The closest city to the hacienda, El Pavon, where my characters live in Indiscretion is Seville, Spain. It is a city I know well, and love, and so I very much enjoyed describing my heroine, Alexandra’s, exploration of the place. As in my previous novels, where my heroines got to know Mombasa, Kenya, and Venice, Italy, I thought it important to show not only the pretty, admirable aspects of city life, but also the more colourful and darker side that lies beneath the veneer. In Seville, that meant taking Alexandra to Triana, home, in the 1950s, to a large Romani population – the gypsies.
In Indiscretion, there is a gypsy encampment on the de Falla land by the hacienda, and the story of the alluring gitana Marujita is interwoven with Alexandra and Salvador’s story. With gypsy culture and values featuring so prominently in the book, I wanted to take Alexandra to where I went as a young woman in Seville to learn about all of its people: the Triana bridge. In the book, Salvador is helping Alexandra to get to know her homeland, and to conduct research for her new romantic novel. So at sunset he takes her to Triana, which he sees as typical of Andalucia, and when Alexandra asks, ‘What’s so special about Triana?’, he replies:
‘Triana is the haunt of gypsies, the home of popular song and folklore dancing. In the days of Haroun El Rashid, it was the scene of magical Zambra festivals where they danced the ‘Dance of the Moors’, and since then Seville has become famous for musical culture throughout the western world, and Triana the heartland of flamenco. There is no place on earth I can think of where you can see so many bizarre and exotic characters. They are a different people, the Trianeros, with their unique traditions and a charm and wit all their own,’ he added, his face alight. ‘They have inspired the great musicians of the world. Rossini’s bumptious barber, Bizet’s bewitching Carmen, and Mozart’s frivolous Don Juan, all these characters are here.’
Triana sits on the west bank of the Guadalquivir River, almost an island in the water. Once, it was cut off as an arrabal–separated from the main city. The trianeros have a strong collective identity, and as Salvador suggests, a very vibrant culture. Originally, it was populated by sailors, potters and artisans, and it soon became a hub for toreadors and flamenco singers and dancers – and then, gypsies. They often lived communally in corrales: buildings with rooms opening onto central, shared courtyards with fountains. Few remain today, due to a programme to displace the gypsies in the 1970s, but their influence on local culture remains.
To reach Triana, you cross the 19th-century Isabel II bridge (Puente de Triana). This is Alexandra’s impression of that bridge:
As they approached the bridge, the chorus of voices became almost deafening, some shrill, others boisterous, punctuated by the shaky rattling of carts, the tintinnabulation of tram bells, the flat, repeated cries of street vendors. And over in the distance, on Seville’s waterfront, the dismal shadow of the Golden Tower, the old prison watchtower of the Guadalquivir, rose like some baleful omen of misfortune, casting its fiery reflection on the shimmering surface of the river in the light of the setting sun.
Once in Triana, passing the beautiful Moorish Revival Chapel of El Carmen, you may enter the market and look at the foundations of the Castillo de San Jorge, once the heart of the Spanish Inquisition; cross Altozano Square and admire the monuments to flamenco and to bullfighter Juan Belmonte; visit the Centro Ceramica Santa Ana (museum of pottery); and stroll along the waterfront street Calle Betis, lined with restaurants and bars that offer amazing views of Seville. Perhaps over a glass of wine or an iced orange juice, you’ll discuss with your companion the legend of Triana. Allow Salvador to explain:
‘Some people say that the goddess Astarte, amorously pursued by Hercules, took refuge at the bank of the Guadalquivir river. … Astarte was semitic goddess of fertility. The Greeks knew her as Aphrodite. She was so taken by the beauty of the riverbank that she thought it an ideal place to build a city. Hence the creation of Triana. Astarte’s dual influence of sexuality and war certainly seeps through the place…’
If you are in Seville then Triana is well worth a visit. But I hope, unlike my heroine Alexandra, you manage to explore the neighbourhood. For Alexandra does not even make it across the bridge; she is accosted by Paquita, an old gypsy woman, who is determined to tell her a foreboding fortune.
Careful, my beauty,’ she rasped as she drew closer to Alexandra, waving a withered finger at her, ‘do not delude yourself, do not be deceived, the devil is cunning!’
One of the most lingering memories of my time in Andalusia, Spain – setting for my new novel, Indiscretion– is of flavours. Succulent tomato. The very freshest of fish. Fragrant olive oil. The salty tang of Serrano ham. Delicious!
It was a real pleasure, while writing Indiscretion and keeping the Andalusia spirit alive, to experiment in the kitchen with traditional dishes from the region, and my favourite of all is the gazpacho.
