Inspiration in Sunny Spain

by | Nov 13, 2006 | Abroad, Approaches to Writing, Food, Writers

I’ve been asking some of my regular blog readers what they would like to hear about, and one has suggested that I write about how being in Spain last summer helped me to get writing again.  That’s an easy one.  It was so hot during the day that I pretty much gave up on my best-laid hiking plans.  There is a wonderful expression about the weather in Andalucia, southern Spain, that has a nice rhyme in the original: Hay tres meses de invierno y nueve de infierno.  Which means: There are three months of winter and nine months of hell.  Last summer was especially hellish.  Every week there were reports of people dying of hyperthermia.  So I holed up most afternoons in my room, which was a bit stifling for a good siesta but still better than being out on the streets, and read Spanish novels, drank wine with my apartment-mates, and worked on the book.  For the last two weeks I was alone in the apartment except for the landlady, who did not drink, so I ended up getting quite a bit of writing done.

Somewhere recently I ran across something that claimed the three months of winter and nine of hell for a different Spanish province – Castilla, possibly.  So it may be one of those universal things that each region stubbornly claims as belonging to it alone.  You call this hell? one Spaniard might say to another.  It’s barely a hundred and six!  In my province, it was a hundred and eight last week.

Around ten or eleven in the evening I would usually head out for a walk through Granada, although usually it was still in the high nineties.  That’s one of the wonderful things about Colorado Springs, by the way; even at the height of summer, it cools off in the evening.  But Granada is a much more interesting town to walk around in.  Foreign cities in general are intrinsically interesting, for that matter.  Everything is at least a little bit different than what you’re used to.

Granada, parts of it, are quite beautiful.  In Andalucia, the architecture is still influenced by the centuries of Moorish rule, and Granada was the last city to hold out against the reconquista.  It did not become part of Spain again until 1492.

The cuisine also reflects the Moorish heritage, most obviously in the way things are spiced.  There is, for example, a form of shishkebab called pinchitos that I had discovered during the years I spent near Cadiz as a kid.  The spice mixture contains such diverse elements as oregano, anis, garlic, nutmeg, and cloves.  I’ve looked for recipes on the internet, but haven’t found anything even remotely authentic.  I bought half a kilo of it in a spice shop in downtown Granada, so now I can taste a little Spain when I’m feeling homesick for foreign lands.

There are other ways in which Spain helped me write again, and one was simply the fact of being in a foreign country.  Not only was I cut off from my usual distractions, but there is something about being in another place that is simply inspiring.  Hemingway talks about how he is only able to write about a place after he has left it.  His Michigan stories were written in Paris.  He wrote about Paris after he was back in the states.  There is something to that, and someday I may try to puzzle out how it works.  All I know for now is that it does.  When I got back from Granada, one of the first things I did was to download my trip pictures to my computer.  Every few days I would use a different one as the background to my desktop, so that, sitting at the computer for hours at a time, I could take a quick trip back to Spain whenever I needed to.