Tag Archives: travel writing

“Lovely is the Lee” by Robert Gibbings, 1946

Books Are Weapons In The War Of Ideas - Black Wall and Art Print | war propaganda

I found this book on a junk pile, about to go to the dump. Pure luck! Maybe the luck of the Irish, to which I am genetically entitled. The book could be categorized as “travel” or “memoir”.

The Irish river Lee crosses (roughly) from the town of Ballingeary to the city of Cork, the author’s birthplace. The book is an account of Gibbings return home after developing his career as a writer, sculptor and illustrator using wood engravings. It’s a travel book, mixing geography, natural history, folklore and personal anecdotes. Good reading!

The book is illustrated by the author’s wood engravings. From my perspective as a cellphone-camera photographer, I’m impressed by the effort that went into illustrating this book, and charmed by how expressive the wood cut prints are. 

I found some unusual information on the back of the title page of this old book which was published in New York.

“A Wartime Book

This complete edition is produced in full compliance with the government’s regulation for conserving paper and other essential materials.”

There’s also a patriotic logo, see above. An eagle in flight carries a book in it’s talons. A banner in the eagle’s beak reads “Books are weapons in the war of ideas”.

What ideas does this book support?

You CAN go home again. Nature is a source of endless wonder. The Irish are abundantly hospitable, whimsical and creative. Nothing in this book has anything to do with war, waged with weapons OR ideas.

Wikipedia has a highly informative biography of Gibbings. He was much better known for his wood prints than his books. I’m curious about a book entitled The Radium Woman: The Life Story of Marie Curie. Gibbings is listed as co-author with Eleanor Doorly. His contribution was woodcuts used for chapter headings. Scientist Marie Curie has long been a heroine of mine. 

Lovely is the Lee reminded me of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (see this blog, March 25, 2021), but Shepherd stayed within one mountain range, while Gibbings travelled widely.

If you want to read something calming, old travel books are the best!

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“The Last Whalers – Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life” by Doug Bock Clark

The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life

347 pages, including maps, photos, notes and glossary. Nonfiction>ethnography.

How did this book end up on the give-away shelf at my dentist’s office? Brand new, only recently published (January 2019) and astonishingly good!

I never heard of Lembata Island in Indonesia, or the Lamaleran people. Lamalerans living on Lembata number only about 1500. Others are scattered throughout Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia. The Lamalera are the last subsistence whalers on earth.

Anthropologists consider Lamaleran culture to show the highest level of sharing and cooperation ever documented. Those two traits are essential to survival when low technology is used to hunt whales. The Lamalerans traditionally barter with their neighbors in order to supplement their diet of meat with fruit and vegetables. They have only recently (25 years ago?) entered the cash economy.

Clark spent about twelve months with the Lamalerans over a three year period, becoming fluent in their language, observing their daily lives and sometimes participating in their religious ceremonies, both Catholic and animistic. Clark sometimes referred to “shamanism” rather than animism, but I don’t know if he meant the same thing as Coelho did in Aleph (see recent post). There is no reference to the type of shamanistic “trance” that Coelho describes.

It surprised me to learn that so isolated a group existed. Having read a certain amount of popularized anthropology and known a few academics in the field, I didn’t think going off to spend time with remote, exotic people was still a possibility. Clark seems to have arrived at this project through journalism and travel writing, though his status as a two time Fulbright grant recipient suggests academic credentials in anthropology.

Clark almost entirely leaves himself out of the story, telling about the people he describes with vivid detail from THEIR point of view. I couldn’t stop reading!

In an explanatory afterword, he discusses how he limited his behavior in order not to “distort” the community he was observing. He seems to have judged this by “journalistic” (rather than anthropological or academic) standards, admitting that he spent money to transport Lamalerans for medical treatment that would have otherwise been unobtainable.

The link below leads to my review of another wonderful book related to anthropology.

Noble Savages – My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists by N A Chagnon

Looking back at my post about Chagnon led me to reflect:

Both the Lamalerans and the Yanomamo (an Amazon tribe) can be considered “successful” cultures, each achieving slow population growth in a challenging environment. According to Chagnon, the Yanomamo dealt with population pressure by fission, dividing into smaller groups when their numbers exceeded about 100. The Lamalerans dealt with population pressure by out migration. Adults found work elsewhere in Indonesia and beyond. Usually they maintained their contact with home, and provided a conduit for ideas about change. Sometimes they facilitate other departures, like temporary enrollment at a university.

Web surfing to learn more about Clark, I found his article in Gentleman’s Quarterly about a recent attempt to contact a smaller and more isolated tribe, the Sentinelese. I’ll write about that soon.

“The Truffle Underground” by Ryan Jacobs

The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World's Most Expensive Fungus

Subtitled “A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus”, this book occupies the intersection between food writing and travel writing. Not a bad place to be! Fun for all!

Personally, I’m only just sophisticated enough to know that the truffle of the title is NOT the soft chocolate confection that turns up in a Whitman’s Sampler. I’ve heard of the fungus called truffle, which grows underground on tree roots. Not sure I have tasted it, except possibly in “truffle oil”, a product that author Ryan Jacobs does not respect.

Truffles are a very high priced culinary delicacy. The best are harvested in France and Italy. Others originate in China, Tunisia and elsewhere. Attempts at cultivation have had limited success. Since the supply chain starts with individual “hunters” bringing truffles to dealers in hundreds of small European market towns, the truffle trade is hard to regulate, and fraud abounds.

This is Ryan Jacobs first book, but he has an extensive publication history with The Atlantic, one of my favorite periodicals. He currently writes and serves as Deputy Editor for Pacific Standard. His website says he specializes in international crime and intrigue. This is a young writer to watch!

I tried to find an  picture of a truffle. Like the fungus, the image proved elusive.

“The Vikings” by Robert Wernick

Sometimes i just want to read something different! This book, downloaded on impulse to my Kindle, served very well.

The Vikings were totally omitted from my long ago history classes. Maybe they were too scary? But now, with all the educational emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) we should study the Vikings as masters of science and technology. The science they developed was navigation, and the technology was ship building. With these advantages, they conquered vast areas and amassed great wealth. I didn’t know they were the ancestors of the Normans, who conquered Britain and thus created English, and to some extent the modern geopolitical map.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 5, Pioneers in the Land of Ice. Iceland, Greenland and the colonization of North America fascinate me. The Vikings who tried to colonize North America GAVE UP in the face of resistance by the native people. The Greenland colony failed when the Little Ice Age reduced Viking mobility. And Iceland struggled through, ceding its independence to Norway in the process.

I visited Iceland about 15 years ago, a three day stopover after a trip to Scotland. It was June, and barely got dark at night. I hope to go back one day and get out of the capital city to see farms and smaller towns. I’ll travel to Scandinavia when the price comes down, or I win the lottery.