Sunday, November 29, 2009

Travel Writing and International Relations

“Be careful when you go to Brasil, it’s very dangerous!” I was thirteen when I went to Rio de Janeiro for the first time and after all the warning I was ready to face a war zone.

I must confess, as soon as I got off the plane and jumped on a cab, those advices became very meaningful. My surreal adventure was starting: we were racing other cars through the largest streets I had ever seen, giving right of way to nobody, ignoring most roadsigns and my parents were chatting and laughing with our swarthy taxi-driver as if everything was normal. After ten minutes of reckless driving, I was happy to see that we were still alive and certainly not the passengers of the craziest car.

The Corcovado and the Pão de Açucar were still wrapped up with the first-morning haze but the city was far from being asleep: brave early-risers were already running up and down Rio’s beaches, buses darting blatantly and local lanchonettes releasing their typical smell of misto quente, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich.

After a couple of months hanging around Rio and traveling throughout Brasil, I realised how distorted our European impression of other countries was and embarked on my battle against prejudice, initially by word-of-mouth, then through my blogs and articles.

During the Cold War, Brasil was a third-world country, and the most common mistake we could make in Europe was to consider it as semi-primitive. Now Brasil is going through a major development, imposing itself as one of the world's future superpowers, and boasting a vibrant civilisation and intense culture.

The role of the travel writer becomes crucial when the goal is to introduce cultures, lifestyles and reasons why a country could not develop the same way as others. In a nutshell, making people more aware of the world we live in.

I’ve always thought that travel writing was not just a “job”, but a mission, and the task of the travel writer one of the hardest to accomplish.

Being a journalist entails huge responsibilities: since the birth of the profession it became immediately clear that the press had a massive power on the public mind.

As early as the eighteenth century, journalist Eleonora De Fonseca Pimentel devoted her life to the revolution. In a Naples oppressed by the Bourbons and shaken by the echoes of the French Revolution, she carried out a battle against the exploitation of the poor. Despite her noble roots, she couldn’t spare herself from being executed for what she believed in, the importance of educating the population and giving them the tools to improve their living conditions.

We don’t have the Bourbons anymore, but in an era where democracy is becoming an empty word, where the political class is seen as belonging to a separate dimension from the rest of the population, the role of the journalist is one of monitoring and denouncing political decisions that have devastating consequences. One of the most inspiring examples of today’s journalism is Australia-born author and documentary film-maker John Pilger. War reporter and outspoken critic of Western governments’ foreign policies, his definition of the profession reaches its very soul: “It’s the journalist’s job, first of all, to look in the mirror of his own society.”

Among all specialisations, travel writing involves some of the heaviest burdens: putting its readers altogether in another country and making them feel, understand and appreciate other cultures.

If this sounds like a hackneyed expression, it’s when the travel writer starts witnessing realities unknown to most people and uncovered by most media that this cliché takes on a deeper meaning.

I think combining the passion for traveling with a good grasp of history and global affairs will show the traveler a world where most media are controlled, used and abused by the political and financial power and in which the “propaganda model” suggested by Chomsky and Herman has become daily routine.

That’s why it’s vital for travel writers to carry out an accurate research before boarding on a plane, trawling through the social and political background of a nation: they are about to become the eyes and the ears of the country they will visit, and have the tools to discover a place's more intimate soul, capturing the essence of people's mentality and traditions, to be able to outline a true x-ray picture of what they see.

So, for example, if you go to Chile you’ll be able to sense the consequences of one of the bloodiest and darkest fascist dictatorships that literally put the nation on its knees from the 1973 until Pinochet’s gradual departure.

Not only can travel writers see and describe such phenomenons, but I think they also owe their readers an accurate explanation of why such events could happen, what is the history behind today’s societies and what are the factors that pushed the country in that specific direction.

At the same time, if not combined with traveling, research runs the risk to overlook the human element of a population, possible to be captured only first-hand. Every human being has something to tell, every single person has done something worth mentioning and remembering and books cannot contain everything.