I first tasted gazpacho not in Spain but in Egypt. I was pregnant with my first baby, and we lived in Cairo at the time, which was hot, ever so hot. My husband suggested I try making gazpacho because his parents had lived for a long time in Spain and his mother used to make it in the summer when he went there on holidays. I loved it at first sip, and now we often have it in France on hot summer days.
Gazpacho dates back a long way. Some say it was developed from an old Arab soup made from bread, olive oil, water and garlic that the Moors brought to Spain; others cite the Romans as having invented the dish. Certainly, it has been a staple in Andalusian cuisine for hundreds of years, and has provided sustenance to all, from peasants and farmers all the way up to the gentry, for a starter, a main dish or a tapa.
Recipes vary, but the traditional gazpacho has a base of garlic, stale bread, olive oil and salt mixed to a paste, and then ripe tomatoes and vinegar are added, along with vegetables. In times gone by the ingredients were mushed up using a pestle and mortar, and some chefs still use this method in preference to a blender.
Gazpacho comes in three colours:
- Red is the most common, and contains plenty of tomato.
- White doesn’t contain tomato, but dried fruits instead.
- Green is the same as white but is coloured by the use of spices.
All sorts of additions may be made, from avocado to watermelon, grapes to strawberries, meat to seafood.
When I make gazpacho, I stick to a simple recipe, as follows, and then have fun with garnishes.
Slice of stale bread, soaked in water for 1/2 hour and then rung out
2 lbs very ripe tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 cup water
½ cup olive oil
½ onion, peeled and chopped finely
½ cucumber, peeled and chopped finely
Clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
- Mix the garlic, olive oil, salt and bread to a paste, using a pestle and mortar or a blender.
- Add the other ingredients and puree (roughly for a chunky consistency).
- Refrigerate for two hours.
- Taste and season.
- Serve with any of the following garnishes: cherry tomatoes, croutons, fresh bell pepper slices, diced tomatoes, cucumber, hard boiled eggs, chopped ham, chopped almonds, cumin, mint or orange segments.
A cultural symbol of Spain known around the world, the Spanish fan exudes romance and passion. So much so, it is an important symbol on the cover of my new novel, Indiscretion:
While the fan may have begun its life in Spain back in the 14th century as a practical object for staying cool in the sultry heat, when flamenco dancers began incorporating them into their dances, the nobility took notice. Then, when the design of fans became ever more beautiful, they secured a place as an essential accessory for all Spanish women. Soon, they came in all manner of colours and sizes, and were adorned with everything from lace to feathers. Many Spanish women built up quite the collection!
With fans so commonplace and so versatile in their movement, they became the ideal means by which to communicate without words – a sort of semaphore via fan. Thus the señoritas of the 19th century developed their own secret language of the fan. This was a time when young ladies were always chaperoned, and speaking to a prospective beau was nigh-on impossible. But in time an interested young man could discern the lady’s mood or desire simply by watching how she moved her fan.
Here’s a look at the some of the common ways to communicate with the fan:
- Short, fast sweeps across the chest: I’m unavailable to you.
- Slow, seductive sweeps across the chest: I’m available to you.
- Closed fan carried hanging in the left hand: I’m available and on the lookout.
- Open fan touched to the cheek: I like the look of you!
- Open fan covering the mouth with smouldering eyes: I’m blowing you a kiss.
- Closed fan tapped urgently on palm: Careful! We’re being watched.
- Hitting fan on dress: I’m jealous.
- Giving fan to the young man: I’m yours.
- Pointing the fan: Meet me over there.
- Covering face with fan: It’s over between us.
- Fiddling with fan: Hurry up!
Fascinating, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to attend a traditional ball, dressed up beautifully, and to forbid words entirely, so that the only sound is the room is music and all communication is carried out by way of the fan and facial expressions? I think that would make a beautiful scene in a film – imagine the seductive tension in the room!
If, like me, you find fans beautiful and their history very interesting, these museums worldwide are worth a visit:
- The Musée de l’Éventail (Fan Museum) in Paris, located within the Atelier Anne Hoguet, a workshop for fan-making and restoration.
- The Hand Fan Museum in Healdsburg, California, which has more than 2,500 fans in its collection.
- The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, which has 4,000 fans, on rotation, the oldest of which dates from the 10th century.
Regular followers of my blog will know I am an ardent bibliophile, and that extends to an adoration of those places dedicated to connecting us with books: libraries. I wholeheartedly agree with Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” The dust motes floating dreamily in a shaft of sunlight, the scent of old books and varnished wood, the beautiful tranquility and sensitivity shimmering in the atmosphere – this is any book lover’s haven.
I was delighted this week, then, to find two articles in the news celebrating unique and innovative library design.
