Seville Snapshots: Librería Babel and the Joy of Books

As anyone who has lived in Spain will know, a shop that carries the -ía at the end is a place that sells a certain kind of product.

A carnerceía sells meat, a papelería sells paper goods, though as Lisa hoped, a bar is not called a beerería, but a cervecería. Among my favorite -ias? The liberería, a place where books are stacked high and hours can be lost among the pages. I tend to avoid the big chains, like FNAC or Beta, and head to the small, musty, off-the-Avenida shops. Some of my preferred stops are Un Gato en Bicicleta on Calle Regina for its workshops and mountains of books, La Extravagante in the Alameda for its array of travel books and memoir and La Celestina near Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid.

When I can’t travel, books become my companion. I’m nearly finished with my 20th book of the year, and books about travel line my bookshelf, products of giveaways, the American Women’s Club sales and the evil one-click button on Amazon. This picture of Librería Babel, a forlorn little place right off the main tourist drag, still far enough to go unnoticed, reminds me of the Old World book, long before TV, Internet and e-readers became mainstays.

One great travel memoir I’ve read recently is Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad by my fellow sevillana Karen McCann. She’s been gracious enough to give me a signed copy of the wonderfully breezy and fun book for my readers. Visit the original post for easy entrance, and be sure to follow her here.

What types of books do you prefer? Got any other scoops on bookstores in Andalucía? What are your prefered -ías in Spain?

Dancing in the Fountain: Enjoy Living Abroad Book Giveaway

I’m five minutes early, and there’s just one table left. It’s in the sun and cramped between two groups of German travelers. Karen strides in with just a moment to spare, wearing her signature animal prints. While there’s a gap in age between us, Karen is the type of friend you can have who personifies “Age is just a number.”

I’m eager to catch up with Karen over coffee and talk about her new book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. I devoured the book on a trip this summer though the Eastern seaboard, often subjected to gut-busting laughter and the wise head nods. The book was, in short, delightful.

As someone who loves travel books, Karen’s story of how she and her husband, Rich, moved to Seville is what Maria Foley calls a “love letter to the Andalusian capital.” Indeed, Karen captures the essence of Seville – its people, its food, its quirks that drive every single one of us crazy, all while deepening our love for this enchanting place. The perfect book for dreaming about getting away, of starting over in a new country and making it all work. 

As we are getting ready to part ways, I reach into my bag to find my wallet is empty. In an oh-so-Spanish move, Karen shoes my hand away and offers up a five euro note. “This will more than take care of it,” she says with a slight smile.

After getting back home later that day, I write my friend to apologize again about the coffee. Her reply is quick and telling: It’s happened to all of us.

Photo by the man in the hat himself, Rich McCann, at Karen’s book party

Just like your friend from toda la vida might say on any other sunny day in Seville.

The Contest

Karen has graciously agreed to donating a paperback copy of Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad to one of my readers, and I’m willing to ship it anywhere.

In order to win, I’d like you to tell us, in 25 words or less, why you’d like to live abroad, or why you chose to if you’re already here. You can earn more chances to win by following Karen and I on twitter or liking our Facebook pages, but we’re both interested in hearing what you have to say about packing up and moving to unknown lands.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest begins today and will run two weeks. I’ll send the winner, who will be generated randomly, the signed book to any corner of this great big Earth. But wait! I’m also going to give away a $15 Amazon gift card to the reader with the best answer, judged by and agreed on by both Karen and me.

For more information about Karen and her book, visit her webpage or follow her on twitter at @enjoylvngabroad. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, let her know! You can also find the book in both Paperback and Kindle version here: Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad.

What to do With Outdated Travel Guides

I learned the hard way just how tedious and difficult it can be to research a guidebook. After study abroad in Spain and reading every.single.page. of Let’s Go Spain 2005, I felt I knew the Iberian Peninsula in and out. I wanted to travel and eat in restaurants for free, go on tours and ride in buses to far off places, all in the name of budget travel and a small wage.

So, when I was contacted by one GG of Rough Guides, I jumped at the opportunity to help contribute to The Rough Guide to Andalucia (out May 1, 2012 – look for my mention on page 933!). I set off on the task, determined to uncover new places and tout the old ones.

The work was long, often frustrating, and needed various re-writes.

I got in contact with GG in February of 2011, and we met the following month to hammer out the details. I didn’t actually complete the work and get paid until the beginning of 2012 – due to an overhaul of the book’s design, there was more work and research to be done. Additionally, with the new government in place in Spain, the economic crisis and the normal turnover of businesses (Qué! reported in February that 14,000 new business were founded in 2011 and over 5,000 went defunct), I often had to frantically tap out an email to GG to report that a place had closed or changed hours.

Guidebooks are often obsolete the second they go to press. While they provide an excellent way to get started on planning on a trip, they often can’t be relied on blindly. So, then, what happens after your trip to SE Asia? That enormous Lonely Planet or Frommer’s you shelled out money for, what will become of it?

