Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tickets for Armchair Travel

I recently came across a blog that I admire. It's Mary Whipple's Seeing the World Through Books.

She says, "In recent years I have reviewed books set in countries from Afghanistan to Zanzibar, representing 132 of the 195 countries in the world.  My objective is educational.  The vast majority of books I review are literary fiction written by authors from other countries or set in other countries.  Since so many western readers have not traveled to many of the countries featured here, and since references are often made to particular places well known to readers from those countries, I often use small photographs to clarify and explain the references within the novels." As of today, there are nearly 590 book reviews on Mary's site, and they cover nearly every country on the planet.

I've always loved books which afford me the luxury of armchair travel or which impel me to buy airline tickets to see distant places for myself.  I've also been long obsessed with maps. You know, maps -- those diagrams of what is where, drawn by people who know.  

Another web site, They Draw and Travel, has expanded my definition of a map. Bandung, a former hill-station during the Dutch colonial period on Java, Indonesia, now draws compulsive shoppers, having converted its glorious old colonial buildings into factory outlets, selling the wares of Indonesia's clothing manufacturing trade at negligible discounts. Sensible people might use this map to find the glorious natural waterfall (on the left) and enjoy its beauty while their companions shop til they drop along the thoroughfares to the east.

Other maps include special interests, like the taco tour of Puerto Vallarta, or an aspiring vampire's map of New Orleans. There's even a map of street musicians in Cork, but unless Irish buskers are people of long-standing habits, that map may have an expiry date.

This map, 'Trulli and Silence in Italy', caught my eye first because it is beautiful, and second because I rarely associate Italy with silence or the tranquillity that this map evokes.  Maybe I should go to Trulli to investigate for myself. 

Postscript:  Trulli does not refer to a place, but to the buildings found there. According to Unesco, trulli, "limestone dwellings found in the southern region of Puglia, are remarkable examples of drywall (mortarless) construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region."  Here is a photo from Unesco's page, but frankly, I think the map above, by Federica di Carlo, is more captivating.


  1. Great website and blog recommendations! Would The Star and Utusan Malaysia constitute Malaysian literary fiction, or just trash fit for the cat litter trays?

  2. Ee Lynn: I thought you LOVED Katz Tales and Dog Talk! ;-)

    I think readers are pretty much an open minded crowd. It's the non readers I worry about. Also, while I'm always hearing how narrow "Western" people are, in my opinion pretty much everyone around the world has no clue what life is like in countries separate from their own, so why only trash us? I know plenty of Malaysians who could stand to open their eyes a bit too.

    Congrats on the controversial blog topic!

    1. Gosh, I hadn't intended this to spark controversy! I do agree with you, Ellen, that the people who neither read nor travel tend to be the worrisome xenophobes. I also agree with your statement that there are a lot of people around the world who never leave their home countries for various reasons -- it's not a purely 'western' issue -- I would guess Mary Whipple had Americans in mind when she wrote that, more so than Europeans. I think Americans have become even more fearful about leaving the USA in the past decade. And given the power and international influence of their government, it's alarming to see this US vs them mentality becoming even more entrenched. :-(


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