Stikkordarkiv: travel

A couple of shorts

No, not short trousers, short reviews.

bryson_dribblingThe Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson moved swiftly to the top of my reading pile when my parents off-loaded their copy on us and was consumed within a few days of my getting my hands on it. No wonder, perhaps, Bryson being one of my favourite writers and Notes from a Small Island probably my favourite of his books. And in many respects The Road to Little Dribbling fulfills its promises. Here is the pure delight in travelling, especially by bus in Britain, that I so recognise. Here is the love for the more absurd aspects of Englishness. Here are the masses of odd little anecdotes and facts that Bryson is a master of. But I was, perhaps strangely, disappointed anyway. Partly because I have lamented the lack of Scotland in the previous volume, and here I was promised Scotland and then it turns out that England take up 355 of the book’s 381 pages, Wales (not that I mind Wales) 15 and Scotland a measly 11. And partly, well, in parts it feels a little… stale? It’s not that I didn’t like it, I did, but I guess I didn’t LOVE it. But lets think of happier things and quote a bit I do like (love):

I was surprised to learn that there is a system to British road numbering, but then I remembered that it is a British system, which means it is not like systems elsewhere. The first principle of a British system is that it should only appear systematic. (Page 142.)

leif_engerPeace Like a River by Leif Enger was our book circle book over Christmas, and I rather enjoyed it while reading it. However, it’s  now a month later and I find I can’t really remember what was so good about it, and though the plot is pretty clear to me, the feelings it generated have not made a lasting impression. A bit of a luke-warm recommendation, then. The book circle were split in their opinions, some couldn’t finish the book, while others, like me, were more enthusiastic.

roy_godofsmallthingsThen for our February meeting we read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and again, the reception was mixed. I found it slow to begin with, but then, suddenly, at around 120 pages, it turned a corner and after that I could hardly put it down. There is someting compelling about the way Roy takes us back and forth between past and present and the quirks of the language were wonderful, I thought.

Bluegreyblue eyes snapped open.

A Wake.
A Live.
A Lert.

(Page 238.) Some of the others struggled with keeping the characters straight, and I suppose the Mammachis and Kochammas may easily get a little muddled, but this was not a problem for me. Slight spoiler alert here: There is a scene at the cinema where Estha is abused by the lemonade man, and although it is unpleasant reading, it is also rather wonderful in the way Roy manages to write the scene from the little boy’s point of view as simply nauseating and horrible without any hint of an adult’s sexualised perception intruding on the description. I find that a rare thing.

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

bryson_small_islandI don’t know why I suddenly decided to reread Notes from a Small Island this time, but it was probably related to being rather clogged up with a flu of sorts (there is comfort food and then there are comfort books). Anyway, I just need to tell you all again how much I love this book. Notes from a Small Island is the book I’d have written about Britain if I were a writer. It’s Bryson saying goodbye to his adopted country before going to live in the States for a while, and it’s brimming with love tinged with regret. It’s Bryson being homesick before he has even left.

I’ve said it before, but the thing about Bryson’s love for Britain is that he loves it the exact same way I love it, quirks and idiocies included. He even seems to share my opinion on certain national heroes:

I watched out for Tintern Abbey, made famous, of course, by the well-known Wordsworth poem, ‘I Can Be Boring Outside the Lake District Too’

(Page 149.) He also travels a bit like I prefer to do if circumstances allow, letting his destination be decided by chance or by whim, going to Wigan because a bus for Wigan comes past just when he’s got The Road to Wigan Pier in his back pocket (page 230). As good a reason as any, if you ask me. I once went to Preston with a friend just because we wondered what a place sharing a name with the cyber dog in Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave could possibly be like. I don’t think we had any great epiphanies, but we had a grand day out.

And that’s something I’ve mentioned before as well, but Bryson actually really seems to enjoy travelling, including the less glamorous bits, like waiting for a bus or getting caught in the rain. He seems to acknowledge and accept that it’s all part and parcel and imparts the same feeling to the reader, making you really want to just get up and go somewhere, anywhere (though preferably Britain, it must be said).

And he’s funny. It’s definitely the sort of book you shouldn’t be reading in public if snorting at books in public embarrasses you.

The big event in Thurso, according to civic records, was in 1834 when Sir John Sinclair, a local worthy, coined the term ‘statistics’ in the town, though things have calmed down pretty considerably since.

(Page 325.) So this is my love letter to a book that is a love letter to a place I love. I might have come to the conclusion that I’d rather live in Norway, but that is as much a practical decision (I like my family and would like to see them more than twice a year, for example). It’s been fourteen years since I left Britain, and I still get pangs of «homesickness» quite regularly and start to wonder if there isn’t some way of moving there again that would magically work on a practical level (I need a teleporter, that would solve all of my problems).

Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain – which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad – Marmite, village fêtes, country lanes, people saying ‘mustn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but’, people apologizing to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays – every bit of it.

 

 

Three by Gerald Durrell

Rereading non-fiction seemed to work even in the middle of the funk, so I reread three Gerald Durrell books in row. The first one I picked up was A Zoo in my Luggage, in which Durrell has finally decided to start his own zoo rather than just collect for other zoos. The year is 1957 and in his optimism he – and his wife Jacquie – decide to do the collecting first, assuming that any town in Britain would be happy to house them once they get back. Who wouldn’t want a zoo? Thus in in the first part of the book they return to the Cameroons, where Durrell has been before, and go to stay with the Fon of Bafut.

What follows is an account of the antics of the animals, the hunters and the Fon and his «court». The narrative follows a path that will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a book by Durrell, a mixture of hunting and stalking episodes (a fair amount of which end in failure), quite a few hunters turning up with «beef» to sell and ensuing haggling, accounts of how the animals fare once caught, some take well to captivity, some don’t, and the social interaction with the people of Bafut.

I find the narrative fascinating, not least because I am interested in the animals and the practicalities of catching them and keeping them alive and happy. The books from the Cameroons are especially fascinating, though, as Durrell faithfully records all dialogue in the original «pidgin» (including his own, as he speaks it fluently, as far as I can tell), and for a language nerd this is obviously great fun. The aforementioned «beef» for example means any animal (whether mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile or insect). And a conversation may progress like this:

‘Na whatee dere for inside?’
‘Na squill-lill, sah.’
(…)
‘Na whatee dis beef squill-lill?’
‘Na small beef, sah.’
‘Na, bad beef? ‘E go chop man?’
‘No, sah, at all. Dis one na squill-lill small, sah… na picken.’
(…)
‘Dis beef, my friend. Na fine beef dis, I like um too much. But ‘e be picken, eh? Some time ‘e go die-o, eh?’
‘Yes, sah,’ agreed the hunter gloomily.
‘So I go pay you two shilling now, and I go give you book. You go come back for two week time, eh, and if dis picken ‘e alive I go pay you five five shilling more, eh? You agree?’
‘Yes, sah, I agree,’ said the hunter, grinning delightedly.

I am not blind to the inherent racism in the narrative, there is more than a little condescension in the way Durrell describes the people of Bafut, even while he obviously regards the Fon as a friend he also presents him as something of a spectacle. Durrell himself is not unaware of this, he is nervous when first contacting the Fon to ask if he may return as he is not entirely sure how the Fon will have reacted to the way he was presented in Durrell’s previous book from the area (The Beagles of Bafut, which I read next). It turns out the Fon is delighted to be a celebrity, and even his reactions in this regard add to the somewhat «simple savage» image Durrell presents (whether consciously or not).

The latter part of the book deals with the difficulty of getting the animals to Britain alive, healthy and happy, and then the naively unforeseen difficulty of finding somewhere to house the zoo. Some quite funny episodes occur while the animals are housed temporarily as a Christmas attraction in a department store basement, for example, while the serach for a permanent location continues. Spoiler: It all turns out well.

Having finished A Zoo in my Luggage it seemed natural to follow it with The Beagles of Bafut, which chronologically comes first (the trip was made in 1949). It follows much the same pattern, but ends once the collection is safely in Britain where the animals are sent off to various zoos both in Britain and in the rest of Europe.

Not feeling up to anything else and not being quite done with Durrell, I then picked up The Drunken Forest, in which Gerald and Jacquie make a collection trip to Argentina and Paraguay (in 1954). The setting is therefore completely different, but the narrative follows the same familiar pattern. In this case the trip is complicated by a coup and unfortunately the Durrells have to leave without their collection, which gives another insight into the possible troubles one can run into as an animal collector.

A sort of postscript: There are many opinions about zoos, and my own feelings on the subject are ambivalent. On the one hand keeping animals captive to provide entertainment for humans is obviously problematic. On the other hand, modern zoos are part of the global conservation effort, with captive breeding programmes for endangered species (and Durrell was a pioneer in this area, «Durrell Wildlife Park was the first zoo to house only endangered breeding species» according to Wikipedia, and Durrell refused to exhibit animals simply for show) and there is much to be said for their role in educating the general public, creating interest in biodiversity and thereby helping push initiatives to conserve the animals in their natural habitats.

Burma Chronicles – Guy Delisle

delisleBurma Chronicles by Guy Delisle was a Christmas gift and I read it during the Christmas holidays. Delisle is a Canadian cartoonist and animator, and this is his third (as far as I can gather) travelogue in graphic novel format. Delisle spent a year in Burma (Myanmar) with his wife who works for Doctors Without Borders and his son who was a baby at the time. The book chronicles their stay, the mundane, every-day workings of a household as well as the inevitable politically charged incidents.

