Greetings, intrepid travelers!
For this year's Prairie Home cruise along the eastern Atlantic and into the Mediterranean Sea, educators of multiple stripes will be on board to offer a truly eclectic menu of activities. We have naturalists, of course — an ocean gal, a bird guy, and a plant guy — as well as four new lecturers who will help you readily connect with the places through which we travel. We'll explore languages and political history of the Iberian Peninsula, cultural and culinary delights, the Mediterranean Sea and the Maghreb, endemic birds and local fisheries, and even the role of espionage in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and beyond! A special bonus this year: a photographer (of Spanish origin) whose goal is to help you capture beautiful images of your journey.
To help you get the travel bug under your skin (as if it weren't there already), we offer you a slew of resources below. The list is just as wide-ranging as we are, including: the best local travel websites, fiction, photography, history, field guides, spy novels, films, and much more. There are even a few ideas for your kids and some great music recommendations!
Why not plan a trip to your local bookstore before the cruise. That way, when you kick back on the deck chairs under the warm Mediterranean sun with a good book in your lap, there will be a semblance of purpose other than snoozing.
Happy reading, and we look forward to sailing together.
— Natalie, Rich, Lytton, Leland, Jeannie, Daniel, and Jon
The cruise naturalists seem rather history oriented this time! Consider the following selections suggested by Rich MacDonald, Lytton Musselman, and Natalie Springuel:
The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, by David Abulafia
This book is a unique and fresh historical exploration of the Mediterranean, from the perspective of the sea itself. The Mediterranean plays a central role in the region's political, economic, religious, and cultural history. It is an encyclopedic and yet highly readable book.
The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation, by Mark Kurlansky
A history of the oldest and least understood European culture, their history, food, culture, and their ancient language that is not related to any other known language. (Description from author website)
Cod, by Mark Kurlansky
A history of the 1,000 years in which cod was the most important catch in the Atlantic, how wars were fought over it, how it spurred revolutions, and the important role it played in American, Caribbean, African, and European history. (Description from author website)
Salt, by Mark Kurlansky
Until about 100 years ago, salt — the only rock we eat — was one of the world's most sought-after commodities. Wars were fought over it, other wars were financed with it, colonies were settled to get it. It secured empires and spurred revolutions. Then, fairly suddenly, it lost its value. (Description from author website)
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles Mann
Mann's book deals with the Columbian Exchange, the movement of silver in vast quantities to Spain and elsewhere and the profound affects it had on Spanish and European history. It also covers diseases such as malaria that were brought from England to Tidewater Virginia and had an impact on slavery (Africans withstood malaria's ravages much better than Native Americans). Quite literally, a whole new world of plant life was discovered too. From the New World came potatoes, and later came the potato blight and its consequences; there were also tomatoes, chili peppers, rubber, and quinine. Sugar cane altered the history of Caribbean nations and, Mann claims, led to the Louisiana Purchase. This mixture of peoples, plants, and diseases results in what he calls the homogenocene.
And of course, we naturalists would be remiss if we did not include a few field guides:
Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and Quran, by Lytton Musselman (yes, that Lytton is our very own cruise naturalist!) (2007)
Wildflowers of the Mediterranean, by Marjorie Blamey
The National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World
Cruise naturalist Natalie Springuel says, "No matter where I travel in this world of oceans, hands down this is my favorite guide to whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and other marine mammals."
Smithsonian Handbook to Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises
A little more portable than the Audubon tome, this is a great field guide to throw in your bag for quick reference.
Birds of Europe, by Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterström, and Peter J. Grant (2000)
In the opinion of cruise naturalist Rich MacDonald, this is the field guide that sets the standard: It not only has excellent color plates of the nearly 850 birds of Europe, it also shows a wider variety of plumages than most, and the text is far more detailed than that of typical field guides. Best of all, they have packed all of this into a size that fits in most coat pockets.
(This is the version published in the United States; the same book was published in Europe by HarperCollins under the title Bird Guide.)
Flight Identification of European Seabirds, by Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife, and Niklas Holmström (2003)
Seabirds, such as those we are likely to see from the ship, come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. This is the guide to study to help tell your skuas from your storm-petrels.
Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place-Names, by Derek Nelson (1997)
This book is, quite literally, all over the map, including places we will encounter along our cruise route. If you have a penchant for tossing out arcane bits of geographic trivia in casual conversation, this book is sure to help you add to your repertoire.
Cruise lecturer Leland Guyer has a love of the Iberian Peninsula, its languages, and its people. Here's what he suggests for book and films:
Spain: A Traveler's Literary Companion, Peter Bush and Lisa Dillman, eds.
