East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Travelling Men


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

Good old Mark Twain, how right you were!
When it comes to travel writers, Italy can boast three great names that are now gone: Fosco Maraini, Folco Quilici and Tiziano Terzani. I read a lot of things by these guys. Quilici of course catered for my love of oceanography, while Maraini and Terzani were guides through and across Asia and the Far East.

Terzani had the unusual distinction of being one of the very few western reporters to witness both the fall of Saigon to the hands of the Viet Cong and the fall of Phnom Penh at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s. The Khmer Rouge also tried to have him executed, but he got away. The guy had a deep knowledge of East Asia, and he was a great storyteller. One can’t ask for a better travel companion, even for simple armchair travel like the sort I usually engage in.

Were I to suggest a book of his, I’d probably go with A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earth-bound Travels in the Far East, that is also available in English, or so I’m told. It’s based on the one year Terzani spent traveling by land and sea across Asia after a Hong Kong fortune-teller told him he would die in a plane crash in 1993.
Terzani used that year to visit gurus and mystics, to try and find out a way to escape his destiny.

The reason why I was reminded of Terzani, tonight, is the fact that I have just found out that the travel literature festival held in his memory in Udine, Italy, since 2004 (the year of Terzani’s death), has been gutted by political reasons: the city administration decided to cut its financial support for the festival from 30 thousand Euro to 10 thousand.
The reason: the festival about travel literature and journalism is “a left wing thing.”
And the Udine administration is anxious to prove they are not left wing.

And I was reminded of Mark Twain’s quote that opens this post – because my doubt is these guys are not travelers, not even armchair travelers. Their prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness are untouched by experiences outside of their home turf. Or if they did, maybe they went on package tours, sealed inside a bubble made of the little corner of the earth from which they came, and from which they never escaped.
It’s not a matter of what flag you wave, what party you support.
It’s just a matter of being ignorant.

And so, after fifteen years, the festival that called a small crowd of people each year will probably go belly-up. And I never had the opportunity of going – the only time I was in that area it was the wrong time of the year. But I still have Terzani’s books, here in some box. Hopefully the guardians of prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness will not come and take them away. For a while at least.

But this is not the first book festival that gets killed in my country because culture is “left wing” and our current leaders are, quite obviously, proud of being ignorant.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Travelling Men

  1. And now I ‘m ready to hear someone defend the right of to be ignorant


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