Single, stressed, and living amid the hustle and hurry of modern Hong Kong, Polly Evans had a vision: of mountains and orange groves, matadors and promenades-and of a glorious, hassle-free journey across Spain by bicycle. But like any decent dream, Polly's came with its own reality: of thighs screaming with pain and goats trying to derail her, of strange local delicacies and overzealous suitors. In fact, like any great traveler, Polly had bitten off more than she could chew-and would delight in every last taste of it.
Exploring the country that gave the world flamenco, chocolate, sherry, Franco, and Picasso, Polly takes us from the towering Pyrenees to the vineyards of Jerez de la Frontera, spinning tales of conquistadors and kings, vibrant history and mouthwatering cuisine. In the end, this hilarious, irreverent, always engaging memoir of a journey on two wheels unveils a lot about one modern woman, even more about an utterly fascinating nation, and countless reasons why it's better when you do it on a bike.
This story of a frustrated young editor who jumps ship from her deadline-laden job in Hong Kong and escapes to a biking adventure in Spain is spiked with moments of hilarity and broad humor. "I set myself the target of a thousand miles and six weeks in which to cover them," she writes. "If my tour took a few ups and downs, if I felt the need to let out the occasional primal scream, well, in Spain nobody would notice. They're used to craziness in Spain. In fact, they positively celebrate it." Evans arranges her route through towns large and small (San Sebastian, Barcelona, Ronda, Oropesa, etc.). Her odyssey of pedaling, chowing and searching for quaint local color often reads like a picaresque, and her book has the same penchant for sharp caricature. Writing of a small town, she observes: "A group of old men stood around the bar, their heads in a cloud of smoke, a carpet of cigarette butts at their feet, and discussed the issues of the day... 'So, we'll see you at the park bench for the three p.m. sit-and stare session?'" Elsewhere, she describes a rural woman carrying a sack of logs: "I had the strong impression she had chopped them herself, quite possible with a mighty slice of her hard, bare hand." Readers who enjoy this vein of humor will delight in her book, and to her credit Evans often turns her wit upon herself. At one point she notes that her trip has made her look like a "toasted whippet, something to do with being both gruesomely gaunt and burnt to a crisp."
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 26, 2006
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Excerpt from It's Not About the Tapas by Polly Evans
Breaking the Chain
I had to get out of Hong Kong.
The city was going crazy, and it was taking me down with it. The second economic crisis in four years was looming. The property boom had bust; the stock market was plummeting and brokers without bonuses were hurling themselves from high windows and making a nasty mess on the streets below. On the pavements, the hordes scurried, shoved and elbowed their way through the summer smog, screeching into their mobile phones in high-volume Cantonese like slowly strangled turkeys. Over the border in big, bad China, the superannuated Party leaders looked on bemused at their new dominion, at this petulant beast called capitalism.
In the marketplace, fruit and vegetables festered. Fish flipped over the edges of their plastic washing-up bowls and writhed on the blistering tarmac. Tensions simmered and tempers boiled. The stallholders settled their arguments with Chinese kitchen knives, the chopper being the Hong Konger's second-favorite weapon after the pointy end of an elbow, while the triads nervously fingered their tattoos and lopped off the little fingers of those who annoyed them.
In the alleyway beneath my flat, my neighbors tried to improve their chances in these uncertain times by burning offerings on the bonfires of that summer's Hungry Ghost festival. The stock market could no longer be relied upon to provide riches, so they turned to their ancestors instead. The smoke wisped its way past my windows and up to the spirit world, carrying the charred remains of paper money, paper sports cars, paper Nike sneakers, paper Big Macs and even paper Nokia 8310 phones, complete with paper batteries. Hong Kong is a material town, even in its spirit incarnation, and it doesn't do to antagonize the ghosts with last year's model.
Over in the office where I worked, tucked away among the antique shops of Hollywood Road, life was no less colorful. I was working as an editor on a weekly magazine. We covered the action-packed life of that nonstop, neon-flashing city; we tried to be incisive, quirky, offbeat, ahead of the curve. It didn't always work.
"This is the most fuckin' godawful PIECE OF SHIT that I have seen in ten years," the publisher screamed at us one day, clutching that week's offering in his hand and shaking it violently as though he were trying to break its neck. The glass walls of his office shuddered; we editors looked sadly at our feet. Most of the men in our office were either gay or in therapy, in many cases both. They weren't afraid to find an outlet for their emotions, to clench their perfectly pert buttocks in indignation, to puff out their tightly T-shirted pecs, to squeal and stamp their cross little designer-shod feet. I was a straight woman; I couldn't afford a shrink. I dreamed of sitting completely alone under a solitary, leafy tree where nobody would raise their voice to so much as a whisper. One thing was clear: I needed a change of scene.
I decided to go to Spain. I knew the country and I spoke the language after a fashion, even if my attempts did make the locals laugh out loud. I'd even lived there for a while when, as a university student studying Spanish, I'd been required to spend a year abroad. I knew how to order a beer; I could even ask for different sizes depending on the level of alcoholic refuge the moment demanded. I vaguely understood the words on a menu. Spain would be a nice, restful destination, I thought. It would present nothing too difficult. It would be fun to go back--it was eight years since my last visit--and the fresh air and sunshine would do me good.
To ensure my recuperation, I'd even take some exercise. I wouldn't just visit Spain--I'd cycle around it. I set myself a target of a thousand miles and six weeks in which to cover them. I'd start at the top, in the chic beach resort of San Sebastian, then work my way east, over the Pyrenees and down to Barcelona, where I'd strut along tree-lined boulevards with the beautiful people. Then I'd head south to Granada, and westward across Andalusia to Seville, before heading up into Extremadura, Spain's Wild West. I'd then pedal over to the historic capital of Toledo and finally end up in the modern hurly-burly of Madrid.
After six weeks of the cycling cure, I'd be lithe, fit, suntanned. If my tour took a few ups and downs, if I felt the need to let out the occasional primal scream, well, in Spain nobody would notice. They're used to craziness in Spain. In fact, they positively celebrate it. This is the land of the delusional Don Quixote, the obsessive Queen Joan the Mad, and the stark, staring Salvador Dal'. These are the people who have a festival during which merrymakers hurl truckloads of ripe tomatoes at each other, and another in which they run in the path of rabid bulls, all in the name of fun.