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Madrid: The History/Jules Stewart

One of the debates we have on the arts side of the Rust is kindle v book. It’s not either/or as many like me see the benefits of both. The kindle is transportable, downloadable and readable. Yet it has somehow taken some of the “connection” out of reading. Giving someone a kindle book is not the same as a physical book often inscribed. The other element I miss in a kindle is a visit to a bookshop. As a child the greatest treat was to go the Times Bookshop in Wigmore Street. I only have a faint recollection of carpeted bookshop where it was wonderful to browse. I would have visited the children’s section and emerged with one of Herge’s Tintin adventures, a beautifully illustrated and exciting picture book, which I am not ashamed  to say I still read. At Cambridge we had Heffers and back in London I always enjoyed a trip to Hatchards.

Over the last few years Daunts in Marylebone High Street became my favourite. Originally a travel bookshop I liked the way the books are not just organised by country but the section will continue guides, history and fiction. Later in the month there is a National  Rust  trip to Madrid, a city I have never visited. So the other day I called in at Daunts to see what they had on Madrid. I was not disappointed and purchased 2 guide books, a walking tour of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid and a history of Madrid by Jules Stewart, a journalist.

This book certainly enhanced my knowledge of the city. It covered the history of Spain from its earliest invaders, the Visigoths, then the Moors, the 800 Reconquista war for their removal and the rule of Catherine and Ferdinand which united Spain and the subsequent foreign rule of the Habsburgs and Bourbons, the Civil War and Franco right down to the present. I was left with the impression that it was more a commissioned work for a journalist than an academic study. I did meet in South Africa a Spanish intellectual who in one conversation clarified and explained the issues better than Stewart. For example I asked the person called Angel whether Admiral Blanco, the nominated successor of Franco, would have continued the dictator’s regime and ideals had he survived the ETA attack which killed him. Angel thought otherwise, making the point hat the credo of  long ruling and tough leaders rarely survives them, think Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro. Stewart does not make this point but membership of the EU may modernise a state where abortion and divorce were prohibited and even free movement between cities to relocate required permission.

Certainly a useful and vivid picture of Madrid and the Madrilenos emerges. Set on the Castillian plateau its the highest capital city in Europe; it houses two great collections of art – the Prado and Thyssen: it keeps long unusual hours – lunch after 2, dinner at 10: it has 4 football teams (Real Madrid, Atletico, Getafe and Vallecano). This book has certainly whetted my appetite, particularly the last chapter which details the restaurants and bars to visit over 48 hours.


About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts