The book of the blog (1)

I had been tipped off that the first review of my book would appear today.   It has, by Rowan Moore in the Observer New Review:  friendly and fair, Moore manages not to reveal that he is himself a long-term East End resident, perhaps, indeed, a gentrifier himself.   I like the description of it as ‘Pevsner’s Buildings of England guides, but with the subjective comment knob turned up and the academic one turned down’.   The only error is that Apple gets all the credit for the photographs (the headline reads ‘The East End through Apple-tinted glasses’), whereas attentive readers of my blog will know, all the photographs were taken on a Samsung.


Michael Jacobs

My last post from Southern Spain is to salute the memory of Michael Jacobs, the passionate Hispanophile whose guide to Andalucía, published in its more recent editions by Pallas Athene, has given me the utmost pleasure, not just for its gazetteer, useful though that is, but more for its long and wonderful introduction, which covers so many aspects of Andalucían history and culture with such scholarly authority, including the character of the Alhambra, the nature of Spanish baroque architecture, how best to enjoy flamenco, and the pleasures of the pilgrimage to El Rocío.   Through it all it’s clear how much he revelled in the wilder aspects of Andalucían life.   A great loss, dying relatively young, three years ago.



We stopped off at Narila en route to Yegen and found one of the smallest and quirkiest of rural museums – a single room filled with the paraphernalia of what could have been a car boot sale, but for the extreme love and care with which it was all labelled and displayed and the accompanying photographs of village life:-

We liked the village too, with its signpost of the route to Gibralter:-


Gerald Brenan

Not having access in Órgiva to Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy’s biography of Brenan, I was pleased to find out more about him in Michael Jacobs’s admirable well-informed guide to Andalucía, as well as in Frances Partridge’s entry on him in DNB (South from Granada is dedicated to Ralph Partridge).   Brenan was always keen on long distance walking, having set out aged eighteen after being bullied at Radley to walk to China with the photographer, John Hope-Johnstone.   They only made it to Bosnia.   After fighting in the First World War, he moved to Spain in 1919 to eke out his army pension away from his family and middle-class England.   But he returned in the mid-1920s to undertake research in the British Museum for a life of St. Teresa of Ávila.   Back in Yegen to write the book, he had an affair with a fifteen-year old village girl called Juana.   According to Partridge, he was ‘obsessed by sex, but inhibited by fears of impotence’.   Perhaps what was not written about his time in Yegen was as interesting as what was.



As our holiday has been dominated by the writings of Gerald Brenan – not just South from Granada, published in 1957, but the earlier Face of Spain, describing his 1949 tour of Franco’s Spain – we decided to spend our last day on a pilgrimage to Yegen, the village where he lived in the early 1920s and whose inhabitants he described so dispassionately.

The route was precipitous, up the valley, through a parched landscape planted with intermittent olive groves and almond trees, through Cádiar, and then climbing again until we reached Yegen, which seemed wholly deserted and without anywhere to eat, and hard to imagine Gerald Brenan setting off to walk to Granada to meet Lytton Strachey off the train:-


Órgiva (2)

After the exertions of yesterday’s visit to Granada, today has been somnolent, with only a morning walk up the back roads to Órgiva’s weekly market, which, like many markets, turns out to be not much more than a few stalls selling fruit, vegetables and cheap clothes.   But the walk enabled me to enjoy views of the mountains and overgrown olive groves:-


Granada (2)

I managed to leave out of my account of Granada yesterday any mention of the Capilla Royal, the chapel which was attached to San Juan de los Reyes in order to house the great tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella.   This was partly because we had great difficulty getting into it and partly because photography wasn’t allowed.   I was impressed as much by the presence of some wonderful pictures by Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling as by the grandiose tombs by Domenico Fancelli.   I have discovered that they are there because Isabella had a taste for Flemish painting, as well as commissioning a Flemish architect, Enrique Egas, to design the chapel in a style known, for good reason, as Isabelline plateresque.   It was their grandson, Charles V, whose taste was more austerely Italianate.

This is my one picture of the side of the chapel:-


John Frederick Lewis RA (2)

Mark Fisher is quite right to remind me that the RA owns a great number of drawings by John Frederick Lewis, including an album of juvenilia presented after his death in 1876 by his brother, Charles George, many of which were shown in the Tennant Gallery in 2008.   But he is, of course, principally remembered as an orientalist, moving to Constantinople in 1840 (he met Wilkie who was on his way to the Holy Land), and Cairo in November 1841, where he lived in a Mamluk mansion and was described by Thackeray in his Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo as leading ‘a dreamy, hazy, lazy tobaccofied life’.   After returning to England in 1851, he and his wife lived in Walton-on-Thames, his wife setting out his brushes for him every morning.   He was elected an ARA in 1859 and a full RA in 1865, but was disliked as a teacher in the RA Schools because of his irritable perfectionism.


Granada (1)

The Michelin Guide said ‘driving is not recommended in Granada’.   They were right.   We went round and round looking for somewhere to park.   Every car park was full.

However, we did manage to visit La Cartuja, the Carthusian monastery to the north east of the city (thank you for the recommendation) with its astonishing, over-the-top Sacristy:-

The Sancta Sanctorum was not bad either:-

En route to the Cathedral, we passed, first, the church of San Juan de Dios:-

And, second, Santos Justos y Pastor:-

The Cathedral itself is complex.   I wasn’t that keen on the grandly cavernous interior, but liked some of the carving on the outside:-

On the way back to the car, we got a good view of the dome of the Santos Justos y Pastor:-

And bits and pieces along the route:-


John Frederick Lewis RA (1)

The good thing about Robert Irwin’s book about the Alhambra is his last chapter ‘The Romance of the Moor’ on early travellers to Granada and their accounts, both visual and verbal, of the Alhambra.   Amongst these was John Frederick Lewis, the son of a London engraver, whose father had come to London from Germany and changed his name from Ludwig.   Lewis was brought up in what is now Foley Street, north of Oxford Street, an area full of artists, including the Landseers who were neighbours.   He worked as an assistant to Thomas Lawrence in the 1820s painting animals, before specialising in topographical watercolours, first in the west of England, then in the Alps, and in 1832 and 1833 in Spain, where he stayed with Richard Ford, corresponded with David Roberts, and produced lithographs which, in 1835, were published as Lewis’s Sketches and Drawings of the Alhambra, made during a Residence in Granada in the Years 1833-4 (he was actually there slightly earlier).   This was one of the sources of the picturesque cult of the Alhambra, alongside the writings of Wahington Irving, which Irwin so deplores.