Posts Tagged ‘Aardvark Books’

Travel and Tourism

May 12, 2013

This post is prompted by a recent find at Aardvark Books, which I’ve mentioned before. Alone Through the Forbidden Land, by Gustav Krist narrates the adventures of this Austrian traveller in Persia and other Silk Route countries in the 1930s, when much of the area was ‘closed’ to foreigners for various reasons, not least being that a considerable part of the area had only recently been annexed to the Soviet Union. Krist (who I’d never heard of before) had been an Austrian prisoner of the Russians during the First World War, which made his travels even riskier.

I really enjoyed the book. Krist covered territory and peoples which I never tire of reading about, and came across as a real traveller with curiosity about, understanding of, and sympathy with, the people among whom he was travelling, willing to share their lives, and to take risks to find out… an explorer, I suppose. For me, he fits in with the other interesting travellers of that time, such as Thesiger, Thomas, Maillart and Fleming.

I much prefer to read accounts from the days when travelling involved effort, privation and the unknown, for people who really wanted to get to know people and places. This is very different from travelling nowadays, which I think is more correctly called tourism: it is now so easy, and quick, to get to anywhere on the planet; one is protected by Western medicine and technology from most dangers and risks, and so there seems to be little real adventure involved in going to faraway places. Increasingly, too, I think Westerners are parasitic on other societies, and our needs as tourists warp and deform the lives and needs of the local inhabitants who are drawn in to service us. We have the money to buy the time and the luxury of travel to anywhere on the planet regardless of our effect on our world, others’ worlds and their environment, and what do we learn? Do we even think about such questions? Reading the book, I got the sense of a world that was gradually and inevitably changing as modernity caught up with it; this is a double-edged sword, in the sense that such things as modern medicine, and some modern technology have the ability to transform people’s lives, that people often lived under cruel and barbarous regimes (but then so did they in the ‘civilised’ West quite frequently) in states of great poverty and need, that such people often crave the benefits of the West, and yet here, we are so often dissatisfied with what we have, and yearn to get away from it all.

The book is well-written, illustrated with some of the author’s photographs, and has a decent map to enable the reader to follow his journey – this is always an added bonus, and often sadly lacking in more recent and cheaply produced books.

Alain Gerbault: Fight of the Firecrest

April 13, 2013

41WRU6f43fL._AA160_Another of my cerise Penguins here, from 1938, and one I didn’t know about until I found it at a wonderful secondhand bookshop – Aardvark Books – in Southern Shropshire/ Herefordshire.

I knew about Gerbault‘s curious nautical nomadism from reading the early books of my favourite travel writer Ella Maillart; she did some sailing in the 1920s and knew Gerbault (she and her friend get a very brief, anonymous mention in this book). He tells of his single-handed journey through storms and hurricanes as he sailed from Gibraltar to New York in 1923, one of the very first to make the journey single-handed. His love of his boat is evident, and there’s lots of information that only sailors will make sense of, but the adventure, the thrill, the enjoyment and the dangers are all graphically conveyed in this account; his love of solitude is very clear, though harder to understand, until perhaps one reflects that he is another of those young people perhaps indelibly marked by their experiences in the Great War.

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