|I take the Golden Road|
Dear readers, this will be the last article for a bit. I leave for
this coming Sunday and will be away for just over three weeks. I’m so
looking forward to it, my third trip to North Africa, following Egypt last year and Morocco a few years before.
I simply love to travel; it’s in my blood. We had some wonderful vacations when I was a child, visiting quite a few unusual places. I’ve continued this family tradition. The more unusual the destination the better I like it. I’m not a travel snob, though; I’m as capable as most other people of doing touristy things and visiting touristy places. I like to be pampered and I’m most assuredly not into any form of asceticism or personal hardship. I go for pleasure, not for penance!
Having said that, I do sometimes feel that I was born too late, at a time when the world gets smaller by the day; a time when all the great adventures are past; when all the trails are blazed and all the paths found. I would simply loved to have been alive in the great age of exploration, which for me is the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when the maps were being filled out.
Have you heard of Gertrude Bell? She is a particular heroine of mine: the first woman down from
Oxford with a degree in Modern History; an
independent scholar, an archaeologist, and expert in several Middle Eastern
languages, a writer, a political specialist, a traveller; a friend of sheiks
and kings - the female Lawrence of Arabia!
In 1900 she dressed herself as a Bedouin man, riding alone into the dangerous Hauran Plain, still under the control of the Ottomans, in search of the Druze, a militant Muslim sect, which had been fighting the Turks for two hundred years. She made contact with Yahya Beg, king of the Druze, and conversed with him in his own language. Some weeks after he was to ask another visitor to his domain 'Have you seen a queen travelling?'
I’m no queen; I’m just a footloose English girl, going where the fancy takes me, hoping to understand other people and other cultures just a little better; hoping at the same time to understand myself a little better, my mind deeper, my horizons broader.
you may wonder? In part because I have a fascination with past cultures,
with the history of a country that once contained Carthage, the realm of Queen Dido, more
completely lost than mere time would suggest. I will be there, among the
fragments and those later left by Rome,
fragments upon fragments, traces upon traces. Perhaps I shall find Dido,
with Aeneas by her side. (I saw Anna Karenina this afternoon. My present mood is fey and romantic!)
But my African adventure is deeper. It will take me from
Tunis and Carthage in the north to the oasis of Tozeur
in the far south-west. From there I’m off into the Sahara
and also to see the great salt lake of Chott el Jerid, with mirages dancing in
OK, there is a slight concern going to a Muslim country at this time, a time when things are so unsettled, a time when
is unsettled. But I was in Cairo
last November, leaving just before the latest round of trouble started on Tahrir Square.
If one worried about danger one would never travel at all. Besides life
is all risk and I am a fatalist, a jolly one at that. I shall, in my own
way, spread as much peace and light as I can…and keep my golden locks well
tucked under a headscarf.
So, that’s it. My next piece shall be a postcard from