Dealing with social issues cannot be detached from travel writing, it’s part of the same mission: to engage the community on challenging distorted visions of the world and on raising consciousness that we all live in the same planet, share the same resources and deserve the same respect. This will inevitably add to everybody’s civic sense and make people demanding a better quality in articles and tv shows.


Ambitious task and big responsibility, but necessary to make our contribution to building hope for a better world. With all this in mind, I consider as my departure point Derrick Jensen’s beautiful thought: “If we wish to stop the atrocities, we need merely to step away from isolation. There is a whole world waiting for us, ready to welcome us home.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dublin, Dubliners and modernity

I've lived in Dublin for two years and I have to say, I don't miss it that much. The famous Irish friendliness is not really a Dublin attraction and is more likely to be found in other parts of Ireland, such as down in the south or west, like Galway and the Aran Islands.

Dublin and Dubliners are very peculiar. I've always been fascinated by the Celtic culture and was definitely disappointed by the lack of character in the Irish capital. In fact, I've only found the common European city, with no particularly striking personality and a strong will to emulate London.

I've ended up in Dublin four years ago because I expatriated with a friend of mine who had been there when she was 14 and has dreamt about it since. When first she went, Temple Bar didn't exist, and her passion stemmed more from the Cliffs of Moher than Dublin itself. But for obvious reasons, it was much handier living in Dublin than on the Cliffs.


The first impact with the city and its inhabitants has been funny, parties almost every night, meeting friends was the easiest of the tasks, a great complicity among foreigners, connected by our common status of expats who, for a reason or the other, shared the same difficulties.

The first thing tourists notice (and how couldn't they) as soon as they arrive in the city centre, is the Spire, a huge metallic, horrendous thing that rests in the middle of O'Connell Street, just before the River Liffey that divides the town into the "rough" North and the "posh" South.

Once overcome the shock of the Spire, tourists are left with a handful of interesting sights to explore, among which are noteworthy the Castle, the (tiny) Writers' Museum, Trinity College, Stephens' Green Park, Joyce House, Guinness Storehouse.

I don't like beer and I'm a major fan of literature and history, but I have to say that among all Dublin attractions, the one that impressed me the most is definitely the Guinness Storehouse: they organise the tour perfectly, and visitors have the opportunity to see how the beer is made and to trace the history of this national pride. At the end of the tour, beer lovers will be pleased to receive a complimentary pint of freshly made Guinness. Definitely, highly recommended (no, this is not a sponsored post).


Seemingly, Temple Bar is the tourism icon. Built in a mock-antique style, it's actually very recent and the best definition for it is "a cluster of pubs". You can also stumble on ethnic, little clothes shops, but besides the street artists, there's not much to see. It's mainly a night-time attraction, but beware: the weekend all pubs are packed, most people are drunk and there is a good chance you'll need to work somebody over in order to reach out the bar and have your pint.

Modern Dublin definitely misses the cheerful atmosphere created by local artists playing traditional music, and is a telling evidence that sacrificing old customs in the name of modernity doesn't always work.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tracking the Knights Templar in Sardinia

I'm carrying out some in-depth research on Sardinia's stormy past and on the mysterious traces left by the Knights Templar. Until now, I knew they might have quickly travelled the island while guarding Christian pilgrims in their journey to and from Jerusalem, but now I'm discovering scenarios I wasn't certainly aware of.

Who said Sardinia's attractions are clustered in its coasts? The mainland reeks of ancestral spirit, primeval fears and needs, and thousand-year-old heritage sites belonging to Sardinian lost civilisation. Professor Ross Holloway has effectively observed "Sardinia's is a landscape frozen in time."

Recent studies have claimed that Sardinia can be the place that Greek philosopher Plato described when writing about the mysterious lost civilisation named Atlantis, and after a quick look at the island's tangled history, we can by all means think we still have much to discover.

