For those of us who did not travel much as children, especially overseas, our desire to see new lands was fulfilled through pictures of far away places and tales of distant lands. When I was younger my mother bought me a beautiful old copy of Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. It was a small red book that smelled of a distant era and was covered in dust. Yet, the yellowed dust covered pages revealed such a colorful vibrant tale of a distant and mysterious land that I longed to someday see with my own eyes. Even today when I see pictures of the Calat Alhambra I am immediately transported to that humid summer when I would lay next to the open windows of our back porch and travel through the Alhambra with Washington Irving. My mind danced with images and tales of long ago, if one could not actually see it, this was the next best thing.
This morning, I came across a National Geographic photograph of Alcázar of Seville which is another Moorish fort and later Spanish royal palace. The photos immediately recalled to my mind the introduction from Irving's book. I went back and re-read it. Instantly, it was like not a moment had passed from those old summer days. I was a kid again and my mind was filled with "traditional ballads, and tales about the wars of the Moors and Christians, and the 'buenas andanzas' and 'grandes hechos,' the 'good fortunes' and 'great exploits' of the hardy warriors of yore." I was struck, looking back on it, by the beauty and vividness of Irving's language. It is no wonder that the book had such an influence over my young imagination. Traveling with young kids is of course not an easy thing to accomplish - cost, logistics and scheduling all conspire to discourage frequent overseas travel. But books, good books, can be a child's best means of "travel". They open their imagination to places and sights they have never seen, serving as a viable link to the past while grounding the child's imagination in tales of nobility and good and evil.
Jackie Kennedy once said that "There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all." And what better way to enlarge their world than with tales of distant lands and buenas andanzas?
The introduction from Irving's Tales of the Alhambra is below for your enjoyment.