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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Travel writing thru the Centuries

Adventures in Egypt and Morocco from the 1600’s to the turn of the 20th century

Two years ago I was offered a series of books published by the American University in Cairo Press.  The first set of books included poetry and diary excerpts from travelers in Egypt from the 1700’s to the 19th century.  

WOMEN TRAVELERS ON THE NILE (edited by Deborah Manley) is an anthology of journal excerpts and stories written by women who were brave enough to venture into a world that until then had mainly been explored by men.  Some of them accompanied their husbands., others bravely ventured out alone, in the company of Egyptian guides. Many of them ended up living in Egypt and contributed more insights into Egyptian life, especially from a woman’s perspective.  They learned Arabic and met both the poorer women and the richest.  Some of these women were invited to join groups or to accompany their husbands. Some wrote books about their travels, others made notes in journals. 

I was privileged in 2014 to be invited on a small travel journalist’s tour of Egypt offered by the Egyptian Tourism in Ottawa, Canada.  This was a dream come true for me.  Not only had I been fascinated with Egypt and Egyptian history for years, but I had recently completed on novel about Alexander the Great (SHADOW OF THE LION) which is partly set in Egypt at the time the city of Alexandria was being built by Ptolemy 1st according to Alexander’s wishes.
Because of my own unforgettable adventures on that 10-day trip, I was fascinated to read the stories of these women who had journeyed, often alone, into the desert by camel and lived in these ancient communities. Seeing Egypt through their eyes was a real pleasure.

The women travelers included Emily Anne Beaufort (1826-1887) daughter of the creator of the Beaufort Wind Scale; Sarah Belzoni (1785-1970) wife of a famous Egyptian explorer; Isabella Bird (1831-1904) one of the greatest Victorian era travel writers; M.L.M. Carey (1860-?) a writer an artist; Eliza Fay (1756-1816) an adventurous woman who also accompanied her husband to India in 1799, Marianne North (1830 -90) one of the most intrepid of the Victorian lady travelers. Mary Whatley (1824-89() who set up schools for poor Egyptian girls, as well as many others. 

ANCIENT EGYPT IN POETRY, is an anthology of Nineteenth Century Verse. (edited by Donald P. Ryan) Intrigued by the history and ancient ruins of Egypt, many writers over the years have visited Egypt, attracted by the adventure and ancient intrigue found in the remarkable archaeological sites and the fascinating desert landscapes. During the nineteenth century Egypt was in particular a popular destination for poets, writers and artists. 
Some of the poets who traveled there whose work is included in the book are Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), an American poet, newspaper and magazine editor and Civil War correspondent wo visited Egypt in 1905; Charles Dent Bell (1818-98) an Irish vicar who was inspired by nature; Robert Browning (1812-89) one of the greatest literary figures in English language, Lord Byron (1788-1824) one of the greatest Romantic Era poets; Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907) noted for her compassion toward the poor and uneducated; John Keats (1795-1821) one of the great Romantic Era poets of England; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1897-82)one of Americas greatest poets; Herman Melville (1819-91) author of Moby Dick and Typee; Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) noted English poet and Alfred Tennyson  (1809-92) poet laureate of the United Kingdom. 
These two books are pocket-sized, quick-reads, making them handy to take along in your purse or back-pack. 

ARISTOCRATS AND ARCHAEOLOGIST:  An Edwardian Journey on the Nile  (edited by Toby Wilkinson and Julian Platt) is a fascinating journal recording an Edwardian doctor’s journey on the Nile in the winter of 1907 – 1908, complied of a series of letters that give a first-hand account of the three-month trip, sites visited, passengers on board and people encountered along the journey as well encounters with cultural and class differences. The collection of letters was written by “Ferdy”, the great uncle of Julian Platt. During the early 1900’s people often escaped the cold dank winters of England and the many illnesses that often-ravaged Europe and spent the winter months in warmer climes. “Ferdy” (Ferdinand) A.F.R. Platt was a physician who accompanied the wealthy Duke of Devonshire on a journey to Egypt. It’s a delightful read and includes maps and itinerary notes and photographs of all Platt’s adventures as they cruised the Nile.

The most recent book I received from Cairo Press is another tiny gem, A MOROCCO ANTHOLOGY (edited by Martin Rose).  I found this book just as intriguing as the Egyptian books as I have also traveled to Morocco several years ago. It’s a book I’d like to have read before I made that trekking journey into the foothills of the High Atlas from Marrakech.  
Morocco has four ‘imperial cities’ where the sultan’s court settled in past times. This book includes visits to the various cities by adventurers, travel writers and others to these fabled cities. Morocco had a French and Spanish colonial period that lasted 44 years.  Writer Edith Wharton wrote “a country so deeply conditioned by its miles and miles of uncitied wilderness that until one has know the wilderness one cannot understand the cities”.  This little book takes you on a journey to each of these cities and explores the point of view of these travelers from long ago. 

 Some of these contributors include Ali Bey Al-Abbassi (1767-1818) a Spaniard from Barcelona, who visited Morocco between 1803-1805; Ellis Ashmea-Bartlett (1888-1931) a war correspondent who worked for Reuters.;  Paul Bowles (1910-0=99 an American novelist, composer, musician, poet and translator; Walter Harris (1866-1933) a Times  correspondent who traveled in disguise to meet sultans and rebels; Emily Keen, Shareefa of Ouazzane (1850-1941) an English governess who married the Grand Sheikh of Ouazzane’; Pierre Loti (1850-1923) a French navel officer and novelist; Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) a diarist; Edith Wharton (1862-1937) American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence.  
This books takes you on an exotic journey to all of the imperial cities of Morocco and gives some insight into what life was like back in the past from the journals of these interesting writers.

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