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How to Keep Travel Reading Alive

Travel ‘n Write, the blog featuring stories and photographs by Jackie and Joel Smith always entertains with their far-flung wanderings and their extended stays in Greece in their “house on the hill”.

Greek house
This picture of Jackie and Joel’s “House on the Hill became the cover for a book set in Greece.

This week, the traveling duo really caught my attention. They talked about BOOKS. Although they label their conversation “armchair travel reading”, I think in reality it fits the broader criteria of A Traveler’s Library. The books they read are chosen because they inform and enhance their travels, and Jackie and Joel share those books with others to inspire them to travel also. They kindly permitted me to excerpt their post, and if you clcik over to Travel n Write, you can see “the rest of the story.”

I also enjoyed a bit of nostalgia about the places featured in the books that Jackie shared, (see notes ) plus a definite itch to run right out and get copies of every one of those books!!

A Challenge: Keep Reading About Travel

An entire year has gone by since I last shared a book recommendation here. I thank you for sticking around while I was occupied elsewhere. Here is your chance to keep the spirit of A Traveler’s Library alive and well. I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from Jackie Smith’s suggestions for travel reading about Jerusalem, the Middle East, Egypt and Greece. If you do, please write to Jackie (information at the bottom of the excerpt) and ask her please to continue suggesting good travel reading.  Let’s keep reading and traveling together.

Excerpt from Travel ‘n Write

The morning sunrise seems softer and the green leaves are showing hints of red and gold – both sure signs that August is leading us into an early autumn in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. It is the time of lazy afternoons on the deck soaking up the last of summer  ~ a time of travel to novel, and not-so-novel, destinations without leaving the chaise lounge.

Armchair, or deck chair, travelers, this post is for you. No packing or security pre-check required. Sit back as we are off to. . .

Jerusalem. . .

“Jerusalem is the universal city, the capital of two peoples, the shrine of three faiths; it is the prize of empires, the site of Judgment Day and the battlefield of today’s clash of civilizations. From King David to the 21st century, from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is the epic history of three thousand years of faith, slaughter, fanaticism, and coexistence.” – opening line of Amazon’s description of this book

We visited Jerusalem on one of those one-day-see-everything-you-can cruise ship tours last year.

The glimpse we had – though hasty – of its historical places left us wanting to know more about it: the conflicts that make up its history, how that ‘real’ history meshes with the Biblical version. . .we needed to fill in some blanks and answer some questions.

And one of the best books we’ve found to do that, is the book titled Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

At 704-pages it is not a light read in any sense of the phrase. But it is an easy read and a fascinating journey.

[NOTE: Three older books captured Jerusalem for us at A Traveler’s Library: The Bible, Exodus, and From Beirut to Jerusalem.]

Middle East. . .

She has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, which, while not inaccurate, fails to give Gertrude Bell her due. She was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire: a nation builder, the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. – Amazon books

Our fascination with the Middle East continues, even now, months after our introduction to it on that Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise last year.

While images of Lawrence of Arabia came to mind while we traveled there, it wasn’t until this year that we read about Gertrude Bell. I have to admit that it was not until I was channel surfing for movies aboard a transatlantic flight a few months ago, and landed on one called,“Queen of the Desert” starring Robert Pattison and Nicole Kidman, released in 2015, had I ever heard of Gertrude Bell and her mark on history.

After reading the book, Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,  I don’t think the movie does  justice to this woman’s amazing adventures and contributions! Too bad they didn’t have ‘blogs’ back then – hers would have had millions of followers.

NOTE: At A Traveler’s Library, we ran a series on the Middle East during the Arab Spring. My favorite book remains Dining with Al Quaeda,  but if you want to read about Syria, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Lebanon or Jordan, click the down arrow on “categories” to the left, and search destinations.]


Egypt Books
Books purchased in Egypt by the Smiths.

I know many of you swear by your Kindles and electronic books, but for us there is nothing better than discovering a bookstore in a new city and spending a good deal of time there looking at covers, flipping through pages.  That was the case with Diwa Bookstore in the Zamelik district of Cairo.  We couldn’t resist buying three of the oh, so many, titles that tempted. . .many by writers of whom we’d never heard of before but whom we’ve since found on Amazon (so you don’t need to go to Cairo to find the book).

This sweeping novel depicts the intertwined lives of an assortment of Egyptians–Muslims and Copts, northerners and southerners, men and women–as they begin to settle in Egypt’s great second city, and explores how the Second World War, starting in supposedly faraway Europe, comes crashing down on them, affecting their lives in fateful ways.

Central to the novel is the story of a striking friendship between Sheikh Magd al-Din, a devout Muslim with peasant roots in northern Egypt, and Dimyan, a Copt with roots in southern Egypt, in their journey of survival and self-discovery.  – Amazon books

No One Sleeps in Alexandria may have been one of the best ‘reads’ we’ve had this year.  The other two books, not novels, pictured above, were also excellent.  On the left, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Cairo to the New World  (2008) is written by Lucette Lagnado about her family’s relocation to the United States from Cairo. An amazing tale.

Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East is an almost hour-by-hour look at the six day war that took place way back when we were too young to understand war or how it would shape the Middle East. Written by Jeremy Bowen, who from 1995 – 2000 was the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, the book is a must for anyone trying to understand what has led to today’s conflicts there. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it certainly puts them in perspective.

NOTE: Several books about Egypt got our attention here at A Traveler’s Library. I’m partial to one about movies, written by my brother. He called it Don’t Pay the Camel Driver Until You Get to the Pyramid.]

Greece. . .

Sofia’s love life has ended in disaster. Having lost her London home, she now lives with and cares for her Greek grandmother, matriarch of the family, astute business woman, and widow of an English man. Sofia hears stories from the past, of her grandparents’ meeting and life in the remote coastal village of Galini on the Greek island of Tritinos. When her grandmother dies, she bequeaths to Sofia the family house in Galini, with one condition attached.   Amazon Books

Long-time readers of Travelnwrite will remember the English writer and his editor wife, Bill and Val Kitson, who we met by chance several years ago on Crete’s southern coast in a tiny village called Loutro. We’ve stayed in touch and since the initial meeting have rendezvoused in that village to celebrate Greek Easter a short time ago.

Late last year we were honored to have Bill  select a photo of mine of our Stone House on the Hill to be the cover photo of his Greek novel, Sofia’s House.

If you just need a bit of romance on a Greek island — with a plot twist or two thrown in — this is the book for you!

[NOTE: Jackie and Joel and Ken and I share a deep fascination with Greece. A Traveler’s Library may have posted more reviews of books set in Greece than in any other individual country. To find them, type in Greece where you see the magnifying glass at the top of the page.]

[NOTE: Go directly to Travel ‘n Write for he rest of this post, and spend some time looking at their fascinating wanderings.]


Jackie concludes by saying:

That’s a bit of our ‘summer arm chair travels’. How about you?  Any good novel – or not-so-novel – destinations to recommend to others?  Send us an email (travelnwrite@msn.com) with the name of the book, the author (where and how to buy it) and why you recommend it. If I get enough responses, I’ll do another post featuring your recommendations for arm chair travels.

Since I don’t intend to regularly update A Traveler’s Library, if you want to continue to have good suggestions for travel reading, please tell Jackie to keep up the good work.

Disclaimer: Jackie also added a note explaining that she was not using links to Amazon. I, however,  AM linking to Amazon, and you need to know that since I’m an Amazon associate, I’ll get a few pennies if you buy anything after following those links to the Amazon store.

Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula: Music of Home

Music Travel

By Kerry Dexter

Destination: The Dingle peninsula, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland

Music: Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/ The Small Hours from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

The Dingle peninsula has its moments of being an attraction for tourists, but most of the time it is less so than the nearby Ring of Kerry. That leaves it to be a quieter place, a land of legend and history and about as far west as you can go and still be on the mainland of Ireland.

People came to Dingle going back six thousand years. Across those years they left traces of their lives in stone and bone and metal, and in more recent years, in poem and book, in art, in story, and in song.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh grew up in Dun Chaoin (in English variously known as Dunquin and Duncan), which in its turn is about as far west on the Dingle Peninsula as you can go and still be on the mainland. The view of the Blasket Islands from the windows of her father’s house, the sounds of Irish spoken as readily as English, the landscape of mountain and sea, and the day to day presence of music all shaped Nic Amhlaoibh’s time growing up. (In case you’re wondering, her name is pronounced  nik OWL eeve)

Dingle Peninsula musician
Dingle Peninsula Musician Murieann

Her travels have taken her far from the west of Ireland, at first to university in Dublin, then to study and later to teach traditional music in Limerick. As singer with the top traditional music band Danu and as a respected broadcast presenter, she has traveled to nearby places including the Western Isles and Glasgow in Scotland and distant ones including Romania, India, and the United States. She has recorded a number of albums with Danu, played shows and recorded an album with Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and been a guest artist on the Irish Christmas in America tour with the band Teada, among other things.

Though she still travels often for her music, Nic Amhlaoibh has returned to make her home in Dingle Peninsula, a circumstance which, she says “had the songs flying at me from all sides.”

In part that’s what led her to make her second solo recording, which is called Ar Uair Bhig an Lae: Small Hours. There are a dozen songs, seven in Irish and five in English. As Nic Amhlaoibh unfolds the tales, her warm voice invites you to listen as though you could be sitting by the fire, hearing stories in music that the singer has found right at her doorstep as well as perspectives she’s brought back from her travels and connected to the mountain and sea landscape of her native home in the west of Ireland.

These stories include Bo na Leathadhairce, a well known song in west Kerry which may be about a cow and a sheep, but may also be about the making of poitin. (Note: Roughly speaking, Irish moonshine).

Gold Hills, from Australian songwriter Kate Burke, is a song about love, loss, and meaning which Nic Amhlaoibh learned while she was on tour in Burke’s native country, and which stands naturally among songs in Irish. Whether Irish is your language or not, Nic Amhlaoibh makes the connection of emotion and story clear.

