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T H I S W E E K

No. 6116

June 19 2020

the-tls.co.uk

UK £3.95 | USA $8.99

T H E T I M E S L I T E R A R Y S U P P L E M E N T

Tom Stevenson The fascinating world of shipping | Joe Moran Valuing the everyday Liza Dalby Journeys in ancient Japan | Harry Sidebottom How the ancients viewed plague

Travel Writing Special Feature

The lockdown travel issue

Cover illustration: © Darren Smith

In this issue

I have never been especially intrepid. Not for me the pushbike and alphabetical tour of the United States of America; nor do I have any mordant tales of navigating the Urals using only public transport. But, given that my longest journey in the past three months has been to deposit the recycling, it is per- haps inevitable that my thoughts have turned to the journeying of others. As our horizons narrow, travel writing is always available to broaden the mind.

That has certainly proved true for Edward Platt, who this week tackles some classics of the genre as an antidote to lockdown. And to summer: he relishes Sara Wheeler’s account of an Antarctic expedition, Terra Incognita, as he has recently “struggled to sleep at night, made uncomfortable not only by the heat but the double anxiety created by the pandemic and the sense that the weather wasn’t behaving as it should”. He likes travelling vicariously; he especially likes doing so with Dervla Murphy, who “decided on her tenth birthday, when she was given a bike and an atlas, to cycle to India, and finally set off twentyone years later”. But he is most inspired by Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose tales of “talk, wine, moonlight and the warm air” in the Peloponnese feel especially tantalizing as the holiday season approaches.

The opposite of the exotic is the everyday – the subject of Joe Moran’s essay, which focuses in particular on familiarity’s newfound “strangeness”. Lockdown has, he says, “severed us from many of our routines, and coated those that survive with a deep glaze of oddness”. This, while disquieting, is ultimately beneficial, because we otherwise “tend to forget that the most significant changes are slow, incremental and unseen”, happening “when we are looking the other way”. Moran has also introduced me to the Parisian term for the daily grind, “metroboulot-dodo (commute-work-sleep)”, which I have resolved to use more widely in conversation.

One pertinent example of something that is both important to everyday life and seldom fully unacknowledged is shipping, which is in fact – as Tom Stevenson points out – “the most essential feature of the modern productive economy”: up to 90 per cent of all goods are transported by sea. But this mercantile network is also closely linked to the demands of nation states, for whom shipping lines form the basis of economic and diplomatic decisionmaking: “if one were to draw a map of global power it should not be a Mercator projection of the earth, but a nautical chart”. The intersection of geopolitics and travel writing is a fascinating subject; one of many in this week’s TLS.

STIG ABELL

Editor

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Clockwise from top left: An illustration by Darren Smith; A detail from “Bound” by Ella Barron; An illustration of Cinderella from The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 1909; Greta Thunberg gives a speech in Madrid, December 2019; Fourteen Days in May (BBC Storyville)

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