I've always been fascinated by the history of Free Masonry, and researching it, I've often stumbled across the Templars. It's difficult to imagine monks that were warriors too, but those were dark times, the darkest memories the Catholic Church can hold.

Studying the passage of the Templars in Sardinia, I found many traces, mainly churches and hospitals (there was the Hospitalliers Order), and they all give evidence that these medieval knights quite liked this desolate Mediterranean land. Was it because of the benefits of its mild temperatures? Or because of its strategic position between the two worlds (East and West) and so crucial to their businesses?

What sparks my love for history is not just my will to find out where we come from, but to discover little by little that the findings don't belong just to the past, but they are everywhere in our lives. The flag, symbols of regional councils: they are connected with an untaught history and are part of our daily routine more than we expect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

5 travel blogs you can't afford to miss

Trawling through the resources of the net I keep stumbling across marvellous travel blogs and, I admit, I keep stealing other bloggers' ideas. So now it's time to give myself up and confess which are the blogs that have inspired me the most.

1- Cool Travel Guide. I know, Lara Dunston doesn't need an introduction. Established travel writer, she has published in newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. However, I can't avoid mentioning her blog as it's a real source of inspiration for travellers and travel writers.
First of all, in her posts she covers cool and quirky sides of travelling, as promised in the headline, but also, Cool Travel Lara doesn't shy away from criticising what's wrong in the travel publishing industry and shares very willingly useful tips for would-be travel writers. Do you want to start a career in travel writing? First step: Cool Travel Guide!

2- My Several Worlds, written by Carrie Marshall, Canadian writer and photographer. The website is focused on destinations, attractions, lifestyles and cultures in Asia and features interviews to artists, writers and photographers.Very user-friendly, My Several Worlds gets its glamourous looks from the fabulous pictures and the state-of-the-art design. If you are thinking about travelling to Asia, in here you will find all the useful info you need, from travel insurance to "teach-and-travel" matters.

3- Europe à la carte. Although the title can mislead some first-time visitors, this is not a blog about European wines, but Europe all over. Literally. Travel writer Karen Bryan here covers every single aspect of Europe and European life, from the world of arts to over-packed capitals to small idiosyncrasies that make the Old Continent a huge immortal attraction.
Hotel reviews, museum tours, quirky traditions and unsung spots: Europe à la Carte has all you need from a proper European online travel guide.

4- Nomadic Matt. Yes, THAT Matt. The young king of the travel blogs. "Twenty-something vagabond" he's already written an Internet best-seller, whose title speaks for itself: "Monetize Your Travel Blog". Currently on the road, Matt not only updates his blog with his latest trips, but starts thought-provoking posts on the role of blogging, comparisons with the world of professional journalism and bad travel experiences. Cool choice of photos and videos and the greatest tips if you want to make profits out of your travel blog (who doesn't?).

5- Almost Fearless. Modestly titled, I would suggest "Completely Fearless" for Christine Gilbert's ever-expanding website. A complete guide on how to be a digital nomad, Christine suggests the best moves to take from day 1. Never-ending source of ideas, this site's author comes up every day with a new initiative. Started as a modest blog, now it's a busy website with tips, stories and free "Twitter for Travelers e-book". Really? Yes, just subscribe!

I know there are plenty of other great websites out there, and every day I stumble on some awesome travel blogs. Many of them inspire me when writing other posts or articles, and althout I'm not really the "series" type of person, I'll be surely writing about some other great finds!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Travel Calling's Best Kept Travel Secrets

I've been nominated by Carrie of My Several Worlds to contribute to Katie Erica's list of her best kept travel secrets listed in TripBase Blog. Along with the style, I will list my best kept travel secrets and will nominate five famous travel bloggers in the industry.