Delisles artwork is, well, I was going to say flawless, but that might be stretching it a bit far. Let’s say «very good». The drawing style is deceptively simple, but catches enough detail to set the scene perfectly. Clever techniques are used to excellent effect, such as the trouble of drawing with ink in the rainy season:

delisle_regnHowever, as far as the narrative goes, I have a hard time deciding whether I love it or loathe it. There is, after all, no rule that says that a book from Burma must neccessarily be all about politics and suffering and so on. And to a certain extent some of the best sequences in the book involve Delisle going about his normal activities and accidentally stumbling into something that is loaded with meaning, or even menace, simply because this is Burma and not Canada. However, sometimes the white, male tourist takes over and makes me fundamentally uncomfortable. He keeps wanting to go into the forbidden zones, for example, and seems annoyingly unconcerned about the possible dangers, not only to himself, but to the people he’s with (if he’s caught traveling without a permit, surely that must create difficulties for the organisation his wife works for and those employees that actually need to be there?). And his sole reason for wanting to go seems to be pure curiosity, and smacks of slum tourism. Something which is not helped by panels like this:

delisle_skuffelse«This slum is not slummy enough», basically. He’s unimpressed by the forbidden zone. I’m unimpressed by his attitude.

To a certain extent Delisle’s «living in a priveleged bubble where nothing I do can hurt me»-attitude helps throw into relief some of the atrocities of a dictatorship like Burma, but it fails to work (for me) as often as it does work. So I don’t know.

Venezia – Kjell Ola Dahl

veneziaJeg kom på at jeg kanskje skulle lest litt om Italia litt i siste liten før sommerferien, så så mye lesing ble det ikke, men siden vi skulle en dag til Venezia og Kjell Ola Dahls bok om byen sto i hylla fikk jeg i hvert fall skummet den på nytt.

Jeg liker denne serien med «Forfatterens guide» fra Spartacus. Vi har kjøpt alle vi har kommet over, selv om det ikke er så mange. Mulig serien ikke ble noen generell suksess? Som nevnt sist jeg leste den er Dahls bok den jeg har likt minst av de jeg har lest så langt, men en kjapp gjennomlesing før avreise var likevel ikke så dumt.

Dahls Venezia er litt mystisk og litt full av turister. Det er vel egentlig omtrent det samme inntrykket jeg sitter igjen med ette bare noen timer i byen. Jeg vil gjerne tilbake, denne gangen uten barn og med god tid, og gjerne på en tid på året da det er mindre turister (lite turister blir det vel aldri i denne byen) og bruke noen dager på bare å vandre – med kamera i hånden.

London – Tor Åge Bringsværd

london_bringsværdNå har jeg i alle fall lest den ene London-boka. Siste halvpart av Rutherfurd får bli med på turen (ja, jeg har begått bokmord, jeg har splittet den tjukke paperback’en i to med papirkniv). Men Bringsværd hadde jeg jo lånt på biblioteket, så han får bli igjen hjemme (hel og fin).

Det var et hyggelig gjensyn. Dette er ikke en reiseguide, akkurat, selv om du sikkert kan legge opp en tur helt og holdent etter Bringsværds anbefalinger. Her er anekdoter, pubanbefalinger og historieforelesninger i et herlig sammensurium, akkurat slik jeg liker det. Og nå GLEDER jeg meg til å sitte på pub i London og bare være der. Ok, det gledet jeg meg vel til uansett, men jeg gleder meg enda mer nå. Kanskje kommer jeg til å føle at Tor Åge Bringsværd er med meg i ånden, så kan vi prate litt om Brumm og om Themsen og slikt mens vi sitter der. Det blir bra.

En dag her i Kew Gardens er en glitrende avkobling – selv for dem som ikke tror de er interessert i hager … for det å sitte ved et utebord ved Pavillion Restaurant (avmerket med nr 31 på gratiskartet du får ved inngangen), drikke kaffe eller hva vet vel jeg, se barn som leker på gresset under skyggefulle trær – og innimellom la øynene hvile på en gigantisk kinesisk pagode som ikke har noen som helst dypere mening, men bare er satt der fordi det passet seg slik … jeg mener, mye kan man si om en slik dag, men bortkastet er den i hvert fall ikke!

(s. 259)

The Great Escape – Monty Halls

hallsAny book about Scotland is immediately interesting to me, so I didn’t need to think long about purchasing Monty Halls’ The Great Escape: Adventures on the Wild West Coast when I came across it.

The premise is fairly straight-foreward: Monty Halls goes off to the west of Scotland to live «like a crofter» for six months. He finds an old bothy to fix up – renting it from the estate it belongs to – and sets about his task with good cheer. What ensues are plenty of stories involving the locals, the livestock he aquires, the gardening he attempts, and – not least – Scotland’s nature, both inanimate and very much alive. The tales are told with self-deprecating humour and a love of the country and people which is almost palpable, and makes for pleasant reading.

