i’ve never quite understood ‘travelling’ as it is often done today, the main purpose of which seems to be to rush from one place to another, with more photographs of a place than memories. i seem to prefer the slow journey, where you spend months or years in a place before moving on. it seems i haven’t really been to a place until i have some good friends there. that said, rushing about is travel of a sort, and like many of us, i’d say armchair travel isn’t. until this book, that is.
subtitled ’50 islands i have never set foot on, and never will’, it sounds like the provocative beginnings of a manifesto for the armchair traveller. what it does turn out to be, though, is a beautifully written and illustrated book that gets one thinking about the nature of travel and the nature of islands. it is as ‘full’ a book as one could hope for, with adventure, love and death, alien customs and politics. the islands seem not so much a scene for the events and stories described, but participants in their own stories. sometimes quite literally, as in the case of banaba, which was created by the frigate birds whose droppings hardened into the pure phosphate that the island is made of. if this is armchair travel, it is armchair travel at its best, with the type of story that one only usually gets from having lived in a place and researched its history and culture.
as delicious is the food for thought in the introduction:
“…i have not trusted political world maps…they grow out of date quickly and give barely any information apart from who is running which scrap of colour.
…in physical topography, land masses glow in the dark green of lowland plains, the reddish brown of mountains or the glacial white of the polar regions, and the seas gleam in every possible shade of blue, quite untouched by the course of history.“
and in what i cannot help but see as a echo of the maps i’ve done:
“…the question whether these stories are ‘true’ is misleading. all text in the book is based on extensive research and every detail from factual sources. i have not invented anything. however i was the discoverer of the sources, researching them through ancient and rare books and i have transformed the texts and appropriated them as sailors appropriate the lands they discover.
…mapmaking follows on the heels of discovery; and a new place is born with a new name. this foreign land is both occupied and posessed, and the act of conquering is repeated in the map…every map is the result and the exercise of colonial violence.“
all i can say is this: if this is armchair travel, i would wish that the depth of my ‘real’ travel experience match this!
name: Atlas of Remote Islands (Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will)
author: Judith Schlansky