No. 14: “Riding to the Tigris” by Freya Stark
Travel Blog • Frank Bures • 05.18.06 | 12:17 PM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: Turkey
More than halfway through her 100 years on earth, Freya Stark, the “poet of travel,” headed alone on horseback across the Turkish plateaus to the Tigris River. By that time she had been traveling for decades, mostly in the Middle East, where she had learned Arabic as well as French, Latin, German, Italian and Persian. For her Turkish travels, she threw in Turkish. Stark always stayed in places long enough to write with an insider’s knowledge of a culture. Stark believed in the power of travel and of its capacity to open minds. She once wrote that, “Only with long experience and the opening of his wares on many beaches where his language is not spoken, will the merchant come to know the worth of what he carries.” Stark, who thought the world was divided into two kinds of people, the settled and the nomad, and who climbed Annapurna at 86, was fearless in her traveling. Early on, she abandoned the restrictions of her era for her love of the horizon, which she called “the eternal invitation to the spirit of man.” And while the collection, “Journey’s Echo,” might be a better introduction to her overall work, Riding to the Tigris is one of her finest and most reflective books.
Outtake from Riding to the Tigris:
We sat there side by side in companionable silence, and I began to wonder again, as I had done through the night, but this time without anger—why I, and so many others like me, should find ourselves in these recondite places. We like our life intensified, perhaps. Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art….Most people anyway try to avoid having their feelings intensified: for indeed one must be strong to place oneself alone against the impact of the unknown world.
—Frank Bures is the books editor of World Hum.