in which I think about Anthony Bourdain and Zadie Smith and reach no satisfying conclusions for your edification

When Anthony Bourdain died, I was devastated. He was someone who really had a huge influence on me. I loved traveling and food before I discovered Bourdain in the early 00s, but he put both in a context for me, showed me a way of being in the world, that influences me to this day. Among the many things I loved about him was that mix of cynicism and black humor alongside a genuine openheartedness–let’s fact it, the only way something “life affirming” is ever going to be palatable to me is when it’s wrapped in a layer of darkness and delivered with a sardonic wink, but the work he did was life-affirming, genuinely so, not in a fake or sentimental way.

Pre-Bourdain, I already had very strong feelings about food and hospitality (in a nutshell: you accept what your hosts serve you and eat it with eagerness, whatever the hell it is); he had a worldview that aligned with mine in so many ways, so I was bound to connect with his work. I still hope I never find myself in a situation where I have to eat uncleaned warthog anus to be polite, but you know, I guess if the day ever comes I’ll just grit my teeth and summon the shade of Tony and do my best to get through it while according it, and my hosts, the dignity and respect they deserve. (You know, as I write that, it occurs to me that if you haven’t seen the episode where that happens, it probably sounds terribly exploitative, some kind of awful modern-day mondo, but it really isn’t. He does approach the entire thing with dignity and respect, understanding the honor he’s been accorded even if he did end up on antibiotics a week later.)

But I’ve done a lot of things because of what I learned from him, not least of which is embracing a much wider palate. I learned to love sea urchin! I have, on more than one occasion, asked myself WWBD? He always made the world seem bigger and brighter to me.

I missed his last show, Parts Unknown, in its entirety, having moved out of the U.S. by the time it was airing. Now I’ve just started watching it, and while the first episode, “Sri Lanka,” was a bit underwhelming (he was ill throughout much of it), the second one, set in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, has so much that I love about Bourdain in it.

One of the biggest things that struck me is that it’s funny–funny strange, not funny haha–to think that it was just two years ago that he died, because it feels like he comes from an entirely different era. (And of course, he does. I feel we have crossed some sort of virtual Rubicon at some point in the two years since, although I am not quite sure what it is or when it happened.) His genuineness, his openness, his fullhearted embrace of every experience, his absolute conviction that we are not that different from one another as we imagine and that we can learn about each other best by sitting down and sharing meals together–it all seems like the opposite of the shouting, polarized, vicious world we all seem to inhabit 24/7 now whether we like it or not. How we relate to one another these days feels a lot more like a WWF cage match than an episode of A Cook’s Tour or No Reservations.

This morning I looked at videos of riots from Portland, my former home, now in their second month. And I thought about writing this piece, a piece that seems very far removed from all of that (but it really isn’t; the framing and the underpinning of the Koreatown episode, though it was filmed in 2013, is the LA riots of 1992), a piece the people who like to do that sort of thing might call tone-deaf, and it occurred to me that as I get older, I recognize in myself a willingness to stop and contemplate in a way that I not only was I was less able to do when I was younger, but that infuriated me when I saw it in others. How dare you. Urgency seemed like the only legitimate response. If you didn’t feel urgency, it meant you didn’t care.

I am being a little bit unfair on my younger self, who was still thoughtful and capable of taking a step back–we are never really all one thing, are we?

The style of discourse which largely involves people shouting past one another and which says if you aren’t shouting you must be indifferent isn’t a new one. The aggressive talk radio style of the 1980s–how many people today who think the world is falling to bits in some unique way have forgotten or never knew that in America in 1984, prominent Jewish liberal radio host Alan Berg was assassinated by neo-Nazis–gave way to the rise of warring talking heads on TV, the louder and more outrageous the better, while the Reagan administration eliminated the Fairness Doctrine–easily, I think, one of the most disastrous decisions of the latter half of the 20th century in terms of leading to the increasing and current political polarization in the US, right up there with the Southern Strategy and the Republican embrace of fundamental evangelical Christianity in the early 1980s.

But that’s neither here nor there. My point is that there is power in pauses, in silence, in thinking, in not rising to respond to every little thing, in sitting back and letting the words of others settle on you, really settle, in genuinely good faith, not like some kind of game in which you pluck a contextless handful of the words for the purpose of gleeful evisceration.

There is value, sometimes, in being quiet. In not forming an opinion right away and insisting that everyone needs to hear it. In stepping away and doing the practical work that still needs to be done, whatever else is happening: washing the dishes, preparing food, and continuing to make the little connections with people that remind us that we’re all human and mostly just doing our best to get by.

