Sunday, May 17, 2009

A House in Fez

The shelf was lined with several books of my favourite theme - people buying a house in a new country and the cacophony and confusion that follows. However, it seemed like Tuscany and Provence were the most sought after places. It got me wondering if these authors stumbled upon each other at some point of time. Anyway, amongst a mire of vineyards and valleys, I caught sight of 'A house in Fez' where the author was re-doing a house in Fez, Morocco. My interest was sufficiently piqued.

The theme is well known – Suzanna Clark (author) after visiting Fez just once falls in love. With the place. And so, she and her husband decide to buy a Riad (the Moroccan word for one kind of a bungalow) here. The story is all about the people she meets in the process of restoration. The book was an easy read. I loved Morocco as a setting. The cafe's she discovers, the traditions, the shops she goes looking for – in search of doors, windows and whatever else that goes into making homes. Of course, the quirks of the local people as well. Morocco has now fallen into my travel radar as a result of this book.

However, I did think that her style of writing was somewhat lacking. It wasn't somehow the most interesting narrative from a point of view of judging a written account per se - the words themself and her narration of events or feelings or experiences were somehow not the most evocative account i've read. Nevertheless, a reasonable nice read!

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a book I was totally 'in to' - after a long, long time. And for a partly travel book, I read it in 2 sittings straight. So when my friend put a negative review here, I was quite surprised I have to say. And a little disappointed. But that has also spurred me to writing my take on this book which may have otherwise taken months (OK, who am I kidding, I have travel book reviews waiting from 2007), or may have never seen the light of day.

I actually passed by this book many times simply because it’s cover read “… after a bad divorce… rediscover herself…” and I decided, ok another chic lit/woman heavy novel (not that I don't read those books, but I wasn't in the mood). The Italy, India and Indonesia bit was totally lost on me. But after reading a review here, I finally picked up the book.

What I loved about the book – the author opening herself so much about what she went through while travelling to these places. After EPL, I realized that’s what I miss in some of the travel books – the authors shows the different places, but they don't show what it does to them. Of course, not every travel or vacation gets emotionally loaded. But there are sometimes when one travels, seeking for something - peace, happiness, meaning of life. Here the journey of self is as important as the journey to the place. And I think Eat, Pray, Love falls into that category.

Having said that, there are very heavy topics in this book. The author does realize going full emotional overloaded on those topics is likely not palatable and tries to describe it in a funny way. Like, the first time she introduces the topic of god - "What happened was that I started to pray. You know - like, to God".

What you most probably may not like – her journey through India. She comes to India to explore her spiritual side. And I am sure every single person will go – duh!!! The second bit is also that she delves into her own spiritual journey – and this is likely to spook you completely. People are going to be more comfortable reading the most explicit s*xual exploits of another person rather than another person’s spiritual journey. Listening to spiritual experience at some level shows too much of the other person than you care to see. In a way, it closes down the spaces and you need to be ready for it.

So yes, I did get tired of her own spiritual experiences. I am not sure if I should judge the veracity of her experience - but I don't mind giving her the benefit of doubt. Especially since the fact that I was uncomfortable makes me a biased judge. However, I loved her ashram experience, and her simple way of phrasing some of the learnings on god, yoga, the extracts from gita etc. that have been passed from guru to disciple for years now.

As for Indonesia and Italy – it was vacation cum slice of life. Here, she develops routines - the first step to establishing a sense of living versus visiting. There is a touch of the classic ‘girl-meets-boy-and-life-turns-perfect’ ending, but if the author did in fact manage to find this ending that we all dream of, good for her.

Initially, my first thought was to say – if you don’t like too many emotions or are not comfortable with spirituality, this book is not for you. But what I do want to say now is – if you are willing to test new waters, give this one a try!

PS: For a long time now, I have been searching for a good source for travel books. So check out some of the new links I have added to my blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beautiful bougainvilleas

Beautiful bougainvilleas at the Esplanade park...

... were a refreshing treat even as my legs sought some rest