Travel Reading

When traveling, a book can transform a vacation into an historical journey. For my trip to Sicily last year, I read The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and for World Hum writer E. Casey Kittrell’s trip to Tunisia, she found a traveloge. Her experience is detailed in A Direct Impression.

“Choosing a book for a short trip to Tunisia last year was harder than I imagined. A host of legendary figures had traversed and commented on the country, from Hannibal and Homer to Ibn Battuta to Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. In the end, I chose Fountains in the Sand, a 1912 account of the Tunisian Sahara by the British writer Norman Douglas.

Arriving almost a century later than Douglas, I would not see the same Tunisia that he did. The first place it led me to was Douz, site of the International Sahara Festival. The festival celebrates the nomadic traditions of all Saharan peoples. Those traditions still flourished in Douglas’ time, but today very few Tunisians live a nomadic life. Where Douglas got to see the real thing, I saw a re-creation.

The grandstand faced a flat oval of parched brown earth, while the sky was bleached of all color. The flags of more than two dozen nations snapped in a steady west wind that blew the peaks off nearby sand dunes, bringing the desert—literally—into our laps.

We shook the sand off as we stood for the Tunisian national anthem, and within moments of the last note the bleak scene before us was transformed into a circus of color, sound, and motion. Long-haired maidens whipped their raven locks in rhythm with the drums and horns of accompanying musicians. Horsemen atop brightly woven saddle blankets paraded past us, then returned at full gallop, some balanced in headstands atop their saddles. More than 50 camels and riders assembled around the perimeter of the oval.”