18 July 2009

Successful Journeys

Was I successful when I found a coconut in 1989?

Do you think I am seeking good fortune or success in my current quest?

What is the goal I am currently seeking?

Is it your goal too?

11 July 2009

Many New Beginnings

Travelling usually requires a break of routine.  Does healthy travel also require the breaking of bad habits?  Is a good habit a useful new beginning?

09 July 2009

Travel Books

The shelves in my house contain several books that inspire me to learn more about the world before a journey. Here are some examples:

Art & Civilization by Edward Lucie-Smith

Published in 1992 by Prentice Hall, it is mainly about what has come to be termed "Western civilization", from the "uncivilized" societies of prehistory, to the formation of cities in the Near East and Egypt, and right up to the late 20th century. The book explores the development of ideas, beliefs, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature, drama and music.

The World Atlas of Food edited by Glorya Hale

Published in 1974 by Mitchell Beazley, this is more than just an excellent global guide to cooking, it also explores the origins of the foods we enjoy today. The book invites you to discover more about the development of food plants and cooking styles, how and where food plants are grown and how they can be prepared in a variety of ways. It is a book that never goes out of date, even though it is out of print.

From the Good Earth by Michael Ableman

Published in 1993 by Thames and Hudson, it is a beautiful photographic journey through the traditional organic agricultures of the world. The book also describes the histories, cultures and the individuals who today maintain those productive and healthy traditions.

Retreat by Roger Housden

Published in 1995 by HarperSanFrancisco, its subtitle is "Time Apart for Silence & Solitude". The book looks at how the tradition of temporary withdrawal from our usual social environment can provide a deeper sense of spiritual fulfillment, whatever style of retreat we choose to encounter.

Contemporary Cultural Anthropology by Michael C. Howard

My copy is the third edition, published by HarperCollins in 1989, though I often update my knowledge of the topic through the Internet. The book is intended for university students and explores the interrelationships within and between a wide range of societies, including how they communicate, meet their needs, produce goods, form families, develop traditions, form hierarchies, use power, enforce order, use religion, approach illness and health care, and deal with social problems.

Your local library or second-hand book shop might have copies of the above titles, or some like them. Do you have favourite books that have inspired your journeys?

08 July 2009

To the Market on Via's Magic Carpet

How many forms of transport have you experienced? Although I have never found a real magic carpet or flying horse, there are virtual versions in this blog, as well as a few introductions to various other interesting forms of transportation.

In Pakistan, in 1985, I enjoyed seeing the brightly coloured buses, trucks and auto-rickshaws. I especially enjoyed experiencing a few journeys in the latter in Quetta and Lahore. The owners certainly took pride in the appearance of their vehicles.

The little vehicle is called a variety of names throughout Asia, tuk-tuk being quite common, though I call it a toot toot. Tuk-tuks are often incredibly noisy things.  I found that even "proper" taxis can be noisy throughout the Middle East and Central Asia because the driver's hand is often on the horn.  Do you know if road manners have improved in your country over the years?

The One Thousand and One Nights of my Asian journeys have been matched by days in cycle rickshaws, on a camel, an elephant, bicycles, an old London double decker bus, trains, coaches, ferries, trams, horse drawn carriages and carts, dug out canoes, and many journeys on foot.  I have always written about my experience as real accounts rather than imaginary stories, although some imaginary stories have probably inspired my desire to travel.

All around the world, the place I enjoy exploring on foot the most is the local produce market. Here is a scene I found in Lahore in 1985.

How do you usually travel to a market?

06 July 2009

Imagine the Sound of One World

What is the music of your travels? What is the music of your heart?

As many people are mourning Michael Jackson, whose music never much appealed to me, I am reminded that the lyrics of his song Billy Jean confused me on my first independent explorations of the world. I associated the name of the song with a well-known tennis player.

My memory of the song is also linked to my time in Amsterdam, in 1983, where I went to a disco for the first time. I was with a group of people and we had just enjoyed an elaborate Indonesian rijsttafel banquet in a floating restaurant on one of the city's canals.