Trade-ins and Book Drop Offs

One of the best moments I had on my first trip to Amsterdam was browsing in the American Bookstore off of Damm Square. I was clued into the Dutch reading habit by my friend Martin, whose small apartment was full of books in many languages. My travel partner needed to do some research for her thesis proposal, so I parked it on a beanbag and browsed titles, running my fingers over bindings and through coffee table books, not wanting to start and not be able to stop a novel.

Similarly, I spent money and luggage space on books bought in Hungary at an English book exchange with incredible organic coffee. If like minds do indeed think alike, the pairing of musty old books and strong java was my idea of haven for a chilly afternoon. In expat enclaves worldwide, book exchanges and drop offs have become a way to recycle old friends and sometimes make a bit of cash.

In Seville, you could also leave your book at the Centro Norteamericano on Calle Harinas, 16-18, in the library. As one of the largest English-language collections in the city, the place takes in all of leftover books from the American Women’s Club book fair and takes up the upper patio of the restored villa. You can find Gaye, the woman in charge, during the workweek from 8:15 until 10pm (8pm on Fridays), though note that the system is based on honor, and you MUST be a member of the AWC to check books out. Similarly, the Phoenix Pub in nearby Bormujos has become a book-collecting haven for English language goods.

Leave it behind at a hostel, train station or airport with a note

Knowing my family would soon be traveling to Ireland, I picked up a copy of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes at the American Women’s Club book fair. Starting up the book in Málaga at the airport, I boarded the plane with a two-hour delay, sat on the runway for another two, was in the air for three, and sat on the ground again waiting for a gate another hour. With nothing better to do on a cramped Ryan Air flight, I damn near finished the book. I also hated myself for not having such a traumatic childhood like McCourt did. The book thoroughly depressed me.

Three days later, we arrived to still Limerick on Christmas morning. The chill and the absence of people made McCourt’s Limerick a reality to me, so I left the book on a bench near the historic center with a note on the inside flap: Reader Beware. I signed my name, printed the date and walked away.

Could you imagine picking up a book or short story in an airport and diving in? Books are to be treasured, so parting with a beloved friend can, in turn, pick up someone else’s day. Likewise, hostels are always hungry for books and provide an eclectic collection for travelers. Your old guidebooks – or books – can find a home here and become an uncovered gem for a like-minded traveler.

Decoupage

As a kid, I loved doing all kinds of crafty work and my mom took us almost weekly to Michael’s for paint, hot glue guns and the like. I started decoupaging anything I could get my hands on – often using travel magazines and the Chicago Tribune Travel section to cover notebooks, shoeboxes and pencil holders.

Now that I’ve been in Europe for over four years, I save all of my museum entrances, bus tickets and even napkins from memorable meals to decoupage photo albums. I have my camera on me at all times – even if it is just my phone’s – so my pictures are often an integral part of my trip. Signing up for photo sharing websites like Snapfish or Shutterfly will usually get you anywhere from 20-100 free prints, and I’ve scored hundreds of others for simply subscribing to the sites. My whole Ireland trip for the shipping and handling costs? Genius.

note: Amazon UK will ship for free to Spain for orders over 25£, Book Depository offers free shipping to Spain.

Plain old leave it on your nightstand, bookshelf or coffee table

In reading Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-term Travel, I realized that I sometimes just need a bit of inspiration to get me through a few hours’ time prowling for cheap flights. My two books that I bought back in 2009 (updated in 2008, then) serve as a good jumping off point, but I find that they’re much more practical at home than lugged in my bag. I treasure the creased pages, underlined routes and worn binding that brings me back to the souqs of Morocco or Asturias’s green coast.

My 2009 guidebooks still just sit around my house, reminding me of the thrill of going to a new, unknown place. They’ve found their home next to cookbooks and old copies of secondhand books in English and Spanish. I’ve got little trinkets all around my house that serve the same purpose – a wooden sculpture from the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, bottles of Coke in Arabic, a Chinese New Year calendar made of plush animals. Even a good travel book can take me to destinations that seem too far to even think about visiting – as proof, I still have my first Let’s Go! Spain book, a Green Guide to Paris book from a 2006 Art History Class and a second-hand Lonely Planet to China that adorn my bookshelf back in good old America.

Calling all Andalusian-based expats: clue me in on where I can get my hand on more! I caved and got the Kindle, but love to pick up books for the beach or weekend trips.

Five Travel Books to Get You to Hit the Road

Journalism school is overwhelming. People are constantly fighting for clips, being pretentious is taught in the basic reporting class and the DI newsroom just always looked…so….full of frazzled people (which I came to find out when I worked there one semester).
 
I found solace in a few classes where the teachers were experienced and invested, and where new worlds opened up. I love that my editing instructor took funny and interesting articles and changed them to be grammatically incorrect for exams, that my ethics teacher had a sweater with a dog on it, and that my magazine reporting and writing class prof was a frequent visitor of the Popcorn Shop. But Gigi Durham was something else.
 
