In her bok Husmoderns död och andra texter, Sara Danius points out how everyone can play the role of the intellectual and analyst of our times by putting editions of the same cookbook, but from different eras, side by side you have the material to critic the contemporary by comparing it to the past.
Another way to fiddle around in the field between the then and know, to alternate between the historian and the critic and think vertically is;
1.Be a french sociologist in which case you will have rockstar status and opinions on everything
2. Repeat what has been done. Cook through a cookbook someone else has written, live like Gwyneth Paltrow for a week or travel in the footsteps of a man who lived cirka 700 years ago.
Obviously it is a good framework; “a year of” is a good start for a book title or a blog like the famous example Julie&Julia about cooking though the cookbook of Julia Child. Living a week like Gwyneth Paltrow(which is probably the maximum amount of time anyone can manage) is high level social anthropology and there should be an award for it. Tim Mackintosh-Smith chose to walk all the way from Tangiers to Mecca, and then he walks some more. The man he is following is Ibn Battutah, the man in green, and the great Arab traveler.
Battutah’s own travels happens between 1325 to 1355 and he did write an account of it, one that has remained in publication and I know that Penguin has a version of it that I keep meaning to read. I have however read Both Travels with a Tangerine and The hall of a thousand columns,both by Mackintosh-Smith. The latter did not take 30 years to traverse the world but he did the best he could and I recommend both warmly.
Here I find it a good time to point out that Mackintosh-Smith is fluent in Arabic, lives or has lived in San’a,Yemen and has written a book called Yemen-the unknown Arabia which was published in 1996. I do recommend that also, especially since it’s one of the few books written about Yemen and it’s a region of conflict(even though it seems to have dropped of the media radar). And my copy seems lost somewhere on my shelves.
The travel books came after that; from 2000 to 2005 was when the traveling and writing happened although it is hard to tell or I should say that it’s been a while since I’ve read them, and then they already had a few years on them. But they had that timeless quality which is partly because so much of what is discussed is the travels of Ibn Battutah and,partly at least, Mackintosh-Smith’s decision to highlight the personal encounters. And that dry english wit always get me in a good mood.
I still enjoy watching clips of when Micheal Palin traveled around the world in 80 days(again; repeating what someone else has already done lends legitimacy to both them and you actually) and he is given the advice at some point that the best thing is to never apologize or acknowledge danger but just go ahead with his BBC-self “jolly good chaps, coming through. Just the BBC. Toodles”. And he was very clever in that series to refer to the camera crew as Passepartout; which was the servant in Jules Verne’s story.
In fact I much imagine it was the same when Mackintosh-Smith undertook his journey. I romanticize wildly, and will continue to do so as far as this is concerned. Travel writing might just be the last bastion of romance and glamour. Which is enhanced by the fact that both books,and the one about Yemen too I think, have wonderful illustrations by Martin Yeoman.
Things mentioned in this post;
–A snippet of that Palin show from 1988(I had a look at this and now I want to see the whole thing again).