There was an excellent piece in the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend by Robert Macfarlane on Laurie Lee and his wanderings through Spain. (I presume it’s from Macfarlane’s introduction to a new Penguin edition of one of Lee’s books, published to mark the centenary of the writer’s birth, but The Guardian doesn’t say.) “If the power of Cider with Rosie derives from its dream of dwelling,” he argues, “the power of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning derives from its dream of leaving. If only I could live forever in one place, and come to know it so well, you think, reading Lee’s first volume of memoir. If only I could step from my front door, walk away and just keep going, you think, reading his second.”
I’ve read all of Lee’s Spanish books several times, but Macfarlane, as he often does, made me feel I’d been only half-attentive. Of this passage from As I Walked Out
[The] next day, getting back on to the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.
The writing here is “voluptuous” yet precise, and as such it is characteristic of Lee’s style, in which elaborate metaphors serve not as ornaments, but rather as the means of most closely evoking complex experience. Lee does not walk so much as levitate or hover, borne aloft by supernatural stamina, and, in mimicry of this sensation, his clauses, suspended by their commas, also bear the reader along “the way” and onwards into the unknown.
The Telegraph Magazine had a piece from Mike Pflanz on another wanderer, David Coulson, who has driven the equivalent of three times round the earth to find and chronicle the ancient rock art of Africa. “Here’s a great news story out of Africa,” says Coulson: “the preservation of thousands of years of history and culture about which we would know nothing if not for this art. That’s what should motivate us all to preserve it.”
A hundred years ago last week, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, set off on a trip that would end with his assassination – the event that triggered the First Word War. In Telegraph Travel, Adrian Bridge followed the archduke’s footsteps. “It’s a journey well worth doing today,” he says, “not because [Franz Ferdinand] did it, but for the geographical, historical, cultural and scenic splendours along the way”. The piece isn’t online as I write, so I’ll post a link to it later.
Also in the Review section of The Guardian was an interview by Emma Brockes with Teju Cole, mentioned here recently, who was born into a Nigerian family in the United States and is constantly struck by the ease of life there compared with that in Nigeria. How, he asks of the latter, “can a place be so interesting, full of history and real human conflict, and at the same time as slow as molasses?”