WorldBookProject – Visiting some Islands

Over the last few days, I’ve visited a lot of islands in the Caribbean and the South Atlantic via WorldBookProject. In the mornings, I would walk into the city centre, then sit there for a few hours in the library, and then walk back home in the afternoon. The walk is about 5 miles return (or ca 8km in civilised units), so it’s perfect to clear your head before and after such an intense reading session.

109 British Virgin Islands: Verna Penn Moll – Johnny-cake Country

At first, I was a bit flummoxed by the title, but during reading this delightful little book its meaning became clear. Originally, there was a thing called a Journey cake which was very rich to keep one going while travelling. The name became corrupted, but the cake is still made in many varieties, and the recipes in the book sound yummy. Now, the cake in the book seems to me a wonderful allegory for how the culture of the islands has changed, and how people are trying to adapt to new things, like a huge influx of tourism, and the effects that has on their traditional lifestyle.

110 Cayman Islands: Michael Craton and the New History Committee – Founded upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and their People

When I started looking for a book for the Cayman Islands, my main fear had been that I’d have to read about tax evasion or something equally boring and unpleasant. Luckily, that was not to be. This history gave a comprehensive and readable overview of the last 500 years on the three islands with a focus on social issues like slavery and the economy. I was surprised to learn that things really only took off after the 1960s. Another thing which I found surprising and actually quite appalling was the tiny part that environmental issues seem to play: 2 paragraphs in 500 pages. If this reflects what it’s like on those islands, I’d rather spend my holidays somewhere else – where people care about their wetlands, sharks and forests.

111 Falkland Islands: David Gledhill – Fighters over the Falklands: Defending the Islanders’ Way of Life

Having been to the Falklands before (https://spockisworld.wordpress.com/category/countries-places-ive-been-to/falkland-islands/), I was looking for a book that was not just about the war. And this one delivered. I learned about different kind of fighter planes, the complications of refuelling mid-air, the way personnel have to assure safety when it comes to wildlife,  the issues around supply chains in remote outposts, and that I’m hundreds of hours away from earning a ‘1000 hour Life of Brian badge’.  I’m still scared of flying, but if one is interested in aviation and British aviation history, this book is a goldmine.

And something that stood out for me was that if you buy a copy of this book, part of the money goes to the charity http://houndsforheroes.com/. From their website: Hounds for Heroes provide specially trained assistance dogs to injured and disabled men and women of both the UK Armed Forces and Emergency Services.

Germany – Bus 666 to Colditz

Having left Slovakia, we spent a few days in Thuringia to visit family. Someone had the good idea of going on a day trip, and because neither of us had been to Colditz before, we decided to go there. They have a website (http://www.schloss-colditz.com/index.html), but no information how exactly to get there. So, while we were driving into what we thought as the right direction, a public bus headed towards us, labelled ‘666 Colditz’. Uh-oh.

Well, we eventually arrived. There was a diversion, and signposting towards Colditz town or Colditz castle was much sparser than I had anticipated, given how important the place is, especially for British tourists. For the uninitiated: Colditz was an Oflag during World War II, and most of the PoWs were British. Having said that, there were also substantial numbers of Polish, French and Belgian prisoners.

This is what the castle looks like these days:

One can go on guided tours, where there’s a lot to be discovered, but we only went to the permanent museum and the special exhibition. The latter was about the role of Poland during WWII, in particular Polish resistance and prisoners at Colditz.

Have a look at this poem:poem

‘Kriegsgefangenenpost’ means ‘post for prisoners of war’. We saw more of that in the permanent exhibition.post

The major part of this bit of the museum was about all the ways of escaping from Colditz. If you’ve ever watched a film called ‘The Great Escape’ – that did not happen at Colditz, but lots of similar stories did. I was amazed to learn that people escaped from this prison in the middle of Germany and made it through enemy country all the way to Britain or Allied territory! And Colditz today looks probably nicer than in the 1940s …colditz view

Of course, there was also some birding to be had, both inside and outside the castle.

