On Rimbaud’s Trail

Posted in Africa, Books, Geography of Madness, Travel, Uncategorized, Writers on July 19, 2016 by frankbures

From Longitude Books:

One of the places I remember most clearly (and fondly) is Obock, Djibouti, a town on the edge of the Red Sea where I traveled several years ago for a story for Nowhere Magazine. Obock is hot and miserable and there is nothing to do. At night thousands of migrants stream through the area on their way from Ethiopia and Somalia to the Middle East where they hope to find work. When I got there I found that the hotel the tourism office in the capital recommended had closed long ago. On my first day I was harassed by the local police for being there.

What I remember best, though, was how refreshing it was to be so uncatered to, so far from everything. It didn’t matter to anyone (except a few curious folks) whether I was there or not. This must have been something like was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud felt when he first arrived there in the mid-1880s to escape his former life and become an arms dealer: It was like the whole world could slip away.

Read the rest hereIMGP3480.JPG.

Travel and Insanity

Posted in Culture, Geography of Madness, Science, Travel on July 14, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-travelFrom the of The Rotarian

In the 1970s and ’80s, an Italian psychiatrist named Graziella Magherini began to make note of tourists who came to Florence and, while viewing great works of art, experienced a mental breakdown. Often, they had to be put on a stretcher and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Magherini looked at 106 such cases and labeled the condition “Stendhal syndrome,” after the French novelist who described having such an experience in a Florence basilica. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky may have had a similar affliction.

According to Magherini, such a breakdown is caused by the power of art over people who are psychologically vulnerable or by “coming into contact with great works of art without the mediation of a professional guide,” as one paper on the syndrome described it. That may be the case. But such experiences are not unique to Italy, regardless of the power of its art. Rather, I suspect there was a greater power at work, one the victims brought with them: the power of their own expectations.

A similar condition has affected some Japanese tourists in Paris. Researchers observed that in Japan, “Paris has, and holds, a quasi-magical power of attraction because the city is considered a symbol of European culture.” Besides the normal stresses of travel and the vast cultural differences, the authors noted that “disappointment linked to contact with the everyday reality [of Paris] is a factor of incomprehension and anxiety, but also of disenchantment and depression.” This was dubbed “Paris syndrome” by the media.

Read the rest here.

Empty Tombs: A Q&A with Tom Bissell

Posted in Books, Clips, Travel, Travel Writers, Writers on March 29, 2016 by frankbures

apostle-cover_250From MinnPost:

For five years, writer Tom Bissell worked on a novel about the Apostle John, before he resigned himself to the fact that his “half historical, half contemporary” account was not going to work.

He set it aside, but one fact stuck in his mind: John’s tomb was located in Turkey and was supposedly empty — the only remains of the Twelve Apostles unaccounted for. Later while he was serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan he heard rumors that Matthew’s remains were in nearby Kyrgyzstan. Where were the others?

From this question grew the idea for a travel book on the Apostolic tombs, and for the next few years Bissell traveled through Jerusalem, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France, Spain India, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan as a sort of doubting pilgrim who wanted to “explore the legendary encrustation upon twelve lives about which little else is known and even less can be historically verified.”

Read the rest here.

Shortcut to Mushrooms

Posted in America, Clips on March 17, 2016 by frankbures

img_2016-03_Foraging_grid_X(1)In the new issue of Minnesota Monthly is a story I did about wild mushroom foraging, which is booming, and a class I took:

First are the “Common, Delicious, Super-Safe Edibles,” which include golden chanterelles, chicken of the woods, pheasant’s back, and bluing boletes, a beautiful mushroom that turns blue when it’s cut or bruised.

Next to these are the “More Challenging Edibles,” ones that require a deeper knowledge of mushroom anatomy: crown-tipped coral, the indigo milky, and corn smut.

Then come the “Inedible Mushrooms,” which might upset your stomach, or taste terrible, but they won’t kill you: the hygrometer earthstar, the violet tooth, the birds-nest.

And then there’s the last group, the really scary ones: “Poisonous Mushrooms: Including Some Deadly.” Among these are witch’s hat, jack-o-lanterns (which glow in the dark), and the fly agaric featured in Alice in Wonderland. But the loveliest—and deadliest—is an Amanita known as the “destroying angel.” It is pure white, with a long delicate stem. A small bite is enough to kill you, though you might not know it for a few days. A few hours after consumption, you come down with nausea and fever. But these symptoms pass, and for a few days you feel better while your liver and kidney are slowly being destroyed, along with your intestines, heart, and brain. Three to six days later your organs stop functioning. There is no known antidote.

Read the rest here.

Runner, (Re)Interrupted

Posted in Africa, America, Clips, Running on March 12, 2016 by frankbures

spread-runner-interruptedA few years ago I traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to spend time with Marko Cheseto, a Kenyan runner who lost his feet to frostbite. Now that story, Runner, Interrupted, has been chosen as one of the Runner’s World “Selects” to help celebrate 50 years of great stories. For the occasion, I did some follow-up report on where Marko is now: Currently he is focused on qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games in the 200- and 400-meter events (the latter is currently the longest event available for double amputees).

At the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last April, he competed against double amputees, single amputees, and a blind athlete in the 200 meters, and while he finished last, he ran a PR of 24.36. Last October, he was scheduled to travel to Qatar with the Kenyan Paralympic team to run the qualifying rounds for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but the Kenyan government pulled the team’s funding at the last minute, and the trip was cancelled. Cheseto has since set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to secure training and travel funds for Rio.

interrupted-past-lifeFor now, he’s training around his full-time job as sports coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska—and his growing family. In 2014, Cheseto married an Alaskan woman who also attended the University of Alaska; the couple now has a 10-month-old daughter. That same year, Cheseto’s younger brother Henry joined the University of Alaska cross country team. As a freshman, Henry led the team to five first-place finishes and, in 2015, finished third at NCAA Division II Nationals. Cheseto is also working on a book about his life with writer Andy Hall, author of Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak.

You can read the story here and you can help Marko get to Rio here.

The End of the World as We Know It

Posted in America, Art, Books, Clips, Culture, Science, Uncategorized on February 24, 2016 by frankbures

imagesConsensus is growing that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. As it does, so does anxiety about our fate as a species. This was the subject of a recent piece I did for Aeon on our love of apocalyptic fiction, film and stories. We fear the end might be near, but we also fear we are part of something from which we have no way to extricate ourselves. If you feel this too, read on.

One day in the early 1980s, I was flipping through the TV channels, when I stopped at a news report. The announcer was grey-haired. His tone was urgent. His pronouncement was dire: between the war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, AIDS in the cities, and communists in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were upon us. The end had come.

We were Methodists and I’d never heard this sort of prediction. But to my grade-school mind, the evidence seemed ironclad, the case closed. I looked out the window and could hear the drumming Hugh-Howey-WOOL-COVERof hoof beats.

Life went on, however, and those particular horsemen went out to pasture. In time, others broke loose, only to slow their stride as well. Sometimes, the end seemed near. Others it would recede. But over the years, I began to see it wasn’t the end that was close. It was our dread of it. The apocalypse wasn’t coming: it was always with us. It arrived in a stampede of our fears, be they nuclear or biological, religious or technological.

Read the rest here.

Origin Unknown

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Language on February 5, 2016 by frankbures

LQ

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Anatoly Liberman is a tall man with a slight stoop and an accent that is hard to place. The stoop comes from decades spent searching for the hidden history of words in one of the fifteen languages he can read. It may also be from the weight bearing down on his shoulders as he races the clock. At the age of seventy-nine he is trying to finish one of the greatest achievements in the annals of lexicography: a history, as complete as possible, of some the last words in the English language whose origins remain unknown.

They are simple words, common words, but words whose origins are a mystery: he, she, girl, pimp, ever, gawk, yet. We use these words every day, but Liberman has been working for thirty years to unearth their roots. His sharp mind, breadth of language, and sense of mission have kept him moving steadily toward that goal for the last half of his life. He is driven by the knowledge that if he were gone, no one would have the depth of linguistic knowledge, let alone the drive, to complete his work.

Read the rest here.