Bourdain, snarky and critical as he was of his fellow celebrity chefs and anything else that he saw as a sacred cow, was remarkably non-judgmental when it came to his travels, not just when encountering unfamiliar or alarming attitudes or customs but about food. He was game for anything. When his host, artist David Choe, takes him to a Sizzler in the heart of Koreatown–Anthony Bourdain in a Sizzler–he isn’t ironic or knowing; he embraces it as Choe explains, when we were growing up we didn’t go to restaurants, but if there was a really special occasions, this is where we went. Koreans love Sizzler, says Choe. He then goes on to instruct Bourdain on the specifics of making an Italian-Mexican taco from the salad bar: hard taco shell, three meatballs, guacamole, nacho cheese, etc. Bourdain digs it. He’s there, so very present in the moment. It’s the gusto with which he went after life that made his death seem so inexplicable.

Not really inexplicable, though, of course, and this is the other thing we learn, or we should learn, the longer we live: we are all the same and yet we are infinitely unknowable, even to those who know us best. Unspeakable reservoirs of pain run through all of us, along with an astonishing capacity for humanity. When I say we are all human–yes, of course it sounds like a self-evident and simplistic platitude but part of what I mean is that we are all a great mystery even to ourselves, wrapped in a bag of frail human-shaped meat that still needs to eat and drink and cry and craves the love or at least the attention of others. Even sociopaths need these things! What odd big-brained primates we are, simultaneously not as smart as and much smarter than we think we are. I often think we understand all the wrong things about ourselves in all the wrong ways.

I hope you weren’t reading this in search of conclusions. This is not a polemic or even an organized essay. I am not going to circle back round to Bourdain at the end and wrap this up tidily. I want, I need to be messy here. There are jagged edges. These are just my thoughts, on this day. I might change my mind tomorrow.

Maybe I shouldn’t even blog. Maybe writers should eschew public life entirely, living in those ivory towers or remote castles or whatever we once imagined them inhabiting when we were children or even later, before they all got Twitter accounts and sent us photos of their cats and their breakfasts and got into weird and embarrassing spats with other writers. (NB: Two of my favorite things to look at on social media are photos of your cats and your food.) Maybe they–we–should be less profligate with our words.

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I don’t know that I trust anyone any longer who claims with certainty to have the right or moral answer. The novelist Zadie Smith has spoken and written about the need to be able to be wrong, often or even nearly always, and about writing books from a position of fundamental uncertainty. This, I think, is very human as well, being wrong and uncertain–and not wanting to show it. Being wrong is showing our soft underbelly. But if we swathe ourselves in armor before we launch ourselves into the world, well, then, we’re not worth much as writers, aren’t we?

“unanimity of voices”

You do find some lovely things online while passing through the circles of hell that comprise social media, which is why I’ll probably figure out some way to keep an eye on certain corners of Twitter even after I delete my account. There are a few things I’ve read in the last few days I want to recommend to you but I’ll stick to one a day for now in the interest of keeping these posts somewhat bite-sized.

Anne Louise Avery’s Twitter feed is reason alone to gird your loins and pay a visit to that otherwise horrific platform. She posts gentle, fierce, cozy, moving, deceptively simple but in fact quite profound tweet-sized stories about the daily lives of little forest animals (who also live and thrive in cities): Old Fox, Wolf, Pine Martin, Ermine, Mouse, Grand Cub and many many more who read books, prepare lovely meals and look after each other. They take long train journeys; they open shops in Paris and remember childhoods in central Europe. If it sounds unbearably twee, it is anything but. Avery’s writing is suffused with a sense of longing, melancholy and impending loss, with an unflinching moral core at the center of it all, a resolute stance against the wrongs of the world, and her characters suffer from loneliness, from fear, from sickness, from uncertainty, from an emptiness they are not quite sure how to fill. It only now occurs to me, as I write this, that it is perhaps the only type of storytelling I have encountered that I would compare to Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, deceptively simple tales that look like sweet, charming vignettes for children while actually being moving and mature meditations on the breadth of the human condition.

