So Saturday night I got back from a wonderful holiday (that’s the vacation kind and not a national day off, my American friends) in Madrid and Valencia with Andrea and Eva (of Mousetrapped fame). I’m still gearing up for a proper return to work – and, I have to admit, I haven’t yet even properly unpacked! – so until I do, here’s a quick post about how I spent my ten days away.
1. Ate and drank
Cocktails are pretty much a given anytime Andrea and I meet up, but on this trip we discovered something simply amazing in the bar of the Westin Palace hotel in Madrid: a coronel. If I recall correctly it’s lemon sorbet, champagne and vodka and it tasted like a dream in a glass. On the terrace of the Westin Valencia, where we ended up spending most of time and rightly so, we enjoyed more than a couple agua de Valencias: orange juice, champagne, gin and vodka. It tasted dangerously like fizzy OJ and was perfect for those warm Valencia nights.
As for food, we had the best meal – and the best paella – of our entire trip at Pepe Pica in Valencia, and only paid €12 for it. We only went there because my guide book, Frommer’s Valencia Day-by-Day, recommended it, and we were so impressed I sent a thank you e-mail to the author.
2. Saw me some Bosch
Michael Connelly is my favorite author in the known universe, and if you read him you’ll know that his detective is called Harry Bosch, short for Hieronymous Bosch and after the Dutch painter. In my favorite Bosch novel to date, A Darkness More Than Night (and so, by the process of logic, one of my favorite novels of all time), one of Bosch’s most famous works, The Garden of Earthly Delights plays a role, and so when I found out that a) it hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid and b) I was going there, I just had to see it.
And buy a print that I spent a small fortune getting framed yesterday. And buy a bookmark. And buy – get this – a cleaning cloth for my glasses printed with a panel of Delights. Jealous? Yeah. I thought you would be. When the print comes back all nicely framed, I’m going to hang it above my desk as a reminder of how great books can be, and as motivation to aspire to that greatness. Thanks, Michael Connelly.
3. Went shopping
How cute is this?! Answer: VERY.
4. Read a good bad crime novel
I made the silly mistake of traveling with just one book – Live Wire by Harlan Coben – due to space constraints, and so had to make a trip to Caso del Libro in Madrid where a little mezzanine of English books offered a pretty good selection. In there I found an interesting-looking crime novel, Think of a Number by John Verdon, which turned out to be the best bad crime novel I’ve ever read.
Let me explain. While the premise was clever, the book was poorly written. It was like Bad Creative Writing Habits 101. This was astounding considering the praise heaped onto its cover in the form of blurbs, but there you go. What was so wrong? Well, the dialogue was completely contrived, never once sounded like something that would be actually said in real life and almost every line of it came with an explanation of what the person speaking was also thinking and/or doing with their face. There was a serious problem with rising tension in that there was none (i.e. two characters are having a perfectly pleasant conversation when, all of a sudden, one of them gets the mads; in real life, rage bubbles and builds) and I gave up counting how many times the various investigating law enforcement officers said something like, “Wow! This case just gets stranger and stranger!” (And yes, exclamation marks were another problem.) And as for “show, don’t tell”… well, right at the start, character A greets character B by saying, “If I didn’t know you were forty-five, I’d say you were thirty-seven!” As Andrea pointed out, it could have been called Captain Obvious Investigates a Crime.
But yet I enjoyed it, and it kept me really entertained. I can’t explain it, especially since I vowed on several occasions that I would throw it in the nearest fountain the next time someone said, “This case is amazing! It just gets stranger and stranger!” But then I also enjoyed Steig Larsson and Dan Brown, who don’t write very well but manage to produce very engaging and entertaining books, and the plot of Think of a Number was pretty good. Verdon’s bad habits are a shame, really, because at times his descriptions and generation of atmosphere were quite impressive. (I think perhaps he needs to read this.) But yet I enjoyed reading it – for the most part – and isn’t that what it’s all about?
5. Visited the City of Arts and Sciences
On my list of places to see for a long time has been Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, and I was not disappointed. What a truly beautiful and amazing place and – bonus! – I got to see the Hubble IMAX movie in its L’Hemispheric. Oh yeah.
Shame about the dinosaur though.
A two-hour wait on the tarmac (thanks, Aer Lingus!) and a four-hour bus ride back to Cork (thanks, Air Coach!) brought me back to earth with a bang, and now I’m staring at my lovely collection of Spanish Starbucks mugs to get me through the post-vacation blues. While I was away, WordPress changed everything here behind the scenes (ooh, fancy!), CreateSpace sent me a most interesting e-mail (that is either the best idea ever or the very worst; I haven’t decided yet) and a pile of lovely books (and an Apollo 11 mission patch!) arrived in the post. But as I still haven’t unpacked or even got round to answering my e-mails, it might be a few days before I’m back up and running here. I’m just taking my cue from the laid-back Valencians, and easing myself gently back in to working life…
So give me a week to get back up to speed.