A Week Aboard the Al Andalus: Sevilla, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada.

There was an era when travelling for pleasure was a privilege of the upper classes and the most comfortable mode was always by train. Hollywood sold us the sensual image of train travel; the damsel in diamonds and fur enveloped by the rising steam of the engine, blowing kisses and waving a reluctant goodbye from the window; the attendant in his pill box cap calling for all aboard and swinging a lantern.

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Book review: Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Anybody who knows Tom Wolfe the journalist and novelist will always remember the skinny guy in the white suit as the arbiter of new journalism and social commentator with satirical fiction like Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. Not the most prolific novelist out there, he only produced four novels during his long career, and although I can’t remember much about Man, I do recall that I loved it when I read it many years ago.

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Book review: The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

Although it seems like a cliché, finding oneself is a bigger challenge than it may seem. The protagonist of this novel, Larry, is a young man and veteran of WWI who leaves his comfortable life behind in Chicago and heads to Paris to read and think about life and what’s important. He is of the upper classes and grew up among snobs and wealth but after a traumatic experience in the war, he decides to go in search of something else – the acquisition of knowledge. When we meet him, he spends an entire day in the library of a gentlemen’s club reading The Principles of Psychology by William James.

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Book review: I Am Dynamite! A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche

If my reading habits came down to a desert island choice; you know, what kind of reading material would I take with me: genre fiction, literature, or non-fiction – I’d have to go with non-fiction. I’m picky when it comes to genre fiction; if I’m not hooked right away, I abandon. I’ll never read everything I want to in this life so no time to waste. As much as I love literature, sometimes it’s just too much trouble, therefore, I have to go with non-fiction as my desert island choice.

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Book review: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco made an interesting comment about this novel during an interview. He was speaking about the narrowness of love: if I love you, I want you to love me, and I don’t want anyone else to love you and I want you to feel the same way about me. But hate is generous. It’s a simple idea but he’s right. Haters love to hate and spread it around liberally. Haters hate whole generations, nations, and ethnicities equally; their hatred doesn’t discriminate. The narrator of The Prague Cemetery is a hater for the ages. He’s Italian by birth but considers himself French; he has a bit of Hannibal Lecter in him – he is hyper-intelligent, well-educated and loves fine food but hates everyone, especially the Jews.

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Book review: Moon Palace by Paul Auster

I can’t remember when I started reading Paul Auster, but he has been one of my favorite authors ever since. I’ve started re-reading some of his work recently and am reminded what makes him such a great writer. Auster has a distinct narrative style; the narrator’s voice always seems familiar whether it’s in the first or third person. I think Roland Barthe’s, The Death of the Author, and his concept of the author’s narrative voice disappearing from the text has never happened with Auster; his voice is alive and well and front and center.

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Book review: The Magus by John Fowles

I love to buy used books. Whenever I’m travelling in Europe, I always keep an eye out for secondhand book shops, and while on a recent train trip to Val d’Isere for some spring skiing; we stopped for a night in Nimes, one of the nicest villages just over the border from Cataluña. There was a book shop that had caught my eye the last time we were in town, which was closed, but on this trip, I had a chance to rummage through the English language selection in a wooden cart set up on the sidewalk. What I like about used books, beside the price, is the limited selection. Sometimes, fewer choices are better and thanks to limited choices; I’ve read novels I wouldn’t have if I came across them within an unlimited selection and as a result have happily discovered new authors. If I walked into a Barnes & Nobles, I wouldn’t know where to begin browsing.

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A Boring Monday in Carcassonne, France

Franco famously stated in the ‘60s that, “Spain is different”; I suppose he meant different from other Euro destinations or different from the Spain you thought you knew. Within Spain there are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde “twin” cities, or perhaps Barcelona and Madrid are like stepsisters; they have the same mother, were raised apart due to a nasty divorce but only one of them inherited the family’s good looks. Both are geographic and emblematic centers; one the country’s capital and the other the political core of the Cataluña region and, as many may know, a separatist political party has been active there for many years, but the consensus is that these separatists are a minority population scattered around villages and small cities while the residents of Barcelona identify with Spain.

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