Given how much I love Avery’s small stories on Twitter, I was unsurprised to find that her travel/nature writing is just as breathtaking, as in this piece on walking The Cotswald Way in England at the online magazine Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, where she is also an editor. Here are just a couple of sentences to give you a sense of her gorgeous, evocative prose:

Rhythmically climbing and descending, it tumbles down through dark, still beech woods to the valleys and villages below, all cow bellows and bird song and church bells, then up steep field paths edged with willow-herb, meadowsweet and scarlet poppies, to the intoxicating wind, sun and rain of the pagan high hills, where the track winds through Iron Age forts and adder-haunted heaths. Golden, black-spiked gorse, seed pods popping in the sun, rule the uplands: standing guard in these ancient silent places.

Avery’s account is not all bird song and flora: it is marked by the all-encompassing specter of grief, the strange collision of the violence of war with the indifference of nature (this makes me think of Terence Malick’s transcendent The Thin Red Line, a film that has been on my mind a lot lately for some reason) alongside the mundane, devastating loss of a parent, all bound up in the experience of landscape.

There is a fine, long tradition of brilliant English nature writing or English nature writing twinned with travel writing, a deep understanding of and connection with landscape that I just love, and her writing feels rooted in that yet–like the best writing, of course–finding its own way and voice. They need no introduction from me, but Robert Macfarlane and Tom Cox are in this tradition as well–the latter writes some extraordinary pieces on his linked blog, I feel like there is a common thread here between this type of writing, the work of such English fantasists as Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, who are also deeply connected to landscape, and the tradition of English “folk horror.” They all chronicle a land that is ancient, and beautiful, and terrible, and extraordinary. The UK as a whole but England in particular is going through some hard times right now, but England is so much more than the incompetence and perfidy and greed of the petty and the ignorant and the small-minded. These old, magical stones and roads and ways and rivers and hills have survived* worse, and will again.

*in a manner of speaking; I really must write about Rym Kechaca’s extraordinary Dark River here at some point, a book I read last year prior to its publication earlier this year by the excellent press Unsung Stories and haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

“the city will live and the Wall will fall”*

Even though I’ve lived in Berlin for more than a year and spent around 2 1/2 months here on two separate occasions before that, I’m often still struck, as though it’s my first day, by how amazing this city’s 20th century history is and how amazing it is to be living here amidst it all, a place that I grew up reading about: the wars, the Berlin Wall. Berlin is a story in my head, and it’s also a real place, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know it even a little bit.

(“Do you know Berlin?” I asked a German friend living in the U.K. before I came here the first time. He laughed and said, “Does anyone know Berlin?”)

I think Berlin has integrated the past century of history into the cityscape so thoughtfully and intelligently, preserving it without glorifying it. There’s nothing to mark Hitler’s bunker, although you can go there–I have, it’s a car park. But there’s a street I was walking down one day and I realized there were little plaques set into the sidewalk, and I stopped and looked at them. They were the names and birth dates and death dates of the Jewish people who had lived in the apartments I was walking past. Entire families, extinguished in the death camps. Memorialized not with fanfare, just there. A street, bearing witness along with everyone who walked along it and looked down.

Today I went for a wander in Prenzlauer Berg, the neighborhood next to mine, and wandering brought me to a museum. “Museum in der Kulturbrairei,” the sign outside said, which wasn’t really very descriptive given that I was literally standing in the Kulturbrairei, but it also said admission was free and you know what, I love museums. So I went inside, where a man at the door told me that the museum was free and that I could leave my backpack in one of the lockers. I still didn’t know what the museum was all about, but I went over and struggled with the lockers for about five minutes until a couple came in and watching them I realized OH THERE IS A LITTLE SLOT INSIDE THE DOOR I NEED TO PUT A EURO COIN IN which was a really good thing as I otherwise might still be there, now, trying to get one to lock.

It turned out to be a really good museum! Museum in der Kulturbrairei is a museum about everyday life in the DDR/GDR/East Germany. It’s wonderful because it has loads of interesting items and a lot of video and is quite interactive, but also because it’s just a museum about ordinary people and their lives. I like a grand archeological find like the Staffordshire Hoard as much as the next person (and did I nearly die of excitement at seeing some of it? I DID), but there’s nothing like learning how people lived day to day. There’s something profoundly humanistic about making museum pieces of children’s essays, of the complaint book left for supermarket cashiers, of the longed-for Levis that could be bought in Hungary, if you could afford it and could manage to get a visa.

I wasn’t going to bother taking any photos because the battery on my regular phone needs replacing which means I am using my ancient phone with a broken camera, but I couldn’t resist a few shots–apologies for the dreadful quality.

