Portugese Palaces and Holiday Reading

Palacio Nacional da Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Palacio Nacional da Pena

Which palace would you prefer to live in? The one on the left, Palácio Nacional da Pena, looks all colourful and quirky from the outside, but inside the rooms are small, dark and overstuffed with furniture and ornaments. The one on the right, Palácio Nacional de Sintra, is less breathtaking from the outside (although the double chimney is quite cool), but the rooms inside are spacious and light and decorated with beautiful azulejos. It is also conveniently situated in the town centre, unlike it’s whacky counterpart which a one hour uphill hike from the Portugese town of Sintra.

We (my sister and I) decided that we would choose the Palácio Nacional da Pena on the condition that we could put a helicopter pad on the roof and redecorate the interior. Now who’s going to buy it for me?

Palacio Nacional de Sintra

Palacio Nacional de Sintra

Aside from gallivanting around picturesque palaces, we spent an enjoyable couple of days exploring Lisbon, eating Belém tarts and reading. I read two of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano Mysterieslight, lyrical Sicillian crime novels with mafia, drugs, femmes fatales and gourmet Italian meals all thrown into the mix. I didn’t start at the beginning of the series because although my parents have the first three or four books at home, my sister and I bickered about who would get to read them first with the result that neither us got to read them.

I remember when I first moved to Switzerland swapping book recommendations with a friend. She said, ‘Oh there are these wonderful Italian detective novels but I’m afraid they’ll never be translated into English because they’re written in Sicilian dialect.’ It was the Inspector Montalbano books she was talking about, and of course they have been successfully translated into English, albeit almost a decade after being published in their original language. The Sicilian dialect is comically rendered as some kind of lazy London / New York accent in the speech of Montalbano’s colleague Catarella, who handles incoming calls to the police and passes on semi-accurate, semi decipherable messages (when he remembers) such as :

“Doctor Latte wit’ an S at the end jes’ called. He said that ’cause that they’re having that funiral service for that sinator that died and seeing as how the c’mishner gotta be there poissonally in poisson, atta furinal, I mean, the c’mishner can’t come to see youse like he said he was gonna . Unnastand Chief?”

Catarella’s appearances in the books are, however, so infrequent that I wonder why my friend thought his peculiar dialect would be a barrier to translation. Perhaps the books were originally written entirely in dialect but only Catarella’s small contributions have made it into the English translations to provide a little flavour? Regardless, the English versions are lively, colourful and delicious reads, ideal for whiling away hours on a sunny beach.

What are your holiday reading recommendations?


4 thoughts on “Portugese Palaces and Holiday Reading

  1. Keeping with the Sicilian theme, I just read Blood Washes Blood – a true story – by Frank Viviano – a very speedy and twisty read. And Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna was so fun and fascinating altogether and easy to put down and pick up whenever, and I’m about to start Lions in Winter by Wena Poon..and, and, and….

    The Inspector Montalbano books sound great, will have to hunt out a copy…thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Vacation reads for me either have to be compelling so I keep wanting to pick them up, that or light enough that it doesn’t require extra brain power to understand. Don’t have any specific recommendations, or an upcoming vacation for that matter.

    Great reading recommendations.
    I would have chosen the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, can’t stand stuffy rooms!

  3. Holiday reading for me has to be lightish but not inane crap. Iguess that’s why I read so much crime fiction on holidays. Fast-paced, usually something to say about the human condition, but not too philosophical!
    I haven’t read any Inspector Montalbano books, but I’ve seen the TV series, and love the setting. Might have to give the books a go.

  4. Hi Rachel, Thanks for the recommendations. Blood Washes Blood sounds good. I’m almost finished my third Montalbano book so it would be nice to read something different but to stay on Sicily where it is almost certainly sunnier and brighter than here.

    Hi Tsuchigari, yeah, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra is a good choice. I have to admit that when I was walking around I was picking out which rooms would be good for writing in and which ones for reading. There was a shallow pool in the centre courtyard which would be a great place to read while dipping your feet in the water.

    Hi SF, I agree, crime fiction is a good holiday reading choice. I knew the Montalbano books had been made into an TV series but I thought they were only shown in Italy. After reading your comment I did some research and found that two episodes were shown on BBC 4 in 2008 but there haven’t been any since 😦 I don’t know how faithful the TV show is to the books but I think that if you like show you’ll find the books a fun read.

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