Novelist Spenuzza (Lucia Zárate, 2017, etc.), who writes fiction under the pen name Cecilia Velastegui, offers a travel memoir unusually rich in imagery, history, and spirituality.
Spenuzza and her husband, Peter, seem to have been destined to traverse the planet. She was born in Quito, Ecuador, the great-grandniece of the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Ecuador. She was a child of privilege—until her mother divorced her father, against the cardinal’s wishes. Spenuzza was told her mother had left the country. She herself was sequestered in a convent school. In 1962, at the age of 9, she, her brother, and her sister were put, unaccompanied, on a plane to California. This was her first travel adventure, and the excitement she felt then presaged a passion for travel that she and Peter have shared over the subsequent decades. Not just any travel. Fortified with family legends and historical details garnered from the author’s copious research for her historical novels, she, Peter, and their two sons, Pete and Jay-Paul, explored ancient sites around the globe. They searched the Basque region of Spain, seeking out (and finding) the ancestral family home of Ojer de Velástegui, “a member of minor nobility in Guipúzcoa, Spain,” said to be one of her ancestral relatives: “he was among Christopher Columbus’s crew on the historic Pinta sailing of 1492.” Spenuzza’s prose reflects her emotional connections with those who walked the Earth in bygone centuries. In Turkey, for example, she rummaged through the Grand Bazaar for the type of cloths used by the Ottoman sultan’s concubines to keep their skin smooth: “I wanted to feel more than the fibers in the world-renowned Turkish towels: I was hoping to touch the desperation on the concubines’ skin as they shed their old layer and hoped that their newer and softer coating would ensure their sons a cushier future.” At times, however, the text slips into pedagogy, with lengthy lessons in art and history—not as much fun as reading about her adventures at Peru’s Huayna Picchu.
Unique, occasionally mesmerizing; loaded with esoteric historical tidbits.