All in all, if you’re in Saxony or Thuringia, and don’t know what to do, Colditz castle is certainly worth a couple of hours. There’s plenty of information available in English. And if you don’t have your own transport, you might actually get a chance to go by bus 666. Reward yourself afterwards with a home-brewed glass of beer in the pub Waldhof (on the western main road towards the town of Bad Lausick, closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Prost.beer

WorldBookProject – Argentina, Luxembourg and Thailand

Yes, I’m still reading happily away until I’ve read at least one book from each country or territory on my 257 places long list. You might have noticed though that at the moment, there are a number of books appearing on the list which are labelled ‘non-project reads’. The reason for that is that we’re moving, and are not taking all of our printed books with us. So I’m trying to finish some of those before we say goodbye to them.

The one book that recently stood out from this non-project crowd was Petinah Gappah’s The Book of Memory which I listened to. Not printed, but …! The narrator was Robin Miles, who had also narrated my book of choice for Somalia, and she did a brilliant job. I especially loved how she portrayed all the different characters by giving each of them an identifiable voice. The story itself was equally gripping, in particular when it came to the relationship between Memory and Lloyd.

Now, here are the project books I read of late:

101 Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges – Collected Fictions

That one needed a lot of stamina. It’s a collection of short story collections, and yes, that’s as demanding as it sounds, but also quite fulfilling to look back on each finished collection.  Well, I had to go quite slowly, because even a rather short story by this author needs plenty of thinking time, but this is something which I enjoy. I have to admit that I haven’t quite finished the whole book yet, but have completed A Universal History Of Iniquity (1935), The Garden Of Forking Paths (1941), Artifices (1944), and The Aleph (1949).

102 Luxembourg: Margret Steckel – Nachttage 

This book, Night Days in English, left me in a rather melancholic state of mind. I enjoyed reading it, but didn’t like the characters. They came to life on the page wonderfully. However, they were not the kind of people I’d like to hang out with in real life, especially Margit. What I particularly enjoyed was how the Irish landscape, in which most of the story is set, grew out of the pages. Magic realism!

103 Thailand: Thongchai Winichakul – Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation 

Now, here’s a book that was something I had not expected. It was a piece of academic writing which explored how the ideas of nation and landscape influence identity, and also how the fact that humans perceive themselves as parts of an ‘us’ influences maps, and what they show, and how. The style of writing was rather dry, but the content more than made up for that. I’ve got this feeling however, that someone who wouldn’t have to think too much about Thailand’s lese majesté laws might have made some different points about historic royal participation in map-making. But that’s just a guess.

Wrocław – Animals

Wrocław, which we visited in mid-November, turned out to be full of creatures of all kinds, not only tourists. The beasts appeared in many forms, a selection of which follows here.

There’s plenty of beer to be had, and there are allegedly some bears roaming the forests. I can confirm many a gull flying around.

Wrocław is also home to a magnificent zoo. There they have real rhinos.

After WWII, Wrocław lay in ruins, but it has been rebuilt wonderfully. Buildings in the centre are marked with plaques in Polish, English, and sometimes German which inform about the building’s history and also the people who lived and/or worked there. Animalic decoration abounds.

The place is steeped in history and features lots of statues. And it came as a lovely surprise to find a memorial to all the slaughtered & eaten animals.animal-memorial

The only other place I’ve seen something vaguely similar is London – the memorial to the animals which died in wars.

Wrocław also used to have the third-biggest Jewish community in Germany before WWII. So, there are two Jewish cemeteries in town. We visited the older one, and found many birds, a stone butterfly and an agile cat.

Exiles and Geography

To read the world – what a quest this has turned out to be! In the books of this week’s post I read and marvelled about high and low tides of the North Sea, Green Turtles and cyclones in the Australian Coral Sea, and also rivers running through South American jungles. Many thanks to my cousin & his family for Exon’s book. I think this is a good contender for ‘farthest travelled book’ in this project.

84 Colombia: Gabriel García Márquez – The General in his Labyrinth

As I said above, reading about all the geographical features of Colombia and Venezuela was fascinating. Having said that, I found the actual story about the last days of Simon Bolivar not gripping at all. If the writer had in mind to show that the life of the exiled hero was full of tedious politics and military duties, he succeeded though.

85 Coral Sea Islands: Frank Exon – Solitude & Solecisms: A Willis Island Notebook

What a little gem! The Coral Sea Islands are an extra-territorial part of Australia. On top of that, Willis Islands, the only inhabited one, houses a weather observatory, which is where the writer of this book spent half a year with two other people, a puppy and lots of birds and turtles. He wasn’t an experienced writer, but he shows clearly how hard that life must have been. At the same time, a marvellous sense of humour shines through which must have helped a lot in the cyclone season and with all the spoiled food.

