“The genuinely wild is not interested in ‘seeing the world’; it is exclusively interested in being.”
Freya Stark excellently reiterates Ruskin’s view as quoted by De Botton in The Art of Travel. This is the attitude towards traveling that I truly resonate with, and for this to be repeated in two books that I happened to read successively accentuates its significance!
“With Freya Stark one doesn’t know where the traveller stops and the writer begins,” observes The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers. And yet in Beyond Euphrates, Stark constantly mentions the inadequacy of words in describing what she has seen and experienced in her travels: “No medium has yet been devised for the translation of life into language…” But other passages also show that she knew the power of words: “I often think how heavy a responsibility we should feel, how careful we should be, if we realized how great an influence casual words may have… If one’s words have been ever a help and never a hindrance, that surely is a useful life and no other justification needed for it.”
Reading while traveling, as I also usually do, she often weaves her contemplations on her literary companions — the Arabian Nights, having “the same charm as one finds in some travel books” and “far more like real life than many stories”; the Odyssey, a “triumph of beautiful words!”
We seem to prepare for a trip the same way, too: “The foundation of such travel is careful planning; I read all I could, plotted out days and distances.” But these are not the only things we have in common. We are drawn to the same countries! “I am going to Persia in a few weeks. One’s dreams come true.” A few chapters later, “It is wonderful to be writing from Persia… it is just Persia, some high land in the centre of the world, getting near the tableland where all history began.”
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I was introduced to the writings of Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark at the same time in 2017 when I received The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers as a birthday present, and which travelled with me to Nepal. Since then I have been looking for both their books: I have scored two for Gertrude Bell, zero for Freya Stark.
To my delight, Beyond Euphrates came in the mail on World Book Day! My literary tastes are not easily influenced by contemporary trends but I have friends who know me well enough to know exactly what books I would enjoy! I am grateful to have such friends that are even rarer than the books!