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Archive for July, 2010

Backward glance?

One thing, as they say, leads to another and in this regard, the Internet is truly a master. The Guardian Unlimited Books posted a review of Tahir Shah’s “The Caliph’s House,” and this so intrigued me that I sought to find out more about him, surprising myself¬† he is the son of Idries Shah, with whose books on Sufi lore I had spent much time in my Arima youth.

The younger Shah had written a number of travel books and was fairly well known when he decided, mostly on the spur of the moment, that a small flat in London was not the right place for him; that he wanted space and sunlight and perhaps a more throbbing life, so he decided to move with his young family to Morocco.

As a boy his father had taken him to Morocco on holidays, the place echoing, according to his father, well-loved aspects of Afghanistan, ancestral home of the Shahs, but a place to which they could no longer travel because of the raging war with the Russians.

Looking for Shah led me to travel-writer sites and many a name long familiar to me came up, amazing me that even in Trinidad, long ago, we had available to us books by Freya Stark,William Dalrymple, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, Laurens van der Post, among others.

I read reviews of Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water,” his unbelievable walk across Europe as a young man before World War II, happy to be reacquainted with his wit and style. (Strange, but I happen to be reading “The Places in Between” by Rory Steward, detailing his walk across Afghanistan in 2002)

All heady stuff. I printed WorldHUM’s top 30 travel books, surprised to see two Naipauls mentioned: “North of South,” by Shiva, Vidia’s late younger brother, and “A Turn in the South,” by Sir Vidia himself.

Happy to see some home-grown representation there, but surprised to see they’d left out Laurie Lee’s “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” worn, but still in my possession: the story of how he left his village with a bundle and a fiddle, walked to London, took ship to Spain, walked through the civil war, was lined up to be shot —¬† his executioners got bored and he simply wandered off.

And they had nothing of Alexandra David-Neel, the first European woman to find her way into the heart of Tibet, recounted in the unbelievable “My Journey to Lhasa.”

Both of these books happen to be superior, if you ask me, to Naipaul’s turn in the South.

Anyway I ended up committed to a umber of titles, most of which I have already owned. On the face of it I am supposedly reprising adventure and lovely prose: though it occurred to me that perhaps what I am trying to do is recapture an echo of my my younger days through this understandable subterfuge. And maybe that’s part of it…

Shah’s “The Caliph’s House” is first on the list. Followed by Fermor’s two walking books, and perhaps his “Mani” and “Koumeli,” about his love affair with parts of Greece, and names you wouldn’t find on any map today.

And Freya Stark’s “Journey’s Echo,” drawn from other books she’d written. Still surprised that I had her for company in Arima.

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