Christopher was studying the map of Europe.
“What’s that?” he asked, “That mauve dot between France and Spain?”
I glanced hastily at the map, at the little speck of colour too small to contain even one of the letters of its name.
“That,” I said with authority, “Is Andorra.”
“Andorra…” I began, and hesitated. “What text-book facts did I know about Andorra–its climate, population, government, exports and imports?”
“I really haven’t the faintest idea,” I finished apologetically.
In 1961, a decade before *I* was born, Australian writer Shirley Deane and her painter husband were living the life I can only dream of–traveling, writing, painting. They never had much money, but they had adventures.
As the book begins, the Deanes and their 2 young sons are living in Spain when they get a wild hair and decide to move to a snowy mountaintop in Andorra, that strange little tax-dodge country between France and Spain, where the few inhabitants farm, smuggle, and speak French, Spanish, and Catalan about equally.
The Deanes encounter some wonderfully picturesque Andorrans, including:
- a manic taxi driver who speaks non-stop, despite the fact that none of his passengers understand Catalan
- an emotional B&B owner who cries and blames the Deanes when they are pickpocketed by passing Moroccan refugees
- the two postmen who each struggle up the mountain every day from the capital to bring the Deanes their mail–one from the Spanish post office and one from the French post office
- the world’s worst house agent (the Deanes eventually tumble to the fact that Tony’s “office” is a cover for his smuggling operation)
- twin Little People (referred to as dwarfs) who speak only to each other, and their crazy sister who speaks only to herself
- an evangelist and his wife who try to convert the three Andorrans above
Refugees have always been important to Andorra. Shirley Deane claims that in 1941, a membor of the Andorran parliament got up at a council meeting and prayed: “Please God, go on giving us wars, not actually in Andorra, but as close to it as possible.”
Modern times: In the 1930s, there were 80,000 feeling the Spanish Civil War through Andorra to France. During WWII, an even LARGER number of Allied troops fled Occupied France through Andorra into Spain. And then, in the 1960s, there were the Deanes.
You see, in the middle of their sojurn in this 175-square-mile country, the Deanes suddenly decide to move to Ibiza to become pig farmers. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t work out so well. But before things fall apart, the reader gets a lovely picture of the formerly independant island country, now a part of Spain, but with a very different character. And characters! Including:
- The world’s tiniest bar, where the owner’s mother is the star, and wonderful music can be heard
- Shy Ibizan peasant women, who instantly confide intimately in Shirley Deane
- A soused British ex-pat named Roland
What’s shocking: You’re reading along about Ibiza sausage-making and ancient occupations by Carthage and Rome, when BAM, the Deanes are given 48 hours to leave Spain. They scramble to find a good home for their dog Lobo, a Spanish mutt who only likes foreigners. It’s just as out of left field to the reader as it must have been to Shirley Deane, whose previous travel narrative has landed her on Franco’s most wanted list. Strangely, she didn’t criticize the regime. What upset the Generalissimo is that when her book was published in the States, some reviews were critical of her for NOT criticizing the regime. Yep, it’s good to be the Dictator. What an a**hole.
Anyway, the distressed Deanes pack up, entrust their dog to friends, and move back to Andorra–and now they belong in a strange way–refugees themselves.
Thank you very much, Minneapolis public library, for marking this book Ex Libris and releasing it to me. A witty and thought-provoking read.