June 21, 2008

All Quiet On The Western Wall/West Bank

I don't love taking my picture in front of famous sites because it feels a little gauche and conquistador-ish. But yesterday I felt the need as I visited two very famous yet very different walls--the first in Bethlehem in the West Bank, the other in Jerusalem. Thanks to the most recent peace agreement, travel between the two was a breeze. These days, crossing into California or Canada pose bigger obstacles.

June 17, 2008

The Sea of Galilee

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matthew 6:21

June 9, 2008

POSTCARD: Dhallywood Dreams

Laurence Mitchell is a fellow travel writer at Bradt and the author of guides to Serbia, Belgrade, and Kyrgyzstan. He's also a passionate wanderer who takes stunning photographs. To find out more about him, check out his website: www.laurencemitchell.com. I've been following his recent adventures in South Asia. Really, most extraordinary:

Movie-making in the Indian Subcontinent is not restricted to Mumbai and Bollywood: Pakistan has its very own Urdu-language ‘Lallywood’ based in Lahore, and Bangladesh has Dhallywood, the Bengali equivalent, in Dhaka. I took this photograph in Sylhet in Bangladesh’s northeast although really it could have been almost anywhere in the country. It has all the vital ingredients: well-fed moustachioed men, cartoon violence, pretty women with heaving cleavages, expensive cars. Of course, you don’t see any of this on the streets of Bangladesh – it’s an unashamed escapist fantasy world: Bangladeshis don’t want to waste their hard-earned taka on tasteful art-house documentaries that feature modestly veiled women, rickshaws and rice fields.

Sylhet is best known as a pilgrimage centre, being home to the shrine of the 14th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Jalal. It is also the capital of the district where virtually all of the UK’s Indian restaurant staff hail from. So the rich, north Indian tandoori food that we love in the UK and consider to be ‘Indian’ is actually prepared by Bangladeshis who, as a rule, prefer simpler dishes of fish and rice. Some of this foreign-earned ‘curry money’ eventually filters back to Sylhet, as poor a town as any in this impoverished country. For reasons best known to themselves, Sylhet returnees seem to invest their hard-won savings in the property market – in state-of-the art, air-conditioned shopping centres, which no-one other than their fellow curry-wallahs can afford to shop in. Maybe it’s a case of too much Dhallywood fantasizing?

-Laurence Mitchell

June 6, 2008

What I did Am Doing last This Summer

A quick update: wrote up my Paris trip for Intelligent Travel (Paris Sans Agenda) and a host of posh Paris hotel reviews for Business Traveler. I also self-righteously penned this piece on How to Pick the Right Guidebook. Wrote a story on Warsaw and another on Moscow and suddenly want to go back to both.

Alas, time for somewhere warm, so I am headed to fair and sunny Israel. In preparation I am reading Jerusalem: City of Longing by Simon Goldhill and enjoying his traveler's prose with scholarly undertones. Also, can't forget this, I made my early summer pilgrimage to New Jersey and took my first frozen dip of the season. I look forward to doing the same on the other side of the Atlantic next week. Hmmmm, Jersey Shore versus Tel Aviv. I'm looking forward to feeling the difference. Also in the cards this summer is gorgeous Connecticut, cool state Delaware, hot-as-blazes Panama, and then 400-year-old Quebec where I shall be celebrating New France.

Travels aside, what I'm really hoping to do is get away and write, write, write . . . without the interruption of the phone and the construction across the street. A quiet room with a cold glass of water and my new computer.

Yes, I have a new laptop and she's my new best friend. More later.