Excerpt: 'A Winter in Arabia'

'A Winter in Arabia'

A decalogue for travel

December 2. "It is private life that governs the world."
(Lord Braconsfield)

This morning, in pity of Alinur, I remarked that sickness is a woman's difficulty in Arabia; there are microbes ever ready to fall on moments of weakness.

"It may be so for some," said the Archaeologist in her limpid way. "I myself am never ill" : but she did not say it in the tone of gratitude such a dispensation deserves in this country — rather as if a head cold were a portion of Original Sin. In spite of being crushed by this Olympian attitude to weakness, I cannot help wondering why we should so often look upon health as a creation of our own, considering that we accept beauty as a gift from heaven : the same hand presumably fashioned our inner and outer tissues. But I did not say so, for there is something frightening about the very robust woman. I merely sent up a little prayer, that I might not fall ill first.

Anyway, it is, I believe, a fallacy to think of travellers' qualities as physical. If I had to write a Decalogue for journeys, eight out of ten virtues should be moral, and I should put first of all a temper as serene at the end as the beginning of the day.

Then would come the capacity to accept values and to judge by standards other than our own. The rapid judgement of character; and a love of nature which must include human nature also. The power to dissociate oneself from one's own bodily sensations. A knowledge of the local history and language. A leisurely and uncensorious mind. A tolerable constitution and the capacity to eat and sleep at any moment. And lastly, and especially here, a ready quickness in repartee.

Excerpted from A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark. Copyright (c) 1940 by Freya Stark. Excerpted by permission of The Overlook Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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