But many people do not know that he also designed buildings in other parts of Spain, including a whimsical palace in Astorga, (close to León, where I lived for 5 years) complete with spires, turrets and flying buttresses, and on which Walt Disney’s castle was based.   He also did work on the Cathedral of Mallorca.

But what does this have to do with my novel, you may be asking? It turns out that Gaudí also designed a cute leisure villa called “El Capricho” (The Caprice) in the coastal village of Comillas, very close to Santander. And yes, this work of Gaudí’s is in my novel. As a matter of fact, two of my characters take a day trip to Comillas, which is less than an hour’s drive from Santander, and walk around the small palace, taking in the striking effects that Gaudí produced using different colors (red and green bricks and tiles, and yellow ceramic sunflowers). Besides taking in Gaudí’s creation, they see the other sites in the small town before finally stopping for lunch, which is when…oh! I almost spoiled it. Something important happens to my characters in Comillas, something very nice, but you’ll have to read my novel to find out what! Meanwhile, please enjoy the links to his works which I've placed below the picture. Also, this is my 7th post, so if you've missed the prior ones, please be sure to read them while you're on my blog site.

Above is a picture of El Capricho, located in Comillas, Spain, and featured in my novel.  Isn't it marvelous! Photo credit:
Link to Gaudi’s works in UNESCO:
Link to List of Gaudi’s works with pictures of them: (be sure to look for the Astorga castle)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My favorite Spanish authors

           Reading is not only enjoyable, but it is one of the most wonderful exercises you can do for your brain. I love summer time because that’s when I have more time to devote to reading. When my kids were younger, they had enforced reading time daily, with longer reading periods in the summer (they could choose whatever they wanted to read and we took frequent trips to the library, but no outside playing until their reading was done) and now that I see how successful all four are, I’m very happy I did that.
          My novel is set in Spain, and thus today’s blog is dedicated to my favorite contemporary authors from there: Laura Gallego, Toti Martinez de Lezea and Maria Dueñas. In reverse order, Maria Dueñas’ The Time in Between, which I read with my book club, is a lovely novel set during and immediately after the Spanish civil war, which took place from 1936-1939.  The narrative occurs in both Madrid and Northern Africa, and is an entertaining story about a young woman who is an unworldly and inexperienced seamstress who does a lot of growing up just to survive during that difficult time period. There are spies, interesting plot twists, lovers, and you get a close look at how Spain struggled between being drawn into World War II on the German side or remaining neutral and perhaps a bit friendly with the allies. Maria is a debut author, and this novel put her on the bestsellers lists in Spain. It’s a long book, and she does get a little carried away sometimes with her musings, but overall it’s a very good read.
          A good friend of mine in the Basque Country, who lives close to where my own novel is set, introduced me to the works of Toti Martinez de Lezea, a Basque writer whose books predominantly take place in the 1400’s-1600’s, many in northern Spain. I’ve read 5 of her books so far, and I plan to read another one this summer. Her pace is slower, and if you like learning about life in the medieval times, she’s a good one to read. She does extensive research for all of her novels, and you feel like you are learning so much as well as being entertained when you read them. La Calle de la Juderia, for example, follows the life of a Jewish family in the mid 1400’s, and we learn about how Spanish society functioned with Jews, Arabs and Christians all getting along before the Inquisitors began their notorious crusades. It’s an excellent story. La Herbolera, which I also loved, follows the life of a young woman who trained and worked as a midwife, and whose people still followed the pre-Christian beliefs which involved respecting nature and worshipping the goddess, Mari. It is based on a true story that led to 13 women being burned alive for witchcraft. And then there’s El Jardin de la Oca, where the Camino de Santiago, that famous pilgrimage across the northern part of Spain, all the way to Santiago de Compostela,  is traced by the main characters, a Jewish doctor and a Muslim pharmacist who become close friends while running from a deranged persecutor, a monk who has been ousted from the Catholic church for his barbaric actions, but who has evaded capture and is on a rampage to rid the world of non-believers. Toti’s books have been translated to many languages, but I haven’t found them in English yet. Good news is that you can get them on Amazon, and the kindle versions are less than $10 each.
          I’m most passionate about the books of this last author. If you like fantasy, you will love Laura Gallego’s trilogy Memorias de Idhun set primarily on two planets, Idhun and Earth. This series is on my list of top ten favorite books I’ve ever read--it’s a very cool story full of adventure, romance, intrigue, wars, and magic. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, so I’ll just say the story is like Harry Potter meets Star Wars. Unfortunately, these books have not yet been translated into English either, but if you know some Spanish—you don’t have to be fluent—I heartily encourage you to try to read her books. The story is fascinating, enchanting, thrilling—I’m sure they will be on the New York Times Best Sellers List once they get translated, and they have been immensely popular all over Europe and are now hitting Asia. I work as a translator and it is my dream to translate these books. I’ve even written to the publisher who’s translated some of her other books here in the U.S., but they have not responded. Americans (at least the ones who don’t read in Spanish) are missing out on this great story—what a shame!
         So, happy reading! Feel free to comment on your favorite authors, and in future blogs, I’ll write more about my favorite ones too. People who know me well know that I could talk about authors for hours!
Here are links to these authors:
Toti Martinez de Lezea: (and there is a link to her blog too, including some entries in Euskera, the Basque language.)
Laura Gallego’s Memorias de Idhun:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What do eating corn on the cob, doing puzzles and writing novels have in common?

