February 28, 2011

A new chapter to sightseeing

The first time I entered a library I saw a sign that was to make a big impression on me, and fuel my curiosity. It simply read: “Prepare to explore new worlds”. And the sign was right – soon I was travelling on my own magic carpet through fairytales from Persia, walked as slowly as I could with Hansel and Gretel to the candy, sugar and gingerbread house, went mining with the seven dwarves and then, later, explored the wilds of Africa with a bit of help from Wilbur Smith, embarked on high adventure with Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley, spurred on my horse as Louis L’Amour took me through the Wild West, and encountered death and betrayal in Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction.

Many years later as part of a Contiki tour – we all have to start somewhere – I found myself gazing in awe at the jagged, snow-covered Eiger Mountain in Switzerland. I longed to take a cablecar to the top, but the weather was terrible, as it was in the book. At least there was no one with a ice hammer waiting behind a rock…

Sure, there are many travel authors and they do a good job of it – Paul Theroux comes to mind, as does Charley Boorman and Michael Palin – but what has really helped me remember a city I’ve visited has not been re-reading the travel brochures, or a guide book purchased at a tourist venue, but rather works of fiction, especially crime, set in that specific city.

It’s something I’ve done subconsciously and it hit home only recently when, after a brief visit to Istanbul – two days – I found myself wanting to know more about this millennia-old city that had captured my heart and so entranced me. By chance, a reading through the online Guardian led me to click on a profile of British author Barbara Nadel, and then…

Not only was she something of an expert on Istanbul – spending six months a year, every year, for more than a decade in the city will do that – but she had also written detective novels set in that city, 12 of them (the 13th is on its way) featuring Inspector Cetin Ikmen. Next thing I was back in the library, holding on to a grubby copy of Ikmen’s debut, Belshazzar’s Daughter.

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