I took Writing Across Cultures with her, a journalist who writes about women and gender issues, eager to learn how I could get my travel work published. Her answer was simple: Read. Read until your eyes fall out of your brain.
 
 
I became obsessed with the search for good travel writing through various magazines and Sunday sections, library stacks and recommendations. I was already in love with plenty of books: The Stranger, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, A Boy’s Life, The Princess Bride. Then came the book we read in Gigi’s class: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Written by journalist Anne Fadiman, the novel chronicle’s a Hmong family’s struggle to cope with Western medicine for their child, who they believe had fallen and let a bad spirit inside of her (Her Western diagnosis was epilepsy). I read the whole thing in a weekend. It was one of the novels that kind of stirs you inside when you finish the last page, the last word, close the book, set it on your lap and just think.

I needed more.

Armed with my Wheaton Public Library card upon graduating, I spent my whole summer reading about expatriate life, Spain and duende. I made it a goal to one day travel with an entire suitcase of books about the destinations I’d be visiting, to fall in love with poetry about the Alhambra, to place the vivid images in my mind when laying eyes on the things I’d always dreamed of seeing.

Good travel writing takes many forms, from pilgrimages to self-discovery to an eloquent love-affair with a destination, a feeling, an event. I’ve read plenty I don’t like, and many I would pick up again and again. Below are my top-fives picks.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
My sister is an English teacher and loves the greats: the Brönte sisters, Shakespeare and the dude who wrote about a fish, Ernest Hemingway. I, for one, don’t care for any of them, but she begged me to give Ernest a chance. I was reluctant, but upon visiting Pamplona and sitting in his old haunt, Café Irún, I knew I had to know why this man had taken to Spain as much as I. The story begins in Paris and travels to Pamplona, where a group of expat friends witness a bullfight. Though not traditionally classified as a travel book, this book spoke to me about the pitfalls of living abroad and got me prepared for witnessing Spain’s national game (and this prompted me to read A Farewell to Arms, which I adored). thanks, Margie, for making me give your old pal a second chance.

Buy now: The Sun Also Rises Paperback |  The Sun Also Rises Kindle

Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnick
Some say you either love Paris or you hate it, but I can imagine myself there in a second. This book, along with the Michelin Green Book, was my only required reading for a college class called “Paris and the Art of Urban Life,” which I might credit as a big part of my moving abroad. Gopnick, an accomplished journalist moved to the French capital for five years, compiled sweet vignettes of his observations into this hilarious book. His takes on French fashion, French women and French politics are of that laugh-out-loud type, and I think they really have inspired me to discover the hidden Spain. I like to consider myself a bit of an expert, really!

Buy now: Paris to the Moon Paperback |  Paris to the Moon Kindle

No Reservations, Alice Steinbach
This story follows the typical travel memoir outline: Woman in need of adventure and to rediscover herself. Quits job. Moves to Paris with just a hotel reservation. Sits in Duex Magots paying 7€ for a cafe au lait. Meets soul mate. You get it, and you’ve read it. But what is so poignant about this book is how Steinbach weaves in memories of her previous 40-something years into her experiences living around Europe, somehow suggestion that all great travel is prefaced, even by a young age. I’m currently 80 or so pages into the book but enjoying her insistence that being programed to travel is innate.

Buy now: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman Paperback

River Town, Peter Hessler
My dad gave me his credit card and asked me to buy a guidebook to China, a Michelin map of China and a book for myself, knowing I love to read (Yes, my dad is the coolest). I went to a bookshop and browsed the entire travel section, eventually ending up with a copy of Hessler’s account of his two years in the Peace Corps in Fuling. I would be traveling to China in six months, and those this book had nothing to do with my destinations, it was a memorable introduction into the lives of the chinese, especially during the opening up despite the traces of the cultural revolution. Though a bit long at times, I was swept away in his struggle to fit in, his struggle to understand the Chinese way of life (often at the cost of taking shots of liquor to save face) and his struggle to leave a place he grew to love.

Buy now: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) Paperback |  River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) Kindle

A Year in the World, Frances Mayes
Yes, this is the same woman who Diane Lane brought to life in Under the Tuscan Sun, but, really it is my favorite travel book. I bought it the first day I was back in America for summer reading, and to my astonishment, the first place Mayes chose to call “home” on her year abroad was Seville. The way she described Plaza Altozano made my arm hair stand on end, and I actually got a little teary. Mayes and her husband left their California home and spent one year traveling to numerous locales to try and figure out what makes a home. Is it the structure itself? The surroundings? The people? I ask myself these questions daily, but Mayes’s sense of humor, effortless prose and ponderances have stayed with me nearly three years after picking up the book.

Buy now: A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller Paperback |  A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller Kindle

I’m constantly on the look out for other great reads, be it travel or otherwise. Any hints? 

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