The Subversive Travel Writer

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I confess I don’t know what to think about Julian Assange. Clearly the Ecuadorians were as tired of him as anyone would be of a house guest who had overstayed their welcome by some six years. Is he just a narcissist as the judge claimed, or is he truly a martyr to free speech?

I’m only thinking about this as I am about to undertake a journey about which I plan to write but about which I am loathe to publish anything beforehand lest it jeopardise the trip. We’ve already had to engage in subterfuge to get our visas so we can then gain permits to access where we really want to go. In one of the books I have read about the place, the writer describes his experience:

As I jotted thoughts into a small black notebook, another official approached.

           “What are you writing about?” he asked.

            “It’s just my travel journal,” I explained, and smiled weakly.

            “Are you writing notes about the train?” he pressed. “It would be better if you did not write while on the train.” He stood there until I closed my book and tucked it away…

Great. So I’m wondering whether I will have to just remember everything as I’m travelling and then get it down once the coast is clear.

I would never have pictured myself as a subversive writer, but to write is often an act of subversion. Writers, particularly non-fiction writers, write to find the truth. About people, about places, about motives, about events. Dervla Murphy is not welcome in Israel because of her books about her time with the Palestinians (A Month by the Sea and Between River and Sea). She spent a month in Gaza and several months in the West Bank. She was seeking the truth about the daily lives of the Palestinians. She was so disturbed by what she experienced that for a long time after she came home to Ireland she couldn’t bring herself to write about it. Fortunately her friends encouraged her to do so and naturally it upset the Israeli government.

I have a standing invitation from a friend to visit with her husband’s family in Iran. I would love to do this, but would then have to sacrifice never being allowed into the US again. Which is hardly an enormous sacrifice, but I know some time in the future I will want to return to New York at least. 

And unfortunately Freya Stark’s (rather politically incorrect now) tactic when travelling where she knew she shouldn’t, wouldn’t work as well now as it did in the 1920s:

The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised.

Oh dear. 

In her later years, Dervla would plan to blame the onset of dementia if she were caught straying into forbidden territory. I don’t think I’m quite old enough for that one.

I’ll be setting off in five weeks. People ask me if I’m excited about my trip. I’m not. But I am looking forward to the challenge. And to eventually writing about it.

 

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