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Sunday, 12 May 2013

A Shore Thing. Travels with Herodotus

This weekend I finally finished Ryszard Kapuscinski's fascinating book Travels With Herodotus. A journalist from post war Warsaw, Kapuscinski recounts how he had never been on a plane, although his great wish was to cross the border. A rude awakening, then,  that his first posting abroad was not to Czechoslovakia as hoped, but to India. Here began a career of pairing elegant travel writing and well observed political journalism.

Travels with Travels with Herodotus

Mid-travels, Kapuscinski acquired Herodotus's Histories, and in Travels with Herodotus he presents his own journeys alongside excerpts from the great inquiries Herodotus made some 2500 years earlier. One such trip is to Halicarnassus, Herodotus's home town, home to the tomb of Mausolus. By this time it had been renamed Bodrum, a simple fishing village where he enjoyed a simple meal of coffee, goat's cheese and olives.

Herodotus tells us that he knows "that human happiness never remains long in the same place." How true. I visited Bodrum myself aged 18 on an 18-30 holiday. By the time of my visit Bodrum had certainly become the least appropriate place for a tomb heritage site. Mausoleum; no, rather, music, margaritas and amorality. I remember participating in an organised drinking game where we had to sprint up to a point, spin around ten times and then try and run back. Whilst drinking whatever sickly concoction of a cocktail was on offer. Needless to say I was not running in a straight line on the home leg.

Waking the Dead? Two views of Bodrum

Would this kind of human custom have interested the great inquirer? I think so. I remember being woken up by the sounds of the stereo beats at the pool calling us to the bar at 7:30 am; and I remember the sounds of the call to prayer and some boisterous local rooster competing for airspace. As is so often the case, the sacred and the profane like to live side by side.

Life's a Beach

I read the final pages of Travels With Herodotus on Naples beach, south west Florida, where I'm visiting my parents-in-law this weekend. It's a journey I've made several times before, but apart from a variance of 10-15 degrees (Fahrenheit) there's a certain pride from the 'locals' that nothing much changes here. For tennis and golf enthusiasts it's a haven of perfect sporting weather.

Naples Beach, south west Florida

Herodotus never made it to Florida, but I think he'd still be somewhat interested in the customs of the day-to-day here also. In this place where the trees and plants to me seem in constant bloom, Cosmopolitans or cocktails of your choice are mixed at 5 pm. Okay, 3 pm. Then it's on to the nearest restaurant for the early bird special. Get in before 5 or you'll have a rush. Get there by 7 and the place is deserted. Everyone's gone home to play Whist. And maybe have more cocktails. Before driving home to rest before it begins again tomorrow.