86 Georgia: Nino Haratischwili – Mein sanfter Zwilling

Hm, I’m still rather undecided about My Gentle Twin, as it’s called in its English translation. I loved the way the author used water in the novel, and I also liked the bits that were set in Georgia and on the North Sea. I didn’t like, however, how destructively the characters behaved towards themselves and each other. Although I have met people who acted in a very similar way … Anyway, it made me think, and surely this can’t be a bad thing.

Exploring the East: Spišské Podhradie

The tiny town of Spišské Podhradie is home to some awesome attractions and also a UNESCO Worlcathedral-in-spissky-podhradied Heritage site. First of all, there is Spišská Kapitula, or Spiš Chapter House. It is really like a town within a town.

I did a tour of the cathedral. The different styles of altars were all fascinating, tacky at times, beautifully crafted and not allowed to be photographed.

From the hill with the Chapter House on one has several hiking options and some lovely views. One such view is of the other main attraction of the village, Spiš Castle.

spissky-hrad-from-afar

To get to the village, you can take one of the many busses going there. I arrived early in the morning to beat the crowds, which turned out to be a rather good idea. In fact, when I got there, it was still foggy, the dew hanging in the cobwebs and I was the only one hiking up to the castle.

Once I had reached the top, the weather played along nicely and the fog lifted. The castle is one of the largest in Europe.spissky-hrad

I was there just after they had opened, and it filled up quite quickly. Yes, the place is huge, but there’s a small museum inside which soon became overcrowded. Actors in period costumes put on plays, and craftspeople sold lovely looking merchandise. I was quite fond of pottery items, but for fear of breaking them while walking around I didn’t buy any. Rather, I managed to escape the throngs and enjoyed the quieter parts of the castle.view-of-high-tatras-from-spissky-hrad

The castle is divided in a lower and an upper part. Architecturally, the upper one is probably the more exciting. Twarningshere is just more to see and explore. One has to beware of dangerous animals though.

The lower part is basically an open space surrounded by an enormous wall. It’s open grassland, and signs point out that there can be a number of birds and other animals. I only saw the spermophiles, but plenty of them. All in all, I spent about three hours on the castle grounds, and two or so in the Chapter House. Podhradie is only about 20km from Levoca, so it makes for a nice day trip from there.spermophil-1

Resistance is the secret to happiness

WorldBookProject is going strong with some really good reads in the second half of November. I also enjoyed reading quite a bit in German – and I suspect the number of German translations I’ll read might actually rise, since it seems that translation into German occurs more than into English.

80 Dominican Republic: Julia Alvarez – Die Zeit der Schmetterlinge

I’ve lost count of how often I’ve already written ‘I had no idea …’, and Dominican history is part of this sad chorus. Luckily, ‘In the time of butterflies‘ has rectified that a bit. Beautifully written, the part I loved most was how the perspective was shifted from one of four sisters to the next. The story itself made your blood freeze at times, but it showed the resistance against dictatorship, censorship and discrimination is not futile. Vivas las mariposas!

81 Greece: Amanda Michalopoulou – Why I killed my best friend

Greek history after WWII – no idea … and in the case of this book I actually believe my understanding of the story might have gained from some help by the author (by using footnotes?) because of all the political parties and shenanigans between them. Having said that, the main story about a possessive and destructive friendship, or dependence, or emotional shackling, kept me hooked until the very last page. The title of the post is a quote from the book.

82 Mali: Modibo Sounkalo Keita – Bogenschütze

Superficially a crime novel, this book had plenty to it. The avenging archer who gave the story its title, corruption, issues with polygamy, environmental disaster – the story had it all. While on the whole I enjoyed most aspects of this novel, I have to say that the way it dealt with women was sometimes patronizing and in one or two scenes actually insulting.

83 Senegal: Mariama Bâ – Ein so langer Brief

‘So long a letter’ was honest, depressing, powerful stuff about how to live a meaningful and fulfilled life despite all the madness and evil that life (=other people) throws at you. This tiny book is a shining beacon in the pits so many women are still forced to exist in.