So there I was, a young English girl, listening to American pop music in a disco in the Netherlands after eating an Indonesian meal. The people in my group included an Indian, a Brazilian, a Canadian, a few Australians, some people from Hong Kong, some from Malaysia, and a tour guide from the United States.

The sound of (reflective) music

 I have never been much into nightclubs and do not even really enjoy being out after dark. I like it to be daylight when I listen to music. I like silence and a good book at night.

When I was a child, I liked The Sun Has Got His Hat On Hip Hip Hip Hooray. I found that uplifting when the sun peaked out from behind a cloud after so many grey and dreary school days.

I liked Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Teddy Bears' Picnic in early childhood. Now I lift my spirits by singing Chick Chick Chick Chick Chicken Lay A Little Egg for Me, based on the original 1920s recording.

Via the non-diva performs in opera houses

I can honestly say that I have sung at several of the world's most famous opera houses.  That is because I have made a habit of singing the chicken song quietly in the foyer whenever I have the opportunity to enter such a place.  I am sure anyone nearby must have thought me mad rather than musical.

In one of my earlier posts in this blog, I mentioned Mahler and Debussy (neither of whom wrote the chicken song). I am yet to mentioned much about the other composers who populate my blogger profile page.  Do we enjoy some of the same music now?

Sound in memories and imagination

The title of this blog post might make you think of a more recent composer, John Lennon, whose song Imagine is one of those reflective ones that have appealed to me in the past.  Unlike most pop songs it is not catchy enough to become rapidly annoying, unless played in an overly sentimental setting.

When I was in my late teens, I would borrow records from an aunt of mine. She is an artist and was a member of a folk club for most of the 1960s. I found it interesting to listen to the music on her records that I did not hear on the radio in my youth.

I think I might have heard her records in my early childhood as I developed a special attachment to two Donovan songs: Ballad of a Crystal Man and Sunny Goodge Street.

Ballad of a Crystal Man was, I think, in a film I remember seeing in my childhood. It was Brother Sun, Sister Moon about Francis of Assisi. It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Today it is easy to learn more about our own past cultural experiences, just by exploring online.

The sounds of innocence (and experience)

In the innocence of my youth, I would never have thought that some of Donovan's songs contained drug references, as in Sunny Goodge Street. In London in the mid 1980s, I worked at Channel Four Television, which was then based in Charlotte Street in the West End. Every day I would travel from Clapham Common to Goodge Street Tube Station. I remembered the tune but did not understand the lyrics.

When I was growing up, my father played blues guitar. The song he sang most was The House of The Rising Sun. No-one in my family had been to New Orleans. My father had a friend who played the banjo. His most frequent song was One Meat Ball Without the Gravy.

A voice (unimagined and/or unimaginable)

Do you sing? Although I sing the chicken song when I am in silly mood or in an opera house, I often attempt to sing opera arias in the shower and sometimes also while washing the dishes (in the kitchen not in the shower).

Perhaps my limited vocal talent is one of the reasons why my husband, the angel one, often does the washing up at weekends. He does not sing, except with a microphone as a backing vocalist.

I am married to an ex-rock drummer. He trained in classical and jazz percussion and began playing in bands semi-professionally at the age of 17. Fortunately, he was wise enough not to give up his day job. The angel one has never smoked cigarettes or used other drugs. He is not much into alcohol, either, except for a small glass of red wine with a plate of pasta.

He played in half a dozen bands in his teens and twenties. More recently, he played in a blues band (on backing vocals as well as drums) but left as he had concerns - as he did in previous bands - about the mental state and unhealthy activities of several of the other members.

Why do so many musicians harm themselves through substance abuse?

Compatible tastes

The angel one's taste in music is now, fortunately, similar to mine. In his youth, he was a fan of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, Billy Cobham, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Hendrix, Jeff Beck and other album artists. I can tolerate small doses of virtuosic electric or percussion music, as long as the volume is not too loud and it is early in the evening.

Songs I occasionally attempt to sing include Pace pace mio Dio from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, though I prefer the 1956 recording by Leyla Gencer. I also try Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca, but that is probably best left to Maria Callas, as is the bolero from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani, Mercè dilette amiche.