This is how Tripbase Blog Tag works:
Been somewhere amazing you’d never even heard of? You want to let your buddies in on the secret, right? Read on for my top travel gems!
What’s interesting about travel is that the places / hotels / restaurants that everyone agrees are fantastic, are often not so fantastic.
And even if they are, it can all be a bit predictable.
Now what’s really fun is when you find somewhere obscure that is truly out of this world.
You can’t believe your luck to have stumbled across this travel gem. How could you not have heard of this place before?
You want to shout it from the rooftops.
We have all been somewhere unusual or that for some reason struck a chord for us, so here are Travel Calling's best kept travel secrets.

STAY AT

Hostal El Santuario, Agua Calientes, Cuzco, Perù














View from Hostal El Santuario                                   Machu Picchu

If you are bound to find a five-star luxury mega residence, forget Hostal El Santuario. El Santuario doesn't offer luxurious facilities, but a modest and friendly service. However, its strenght, missed by most five-star hotels in the world, is a view that will undoubtedly take your breath away.

It lies at the very feet of world's wonder Machu Picchu and is dominated by the overwhelming mountain where you will find the ancient "ghost" town. Looking out the window first thing in the morning, you'll stare at the unforgettable scenery of the river Urubamba, before taking up the adventure that will make you step back in time.

3 reasons to stay at Hostal El Santuario:
- You will breath heady breeze as soon as you get up
- You will stare at a truly breathtaking view dominated by the wonders of the Machu Picchu
- It's cheap


VISIT

Nuraghe Losa, Abbasanta, Sardinia, Italy



Sardinia is dotted with nuraghes, stone-made castles dating back thousands years. They were used as habitations, fortresses against foreign attacks or ancient tombs.  

Nuraghe Losa, in the heart of Sardinia, was built roughly during the Bronze Age and archaeologists are still bringing up the remains of the whole area: the nuraghe is in fact only one piece of a prehistoric village and was very likely a built-up area with the burial complex attached. A visit to Nuraghe Losa is a proper walk through the twilight of European civilisation.

3 reasons to go to Nuraghe Losa
- You will track the cradle of Western civilisation
- It's surrounded by pristine countryside
- You'll be immersed in history and culture


EAT

Dans Le Noir? London, UK


Photo Ewan-M's

Nice area in London, Clerkenwell Green, but this won't be the thing you will remember after eating at Dans le Noir?, nor will be the food. 

Costumers of this restaurant will have the opportunity to enjoy good food and drinks better than in any other restaurants. Why? Because they will only use the senses of taste and smell: the hall is completely dark, waiters are blind and they will be your guides through this unique experience.

3 reasons to go to Dans Le Noir?
- You will be able to re-discover your senses of smell and taste
- You will be guided towards a unique experience
- The food is great


The final list of Top Bloggers’ Best Kept Travel Secrets, which will be shared as a special post on TripBase Blog.

I nominate these five bloggers to share three of their best kept travel secrets on their blog. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guest post at Casa Dolcetto!


I've written recently a guest post for Casa Dolcetto, A View of S'Archittu, about a tiny seaside resort in Sardinia, with rather fluctuating tourism moments.

I've been hanging out in S'Archittu since I was 7 and two are the main differences I can spot: I used to get much more tanned (not really S'Archittu's fault, but this somehow annoys me) and tourism was thriving definitely more than it is today.


Until this year. Last July and August were the busiest months I can remember since I was a child, bars and restaurants were happy bunnies and I could barely sleep due to the noise all night long.

Never mind, I'm glad S'Archittu is coming back to life. Although, selfishly speaking, I enjoyed the almost empty beach.

Hope you enjoy my post at Casa Dolcetto!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's your favourite beach?

I've grown up close to the beach, so when I have to choose a country to live, I usually prefer one with the sea. It's completely psychological, but I feel I have more space if the sea is within easy reach.

Among my favourite beaches, Sardinia has a privileged place in the podium, but I'm still deciding whether this golden medal stems from objective consideration or rather unconscious loyalty to the sceneries of my childhood.


Truth be said, the world boasts plentiful stunning beaches and seaside landscapes.

On the South American continent, from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza, I would only be spoilt for choice on where to go. I've always been attracted by the semplicity of life and the spontaneity of the "south of the world", and Brazil has all rights to share the podium with my hometown.

In Fortaleza the choice goes from Beira Mar to Praia do Futuro: they are all beautiful, not excessively big and comfortably accessible from all parts of the city. Moreover, the city itself is living a period of huge economic development.

But so far, my favourite is Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana. I know, in Rio there is the beautiful Ipanema and classy Leblon, but Copacabana has kept its original Brazilian character: it's colourful and (true, I promise) people keep smiling!

On the European side, I found nice by not breathtaking the Spanish beaches of Malaga and Cadiz, while I've been completely captivated by the attractions of the main Andalusian cities such as Seville and Cordova, and their peculiar way to blend Catholic and Muslim cultures and designs.

Of course, many are the beaches I haven't been to, and among the places I'm planning to visit in a close future, the Asian beaches are the first of the list, especially after my parents told me their adventures on their trip in the Far East last year. The ones I find more enticing are the beaches in Thailand, they embody the most traditional and evergreen tropical dream, they are the image of purity and the best connection between present and past.

So, where to next?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The night of the dead

All over the world, these days are devoted to the dead, and different places remember them in different ways.

In the United States, as well as in the UK, it's Halloween, with plentiful witch-like costumes and parties. Some if Italian biggest cities like to celebrate Halloween in a proper US way, but in Sardinia something very different happens in the night between the 1st and the 2nd of November.

My mother has always told me that since her very first memories she remembers her mother preparing the dinner for the dead, who would come during the night and eat it. Every year, the scenario sees my grandmother preparing tomato-sauce spaghetti, a bit more than usual as some is for the family, some for the dead. After their own dinner, my grandmother would leave a bowl with the rest of the spaghetti, a bottle of red wine and the table set for a proper meal, strictly in odd number.

When my grandfather was alive, he would get up and eat the rest of the spaghetti when the children were already in bed, so that the morning after everything was gone. Now, the spaghetti stay there until next morning and are eaten for lunch.

This tradition is very felt in Sedilo, to the extent that when my grandparents migrated to France, they kept doing it every 1st of November.

However, not everywhere in the island this tradition is either followed, nor desirable. On that night adults would tell mystery stories to children, and in the area there is plenty of options as Sardinian people have kept myths, traditions and mysteries of their ancestors. Just, when I was a child these stories have given me shivers more than once, while now, I'm a big girl, "brave" and not a very easy believer.

Of course my grandmother kept telling stories, for the generations of cousins, nephews and nieces that followed mine. I like listening to them, more to remember my childhood than to get scare. Until last night.

I was at my grandma's with some other family members and we were talking about past family history, without forgetting to mention the dead, of course, in line with the general mood. From here to the 1st November traditions the gap was quickly filled: while in Sedilo they remember their dead by leaving them a ready meal, in Nuoro's province they just bring them flowers. Nothing spooky so far.

So yesterday they told me about a lady, from Nuoro's province, who didn't know about this tradition of leaving the dinner ready all night but, once heard of it, was fascinated by it. To the extent that she wanted to try it: so she prepared dinner, ate some herself before going to bed and then left the table set all night: she was found dead the morning after. The very first time she prepared dinner for her dead (of which she ate some herself, according to tradition), was also the very last time she prepared dinner at all, making it become a proper meal for the dead.

In Sardinia, inexplicable events have always taken place, and throughout the centuries the mysterious element has played an important role in the local society. When you hear black-dressed old ladies whisper, very likely the reason is that they are talking about something paranormal (or gossip, very likely, too, not really paranormal but equally saucy). 

Getting closer to the local society and its traditions might turn out more amusing than expected, so if you like the topic feel free to ask your Sardinian friends to tell you about some quirky fact: you'll certainly find willing story-tellers, and every time some further detail to the story is added.
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