Good Reading : October 2007
categorical From iconic Casablanca to sultry Tangier, via the labyrinthine medina of Fès, join us on a 15 day journey into the spiritual centre of Morocco. Published travel and memoir writer Beth Yahp, and Sandy McCutcheon, author of novels, plays and works of non-ﬁction, make the perfect team to release the travel writer within you. www.cce.usyd.edu.au/travel Email: email@example.com Tel: 02 9036 4764 journey into the spiritual centre of Morocco though there is a little thrill of pleasure in reading William Dampier’s description of how he came upon the coast of Western Australia in 1688, and immediately struck up acquaintance with its most familiar inhabitants: the flies – ‘so Troublesome here that no fanning will keep them from coming to one’s face and, without the assistance of both hands to keep them off, they will creep into one’s Nostrils and mouth too, if the lips are not shut very close.’ Reading them recently for the first time, I’ve become very attached too to the journals of the great Australian explorers: Sturt and Mitchell, Eyre and Grey, and particularly Ernest Giles.These, though they were to some extent made up from notes made towards official reports, ended up as spec- tacular travel books. For a good taste of them there is a splendid anthology, The Explorers, edited by Tim Flannery. In the fifteenth century Gilles de Bouvier published a Livre de la description des pays, and in the foreword wrote that ‘because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.’ That clear and unambiguous intention has been rather muddied in the past century or so. Most contemporary travel books might well print on their opening page a line I once came across in a seventeenth-century book: ‘Every word in this almanac was writ on purpose to get money.’ Nothing much wrong with that (as Dr Johnson would certainly have agreed) – except that the result is often nearer journalism than literature; or at east becomes so. Though a novelist, Paul Theroux after his excellent first ravel book The Great Railway Bazaar has ecome much more a ournalist than a genuine avel wr iter, and to my mind his ooks suffer in consequence. Though a certain elfconsciousness can creep into even the best autobiographical travel books, Patrick Leigh Fermor has always managed to avoid this – and his first two successful books, A Time of Gifts and its companion volume Between the Woods and the Water , are surely among the best of the past century.When he set out on his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, in 1933, he kept notebooks for his own pleasure, and making use of them many years later (some were lost and only found after a decade or more) was able to recapture the feeling of freedom with which it was then possible to walk through much of Europe – what it was like to be young, adventurous and carefree, settling down for the night on a hayrick somewhere in Rumania: ‘Wrapped in my greatcoat and with my head on my rucksack, I lay and smoked – carefully, because of the combustibility of my sweet-smelling nest … Scattered with poppies, the golden- green waves of the cornfields faded.The red sun seemed to tip one end of a pair of scales below the horizon, and simulta- neously to lift an orange moon at the other … Stalks and wheat-ears swished together and two pale shapes scampered into the open, chased about the stubble, then halted, gazing at each other raptly. They were two hares. Looking much bigger than life-size, motionless and moon-struck, they were sitting bolt upright with ears pricked.’ Oddly enough, Gustave Flaubert, whom nobody could accuse of unselfcon- sciousness, manages that vivid freedom of expression in his Flaubert in Egypt , which consists of letters in which he describes his adventures among the back streets of Cairo (to his friends) and the vivid land- scape of un-touristed Egypt in 1849 (to his mother): ‘The water of the Nile is quite yellow; it carries a good deal of soil. One might think of it as being weary of all the Though a certain selfconsciousness can creep into even the best autobiographical travel books, Patrick Leigh Fermor has always managed to avoid this.