Two book reviews by Ceridwyn Parr of Watershed Words
Lodging in Spain’s Monasteries
Eileen Barish Anacapa Press 2002
A Room with a Pew
Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt 2012
Teresa of Avila’s finger used to lie under the pillow of Franco, and now it was stretched out in front of our horrified yet fascinated eyes. Avila may be the most beautiful walled city in the western world, but it was snowing and we needed to be inside.
The history of Christianity is full of gruesome tales and strange practices, but it has also seen the building of exquisite and magnificent buildings (among many other achievements). Spain is full of monasteries and we planned to stay in a few, as we wandered through Andalucia then up towards Santiago de Compostela.
I had bought Lodging in Spain’s Monasteries, which carefully describes 150 atmospheric places to stay. Excited, I got out the map, opened the book, but it was too hard. The book is in English, but the addresses, are of course, in Spanish, and it was a challenge to match up locations with our itinerary. I did try, by putting dots on a road map, but gave up. Now that I have been to Spain, it is all a little more decipherable. Eileen Barish’s book is a thorough, serious and informative guide book. It would greatly benefit the reader if there were a map of each area. These days, of course, it needs GPS references, plus a mobile friendly app.
But that was 2002, and here, published ten years later, is the book you really want, to inspire and galvanise you into making the first booking. And it is very funny.
A Room with a Pew tells the story of a couple who set off to spend several summer weeks using monasteries as their base, to explore the small villages, history, art and culture of Spain from Andalucia, to Don Quixote country, and over to Avila of the famous finger.
Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt profess no religious interest, but are very curious about the men and women who spend their whole lives in prayer, work and closed community.
They are fearless in their questioning and entertaining in their observations. The book is not intended as a guide book but it certainly contains enough information, plus maps,and addresses for you to book a few monastery beds for yourself.
Prices for beautifully clean simple rooms with bathroom, seem to be around 40 Euros, but in some places there is no charge. Simply staying as a guest is an experience, and the authors were often invited into rarely seen areas full of priceless art and artefacts.
A Room with a Pew is one of those perfect travel books – it is a great read, it tells a good story with likeable characters, it opens up hitherto unfamiliar territory, and it leaves you wanting to just get up and go.
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