Does a man fall in love with a country first or the woman he finds there?
And which love is finally the greatest?
In this elegant account of his falling for the Spanish woman he married 30 years ago, Lamar Herrin opens his heart, his natural skepticism, and an American’s awe of history to a complex nation that is both rich in tradition and astoundingly foreign.
Portraying himself as a Quixote in love with Romance, Herrin allows us to watch as he struggles to win the woman who will finally open her arms to him in a world where the Church and Bureaucracy are unwilling to.
By turns comic and moving — and always lyrical — there are beauty and good heart enough in this eloquent book for travelers and lovers alike.
$23.95 | Memoir Hardcover | 6x9 | 272 pages
I am writing these words seated at a leather-topped table in a high-backed chair with my feet up off the floor on a footrest. The floor, parquet now, would once have been laid with cold tiles. The room is nicely heated, spacious, with period furnishings. We thought we were coming to a monk’s cell, for the room is located in the Real Monasterio de Guadalupe, and instead find ourselves in a Renaissance palace. The curtains are long velvet drapes. This is the same Virgin of Guadalupe who was taken to the New World and became the virgen de las americas, but she is as revered here as she is there. Pilgrims still make their way to her shrine, located high in the sierra along the eastern edge of Extremadura. Extremadura, a hard land, gave Spain most of its conquistadores. They exchanged the Virgin for New World gold. Every altarpiece in every church in Seville is coated with it.
My wife lies asleep. The town of Guadalupe is steeply sloped and after a morning of walking its medieval streets she has decided to extend the afternoon siesta. From my writing table I can see up the hill to the peak and a hermitage located there. We had planned to make our way up to that hermitage together. She whispers, You go.
I go to sleep instead. Then I wake up and start up that hillside.
We are two weeks into this trip, but as I piece together shepherds’ trails and the narrow diagonal paths left by the sheep, it’s as if I’m trying to put an end to preliminaries. I am no pilgrim, no believer—in fact, the statue of the Virgin, a spare, expressionless piece of sculpture, crowned and lavishly gowned, leaves me cold—but something tells me the time to make an effort has come. There’s a road you can drive to the hermitage now, and I see no one else walking this hillside. I come upon a flock of sheep that start, wobbly-legged, to each side and let me pass. I am afraid that night will catch me, not afraid of what might happen to me then, just that the darkness will roll down this hillside and make the piecing together of paths a matter of chance. For that reason, I don’t spend much time looking back; when I do, the monastery and its church look like a massive bulwark around which the white chips of the houses are clustered, and the surrounding hills, a rich russet brown with tints of lavender, are deepening in their folds. I hear the sheep, the dull-clappered movements of the bellwether, and smell their droppings and the drifting smoke of someone burning the prunings of olive trees. Toward the top of the hill the path becomes better defined and is partway accompanied by a rock wall. You can begin to imagine yourself in the presence of other pilgrims, not a procession of the devout, but perhaps someone not entirely out for exercise either. I think of my wife. She would have resisted the arduous uphill climb but would have come to life here.[A] dreamy memoir that’s also a soft-focus travelogue of Spain, perfect for someone about to explore that country and its people. Herrin tells two stories, intertwined and layered. First is the story of the author and his wife, 30 years into marriage, returning to the wife’s native country to find a pueblo where they could retire…. The descriptions of the landscapes, the old women holding the keys to the rural churches, of the hotels and the meals, are gorgeous, loving and rich….The book’s second story, and its real thrust, is the author’s story of how he arrived in Franco’s Spain in the 1960s, a disgruntled, newly divorced American looking to discover Europe. Instead, he met a young woman, fell in love and married….Utterly romantic….In a world of memoirs describing tragic childhoods and miserable lives, Herrin’s book takes the reader on a very different, very pleasant journey