I sometimes attempt the two Queen of the Night arias, O zittre nicht and Der hölle rache, from Mozart's Magic Flute, but I was never meant to be a coloratura soprano.

What do you sing at home? What do you sing when you travel?

Travel tunes

The song that probably inspired me to travel was Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Noel Coward. It was the reason I asked for a globe for Christmas when I was about seven years old. I often had fun turning it to find places that seemed so far away. My parents later bought me the huge Times Atlas of the World. I still have it, too.

05 July 2009

Images of Beauty

The journeys we take as individual human beings can lead us to some extraordinarily beautiful places, relationships and ideas.

Here is a picture of one famous building I was fortunate enough to visit in my early twenties.

It was a quiet, cool November morning in Agra, and quite misty, too. I had a very kind and gentle rickshaw driver called Abdul who cycled me to the Taj Mahal before first light, and we arrived there shortly before the gates opened.

Once inside the garden, I was also fortunate enough to find someone who could take this photograph of me, sitting cross legged on a marble bench. I had no idea at the time that the Taj Mahal was a mausoleum. I thought it was a palace.

Our experiences of seeing the Taj Mahal, whether in real life or through images, are entirely personal. How I respond to seeing the above picture today is quite different from when the photograph was first printed.

Today, I see the Taj Mahal as a monument to all women and girls who have died or suffered serious injury as a consequence of pregnancy. Each one of those people would most likely have been cared for and, in the saddest of circumstances, mourned by someone, whether a friend, mother, sibling or spouse.

My own mother had a very difficult time giving birth to me, so I am very grateful for the medical care we both received as I came into the world.

04 July 2009

Somewhere to Sleep

Choosing somewhere to spend our unconscious hours can be one of the most difficult, expensive and stress-inducing aspects of planning a trip.

For people with a generous budget, there are often far too many choices. For people wishing to spend a modest amount, the challenge is to find somewhere safe, clean, quiet and convenient (though even five star hotels sometimes fail to match those requirements).

Here are some of the places I have found interesting to stay:

My first camping trip there was as a three-month old baby. It was where I spent many happy summers over the first twelve years of my life, even in wet and windy weather. There are a range of environments to explore, from long sandy beaches, a tidal estuary, smooth rocks and interesting rock pools, grassy fields, huge dunes, and a causeway cutting off the peninsula (it's not really an island). It is somewhere to live simply for a while. No need to wear shoes.

If you want to live comfortably in the Australian desert, try an underground hotel or motel room carved out of rock. You can enjoy an interesting ceiling with no noisy neighbours above you. The more expensive options might seem more like a Las Vegas casino with poker machines and no escape from muzak.

Although I speak no Japanese, and my hosts spoke no English, I think a ryokan in Japan is the best way to experience the culture of the country: Great traditional breakfasts, green tea on arrival, futons on the floor (mine was a comfortable foam version), private garden views, private Japanese style bath, electric toilet. All for just a small difference in price between that and a western style hotel. Remember to leave your shoes at reception.

What and where are your favourite accommodation spots in the world?

03 July 2009

Objects of Times Past

Here is a picture of the Egyptian predecessor of a phrasebook, the Rosetta Stone from 196 BC (though the photograph is more recent, of course).  We can often look at important objects such as this in museums.

Here is the Wikipedia article on the Rosetta Stone.  That is where I found the picture.  How much of your travel time is spent in museums? Is it time well spent?

Can you decipher the objects you see in museums?  Are virtual online tours beforehand a good preparation for a visit?  Which is your favourite museum, and why?

02 July 2009

The Adventure of Awareness

There are many natural wonders in the world and I have been fortunate enough to experience quite a few of them.

Here is the beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier in southern Argentina. It was very big and blue and made squeaking noises when I was there in 1987. Apparently, it is even bigger now than it was then.

If you look closely at the bottom of the photograph, you will see small figures standing just above the lake.  I was not prepared to go down there. People have been known to be washed into the freezing water when bits of the glacier fall off.

What are your favourite natural wonders? How many more are you yet to discover and experience? Which emotions do you mostly feel when you think of wonderment?