        Well, for me, a lot. Let’s begin with corn on the cob. On a warm fall day, my second year at college, sitting at the dining hall table eating rice—just kidding—eating corn on the cob, a friend turned to me and said, “Christy, I have never seen anyone eat corn on the cob the way you do!” (My husband said the same thing twenty years later, so I know this is still true about me.)
        “What do you mean?” I asked my friend, genuinely surprised.
        “I’ve been watching people eat corn on the cob all my life,” he said, (which is really not that surprising if you consider that we were in Ohio, where there are many, many corn fields. In Columbus there is even a huge monument to corn, which consists of 6 foot high white cement statues of corn ears, all standing at attention in long, even rows, in a giant grassy field. )
        I nodded.
        “And what I’ve seen is that the vast majority of people either eat corn in rows across the cob,” he continued, “or they eat around the cob, circling and progressing from one end to the other.”
        I looked down at my ear of corn. In light of what he had just said, I could clearly see I was in the category of “none of the above.” I glanced guiltily around the table and, sure enough, everyone was eating their corn either across the cob or around it. Mine looked like a patchwork quilt, with bites here and there, leaving bare spots scattered haphazardly. It’s the way I eat corn on the cob: kind of all over the place. When I finish, my cob is as clean as anyone else’s, but my process is not orderly and sequential.
        When I work on puzzles, my husband is also always surprised; he’s one of those people who sets the box cover up so he can use it as a guide, and then works on an area, say, a house or a field of corn, and then an adjoining one and then another and quickly links them together. Me? I would rather work on the puzzle with no box to guide me, working on areas with similar colors and not worrying about what joins to where, allowing serendipity to rule. My favorite way to do a puzzle when I was younger was upside-down, working to fit the brown cardboard pieces together with no clues at all.
        And with writing, it’s the same thing. I would love to be like one of my author idols,  J.K. Rowling, who outlined all 7 of her Harry Potter books before she began writing so that she would know how to set up the characters, whom to keep and whom to kill off  and when, and thus, things that happened in the first books would still have relevancy in the 6th and 7th books. Brilliant. I wish I could do it that way too. When I write, it’s like biting into that juicy, fresh corn on the cob, or trying to fit together puzzle pieces with minimal clues as to their placement. For this novel, I wrote the prologue, the end and three or four middle chapters, creating really nice individual islands, and then labored for 4 ½ years to fill in the rest, make the characters and plot coherent and the story a good one. My novel now has 3 parts with about 20 chapters in each, so in the end it worked, even if it probably wasn’t the best way.  But it’s my way. And ultimately, that’s the great beauty in writing and all art forms—you get to discover more about yourself and create something worthwhile, even if you go about it unconventionally.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Santander in the news!

     This is really cool—my novel is set in Santander, and this city was just featured on NPR. I first went to Santander in 1986 to visit my roommate over winter break. Blanca was a small framed girl who wore large glasses and smoked too much, and she hailed from this city. We were studying in León, about a 3 hour drive away, and it was her first time away from home. She spoke of Santander constantly, and I was excited when she extended an invitation to me to come stay at her house just before New Year’s Eve. As we walked the cobblestone streets, I was fascinated with this ancient port city, its neat little beaches, majestic mountains and quaint streets, and thus when I had to think of where to set my novel, Santander was an easy choice. Blanca also took me to visit some of the neighboring villages, which the characters in my novel also visit.  One village that did not make it into my book is Santillana del Mar, otherwise known as the city of three lies: it is neither Santi (holy) llana (flat) or del mar (on the coast.) But it’s definitely worth seeing the next time you are in the neighborhood of Santander.

     Santander has a university which has academic exchange programs with several American universities, including The University of Texas at Austin, an excellent school that is the alma mater to 3 of my children (and hopefully the 4th one in another year!) One of the largest Eurozone and Spanish banks, Banco Santander, was also founded in this lovely city.

     My husband remembers Santander as the city where he first tasted sidra, that wonderful apple wine that my characters love and I miss, and where he bought a lot of underwear. (It was our honeymoon, and when we landed in Santander, we realized that we had forgotten to pack enough underwear for him!)

     On my last visit to Spain a few months ago, I did not make it back up to Santander. However, Chema, the husband of my dear friend, Carmen, is from there, and he was a wonderful source of information. At his behest, his mother sent me recipes of typical dishes and sweets from Santander, and he told me about fun restaurants and mountain hikes which made it into my novel. Thanks, Chema!

      It’s fascinating to me to now see Santander all decked out with brand-spanking new devices which are environmentally friendly and will help the city government, and ultimately the tax payers, to save money.  The devices are mostly hidden so that the stately and romantic old city does not betray its smart undergarments! Here’s a link to the story:

     I hope you can visit there some day, and if you’re still not sure you want to, reading my novel will convince you!

Photo courtesy of: