It’s horrible, of course, the war currently going on in Mali, the desecration of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, and the disruption of lives in a place where life doesn’t allow much margin for error. Maybe the most ironic aspect of it all is that Mali has been able to cast itself so successfully in the last twenty years as the capital of world music, starting with Ali Farka Toure’ and including dozens of regional stars in its roll-call before making Ali’s son Vieux its latest luminary. The griot and djeli traditions go back much farther than that, of course, which is about all that can be reliably said on the history of the subject. Urban legends of Tuareg revolutionaries turning in their guns for guitars may be more or less accurate, if generously embellished for marketing purposes, but the claim of being able to trace American blues or jazz back to a single village in Mali is probably an over-simplification, if not necessarily false, given only anecdotal evidence and no clear genetic links.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Monday, January 14, 2013
Traveling through space is geography. Traveling through time is history. I just finished reading the Travels of Marco Polo and Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux simultaneously; okay, actually I was alternating between them. As fate would have it, they’re traveling somewhat the same route, at least part of the way. No I didn’t plan it that way. If I had, then it wouldn’t be serendipity. I like that word, and I like the meaning behind it, the happy accident; the brilliant mistake. It’s not a race, because I already know who’d win. Slow as they are, trains are fast compared to caravan travel on the Silk Road, or even the open seas, which was the only option in Marco Polo’s time. But as long as every picture tells a story, then overland travel is eminently worthwhile. Once they’re known and renowned, then even the most impressive trail among them can become boring.
The strangest thing is not that Polo’s observations seem so dated, though, as you would expect from travels that occurred some 750 years ago. No, the strange thing is how dated Theroux’s observations seem. Those observations are barely forty years old, and occurred in an era that I know well, the same one that gave birth to my own significant travels. In fact if I had to place them within a historical continuum between Polo’s era and this date of January 2012, then I’d place them about half-way, which is to say that almost as much has happened within the last forty years as in the seven hundred which preceded it. If that s