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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
Categories & Series
Monthly Archives: December 2018
Book Goal: 35
Books Read: 44 (Smashed last year’s record by 4!)
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (including one I actually purchased there)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 16
Books from Book of the Month: 9
Nonfiction: 6 (down from a whopping 14 last year)
Favorite Book(s): “The Italian Teacher” by Tom Rachman (I think about this book constantly and recommend it to everyone. Rachman’s “Imperfectionists” was one of my favorites last year.), “A Ladder to the Sky” by John Boyne (I’ve never read a book that long that quickly. It was delicious.)
Least Favorite(s): I don’t think “The Truth About Thea” by Amy Impellizzeri even qualifies as a book, as terrible as it was. I’ve never read something as poorly edited or with such flagrant disregard for punctuation or plot, and may I never again.
Longest Book: “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara at 672 pages
Shortest Book: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck at 107 pages (the book is physically half the size of a regular one)
Funniest: “L’Appart” by David Lebovitz (I have a signed copy!), because you have to laugh to keep from crying during his torturous apartment renovation
Saddest: I read a lot of books I would qualify as objectively sad, including “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” by Clemence Wamariya, “Small Country” by Gaël Faye, both about African Great Lakes genocide, and “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara
Prettiest Cover: “The Italian Teacher” by about a million miles (everything designer Jaya Miceli touches turns to gold)
Most Overrated: “Feel Free” by Zadie Smith (I’m starting to think Zadie and I aren’t meant to be friends) and “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday (sleeping with Philip Roth and then writing a fictionalized account of it will absolutely get you a book deal, FYI)
Most Enjoyable: “A Ladder to the Sky” was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down.
Last year, I said, “I don’t think I’m going to hit 40 books next year” and this year I set a new personal record. Just goes to show you, keep your expectations low and you’re never disappointed! Kidding. This was a big year. In addition to these 44 books, I also finished my own, and read it at least half a dozen times, in digital and paper format. I already have about 10 books in a basket under my night table ready to go. Let’s do it, 2019.
December 31, 2018 / read / watch /
On this trip, I did something I’d never done before: I went to a beach and I enjoyed it. Even if I’d accomplished nothing else in 2018 (and really, I need to tell you all about my latest novel update) the fact that I went to a beach (in a bathing suit and everything!) and my legs and arms did not retract into my body like a turtle has to be some sort of personal growth worthy of bragging about.
Tavira was the second-largest town we visited, after Faro, but was still endlessly quaint and delightful despite its relative notoriety amongst tourists. It was a little more ramshackle than the upscale town of Loulé, and less commercial than Faro, but
if when we go back, Tavira will be high on the list of places to stay for longer than an afternoon. As it was, an afternoon was just enough time to fall in love with its windy streets and chippy shutters, and eat some of the best octopus of my life in nearby St. Lucia, the self-proclaimed octopus capital of the world.
After a week in Almancil, we drove north to Evora, a town once inhabited by the Romans and an entirely different experience after the sun-drenched coast. Oddly, though, it was somehow hotter in Evora than it had been in the Algarve. We stayed in a converted convent for the night and drove into town for yet more octopus and sightseeing. I’ll never get over seeing 2,000+ year old Roman ruins standing in the middle of a mostly-modernized city. After 24 hours, it was time to head to Lisbon.
We may have overdone it one day: we hit Loulé, Alte, Silar, Querença, in one swoop. The latter is the size of a postage stamp, with a church, two restaurants, and a museum about the history of water and irrigation (?! Portugal, I love you). Loulé was perhaps more upscale than the other towns, though located right in the center of the finely manicured center is an ancient castle (admission was €1,60; I couldn’t get over the relative affordability of almost everything in Portugal in comparison to other Western European countries, but the museums and castles were particularly inexpensive). We drove through Silar without really getting out of the car, but the village of Alte was absolutely adorable. Again, it maybe had twenty year-round residents, but it featured a charming canal, a few cafes, and the birthplace of the poet Cândido Guerreiro. It also featured several very territorial geese who did not like it when you tried to get near the very scenic canal. I always forget Jamal dislikes water fowl (also peacocks) but I was reminded when, after cautiously approaching the water’s edge, I turned and saw him walking back to the car with a bellowed “NOPE.”
As happens on vacations, you arrive in a picturesque and thoroughly charming locale and think, “Oh, yes, I could live here.” There’s lots of peering in real estate windows, mentally calculating the cost of an apartment or house, ignoring the logistics of picking up & packing up your entire life and depositing it halfway across the world because, really, did you not see the precious storefronts? The locals who could have walked out of central casting and wave to you from their doorways and ask, “How are you enjoying your time here?” so earnestly? The lack of gun violence and presence of socialized medicine? All of this played out within the first few minutes of arriving in Monchique, settled high up in the hills of the Algarve. What a delight. It’s such a different landscape from the rest of the beach towns and lower-altitude spots in the Algarve. The town is famous for Medronho, a liqueur from a fruit tree of the same name, native to the area and not produced commercially (or anywhere else, for that matter); a kindly Welsh expat shop owner let us sample some. We left town and drove to the scenic overlook at the highest point in the Algarve, before returning to the resort and falling asleep by the pool (I told you there was a lot of that).
We flew to Portugal for two weeks on the last day of September. (And yes, it’s taken me this long to get a post together. A brief, yet valid, excuse: five days after we got home, we bought a house, and the movers came the next day. This sale season at work has been long and exhausting, to say nothing of the fact that I also spent the entirety of the month of November editing my novel–more on that later!)
Despite a bumpy start to the trip–a four-hour delay out of Philadelphia, a missed connection in Madrid, luggage that was lost somewhere in Spain even though we were in Portugal, and accidentally leaving my glasses on the plane–Portugal wowed me from the moment I exited the airport. We picked up a rental car and drove three hours down the western coast to Aljezur, to spend one night in a nature reserve bed and breakfast. Much of that first day was spent sitting by the pool we couldn’t swim in because our bathing suits were in another country, on the phone with American Airlines. We made the quick trip into the tiny cluster of streets that constitute Aljezur’s ‘downtown’ for dinner, which consisted of grilled octopus (my favorite meat) and crisp, cheap vinho verde (my favorite wine), a meal I would end up replicating nearly every single day of the trip, much to my joy.
The next morning, we drove along the southern coast to Almancil, to check into a resort that would act as our home base over the first week. On the way, we stopped at Praia do Amado, a beach popular with surfers, and Cabo de São Vicente, which is the most western tip of the European continent. Standing on the rocky crop of cliffs, it felt like standing at the end of the world. You can imagine how people 500 years ago could think so; the horizon was nearly impossible to locate in the endless expanse of blue. I just stood there, my jaw slack, trying to take it all in and failing. It’s like my brain couldn’t comprehend it. We stopped for lunch in Portimão (more octopus and vinho verde), and arrived in Almancil in the late afternoon, where our luggage was blessedly waiting for us. You’ve never seen someone so happy to be reunited with underwear.
There was a lot of laying by the pool (in the shade), reading, swimming, lazing about in the afternoons, while the mornings were spent exploring the towns nearby. Faro was by far the largest and most touristed of the ones we visited, but for good reason; it’s a gem.