The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Susan Kuro­sawa

THE Syd­ney Writ­ers Fes­ti­val kicks off on Mon­day, which seems a good time for Depar­tureLounge to look at the state of travel book writ­ing. There has been, for ex­am­ple, a right ker­fuf­fle over a re­cent book ti­tled DoTrav­elWrit­er­sGo­toHell:A Swash­buck­lingTa­le­ofHighAd­ven­tures, Ques­tion­ableEthics&Pro­fes­sional He­do­nism by Thomas Kohn­stamm (Pier 9-Mur­doch Books, $29.95).

The ti­tle is de­signed to shock and the car­toon­ish cover has a cer­tain lurid hor­ror to it. But that is not the point. Kohn­stamm, a Seat­tle-based writer in his mid-30s, has ad­mit­ted he was con­tracted to write the in­tro­duc­tion to a Lonely Planet guide on Colom­bia but didn’t go there.

‘‘ The pub­lisher didn’t pay me enough,’’ he has been quoted as say­ing. ‘‘ I wrote the book in San Fran­cisco. I got the in­for­ma­tion from a chick I was dat­ing, an in­tern in the Colom­bian con­sulate.’’

Which is sort of like say­ing: I’ve agreed to fix your plumb­ing but you aren’t giv­ing me enough money, so I’ll just make a few calls to peo­ple who might know about plumb­ing, ap­ply a Band-Aid to the leak and hope for the best. That is, in­stead of stand­ing aside for some­one who is will­ing to do the re­search and con­tracted work, and ac­cept the rates.

Don’t get Lounge started on whether it is eth­i­cal to work for low rates; rant as much as we like, there will al­ways be those who’ll work for less and com­pa­nies that will take ad­van­tage of a buy­ers’ mar­ket.

Travel&In­dul­gence reg­u­larly re­ceives con­tri­bu­tions from would-be travel writ­ers who say they’ll work for free or half rates just to see their names in print. We send them pack­ing: all our con­trib­u­tors are paid fairly and promptly.

Lounge doesn’t know what Lonely Planet pays but it can’t be that dire, judg­ing by the num­ber of guide­book au­thors on its books. Not sur­pris­ingly, the pub­lisher is fu­ri­ous and has posted its views about the af­fair. www.lone­ly­— kohn­stamm.cfm.

WHILE fly­ing from Syd­ney to Sin­ga­pore (for on­ward con­nec­tions to Male), Lounge es­chewed her usual movie marathon and read a fab­u­lous novel with par­al­lel nar­ra­tives in 1920s Cairo and mod­ern-day Nor­mandy. TheCairoDiary by Maxim Chat­tam (Pan Macmil­lan, $22.99) is not out un­til July 1, so the pub­lisher won’t thank Lounge for men­tion­ing it so early, but it is such a ter­rific read and per­ti­nent to the ar­gu­ment that the best travel writ­ing isn’t just about the ex­plo­ration of a des­ti­na­tion but an in­trin­sic and pen­e­trat­ing sense of place that can of­ten be pack­aged as fiction.

Chat­tam, a French­man, takes the reader through the dark, sin­is­ter streets of old Cairo and into a re­li­gious com­mu­nity on the rocky is­land of Mont Saint-Michel, skimmed by seag­ulls, adrift off the shore

KOHN­STAMM is a guest of the Syd­ney Writ­ers Fes­ti­val so all this hoopla is mon­ey­can’t-buy pub­lic­ity for his book. Lounge hasn’t read it but it looks like a rock­et­ing tale judg­ing by a cover blurb that prom­ises sex in a Brazil­ian restau­rant and a hot dose of writer’s fan­tasy. Lounge , who has just been in the Mal­dives and did noth­ing wilder than bung­ing her knee while board­ing a boat, ob­vi­ously goes on all the wrong me­dia trips and could do with a course in self-pro­mo­tion.

IT has al­ways been a mys­tery to Lounge why Tahir Shah, a Bri­tish writer of Afghan de­scent who says the Shahs have been ‘‘ sto­ry­tellers for more than 1000 years’’, is not bet­ter known here. He is Lounge ’ s favourite travel au­thor and it was love at first para­graph when I dis­cov­ered his of Nor­mandy, ‘‘ a proud fin­ger point­ing to­wards the heav­ens . . . a leftover piece of Ba­bel’’.

It is lovely writ­ing, clear and de­scrip­tive, and Chat­tam main­tains a crack­ing pace. TheCairoDiary takes a riv­et­ing seven hours (at Lounge speed), with a pause for lunch and two safety an­nounce­ments. There are no raunchy wait­resses in it. www.panmacmil­ hi­lar­i­ous Sorcerer’sAp­pren­tice . Shah comes across as a com­bi­na­tion of Grou­cho Marx and In­di­ana Jones. When read­ing of his ex­ploits across rural In­dia or up the Ama­zon or in the im­pov­er­ished wastes of Ethiopia, you would hardly be­lieve such a chap could ex­ist, let alone sur­vive his pre­pos­ter­ous mis­sions.

But there are pho­tos to prove it; in In SearchofKingSolomon’sMines , Shah is pho­tographed in pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and an un­usual hat, ‘‘ strain­ing un­der the weight of three newly made bars of pure Ethiopian gold’’.

His latest is InAra­bi­anNights , set in Morocco; Shah tells us how ‘‘ sto­ries are used to pass on ideas, in­for­ma­tion and val­ues in Morocco and across the Arab world . . . in a way that we have al­most lost in the West’’.

His pre­vi­ous book, TheCaliph’sHouse , about set­tling in Casablanca with his fam­ily, is a galaxy re­moved from all those Tus­can-Proven­cal mem­oirs about fab­u­lous food, twin­kle-eyed trades­men and gen­er­ous neigh­bours that make Lounge want to drown her­self in a vat of ex­travir­gin olive oil. His Casablanca trans­plant in­volves a she-jinn named Qan­disha who haunts the Shah house­hold, strings up cats in trees and sucks raw meat through the toi­let bowl. And Lounge wouldn’t give a guide­book’s toss if he made it all up. www.tahir­

FIND of the week: Ori­ent-Ex­press’s Ho­tel Cipri­ani in Venice turns 50 on May 28 and the first five guests to book di­rect through its web­site that day for a fu­ture stay will be charged for the first night at the 1958 rate of 8000 lire (about $6). Given that day dawns first in our part of the world, the pro­mo­tion gives us a crit­i­cal edge (don’t tell the New Zealan­ders). www.hotel­cipri­; www.ori­ent-ex­ ■ LOUNGE loves: The Cipri­ani man­age­ment has gone for full half-cen­tury birth­day glit­ter: new to its glo­ri­ously named Casanova Spa menu is a 24ct gold fa­cial. ■ LOUNGE loathes: Slip­pery bare floors in air­port ter­mi­nals. Of­fend­ers should take note of the lav­ishly wo­ven car­pets in Changi’s new ter­mi­nal three in Sin­ga­pore (al­though they make those car­pets in hec­tic swirls, which surely were never in fash­ion, in the other Changi ter­mi­nals look rather sad).

Il­lus­tra­tion: John Tiede­mann

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