Pages of enlightenment
Next on my to-read list is the award-winning H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and I have been saving it for somewhere full of falcons and goshawks. But a good friend has told me that is a silly idea and I just need to get started. She has pointed out, quite rightly, that I have just been reading a murder mystery set in old Madras while hanging out in Beijing. She is a traveller who once, when we were spending a weekend in Singapore, sat by the hotel pool studying a guidebook to Cuba because she reckoned it would have been a much better idea to go to Havana.
Her eccentricities regarding guidebook preferences aside, she is right about not saving up books but reading them wherever and whenever we can.
Which brings me to this week’s issue on Europe River Cruising because if ever there were a pastime conducive to page-turning (or page-sliding, I suppose, for the ereader set) then this is it.
While cruising the Rhine late last year, I did get into what’s apparently known as “destination appropriate” reading by having Mark Twain as my constant companion. I sailed effortlessly and enjoyably through A Tramp Abroad and what a delight to be looking at Heidelberg and Baden-Baden more than 130 years after his book was published, nodding at the recognisable and marvelling at the upstart modernities.
But not everything I tackled was “geographically correct” and the joy was in finding free hours between river ports (typically, the middle of the day or sailing overnight) to catch up with books. (I flung a towel over the incabin television set and gave up on Instagram, just in case of diversions.)
Years ago, on safari in southern Africa, and before the advent of electronic devices, I lugged a whopping field guide to birds on several expeditions. When flying into camps by small planes, the luggage limit is always very small and I had to forgo clothing just to fit the book in my duffel bag. Out went extra knickers and fresh shirts in favour of pages and pages of rollers, weavers, kingfishers and fabulously named drongos. I took a sharpener, too, as I hoped to see so many that I would wear my pencil to a stub filling in checklists and marking margins.
Now, of course, there would be a birding app of some kind and you’d just point your device and it would tell you which species is in your sights. Although perhaps there would be no connectivity in the deepest reaches of, say, the Okavango Delta, which would be a blessing.
You could read by lantern light perhaps, which is what my chap did more than a decade past when I took him to Kenya as a safari treat. He was so into Ernest Hemingway’s African stories that I feared he would take to drinking neat whisky from a shaving mug and growing a beard. And it was while I was reading Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa beside him in our twin stretcher beds that a lion upped and roared fit to blow away the tent. Ha, that was destination appropriate, I reckon.