In a highly likable debut, former British journalist Evans tours Spain on her bicycle.
It’s a very straightforward affair: the author pedals her way through the Pyrenees, then hops a plane south to explore the area between Grenada and Jerez before jumping north once more to take in the wonderful Extremadura. First and foremost, she explains the tapas: “The Spanish like to drink for hours on end . . . but they don’t like to get drunk. And so they snack.” Little rounds of bread and bacalao, eggs with mayonnaise, squares of potato omelet, pickled herring, marinated eel, a small slice of tripe, all find their way down the author’s gullet, and she describes them with such relish it feels as if we’re eating along with her. Meanwhile, equally vivid are her encounters with living creatures (dogs, hogs, unpleasant hostel keepers). Evans only glancingly delineates the landscapes she passes through, though she makes up for that with long rambles through the countryside’s history—and Spain is nothing if not full of outrageous history. The writer has a fine time with Juana the Mad, so fiercely possessive of her husband that she refused to have him buried and instead “embarked on a tour of Spain with Felipe’s fast-rotting corpse.” She also does well with Wilfred the Hairy of Catalonia, the unfortunate fate of the Duchess of Alba’s feet, the little cider mill that acted as a safe house for downed pilots during WWII, and the plague of witches that visited Zugarramurdi in the 13th century. She gets bonked, a cycling term for the discombobulation that ensues from spending more calories in a day than you put in the body, and she suffers faulty directions from all sorts of deceptive and cruel experts. The trip ends in the Extremadura countryside, with Evans cycling by “the occasional aged farmer with his donkey tilling the land and, every now and then, a posse of black-haired pigs.”
As unpretentious as a tapas bar, and as brimming with savory morsels.