Thirty different writers from the famous to the not so famous and from thirteen different Spanish regions give their take on nearly anywhere one may wish to go ashore.
The New Spaniards, by John Hooper (2006)
This is an updated version of an excellent book that endeavored to characterize a Spain after Franco. While a little heavy on the minutiae of politics, it is as comprehensive a look at contemporary Spain as is readily available.
Spain: True Stories of Life on the Road, by Lucy McCauley (1998)
Part of the superb Travelers' Tales Guides collection, the premise of which is that foreign travelers are often capable of making astute observations otherwise often unavailable in more conventional books. This is a great source of information from a diverse group of writers.
Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections, by James Michener (1969)
Iberia is a classic travel book and introduction to a Spain that many think has been entirely superseded by a contemporary face. This face is important, but Michener's keen eye for the heart of Spain addresses facets of Spanish history and culture that will endure long after any triumph or tribulation of the moment is forgotten.
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, by Giles Tremlett (2006)
Since Francisco Franco's death in 1975, Spain has had an amazing journey from a repressive state in relative isolation from the rest of Europe to one of the most vigorously growing and exciting nations in the world. There is a darker side to this brightness, however, as the title suggests. The author addresses the various undercurrents of animosity that periodically emerge and suggests that the "pact of forgetting" the atrocities of their Civil War is fraying.
Films by Pedro Almodóvar.
For some, Almodóvar's films are an acquired taste; nevertheless, he is a prolific filmmaker. Some exposure to his work goes a long way toward giving a view of some important aspects of contemporary Spain. (His films are available with subtitles.)
The Portuguese:A Modern History, by Barry Hatton (2011)
The current English-language crop of trade books on Portuguese history and culture is surprisingly scanty. For this reason alone, Barry Hatton's book would be welcome, but it does much more than merely fill a gap. The author dedicates about half of the book to those moments of history that made Portugal a nation of exceptional importance in the 15th and 16th centuries; the other half of the book focuses on the Portuguese efforts to become a modern member of the European Community. This transformation has been neither easy nor always successful. Hatton looks to Portuguese culture to explain some of the obstacles to the country's progress.
A Cottage in Portugal, by Richard Hewitt(1996)
Hewitt found a 300-year-old house in rural Portugal, one he imagined could be his dream home with a little work. This book is reminiscent ofGod and Mr. Gómez(1974), Los Angeles Timescolumnist Jack Smith's account of his attempt to build his dream home in Baja California. In both cases, the reader empathizes with the homeowners but enjoys the journey in simple appreciation of another way of living.
Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture, byJosé Saramago (2000)
Saramago, Portuguese novelist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1998, wrote this rich but dense travel book for people who already have some background in Portugal. That said, it is beautifully written and translated and is as complete a travel book on the country as exists.
Lisbon Story, Wim Wenders(1994)
This is a film about making a film in Lisbon. Moody, intellectual, it features Lisbon as a backdrop. The haunting music of the band Madredeus further sets the tone.
Cruise lecturer Jeannie Perales has lived in Spain, become a mother in Spain, and has a passion for Spanish travel, culture, and local cuisine. Here are some of her suggestions:
The concepts for Jeannie's talks on the cruise are inspired by three short films commissioned by STA Travel, Australia: Move, Learn, Eat.
In this video of a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) presentation by Dan Barber, he talks about a fish farm in the Seville province, Spain. It is a fascinating discussion of a very effective method of raising fish and of creating a self-sustaining ecological model that's a win-win for land and sea.
Some Spanish bands Jeannie recommends include:
Macaco, a musical band from Barcelona formed in 1997 by Dani Carbonell, who was also one of the original lead singers of the new flamenco group Ojos de Brujo.
Manu Chao, a French singer of Spanish roots (Basque and Galician). He sings in French, Spanish, English, Italian, Galician, Arabic, Portuguese, and occasionally in other languages. You can find his music online at www.manuchao.net/en.
Some travel books Jeannie recommends:
Lonely Planet Spain (full-color country travel guide)
With nearly 900 pages of information, this is a hearty travel book — large enough that you might want to carry it in its own tote. It contains lots of great detail about every part of Spain.
Spain (Eyewitness Travel Guides), by Nick Inman
This is also a large book but full of beautiful photos and helpful maps. Jeannie says, "I highly recommend Eyewitness Travel Guides."
Speak the Culture: Spain: Be Fluent in Spanish Life and Culture, by Andrew Whittaker
This is a guide to understanding the Spanish people, achieving cultural competency, and knowing what to expect on your visit.
