This fall my husband and I are traveling to Portugal and northern Spain, so we are starting our travel reading.
For many years, wherever I traveled, I bought a cookbook as a memento of the trip. Three problems with this approach emerged. First, I couldn’t always find a local English language cookbook. In Rome, I went to great lengths to find an English language bookstore only to discover that the cookbooks had been printed in the U.S., and often written by people in the United States! And, of course, there were times when I couldn’t find any cookbooks in English at all.
The second problem with buying books while traveling is that there is too much to see and do to read more than bits and pieces.
And, finally, I realized that I’m more likely to read about where I’m going than where I’ve been! So now I read ahead.
No doubt you’ve noticed a common element among the books pictured so far. I have a long-standing cookbook collection. But these books are more than recipes! The first two give a great deal of cultural history and geography, talking about ethnic foods and how they came to be. My Portugal is more personal. Although a renowned chef in NYC, his roots are in Portugal. This book contains stories of his time in Portugal, his family, and his experiences as a chef. And all of them contain spectacular pictures of the places as well as the food!
My husband chose Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal’s History and Culture. It is a travelogue—not my usual choice in reading. However, José Saramago was a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, so perhaps I’ll put aside my biases in this instance. Alentejo Blue appeals to me more. It is fiction, set in a village in Portugal, and the author (Monica Ali) is highly praised.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy “foreign fiction” is to read some of the country’s best contemporary writers. The Traveler’s Literary Companion is a series, published by Whereabouts Press. Check it out.
Perhaps I haven’t convinced you to read your travels, but why not give it a try?