Author: Michael Eaude
Extent: 388 pp
Publication: April 2019
Publisher: Signal Books
A Cultural History of Valencia
The towns of Valencia’s long coast and privileged climate, in particular Benidorm, southern Europe’s skyscraper capital, are famous beach tourism destinations. Country of fire, fireworks and long meals (often featuring the renowned paella), Valencia is a Mediterranean land where people know how to enjoy life.
This book tells the story of today’s Spanish provinces of Valencia, Castelló and Alacant (Alicante), with their profound Moorish legacy. The Moors designed the intricate system of irrigation that still nourishes Valencia’s prosperous horta (market garden). They brought, too, the silk, paper and orange industries.
The area is rich in monuments, many from its golden fifteenth century, when the capital became the wealthiest city on the Western Mediterranean. Sails & Winds discusses Sagunt’s Roman theatre and castle; Gandia, home to the ill-reputed Borja (or Borgia) family of popes; Elx, embraced by 200,000 palms; and Alcoi, anarchist stronghold.
Michael Eaude discusses Valencia’s art, literature and architecture: the painters Ribera and light-filled Sorolla; the great medieval poet of anguish Ausiàs March. Santiago Calatrava’s architecture, conjuring the sensation of soaring flight from steel, has given Valencia city its new trophy buildings.
Despite the continuing holiday boom, there are still deserted beaches, sinister and beautiful marshland, orange groves and a depopulated mountainous interior. Sails & Winds seeks to explain this contradictory and divided land, its identity pulled between the Spanish state and Catalonia.
Sails & Winds, by British journalist Michael Eaude, is a wide-ranging, in-depth look at Valencia and its region – its history, politics, culture, agriculture… The author clearly has an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject and writes extremely well. He’s particularly good on early Valencian literature – on writers such as Ausiàs March, regarded by many literary critics as Spain’s greatest poet in the fifteenth century, and Joanot Martorell, who wrote the famous fifteenth century novel, “Tirant Lo Blanc”. Eaude provides his own translations of excerpts from their writings, which I found extremely helpful. Another aspect of Sails & Winds that I really appreciated was the exploration of current Spanish politics – and Valencia’s role in all the conflicts and controversies. It’s fascinating, for instance, to discover the different perspectives on the Valencian version of the Catalan language, and how these perspectives have served political ends – and continue to serve them. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in Spanish and Valencian literature, history, cuture (music!) or politics. And for anyone who likes reading about present-day corruption in Spain, it’s a gold mine of information! Amazon Review