Rivers, Roads, and Technical Considerations: The Travel Books of Julio Llamazares

By Henn, David | The Modern Language Review, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Rivers, Roads, and Technical Considerations: The Travel Books of Julio Llamazares


Henn, David, The Modern Language Review


During the 1990s, the Spanish novelist and poet Julio Llamazares published three travel books. Two of these, El rio del olvido and Cuaderno del Duero, are works in which the author sets out, for very different reasons, to follow two northern Spanish rivers. With Tras-os-Montes: (Un viaje portugues), on the other hand, the author explores the highlands and valleys of north-eastern Portugal. In the course of this car journey, the act of driving and the condition and contours of the roads are frequently foregrounded. This article examines the presence and importance of rivers and roads in the three journeys described.

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During the past twenty-five years Julio Llamazares (who was born in the province of Leon in 1955) has published poetry, prose fiction, travel books, and essays. However, he is still known principally for his novels Luna de lobos (1985) and La lluvia amarilla (1988), and for the collection of heavily autobiographical stories, Escenas de cine mudo (1994). His most recent novel, El cielo de Madrid (2005), marks a distinct change of setting from the provincial and even mountain landscapes of northern Spain of the earlier fiction and also a clear change of thematic direction, with its protagonist, a Madrid-based painter, seeking artistic and personal fullment.

Although his three travel works were all published in the 1990s, this does not indicate that the author was, during that decade, taking to the road and concentrating on travel accounts. In fact, the journeys described in two of these works took place in the first half of the 1980s: El rio del olvido: Viaje (1990) records a walking trip undertaken in August 1981 in the writer's home province and Cuaderno del Duero (1999) describes a journey made in May 1984 that followed part of the course of the River Douro through northern Spain. On the other hand, Tras-os-Montes: (Un viaje portugues) (1998) is the record of a trip around north-eastern Portugal that took place in August 1995, the early stages of which were serialized in the Spanish newspaper El Pais exactly a year later. (1)

Two of these three works, then, deal with travels through Llamazares's home country and are therefore examples of domestic travel writing. Most travel writing (and, indeed, nearly all of the critical writing on travel literature) involves journeys abroad and is pitched at a 'home' readership. Traditionally, accounts of foreign travel have involved descriptions of any or many of the following: interesting, challenging, exotic, places or landscapes; adventure and even danger; differences of environment and climate, of customs, clothes, food, religion, and so on--notions of alterity, of the 'strangeness' that Levi-Strauss talks of in Tristes Tropiques (1955). (2) All the preceding are factors that would attract travellers to foreign, sometimes little-known, parts, and also fascinate the readers back home.

Domestic travel writing, in which author and reader operate within their own cultural framework, involves a different kind of task for the traveler-author. Indeed, the novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux comments on 'the most difficult of all travel subjects: the journey near home', and subsequently notes that 'few travel writers have managed this well'. (3) Such narratives may describe locations already familiar to the reader (but presented in a fresh light), parts of the home country that are little known, or possibly aspects of the home country that may disturb the reader. Indeed, Michael Kowalewski sees domestic journeys as falling into two distinct categories: 'Celebrating the local and unfamiliar or--in a long tradition of social exploration--exposing and investigating conditions at home that most would prefer to ignore.' (4) With regard to 'celebrating the local and unfamiliar', Jose Saramago's six-month tour of his home country, Viagem a Portugal (1981), comes to mind.

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