Louie Castle, who also lives in San Pablo, helps to run the book exchange every Saturday.

A diplomatic exchange of jobs, lifestyles and now books

After a career in the Canadian diplomatic service, Ingrid Knutson and her husband Bruce Levy opted for a very different life in Spain

Debbie Bartlett

It may not be unusual, when people retire, for them to choose a different way of life but it has to be said that when Ingrid Knutson and her husband Bruce Levy completed their careers in the diplomatic service, they really did opt for a complete change of scene.

Bruce was a political diplomat and Ingrid specialised in international development, and after nearly thirty years representing Canada in many different countries (including the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, US, Afghanistan - Ingrid only - and, from 2009 to 2012, Sri Lanka, where Bruce was High Commissioner and Ingrid was Country Director for World University Services of Canada), the prospect of returning to office-based work in Ottowa was enough to make them agree that they would like to try something completely new.

"We had always liked the idea of running a B&B," says Ingrid, "and we decided on Spain because we had been coming here on holiday for 40 years and we love it." They looked at 25 properties before finding one they really liked in the small village of San Pablo de Buceite in Cadiz province, between Jimena de la Frontera and Gaucín. They bought it, and, with a touch of humour, named it El Diplomático Feo.

Louie Castle, who also lives in San Pablo, helps to run the book exchange every Saturday. / SUR

Ingrid, who speaks several languages, is also closely involved with the local community through a cultural association called Actividades Lucerna, and she and colleagues from the group run a book swap in San Pablo every Saturday morning.

The book swap came about when a friend decided to return to her home in America, and mentioned that she had a large number of books that she didn't know what to do with. "We had met quite a few older foreigners who love reading but didn't have a great deal of money to buy books, and as we had heard that the town hall was planning to open a library in San Pablo, we thought it would be a good idea to support it," Ingrid explains. They discovered that the library was good but small, and actually had boxes of books itself for which there was no room.

So, instead, the town hall has lent them premises beside the health centre and opposite the supermarket in San Pablo, and people can visit between midday and 2pm on Saturdays - or at other times by appointment - to take books along that they have read and choose others, free of charge. There are over 6,000 books, mainly in English but also a signficant number in Spanish, ranging from novels to biographies, history, cooking, travel, children's books and much more.

Actividades Lucerna was created to organise activities to bring the library alive, and so far it has arranged language classes for newcomers, smartphone clinics for seniors and a Chinese calligraphy workshop organised by a Taiwanese resident teacher, among others. Further information is available by phone 626079909 or email actividades lucerna@gmail.com