Reading Edinburgh: 44 Scotland Street

A surprise book! I haven’t even introduced the subject yet!

I’m heading to Scotland in just over a week, and what better way to prepare then to read about it? I’ve checked out a big stack of books from the library about all different parts of the country, and am having a great time digging in.

We’ll be spending our first few days of the trip in Edinburgh so that’s where I started, and fortunately picked a great book to begin my journey, 44 Scotland Street, written by Alexander McCall Smith. Mr. Smith came into his writing career in his 50s, but has since  sold over 20 million books and his work has been translated in over 40 languages. And he lives down the street from J.K. Rowling! He’s known for an easy-going style and creating memorable characters, and that certainly holds true here.

Cockborn Street in Edinburgh
Cockborn Street in Edinburgh (image by David Monniaux, via Wikimedia Commons)

This story originally came together as a daily serial in the The Scotsman newspaper. It ran everyday for six months, and was enormously popular. Nothing huge happens, no drama or earth-shattering revelations; just a nice story with engaging people in a unique city.

Full disclosure: I’m listening to this one. I don’t take advantage of audio books very often, and I have no idea why. They almost always turn out to be a lot of fun, and this is no exception. The narrator, Robert Ian McKenzie, does a great job and all of the Edinburgh accents are completely charming.

And a bonus: our hotel is less than a mile from the address in the title. I love it!

Scotland Street to Brunswick Street
Scotland Street to Brunswick Street (Source: Google Maps)

Reading Libya: The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Al-Koni

The desert is a true treasure

for him who seeks refuge

from men and the evil of men.

In it is contentment,

In it is death and all you seek.

-Sufi muwwal

I am a firm believer that if we let it, the landscape we live in can define us.
I’m a person of trees and grass and green. Born in a place that is all of those things, I’ve lived most of my life in the Eastern Deciduous forest zone, or in a subtropical landscape.

But there is very much a part of me that connects fully to the desert. I love the intensity, the wide open spaces; it’s a very different feeling than where I call home. When I get stressed, and all of the noise of the world is starting to drive me a little crazy, I’m always tempted to get in my car and drive until the green runs out. To get to a place where there’s nothing stopping the sun and wind.

Ubari oasis - with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya.
Ubari oasis – with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now I have this book to turn to when I need that feeling. The author, Ibrahim Al-Koni, is Tuareg and it’s crystal clear that he’s intimately in tune with his people’s deep desert roots. His love of that land absolutely bursts out of almost every line of this book; once I started it, I could not put it down.

It’s a tough read in terms of the messages he’s trying to convey; I wanted to scream “Stop it! Go away!” to some of the characters, but that’s offset by the beauty and depth of the story’s protagonist, and the landscape and animals that he loves and honors.

I’m thrilled to have read this book, and have two more of this author’s titles on order from the library. I’m never going to get through my To-Read pile of books, which is really a mountain anymore, but oh well. Just knowing there’s literature out in the world like this can be enough…

Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya
Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Reading Guatemala: The Popol Vuh

A foreign power attempting to wipe out an ancient religion and culture. A story formed by oral tradition, written down by an unknown scribe in hopes that future generations would know their own history. That’s how the Popul Vuh came to be. And it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to experience it now.

The Popul Vuh is sometimes referred to as The Mayan Bible, but that’s misleading. It doesn’t claim to be the Word of God, or a spiritual text that tells the faithful how to live life. It’s the origin story  and cosmology of the Quiche Maya, who live in what is now modern-day Guatemala. The Quiche refer to it as an Ilb’al – an “instrument of sight” – and also as “The Book of the Mat”, since it was traditionally told to an audience of people sitting on woven mats

There are tales of silent nothingness, restless and vengeful gods, the making of the first men and women. The book concludes with the genealogy and migration of the Quiche Maya, and with this mournful passage:

This is enough about the being of Quiche, given that there is no longer a place to see it. There is the original book and ancient writing owned by the lords, now lost, but even so, everything has been completed here concerning Quiche, which is now named Santa Cruz.

There are numerous translations available, but I chose the one by Dennis Tedlock. I just read that he passed away last year, which makes me very sad; there are quite a few very lovely tributes to him out in the world which goes to show what an impact he had. He’s left a great legacy of translated works from both the Maya, and the Zuni people in the American Southwest. I’ll be moving on from the Popul Vuh to his translation of the Rabinal Achí, a Mayan drama that survives from pre-Columbian times and that’s still performed annually in Guatemala. How cool is that? While I’m at it, I’m also reading a couple of books by his wife, Barbara Tedlock. It’s like a light switch has flipped for me, and I’ll be learning all I can about this corner of the world…stay tuned!

An original painting showing figures from the Popol Vuh
Popol Vuh, Oriente (image by Cuilomerto (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)