Monday, September 28, 2015

From ‘Around the World in 80 days’ by Michael Palin

A minibus takes me into Athens. Earthquakes or the threat of them seem to have knocked the stuffing out of domestic architecture and we pass row upon row of bland, unremarkable concrete facades. Sad in a city which contains two or three of the greatest buildings in the world.

….Cairo. The noise is incredible. This is a horn-blower society. Egyptian drivers make New York cabbies sound like librarians. They must specially modify their cars to connect the accelerator to the horn.

My breakfast is served by a Nubian in a fez who was once a servant in the household of King Farouk. ‘Nubians make very good waiters,’ observes Dr Doss. What a dreadful reference for any nation. Its like hearing that Visigoths can iron well.

Suddenly we’re on the edge of the desert, 96 per cent of Egypt’s land surface…..

Its not really surprising the Egyptians were clobbered so often by the Israelis. They’re not warriors. They’re shy, rather jolly, humorous people. Can’t imagine them taking military life and conquest very seriously.

The Arabs love children…….

Most of the manual work in Saudi Arabia is done by foreigners. As well as the Egyptians there are Yemenis and Filipinos and South-East Asians. The Saudis prefer to be behind desks, they don’t really like to get their hands dirty.

There is no such thing as a tourist in Saudi Arabia. Every visitor has to have a sponsor – a company or a government department – which guarantees his status and suitability. Saudi Arabia may look like America but it can behave like Russia.

The Sudanese I’ve met on this trip I’ve liked very much indeed; they have a natural grace and wit and smile a lot, as though they like a good time.

…..Saudis don’t eat out much, and when they do they prefer Western-style restaurants.

…..the city of Riyadh, built almost entirely in the last 15 years and one of the hottest capitals on earth.

……like customs authorities the world over, these people always want the one extra piece of paper you never have.

Indian life is no respecter of great monuments, especially one so prominently associated with alien domination, nor does Indian life have to be sought out in back streets and certain quarters of town. It begins, like the heady, warm smell of spice and manure, as soon as you set foot on the land.

Despite the noise and heat and smell at Victoria Terminal, the faces in the crowd show none of the tension, anxiety or pent-up anger which you can see any morning or evening at a London main-line station. I think it boils down to tolerance again. The Indians do not betray impatience. They accept everyone’s right to be wherever they are. Thus poverty and appalling destitution, malnutrition and deformity are on public view, but nervous breakdowns are almost unknown.

…..I venture out for a last look at Bombay……as I walk along past these rickety tenuous little coverings, I see very little sourness and despondency. There is dignity in the faces of mothers washing in the water from the standpipe. Eyes are not averted in embarrassment or shame, the children are responsive, lively and curious. Once again I’m confused and surprised by the way India works. Poverty seems not to be judged as failure, as it is in the West. Here it is a fact of life. There are too many people and too few jobs. Those who have little or nothing are not cleared off the streets or shoved out of sight. To make something out of almost nothing, as in the case of these families huddled against the high wall, is an achievement, and that shows in their faces.

Part of the exhaustion of Indian travel is the profusion of things to see.

As in India, there are enormous numbers of people about, but the Chinese behave very differently. They’re more purposeful, they always seem to be on the move or intent on doing something. There isn’t much of the drifting, gazing, eye-wandering of India. Nor are they particularly curious. Whereas Indians are always catching your eye eager to exchange a smile, the Chinese tend to avoid eye contact and it’s difficult to get any response from the faces.

From the compartment next door comes the rasping prelude to a good spit. The Chinese are great expectorators and very often a hideous deep-throated rumble will belong to a petite lady.

The Japanese are very well dressed. Their shape and style reminds me of the Italians.

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