A fine place to listen for that is the sequence of four songs with which she closes the recording. Cois Abhann an Sead, known as River of Gems in English, is a reflective piece that may set you dreaming, while Another Day, by American bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien, is a lively tale which holds the ideas of songs being passed on and people picking up the music and handing it on to generations to come. Bold Fenian Men is a well known Irish rebel song which holds the power, pride, and sorrow of choices made in such circumstances. An Clar Bog Deal is a love song, in which the man vows he’ll marry the girl he loves even if all they have is a board of wood to sleep on.

“I’m not really thinking about switching between languages when I’m working out what to sing,” Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh says, “I’m thinking about the song. There’s a great musicality to Irish, though. I think people respond to that, whether they’re understanding the words or not.” As you listen to the music on Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/The Small Hours in Irish and in English, you will hear that musicality, and the stories, landscape, and life of the west of Ireland as well.

Here is a video of Muireann Nic  Amhlaoibh teaming up with Julie Fowlis.



Love Quebec, Music and Winter

Note: Leading up to Valentine’s Day, in a romantic mood, A Traveler’s library has a distinct French accent this week. Kerry Dexter starts us off in French-speaking Quebec with a bilingual musical choice that shows how travelers might love Quebec and music and winter. Later this week, I’ll be reviewing two novels about romances set in the City of Love, Paris.

Destination: Quebec, Canada

Music: Ce Monde Ici-Bas (This World Here Below) by De Temps Antan

Quebec Skyline
Quebec Skyline. Photo by Robbie’s Photo Art from Flickr

In the province of Quebec, in Canada, people really know winter. Love Quebec. Love Winter.As nearly half the year, from October through into March, is a season of cold and snow, it makes sense that Quebecois folk have come to love it, with major winter festivals lighting up the cities of Quebec and Montreal, people heading to the mountains to ski, and going cross country by ski and sled, celebrating life and love and music in the depths of winter.

Quebec Winter Carnival
Quebec Winter Carnival 2013. Photo by James McCaffrey

Indoors in winter there are celebrations of the unique landscape and heritage of Quebec’s people too. Most often these involve music. The three men who make up the group De Temps Antan know this well.

Through love of music shared in the family through study, through travel, and through winding musical paths, Éric Beaudry, André Brunet, and Pierre-Luc Dupuis each found his way to worldwide stages playing the music of Quebec as members of the iconic (and large) Quebec band La Bottine Souriante, and eventually, Beaudry, Brunet, and Dupuis chose to bring their love of Quebecois music back to the more intimate settings of those tunes shared around the kitchen table, as they formed the trio De Temps Antan. Their most recent release is called Ce Monde Ici-Bas (This World Here Below).

Quebec music group De Temps Antan. Photo by Wil Macauley.
Quebec music group De Temps Antan. Photo by Wil Macauley.

The family feeling and connection the men bring to this project doesn’t mean it’s all quiet music, though. Fast paced tunes and songs recalling and inviting dance that mark love for music in Quebec are in full character as the three friends play their way through sets of traditional music, music they’ve written themselves, and music which connects these sources.

Each man brings his own flavor to the music. Éric Beaudry grew up in Saint-Côme. and has taken an early love of singing and playing guitar to playing mandolin and bouzouki as well. He has studied both jazz and pop music as well as learning his own traditions, and now teaches traditional music too.

André Brunet’s instrument is the violin . Along with his brother Rejean — now part of the top Quebecois group Le Vent du Nord — he recorded several albums, and has also won the top award at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition, the first Quebecois artist to do so. You might have heard his fiddling as part of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia,

Pierre-Luc Dupuis comes from Louiseville, Quebec, where he grew up around music and was drawn to the accordion, with which he made a solid reputation across Quebec before touring the world as part of La Bottine Souriante, and now, with the trio that is De Temps Antan.

So what do these three friends sound like when they make music together? Love of place, family, friendship, a dash of humor and a touch of romance along with a nod to history and the joy of sharing music all come through in their music choices. They offer fast and slow pieces, trading melody and harmony line, warmth, humor, and quite a bit of that trademark Quebec musical accompaniment, stamping and tapping of the feet!

The music of Quebec is French music — all the lyrics here are in French — and is rooted in the songs and tunes emigrants from the Celtic regions of France carried with them over the ocean. It is also a music shaped and formed by new world encounters with the music carried by people from Scotland and Ireland and other countries, shaped and formed too by the landscape and the seasons on the land in Quebec.

On Ce Monde Ici-Bas, you’ll find a traditional emigration song (reworked with a nod to another part of French culture, the Cajun community), a lively drinking song, a romantic waltz, and sets of reels and jigs that you can just imagine being shared in lively fashion around the kitchen table. The closing track draws all these threads together, and evokes the romance and joy, the dance and reflection, of the music of Quebec. It is called Matin d’Hiver, Winter Morning.

Looking for a unique soundtrack to your own winter morning, or Valentine’s Day celebrations? De Temps Antan could just have that for you with Ce Monde Ici-Bas.

Note: All photographs used here are form Flickr, used with creative commons license.  Click on the photo to learn more about the photographer.