WorldBookProject – Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan

You hadn’t thought I’d given up on reading the world now, had you? Yes, it is going slower than in the first two years, but I’m ploughing on and keep making great discoveries. Some stats: the current count overall is 167 out of 257 books, and 71 of these were written by female authors, 11 by a mixed team and one book didn’t name an author.

165 Saudi Arabia: Daring to Drive: My Life as an Accidental Activist in a Kingdom of Men by Manal Al-Sharif

This book is an autobiography written by someone who hasn’t much experience of the craft, but her story makes more than up for it. If you thought that the KSA was kind of a hellhole for women, here several new circles of hell are added to the equation.

166 Taiwan: Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

While listening to the audiobook version of this story I found it somewhat tricky to follow the many characters. I think it might have been better to read the printed version. Content-wise, I felt with the Crocodiles of the story. It’s good to see that Taiwan has now legalised same-sex marriage.

167 Kenya: Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Revolution! This book is a call to arms and takes a broad aim: colonialism, sexual predation, big money, tribalism, corruption, religion and the list isn’t finished. It’s not exactly subtle in its stance but not without a sense of humour. The denouement came as a surprise to me and the heroine of the story … , well, read for yourself.

And what’s coming next? I’m in the middle of Bahrain, Antarctica and Kazakhstan and just got a big present from my parents including Uzbekistan, Paraguay and Equatorial Guinea. Thank you 🙂 .

WorldBookProject – Brazil, Indonesia and Vatican

Yup, I’m in the middle of the 3rd year of reading my way around the world, and it’s still highly exciting because I’ve again made some rather unexpected discoveries (bookwise). The equality count at the moment: 163 books read, 69 by female authors, 11 with mixed authorship and one unknown writer.

159 Brazil: Socorro Acioli – The Head of the Saint

This was great fun! It’s a children’s book or YA, but still. The author put her finger exactly where it hurts when talking about bigotry in religious establishment, people’s gullibility and corruption. I need to read more by her.

160 Indonesia: Dee Lestari – Paper Boats

Again some YA here, but this one wasn’t my cup of tea. Too many convenient coincidences and way too much beating around the bush or silence between the characters.

161 Vatican: Pope Francis – ENCYCLICAL LETTER ‘LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME

As an atheist, I was more than surprised how very much in agreement I found myself with the Pope on the matters he wrote about. The encyclical deals with environmental problems, where those are coming from, and makes suggestions what to do about them. I also hadn’t expected the almost scientific language of the letter. The flowery bits were kept to the paragraphs about biblical verses and prayers. I have to say, I wish more people would listen to him and do more for our planet.

Algeria – A visit to Tlemcen

Recently, we had friends over from Germany and we decided to spend a day in Tlemcen, a city close to the Moroccan border. It’s steeped in history and there’s plenty to do and see. One day is not enough to explore everything, but we got a really good impression – also thanks to a colleague who acted as our local guide.

One thing that immediately caught the eye is the countless minarets, all square brick towers. I still need to find out about the architectural background because I used to think of a minaret as a round and much higher structure.

An amazing surprise was the number of minarets with stork-nests on top, a lot of them occupied or under territorial disputes. It was amazing to see so many White Storks so unexpectedly.

One of the many places of interest in Tlemcen is the Mosque Sidi Boumediene and the adjacent ruin of the palace of the Zayyanid sultan. There are some beautiful remnants of calligraphy in the palace and one can enjoy a view of the city.

We also ventured into the surrounding areas, but that’s for another post.

Bath – Between the Romans, Art and Astronomy

Thanks to two lovely Scottish ladies I spent a wonderful day in Bath.  There’s so much to see and do that this was really just a taster. Foodwise, by the way, I can highly recommend Comptoir Libanais.

Bath is a town full of art and a wide range of architecture. The most famous architectural style is Georgian, like the Circus. The city centre is a world heritage site.

Bath is also the only place in the UK with natural hot springs. It’s possible to go into one of the spas (which I didn’t), or to see how the old Romans did it (which I did). What I admired most at the baths in Bath, however, was a relic of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the hot springs.

My personal highlight was somewhat off the beaten track. Welcome to the Herschel house! Caroline and William Herschel were two astronomers who were famous for their telescopes with home-polished mirrors, and comet hunting. If you feel like walking in their footsteps, you can be a citizen scientist and help with one of the astronomy projects on the Zooniverse platform.

WorldBookProject – It’s Half Time!

Yep, reason to celebrate: I’ve read half of the books I set out to read in this project. So many wonderful discoveries in all those countries and territories – there are plenty of places I want to explore further, as well as many more authors whose books are all waiting to be read. In this post, we’re doing a bit more island hopping throughout the Atlantic and the Pacific. Many thanks to the Star-Wars-fan in the Balfour Library who used his Librarian Superpowers to find a misplaced book and to Ian Alexander for providing me with choices for Malta.

