Book Review: ‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia’

two middle-aged ladies in andalusia by penelope chetwode - cover 4-8-13My copy of this delightful travel story is secondhand, a slim hardback book with an onion skin thin duck egg blue paper cover. The silhouette on the front of the two ladies – Penelope Chetwode, wife of poet John Betjeman, and her steed Marquesa – is echoed inside in a black and white photograph of the pair. This is a quick read and has the feeling of being written up from her daily notebook, which gives it a charm and immediacy. Chetwode clearly loves the people she meets and the countryside she explores on her borrowed horse Marquesa, on a circular trip through the hills between Granada and Úbeda in Andalucía in 1961. She glimpses a world which would be recognised by other literary travellers through Andalucía, from Richard Ford and Washington Irving to Laurie Lee and Chris Stewart. The poverty and generosity of the people she meets, the love for animals, the mystical stories of the hills, the cave-dwellers, juxtaposed on rare occasions with 1960s cars, bars, doctors and shops. two middle-aged ladies in andalusia by penelope chetwode - photo 4-8-13She gets a buzz when she is given directions along a mule track and hears the warning ‘camin muy malo’, very bad road, and off the two ladies go into the wild of scrub and hill. The details of her daily existence are fascinating, where she sleeps, what she eats, what the horse eats, the people she meets on the road and in the posadas, the roadside inns with stables where the horse is led through the front door to the stable at the rear.two middle-aged ladies in andalusia by penelope chetwode - map 4-8-13She painstakingly improves her Spanish, starting from the point of reciting facts about herself and so discouraging questions she cannot understand: “I am English, I am on a tour in these mountains, I have come from the farm of the English Duke of Wellington and Ciudad Rodrigo. That [pointing to the stable] is his mare. I have come from London to Madrid in an aeroplane.” All of this is punctuated with descriptions of the churches she finds, masses she attends, and comparisons with poetry and art. Charming.
‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia’ by Penelope Chetwode*
*My copy is out of print, but a new edition is available online from Eland Books at http://www.travelbooks.co.uk/
5 to remember
de segunda mano – secondhand
delgado/a – slim
la silueta – silhouette
diario/a – daily
de circunvalación – circular/making a circuit

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