‘Some obscure sex twist’ and a lone petrol pump

Turning to Willie Seabrook, a couple more of whose books have landed in my letter-box this week, I find a curious, unattractive, enigma. His books are enjoyable, self-regarding, mostly light-hearted journalism. They record his extensive travel in some of the remoter regions of the world in the 1920s and 30s. The time of which he … More ‘Some obscure sex twist’ and a lone petrol pump

Running to Catch the Bus (1) – Baghdad

Snaking across the gravel deserts of Syria and Iraq, Algeria and the old Soudan in the 1920s and 30s were lines of oil-drums. Crossing the Syrian desert they were a mile apart: after Adrar, going south across the Sahara, they stood every kilometre along Bidon V, marking water depots, and neatly numbered. They indicated motor-routes, … More Running to Catch the Bus (1) – Baghdad

Just ash, floating

There’s a rather predictable trope concerning the destruction of cultural artefacts, which essentially asks why it is that we labour and mourn over stones, when human flesh is at risk. To my mind, the clearest symbolic answer to that is given by the death in 2015 of Palmyra’s 82-year old Director of Antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad, … More Just ash, floating

Of books and bandits

There is an extraordinary and uncomfortably beautiful scene in Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Timbuktu, in which a camel-herder kills a fisherman, both of them silhouetted at the end of a spit of land in a great inland lake. It is the seminal moment of the film, the moment when one man’s fate spins out of his control … More Of books and bandits