Contemplating the options, from “The High Mountains of Portugal” to “Tasting Rome”…

I’m hopeful that my seemingly interminable period of dormancy is coming to an end.  The days are getting longer and warmer, my ankle is starting to feel stronger, and I just know that any day now I’m going to kick this persistent cough!  It has also helped my mood immeasurably to have just confirmed my next adventure:  a cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean bookended with stays in Istanbul and Rome with my beloved travel buddy and longest BFF, Deb.

I’ve been reading throughout my inactivity, of course.  Some books have not really merited recommendation.  Las Puertas del Paraíso (The Doors of Paradise), by Nerea Riesco, was a good way for me to practice my Spanish skills, but that’s about it.  Set during Isabel and Fernando’s effort to conquer Granada, I found myself incessantly annoyed by the juxtaposition of rich and precise historic details with what felt to me like pure laziness:  mentions of tomatoes and potatoes, both “New World” foods quite popular in Spain now, but unknown there prior to 1492.

The High Mountains of Portugal: A Novel

Other books, however, were so exceptional that it has taken me weeks to wrap my mind around all the ideas and emotions they conjured.  The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (Random House, 2016) was a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband, chosen because it has gotten excellent reviews from a variety of sources.  As usual for anything my husband gives me, it did not disappoint.  Martel is most famous for his previous bestseller, The Life of Pi (which I have never actually gotten around to reading.)  When I first finished The High Mountains of Portugal, right before Easter, it occurred to me that I could approach an analysis through Christian religious considerations. There is plenty there, from the subtle structure of three stories tied together by a village in Portugal to outright discussions of Christianity and its tenets to a central theme of grief and loss and redemption.  But I’m not a theologian, so I’ll leave my analysis to this:  great literature is whatever makes the reader think and ponder, and possibly leave with lessons for their own life.  In my case, the last story of the novel gave me a literary character that has stayed with me:  a chimpanzee named Odo who teaches the grieving Portuguese-Canadian politician who adopts him how to live in the “now”.  A  lifetime of striving and planning for a “future” has left me struggling a bit with that concept of being fully in the present, and in fact that may be the biggest challenge of retirement thus far. So the finely drawn Odo has lurked in my subconscious since finishing this beautiful novel, reminding me to worry less about the future and be mindful of my present.

Which is not to say that I’m not deeply excited about my future travel plans!  Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Crown Publishing Group, 2016)  is an unusual book choice for me.  Primarily a cookbook, this volume is also a lovely introduction to authentic Roman cuisine and parts of the city most tourists don’t experience.  Even if you never prepare any of the recipes (highly likely in my case), the photographs alone make this volume a treasure.  I especially liked the sections about “Cucina Ebraica” (Jewish cooking) and “Quinto Quarto”, which feature recipes using animal parts that the average visitor to the average Italian restaurant in Denver would be very unlikely to encounter.  Since food is, for me, an integral part of the travel experience, I’m looking forward to expanding my culinary horizons a bit when I’m in Rome as a result of having read this book.  And in the meanwhile, maybe I’ll expand my “now” a bit with one of the more accessible recipes.  The “brutti ma buoni”(hazelnut meringues) sound tasty!

I received Tasting Rome from Blogging for Books for this review.