The congers have a reputation for ferocity that is based entirely on its thrashing death troes on the deck of many a fishing vessel. They react in much the same way you or I would if dragged from our homes and clubbed to death, being somewhat miffed by the process.

Indeed.

My one gripe, if gripe it can be called, is that – as Monty Halls himself points out – to really test his mettle as a crofter he should have spent the winter months in the bothy. As it is, he skims the cream, so to say (not to suggest it’s some sort of luxury holiday – it ain’t). As nice as it is to read about the six months sojourn, the book would have been more interesting had he extended his stay to include the next six months as well.

Not that I’d want to do so myself, I’m far too fond of my creature comforts, but then the whole point of books like these is surely to live vicariously through someone else?

Still, a very pleasant and suitably informative read, making me look forward to my next trip to Scotland, whenever that will be.

Smakebit på søndag: Adventures on the High Teas

maconie_teasÅrets første smakebit på søndag! Jeg har nettopp begynt å lese Stuart Maconies Adventures on the High Teas, en bok jeg har store forventninger til etter å ha lest Pies & Prejudice av samme forfatter i februar.

Breakfast was a buffet, an increasingly ubiquitous but problematic start to the day for the English traveller, If you’re pennywise or greedy or maybe both it has its advantages in that you can pile your plate high with sausage, egg, hash browns, mushrooms, bacon, beans and fried bread and then brazenly go back for several more artery-hardening platefuls. However, no anguished curling bacon, no flaccid sausage congealing under a high-wattage lamp, no tomato-half slowly cooling like a dying planet can ever match the sheer heartiness of a plate brought to you table with a kindly, ‘Now these plates are very hot so be careful. Toast? White or brown?’ by a bun-haired septuagenarian or white-pinnied young waitress.

Quite.

Fler smakebiter finner du hos Flukten fra virkeligheten.

I Left My Tent in San Fransisco – Emma Kennedy

kennedy_san_fransiscoI Left My Tent in San Fransisco by Emma Kennedy was one of the books I managed to pick up in Elgin last Saturday. After cracking up over The Tent, the Bucket and Me in February, it was a must-have. When the kindle ran out of battery one evening and I couldn’t immediately lay my hands on the charger, I started it, and I also brought it on the plane, as the kindle is no good during take-off and landing (being «electronic equipment» which has to be switched off).

Emma and her friend Dee go to the USA in 1989. The plan is to get jobs in San Fransisco for two months, earn lots of money and then travel back to New York for flights home, seeing the country on the way. Unfortunately, getting jobs in San Fransisco isn’t as easy as the pair have been lead to believe, and they end up having very little money to cover their trek across the nation.

The book is very funny. It is even laugh-out-loud funny, just like its prequel. It’s less funny than said prequel, but perhaps that’s mostly because I have been camping but I have never travelled across the USA by ground transport, and so the force of recognition is diminished (though not absent, I have, after all, travelled in the USA and also made my way around rather large chunks of Europe by bus).

Some of the best parts of the book concern the people Emma and her friend Dee meet along the way. They have to rely heavily on the kindness of strangers in their travels, and meet some pretty odd characters. To a certain extent this is also where the book is least satisfactory, because the description of the people and the situations are just a bit too shallow or short to really grab me as a reader.

But still: Very, very funny.

Pies and Prejudice – Stuart Maconie

maconie_piesI found Pies and Prejudice – In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie in the newly extended English language section of one of the lokal bookshops (Norli på Nordre, om noen av mine norske lesere lurer). To my surprise, and glee, they now have a proper section for non-fiction, covering two whole book cases. I celebrated by buying this book, and I am very glad I did. The Times – according to the blurb on the cover – called Maconie «The new Bill Bryson» in their review, and I think they might be on to something.

Maconie writes well, seems to know what he is talking about, and most importantly, conveys a genuine affection for his subject, even the not so pretty bits. And he shows the right sort of attitude.

«From [the Henry More Centre], you can stroll through a Perspex walkway to Leeds City Art Gallery, haunt of the teenage Alan Bennett and home to the finest collection of twentieth-century British art outside London. Their online literature encourages visitors to ‘read… mingle… chat… laugh’. Personally, I’d have put ‘look at some pictures’ in there as well but I understand that museums are now so terrified of being thought elitist, so desperate to be ‘inclusive’, that they have to avoid the unspeakable truth, namely that modern art isn’t for everyone. Neither is John Coltrane or Bartók or the ghost stories of Robert Aickman or peaty Laphroaig whisky or English mustard. That’s why they are special and fabulous. Let’s not patronise the public by wet-nursing them like this.» (p. 210)

Maconie has written anothe book called Cider with Roadies. I’ll be reading it.