For the past few days I have been working my way through this book. Paul Theroux is not one of my favourite authors, he is somewhat dark in his view of the world. My world is, in spite of what you may think, full of light and brightness, this clashes with the world around me and makes me very annoyed all to often, which explains my grumpiness. Usually if I seek out such a work I look for something brighter, full of light and good things, Jenny is one such place I enjoy. Not long into the book I was beginning to weary of his writing but his comparison between the tourists on Gibraltar and the apes found there endeared me to him and so I ploughed on.
Theroux planned to travel from Gibraltar to Tangiers, between the two 'pillars of Hercules' as called, passing along the coats of Spain, France, Corsica, Italy, the former Yugoslavia (which was then (1994) in the middle of killing one another), touching Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Morocco and possibly somewhere I have missed.
His travels were by bus and train, not always the classiest kind, where he encounters the real population of the Mediterranean. This was helped as he travelled during the 'off season' at a time when tourists were at home working overtime to pay for next years week long drink fest in the sun. While many places were closed the people were often open and friendly. His descriptions are honest, he details the good and the bad he bumps into and some of his opinions upset people, especially Israeli's, and upsetting Israeli's is difficult to do isn't it? He clearly enjoyed his time in Bari, Italy, while Israeli security is not an enjoyable endurance. He is right there as I have endured that also! His ability to travel around Syria amazed me. Assad was still in power and while the people feared to say his name Paul's freedom to travel the nation was undisturbed.
I found the main bugbear on this book was Theroux's incessant on quoting from the books he had read, was reading and the discussion of the authors of such works. My grumble was because most pf them represented, and still do represent a life of emptiness and futility which such as he found 'stimulating. I was depressed cogitating on the years in which the writers had spent telling the world their opinions and indulging their brokenness which resulted in empty meaningless lives. Worse still is the hero worship afforded such by those who envy and wish to copy them, if only they had their cash and could avoid the real world.
That aside I found the need to pick up the book and read to great to resist! I enjoyed the way he travelled, a hotel there, a cafe, a bus, a train, people to speak to, although most of the ones he met I would avoid! At times I was close to grabbing my free bus pass and making for Sicily! At least I made Coggeshall five miles down the road, six miles depending on which road sign you read! I may take to the road and wander about one day, I did similar in the early eighties going around by bus to 'see' the country and recommend this as you avoid tourist traps and see real people. Real roadworks, breakdowns and long waits also of course.
While keen to avoid the people Theroux spends time questioning I know these are the folks you meet while travelling. A tourist heading from Gatwick to Marbella for a weeks lager louting will meet little of the people in this book. He has English drunks (oh joy) and Theroux has real people, the weird, the lonely, the desperate. The locals reflect the mixture of peoples in the region, mixture being the word. For thousands of years these people have mixed, from one side of the sea to the other, religion, colour, food all mixed up and influencing one another, with I suggest local regional differences showing through. On occasion this leads to hatred, and always has, otherwise it leads to an acceptance of others even when their behaviour is far from usual.
I never managed to finish the other two books of the authors that I attempted, not sure why, but now I am bereft and desperate for another tour somewhere similar to this! This formed a light reading in comparison to the three political books I read recently and I have little 'light' reading around at the moment. Maybe I will just get out the bus pass or old man's train ticket and go and write one myself.....what?...oh!