Posts Tagged ‘travel writing’

… The world was dissolving ahead of the ageing Mercedes’ long, hail-dented bonnet as we powered south through the heat-baked platteland on the Johannesburg-to-Cape Town road. Turning away from the mirage, I gazed out of my window at the puffs of clouds in layers above empty miles of grassland and across a vast sky reaching away to Lesotho. A squatter camp started up, rusted corrugated iron huts in red dirt yards. “What the hell do people do out here?” Chris sighed. Beyond the shacks a tower emerged from the plain like something Sauron might have occupied in The Lord of the Rings. “And what the hell’s that?” I asked. We pulled off the highway, skirted the camp, and turned onto the broken asphalt leading to the tower’s base. It was flung upwards as a series of concrete sails towards a god who had clearly forsaken its architect. It turned out to be a monument to the Trekboer, the Afrikaners who drove their wagons out of the Cape in search of freedom from British oppression. Or, as Chris said, “in search of the freedom to own slaves” …

Ruaridh Nicoll in The Observer on road trip through South Africa’s Karoo region.


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One of the images that accompanies a travel feature in The San Francisco Gate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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Teju Cole on Rome:

Italy is a third-world country. It has the ostentatious contrasts of a third-world country, and the brittle pride. The greenery of Fiumicino quickly gave way to abandoned buildings with rusted roofs. We rumbled by a necropolis of wrecked cars in a wide yard, beyond which were muddy roads. On the culverts and walls, graffiti artists were indefatigable, covering every available surface for miles. Their tags were, to my surprise, beautiful: I began to see how they answered to the ancient ruins. The ruins themselves were as elaborate as stretches of aqueduct, or as simple as sections of walls. Their size as well as their integration into the landscape was the first real sign of the ubiquity of the past in Rome. In many places this past was elaborated (as I would soon discover), but in others it was entirely uncurated, the material relics simply remaining there, a testament to thousands of years of effort, an echo of the wealth and greatness of the people who lived here.

The rest at The Cassandra Pages.

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BACK IN 2001, before the Democratic Republic of Congo started to make headlines as one of the biggest battlefields in African history, the German artist Carsten Holler made his first trip to Kinshasa, the country’s capital and the third-largest city on the continent. “Kinshasa is electric, filled with music, sapeurs” — men and women who fancy themselves members of a high-end fashion cult and engage in regular “Defi de Sape,” or nonviolent label wars — “and live concerts, like no other town I have seen,” Holler recalls. “I love this culture, and I thought it would be great to put it on a one-to-one ratio with our so-called Western culture.” Seven years and countless return trips to the D.R.C. later, Holler has opened the Double Club, a temporary supper club and nightclub, which does just that.


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Where else, but in The New York Times Travel Section.

I asked around from my Eritrean contacts what they thought of it. As one wrote to me yesterday:

Around 1993 with a friend in Asmara we sketched a note which could act as template for a journalist’s standard article about Eritrea, replete with check list of cliches, stereotypes, appropriate adjectives etc. 15 years on pretty much all of the template can still be used, as this piece demonstrates ..

If you want to be disappointed.

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The writer Jenny Diski (in the London Review of Books) finds more than she bargained for on a visit to the new South Africa. Here’s a sample:

I spent the afternoon at the botanical gardens in Kirstenbosch with Moira, a friend of a friend. She was in her late sixties, had grown up in southern Africa, raised her own family in Cape Town, all the while disapproving of apartheid. After the change of government, she taught nursery-aged black and coloured children of returnees from exile, in an impoverished part of town. ‘The country is being ruined by the greed and resentment of the Africans,’ she said as we had lunch. ‘They’ve got bad values – which is the result of cultural collapse because of the loss of traditional structures, but then again, cheating is the nature of Africans.’ She told me a ‘true’ story from a Zimbabwean farmer friend of hers, who got it from a friend of his, about an Englishman working as a foreman for a black landowner, who asked him: ‘How come you never cheat me?’ The Englishman, surprised, said: ‘Well, I’m just an honest man.’ The landowner roared with laughter. ‘We have always been cheats. That’s the only way to get rich.’ Moira explained that the character of the Trickster appears in all the traditional African stories. ‘They don’t have tales about kings and queens and heroes.’ She was adamant about this, though I suggested that the Trickster appears in some form or other in most traditions.

Then she told me another story that she assured me was ‘true’.

An Englishman, a Thai and an African were all together at Oxbridge. After some years the Englishman goes to visit the Thai who is hugely rich. ‘How come?’ asks the Englishman. ‘See that road? I own 10 per cent of it,’ the Thai tells him. The Englishman goes to visit the African, who is also hugely rich. ‘How come?’ ‘See that road?’ says the African. ‘What road?’ the Englishman asks.

Moira waited for me to burst out laughing, but it was a minute or two before I could make anything at all of this story. Besides, what were the overseas students doing in ‘Oxbridge’ in the first place if they weren’t rich already? Before I left, Moira asked me if I’d been to Robben Island. I hadn’t. ‘I went once – quite decent accommodation, and they were allowed to have their study groups and books. I left thinking it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Nazi concentration camps.’

Moira doesn’t think she’s a racist…

Full article here.

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The opening lines of the cover story of the most recent issue of the New York Times Style Magazine:

“… I began perhaps the most fantastic single day in all my years of travel by riding up to a traditional Himba ‘‘village’’ — a small clutch of domed mud-and-thatch huts surrounding a pen for livestock, improbably sited in a wide desert valley — on a Honda A.T.V., pulling off my helmet and questioning a bare-breasted and intricately coiffed octogenarian about the changing nature of her world.”

If you still have the stomach, the whole thing is here. [After reading the article, a friend of mine with more than a glancing interest in Namibia, its people and history, responded: “Wow, nice example of colonial nostalgia and a striking consistency in how white visitors have perceived the country through the centuries. A high-end fashion shoot at Sossusvlei accompanying a story of a “traditional” people living in considerable poverty with no reflection whatsoever – it really makes you wonder.”] And I just checked out the magazine’s Flickr page. There are hardly any people in the pictures. I am tired.

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