Pages of en­light­en­ment

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

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.

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