A Rose For Winter by Laurie Lee

When you're lying on a hammock strung between two lofty pines, when the sky above is colour-washed turquoise, when two geese and a gander are fighting for your attention, it takes a good book, nay a great one, to keep you riveted. “A Rose For Winter” proved to be just that — a gripping read, and to think I had opened the book not knowing the author Laurie Lee from Bruce Lee! “Three months among the great white cities of Andalusia”, Lee and his wife Kati hop from Algeciras to Castillo, flitting into Seville (where “one may bite on the air and taste the multitudinous flavours of Spain”), Ecija, (“revealed in all its decayed and gilded splendour”) and Granada, (“the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities; an African paradise set under the Sierras like a rose preserved in snow”). Drinking white wine, which was as “strong as a blow on the head”, watching the sun rise “raw and dripping from the waves”, joining the Christmas celebration, all “primitive buffoonery and joy”… it's a great pleasure to read the finer details of Lee's sojourn, set in prose that borders on poetry.

This works because…

The book is like a magnet that draws you to Andalusia, that savage bit of Spain, heavily influenced by the Moors, hugging the delicious Mediterranean coast, clawing up the steep Sierras and tumbling into splendid valleys. And journeying inland and along the coast, “hundreds of feet above the dizzy sea”, watching Gibraltar (dressed “in golden fire” by “a shaft of sunlight”) and Africa (“nose up out of the twilight”), Lee meets sultry flamenco dancers, reckless bullfighters and brazen beggar children. But what really nudges this exquisitely penned portrait of Andalusia from good to great is the evocative prose, his breathtakingly brilliant choice of words, which neatly floods your head with the sights and sounds of Spain. I should know; by my hammock, a monkey was, by then, worrying the geese, and the chittering, squabbling animals quickly set up an unholy din; but immersed, deep, into the book, I only heard the tragic bellow of the cornered bulls, the deafening roar of the crowds, the bravado of the bull-fighter and the final sickening splatter of the deep, red blood. “A Rose for Winter”, you see, is that powerful.

And this one stays with you…

On The Palace of Alhambra, where “all was tender, feminine and intimately sensual” — “It was a new dimension in architecture — or rather an old forgotten one. It grew like a flower on its many-levelled hill. The delicate pillars, reflected in the pools, shivered like the stalks of lilies; the cloistered fountains trickled on leaves and lions; and the small gold rooms gathered across their walls a quivering light of snow and water, asking only for a group of cloaked ambassadors or trousered girls to furnish them completely.”


Otterly movingAugust 24, 2012

Lonely placesDecember 14, 2012