123 Jamaica: Erna Brodber – Jane and Louisa will soon come home

Hm. Who are Jane and Louisa? Why did they leave? Where to? Why do they want to / have to come home? I have no idea.

124 Malta: Stephen C. Spiteri – The Great Siege: Knights vs Turks MDLXV Anatomy of a Hospitaller Victory

That book could easily have been used as a brick in one of the forts under siege. The chapters about weapons and armor were not so exciting for me. However, I found it fascinating and was horrified by the human interest side of things. Seems to me that people haven’t changed that much – religion is still used as a smokescreen for ambition and power.

125 Niue: John Pule and Nicolas Thomas –  Hiapo: Past and present in Niuean barkcloth

A poet and an anthropologist write about an almost forgotten form of art. What a little treasure this book was! I shall walk through museums or exhibitions about the Pacific with new eyes.

126 Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha: D.M. Booy – Rock of Exile: A Narrative of Tristan da Cunha

Books or actually any reading materials from this British overseas territory are few and far between. I was glad I found this account of a soldier in a far-flung outpost during WWII. It was very much of its time – dominance of men, and specifically men from the British Empire. However, I liked to learn a bit about the local dialect of Tristan da Cunha: ‘Don’t cruelize the cat.’ is something you don’t hear everyday (luckily, for the cat!).

127 Svalbard: Ajahn Amaro – The hush at the end of the world: a pilgrimage to the Arctic wilderness

This book is a tale of what happens when three Buddhist monks go on a ritual journey North – not much, and that very peacefully. I loved how their calm and the silence of the places they visited came to life through the pages.

128 Tokelau: by different people or by groups of people for whom one person acted as a scribe – Matagi Tokelau: history and traditions of Tokelau

Finding written literature from cultures with an oral tradition is always a bit tricky. So I was glad that I stumbled across this collection by unknown authors while looking for something else. Most interesting and also terrifying was what is in all likelihood one of the earliest accounts of the effects of rising levels due to climate change: a flood, in 1987.

WorldBookProject – Eritrea, Turks and Caicos, South Georgia and Uganda

Here come four very different additions to WorldBookProject. Many thanks to Ilana Benady who suggested more Caribbean writers.

119 Eritrea: Helen Berhane with Emma Newrick – Song of the Nightingale: One woman’s dramatic story of faith and persecution in Eritrea

This book is a short and deeply disturbing autobiography. It mainly deals with the author’s horrific experiences in an Eritrean prison. It was impressive how her religion helped her through those times, but I also have to say that such fanaticism (in this case some kind of Christian belief) makes me rather uncomfortable. I have very little patience for proselytising, and this book had way too much for my taste.

120 South Georgia & Sandwich Islands: Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition 1991 – Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition

When some grown-up boys are going on an adventure … and end up in snow caves and on rations – this could also have been the title of the expedition. Having been to South Georgia myself, I mightily enjoyed reading this report, especially the part of the canoeing team. My respect to the expedition member who was on quarter rations and refused to eat freshly slaughtered penguin. Hero material!

121 Turks and Caicos:  Amelia Smithers – The Turks and Caicos Islands: lands of discovery

It was really tricky to find something other than a map or a government report for this British overseas territory, even within the extensive collections of the Bodleian libraries. So I opted for this kind of guidebook, but I couldn’t find any information about the author (and that’s quite a feat these days). The book was from the early 1990s, and it was brilliant to read about movements to protect the environment of the islands, in particular from too much tourism.

122 Uganda: Doreen Baingana – Tropical Fish

I found this collection of coming-of-age stories totally gripping. The questions it raised about identity and how it is sometimes forced upon us by our environment really struck a chord. I also liked the change of perspective between the three sisters the stories were about. Highly recommended!

May Morning

Oxford is home to many traditions, and one of them is May Morning.

This is how you do it: get up at about 4am, try to put on your clothes the right way round and walk into the city centre. Don’t jump off Magdalen Bridge.
 

Stand in front of Magdalen Tower and admire the people who come from last night’s party and look more awake than you will feel for the whole day. Wait for crowds to assemble properly.

Wait patiently until 6am. Listen to Magdalen College Choir intoning the Hymnus Eucharisticus and madrigals, and the chiming of the tower bells. Applaud.Magdalen tower

Follow the crowds on the High Street up to Radcliffe Camera. Leave a minute or two to ponder any signs you come across.

Divert your attention to May Morning get-ups ranging from leafy headgear to walking trees.

Upon arrival or along the way, take in any occurrences of Samba, pipers and Scottish dancers, rock music, English folk music or Morris dancing.

Finally, try to find a pub that’s only 105% full so you can have breakfast. Failing that, try and make your way home. Can’t guarantee that’s possible, though.

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