Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Driving Over Lemons, and making lemonade
There’s something intriguing about the guy who might have been the drummer for Genesis shearing sheep and running a farm in Andalucía. Of course if he had stuck with the original job, and not vacated his seat for a guy named Phil Collins, who knows if Genesis would have become Genesis? But I’d think that it would make a person wonder what might have been every once in a while.
Well, not Chris Stewart. Years after leaving the band, Stewart went to Spain, fell in love with the rugged mountains of the Sierra Nevada, and suddenly bought a farm without running water or electricity. And it appears he never looked back.
Driving over Lemons recounts Stewart's early years of raising sheep and oranges at El Valero, a decaying farm on the “wrong” side of a river that separates the farm from civilization at some times during the year. There are the funny bits and quirky characters readers have come to expect from these kinds of cross-cultural memoirs. But like any book with a “different” culture at its heart, this book is ultimately about the author’s own culture, examining which parts of it the author can shed, which parts of it he or she can adapt, and which parts of it are so close to the author’s soul that they can never be left behind. In the case of Chris Stewart that would be: tea.
Seriously, the one thing that this book lacks, compared with the others in its genre, is a coming to grips with the inner turmoil of living outside your culture. For most people it is confusing at first, and sometimes even threatening. But Stewart’s view is decidedly rosy. The author describes himself as an “optimist,” and I definitely would not describe myself as one, so maybe I just don’t understand his perspective. But the book seemed a bit “light” to me, as though Stewart didn’t want to offend anyone. The way he was pushed around by El Valero’s former owner almost made me put the book down – maybe he’s optimistic, maybe he’s just naïve, or maybe he’s naively optimistic. In the end I couldn’t decide.
Having spent some time in Spain, I did appreciate Stewart’s descriptions of the countryside, and his collection of the common wisdom of the local farmers has some funny moments. This is not the kind of book that made me laugh out loud, but it did give me some insight into the joys of veering out of life’s fast lane. I just never identified with Stewart enough to really share in his ups, because I didn’t see any of the downs. Still, the book is highly recommended for someone planning a trip – or a life – in Andalucía, and anyone who loves travel-based memoirs.