Some travelogues Jeannie recommends:
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain, by Chris Stewart
This is the story of Chris Stewart, a former drummer for the band Genesis, who bought a farmhouse in Andalusia.It is a hilarious account of an expat in Spain.
It's Not About the Tapas: A Spanish Adventure on Two Wheels, by Polly Evans
Tales from the Alhambra, by Washington Irving (1831)
Washington Irving's description of Spain's Granada and the beautiful Moorish castle is one of the most entertaining travelogues written. Irving's story — a mixture of fact and fiction — weaves stories of secret passageways, strong characters, history, ghosts, and verdant, lush courtyards.
Our on-cruise photo instructor Daniel Perales hails from Spain and brings us many great resources to help us prepare to appreciate the visual delights of our journey. Daniel's recommendations include a variety of titles, some focusing on greater Iberia, some presenting deeper looks into the minds and hearts of renowned photographers:
A Day in the Life of Spain
This book depicts Spain on May 7, 1987, as captured by 100 international photojournalists. The photographs' stark contrast of modern and traditional Spain, 12 years into the post-Franco era, are beautifully captured. The photographers include Mary Ellen Mark, Graciela Iturbide, James Balog, Letizia Battaglia, Cristina García Rodero, Sebastião Salgado, Peter and David Turnley, and Neal Slavin.
ESPAÑA OCULTA: Public Celebrations in Spain, 1974–1989
Rodero's images accurately and hauntingly capture life in rural Spain. Her trademark touch of surrealism along with her ability to capture the decisive moment, reveal the shrouded darkness as well as the beauty of the country and its people.
Heart of Spain: Robert Capa's Photographs of the Spanish Civil War, by Robert Capa
Within this volume, Robert Capa — one of history's greatest war photographers — captured the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) in heartbreaking pictures.
Travel Photography (LIFE Library of Photography #16)
The Family of Man, by Edward Steichen
Published in 1955 and said to be one of the world's greatest photography books, The Family of Man is a collection of 503 photos by 270 artists organized by Edward Steichen. It was originally an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and some say there has never been another collection of photography like this. The images capture the human condition, from joy to pain, from birth to death.
Wim Wenders: Once
Wenders brings to this collection of photographic essays his unparalleled command of the art of storytelling. Onceautobiographically documents his world travels through snapshots of locations along with descriptive captions.
The Americans, by Robert Frank
Frank traveled the United States during the 1950s. This volume presents a portrait of the country — of simultaneous hope and despair. Captured are images of racial tension, glamour, cars, young love, and a burgeoning fast-food industry.
Sequentially Yours, by Elliott Erwitt
Elliott Erwitt presents a unique journal of photographs all assembled in sequence to document a moment in time. Erwitt's ability to capture spontaneity allows true character to emanate from each candid image. Any book by photographer Elliot Erwin will be entertaining and inspiring.
Pilgrimage, by Annie Leibovitz
This volume showcases a project that AnnieLeibovitz undertook in her free time — not while on assignment. She chose to visit places that interested her and to photograph them as she was so moved. Subjects include Emily Dickinson's house in Massachusetts, Niagara Falls, and the English country homes of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin.
Internet resources Daniel recommends include:
Camera and software reviews, www.dpreview.com.
Straightforward reviews of cameras and lenses by amateur photographer Ken Rockwell, www.kenrockwell.com.
A collection of meaningful photography, zonezero.com.
Daniel's own photography website showcases some of his fine art and editorial work, www.danielperales.com.
Cruise lecturer Jon Wiant brings a unique set of stories and topics to our adventures on the high seas: the world of espionage! Some of his recommendations include:
Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, 4th ed., by Mark Lowenthal (2009)
This book affords a background on intelligence.
Lisbon: War in the Shadow of the City of Light, 1939–1945, by Neill Lochery (2011)
This book details the intelligence wars on the Iberian Peninsula during World War II.
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, by Ben Macintyre (2011)
Another book on the intelligence wars on the Iberian Peninsula during World War II.
Jon recommends several spy fiction, spy reality books:
The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage, by Alan Furst (2003)
The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage, by Frederick P. Hitz (2004)
The Dream Merchant of Lisbon, by Gene Coyle (2004)
A few other assorted recommendations:
The Girl With the Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
Revolt in the Desert, by T.E. Lawrence (this is a shortened version of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom)
Along the Way, by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez
Visit our journal of daily updates to see the highlights from this year's cruise — including videos, photos and notes — or relive your time aboard the ms Ryndam