First, the announcement that the FLUX Foundation intends to build a library for the Bay Area Book Festival in June. Exciting in itself, but then we come to the materials with which the library will be constructed. Not bricks. Not wood. Books! In total, 50,000 books are waiting to be formed into the library, an art installation that will stand in the MLK Civic Center Park in Berkeley, CA.
Project Lacuna has been devised with the following vision (source):
Libraries connect us—to each other, and to ourselves. They nurture our communities with knowledge and ideas, and they provide spaces for discussion and reflection. They open us to worlds unknown, and they reflect our worlds back to us. Libraries are monuments to the pursuit of knowledge, and to the universal right to seek, nurture, and possess knowledge.
Lacuna is a library whose very walls are constructed with books. Like a library, access is entirely free, and visitors will be able to peruse shelves and remove books that capture their imagination. As books are removed from Lacuna, the structure will morph—gaps in the book brickwork will cause changes in the way light and sound filter through Lacuna’s walls, creating an ever-changing play of color, shape, and sound that will evolve over time. Benches in and around Lacuna’s will provide places for reading, discussion, and contemplation of the ideas contained within Lacuna’s walls.
Doesn’t that sound amazing! Admission is free, and visitors can take books (which have been donated) at no cost. To find out more, visit http://www.projectlacuna.com/what-is-lacuna/.
Also in the news was a roundup by the Telegraph newspaper online of the most spectacular libraries worldwide.
Each of the absolutely stunning images comes with an interesting nugget of information in the caption. In the library in the shot above, for example, in Austria, we’re told that all the books were re-bound in white to match the colour scheme. Imagine the time and expense! Now that’s dedication to art.
This one is my absolute favourite, The Escorial Library, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain – the beautiful ceiling reminds me why I so fell in love with Spain that I situated my new novel Indiscretion there.
To browse all of these amazing libraries, visit http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10382588/The-most-spectacular-libraries-in-the-world.html.
It’s enough to make one want to make a pilgrimage around the world’s very finest libraries!
With my new novel out now, what better way to set the mood for this passionate, fiery, epic love story than explorethe beautiful region of Spain in which it is set: Andalusia. I first visited as a young woman, when after university I went travelling around Europe, and since then I have returned several times. For Andalusia is not a place you visit once; it gets under your skin, and calls you back.
In the words of the hero of Indiscretion:
Andalucia is a blessed place. According to Islamic legend, Allah was asked for five favours by the people of El Andalus – clear blue skies, seas full of fish, trees ripe with every kind of fruit, beautiful women, and a fair system of government. Allah granted them all of these favours except the last … on the basis that if all five gifts were bestowed, the kingdom would become an unearthly paradise.
All I need do is close my eyes to return to this earthly paradise – and I wanted the readers to have the same ability. So I weaved into the book vivid description to really give a feel for Andalusia. To write such detail, I undertook research, but I also relied heavily on my memories, my impressions and the notes I made on my visits to Spain. These are the aspects that most stand out for me, that spring to mind when I think of Andalusia, and that I hope to convey in Indiscretion:
- Bright and eye-catching colours: From the Moorish-inspired architecture to floor tiles, from the traditional dress to the blood-red cape in the toreo, from abundant flora and fauna to the very bluest of seas beneath the clearest of skies.
- Culture: This is the home of those most famous of Spanish cultural pursuits: flamenco and bullfighting; this is the heartland of the famous Spanish passion; this is where many old cultures assimilate into one, unique, multi-faceted whole. So many wonderful musicians, singers, dancers, film-makers and artists have taken inspiration from the region; one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso, was born and lived and worked here. And, of course, everywhere the influence of the Moors who once ruled Andalusia is evident, in stunning architecture (for more details, see my recent post ‘The Moors of Spain’).
- Cuisine:What amazing meals I’ve had in Andalusia! The ingredients are of such a high quality: langostino de Sanlúcar (prawns), jamón serrano and jamónibérico (cured meats), gazpacho (cold soup), alboronía (like ratatouille), and amazing sweets, like the merengadas and amarguillos(biscuits) – all accompanied by a little jerez (sherry) or local wine.
- Spirit of the people: Andalusia is an autonomous community, and it is more populated than any other autonomous community. So there are many people who are very proud of their Andalusian nationality. The geographical location of Andalusia, on the south coast with a coastline on both the Mediterranean and Atlantic, has made it a popular place for holidaymakers, and I found a real sense of ‘fiesta’ in the places I visited, and an intensity: as Salvador says in the book: ‘Everything we Andalucians do, we do with intensity.’ Plus the temperate climate makes for such a wonderful life enjoyed in the warmth and beneath glorious blue skies (the dry area of Andalusia enjoys some 300 days of sunshine per year!).
Have you ever been to this region of Spain? Would you like to visit (again)? I would love to hear your thoughts.