Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Far Away Gaze

One of the reasons I travel a lot is because in my idle moments, I day-dream of being a reckless 19th century explorer and disappearing off the edge of the map, only to be heard from in terse, sporadic missives sent back with packages of obscure maps hand-drawn on pale hide and bags of arcane artefacts.
It's a somewhat old-fashioned idea, influenced maybe by my readings of biographies of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the English explorer, soldier, spy, sensualist, linguist (29 languages!), writer, translator , poet, expert swordsman (in every sense) and diplomat, who, among various achievements, led an expedition to discover the source of the Nile and translated the Kama Sutra.
Like Burton, I could imagine myself holed up in a shady ryad in the backstreets of Marrakech and consorting with unsavoury types from the casbah. I'd have exotic pets and unconventional sexual liaisons and be bound by no set of codes or rules: someone like Isabelle Eberhardt who lived – again, in the late 1800s – completely on her own terms. Maybe I'd keep a teak-floored room in an old Saigon brothel, the faint whiff of opium hanging in the humid air, and gamble for drinks at the bar with the slender, chattering girls.
Recently, I tried to rent a dllapidated apartment in an old Arab slave-trader's palace in Stone Town, near the port on Zanzibar. Built of mud bricks with cool mosaic tiled floors, from its arched windows, I could watch sailing dhows arrive from the Gulf of Aden and glide across the grey-blue waters just beyond the rooftops.
What else? I'd like to travel with the Tuareg in a trans-Saharan caravanserai and learn some of the secrets of their artisanship with silver and steel. En route, I'd stop for a while in Mali, in cities like Bamako and Timbuktu, to hear music I listen to every day in the places in which was first made.
Afterwards, I'd retreat to an ancient Celtic island off the west coast of Ireland. Treeless, windswept, with steep, dangerous cliffs besieged by huge Atlantic swells, I'd seek refuge in the convent of some contemplative order to read, draw and meditate alone with only the whispered rushing of the wind and sea to distract me.
Of course, I'd always be drawn back to the exotic: a slow boat journey against the currents up the Mekong River, a journey to the heart of both light and darkness, or a communion with a voodoo mambo in Port Au Prince in Haiti. Witnessing her rituals, amid the acrid scent of blood, incense and alcohol, I'd want to be overcome by the crude intensity of belief and in a trance, experience direct connection to the ancient loas.
Imagine the art that might flow from any or all of these. But if you were me, what would you dream into reality?

9 comments:

Monique said...

a motorcycle dairies adventure.. perhaps, or in a car? am I brave enough to face the elements of life alone and exposed?

Anonymous said...

There are also some great outposts of Arab colonialism along the East African coast, places like Pemba and Lamu Islands – exotic, not too travelled by tourists. Me, I'd like to spend time on Mauritius.

Kellie said...

I like the idea of being an Archer and horsewoman. I'd travel by horses and/or pushbikes. Carrying supplies and living in a yurt. Change suits me. I'd need a reliable, quiet yet happy team of companions. We would have dogs as guards and companions, Goats too. Making art and learning from Indigenous people from places like Russia, Mongolia, and Afghanistan.
I'd also love to live in Cuba, the colours, stormy nature, high smells of food, Ocean and pollution, play and sing with passionate musicians and silently witness real life underworld characters, the like of whom I've read descriptions of in The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
Always dreaming...

Anonymous said...

The exquisite view from the mountain just above
Homer, AK is second to none that I know.

To spend the winter creating art in that town
is a slice of life that will not be forgot.

artcanyell said...

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/books/9781857024692/A_Scandalous_Life/index.aspx

"A Scandalous Life" A biography of Mary Jane Digby by Mary S Lovell

Hazel, you would appreciate this account of Lady Digby's life. She lived a most fabulous life and was an artist as well.

Anonymous said...

Some more Africa might seep
into your art if you spent some time
at Karen Blixen Camp.

Lisa Rasmussen said...

The call to adventure. Travel, direct experience, and the unknown are fuel for the Muse.
Art and ritual is born from this internalized translation.

Jodie said...

Oooh, Iceland. Or tripping on peyote in the desert. Ooooor....Tibet. Or living alone in a log cabin in Alaska. I remember as a little girl I used to lose myself for hours in the pages of beaten-up old copies of National Geographic. I need to start doing that again, I think.

Rachel Cotterill said...

It's so much harder to be a proper adventurer these days - so little that lies truly undiscovered.

I do my best to see the world but I know someone has always been there before me. I think if time and money were no object, I'd like to spend more time on small, remote islands with isolated cultures, with time to learn the languages.

Favourite places I've visited to date include Iceland and Mongolia... both places I'm planning to return to.