June 17, 2011 by Robert Bovington
A Review by Robert Bovington
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) is an autobiographical account of an epic journey around Spain in the nineteen thirties.
It is 1934 and Laurie Lee, the author, is a young man. He leaves the security of his Cotswold home to embark on an adventure.
Initially he travels to London and ekes out an existence by playing the violin and by labouring on a London building site. He decides to go to Spain. It seems a rash decision because the young lad’s choice of destination is based on the fact that he knows a phrase of Spanish – “¿Puede por favor dame un vaso de agua?” – “Will you please give me a glass of water?”
For a year, he tramps through Spain, from Vigo in the north to Almuñécar on the south coast. During this voyage, he experiences a country that ranges from utter desolation to extreme beauty. He manages to eat by a earning a few pesetas playing his violin. He sleeps at night in his blanket under an open sky or in a cheap, rough posada though occasionally he is rewarded with the warm and generous hospitality of poor village people that he meets along the way.
Laurie Lee provides the reader with a vivid account of life in Spain during the bleak years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. I enjoy reading travel books, especially those about Spain. “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning” is as good as any I have read even though many of the places he visits – Vigo, Valladolid, Cádiz, Tarifa – are described as squalid, dark, decrepit, acrid, and scruffy. Even Seville is both “dazzling and squalid” according to the author. He does praise some of the places he visits- Toro, Segovia, Toledo – who wouldn’t! However, Lee’s descriptions of the places and peoples that he has encountered are couched in an extremely well written and sometimes poetic prose.
Laurie Lee must have been a good communicator. If we are to believe that he only had one phrase of Spanish then he did extremely well communicating with the people on his travels. His first port of call was Vigo and, I suspect that in July 1935, the ordinary people of that city would have spoken Galician. He would no doubt acquire more words of Spanish as he travelled through Spain but in Córdoba, Seville, Cádiz, Algeciras, Málaga and his final destination, Almuñecar, he would have encountered the Andaluz dialect. A novice in Castilian Spanish might experience some difficulty in understanding the spoken word of the ordinary people of Andalusia.
I enjoyed this book very much. I would recommend “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning” as a thoroughly good read.