I was, as ever, particularly interested in some of the displays on youth movements and artists’ resistance, especially efforts to circulate forbidden material. I’m a passionate believer in free expression, including free expression I dislike and disagree with, created by people I dislike and disagree with. I found myself thinking about all the ways that art and expression can be discouraged–it’s not always just about the government knocking down your door–and how often it begins from a well-meaning place, a belief that it is a good and necessary thing, to protect people and a way of life. There were some examples of samizdat literature, which I remember hearing about in the 1980s. I really wanted to be a dissident fighting against a totalitarian government–it sounded exciting and glamorous and meaningful. Vaclav Havel, the playwright-turned-revolutionary-turned-statesman, was kind of a hero of mine in those days, so I was struck by his name on the cover of this one. Too bad it was under glass!

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I saw photos of and read about youth movements, including the “hitchhiker” movement of the 1970s. This was all new to me.

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I loved this little window into the youth movement of the East exploding just as it did in the West.

Of course, as the Cold War raged, over in the West the story was that we were endlessly unfettered and free and They were miserable and oppressed. Neither of these is entirely true, of course, and as East Germans liked to go on holiday with the family as much as anyone, I was also quite taken with this display: the car tent. When you fold it up, it’s the shape of a double mattress on top of the car, a big rectangular box. The tents were easy to pop up. Apparently camping was a very popular pastime in East Germany. How much weight could you put in a car tent, a reporter asked the inventor in the video footage about the tent. A Trabi could take up to 250 kilos, he said, so three people of 70 kilos each, no problem. Unfortunately, the inventor’s company folded after reunification as he couldn’t keep up with demands as well as his competitors.

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(again, sorry for the terrible photo.)

There were some wonderful examples of what I think of as Soviet-style propaganda posters although of course they were East German (and I’m not really a fan of the word “propaganda” because I remember as a kid thinking of propaganda was something their government did and not ours, which is of course nonsense).

There was also this.

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History doesn’t so much repeat itself so much as it does, as someone who was almost certainly not Mark Twain said, rhyme. In other words, the cyclical juggernaut of history is deceptive: because now never looks quite like then, so surely, we are not repeating ourselves; perhaps there are parallels but we are not like them.

We are not just like them, we are them, being human, in our endlessly blundering ways. We keep making the same mistakes and we’re too myopic to realize it. But we also keep being wonderfully, endearingly, human, and a place like the Museum in der Kulturbrairei reminds us. The city of Berlin itself, the fact that it still exists, and thrives, and changes (and does not change, is still that city of artists and intellectuals and decadents and dissidents it was 100 years ago) reminds us, if we’ll just listen.

 

*title is from the memoirs of former Chancellor of West Germany and former Berlin mayor, Willy Brandt

Dublin Ghost Story Festival

This summer, over the weekend of August 19-21, I’ll be at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival in (where else?) Dublin, Ireland, the city of Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan Le Fanu (among others) along with many luminaries: Guest of Honor Adam Nevill, Toastmaster John Connolly, and assorted guests David Mitchell, Angela Slatter, Sarah Pinborough, A.K. Benedict, Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, and John Reppion. Oh, and also me. Tickets are a mere €30 for what should prove to be a brilliant weekend of spooky fun including a performance of an M.R. James play by the legendary Nunkie Theatre Company.

There’s a limit of 150 attendees with no tickets sold at the door, and the festival is filling up fast! So book now to avoid disappointment. Dublin is a great city and who knows…maybe we’ll even manage to conjure up an apparition or two.

a trip to the North

Last weekend, I made a brief trip across the border to Northern Ireland for the 2D Northern Ireland Comic Festival in Derry, stopping off in Belfast along the way for a bit of (what else?) bookstore browsing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the North. How long? Last time I was there, the streets of Belfast and Derry were full of British soldiers; in Belfast, you had to pass through police checkpoints just to travel around the city. I’d become friends with another American girl in Dublin and together we spent a few weeks hitchhiking round the Republic and the North. When we got ready to return to Dublin from Belfast, we decided to splurge and take the train. Except that we ended up not getting the train, we had to take the bus, because the IRA had called in a bomb threat on the track.

We never felt in any danger in the North, and in fact it was still quite a safe place for tourists to visit. We met lovely people and sometimes drank with them in pubs and chatted to them about various things — including politics, actually. Still, it was a relief to get back to the Republic where there weren’t soldiers everywhere.

I didn’t know a great deal about the Troubles at that stage beyond a broad outline of the situation. I know far more about all of it now, and I know and have talked to and am friends and acquaintances with Irish people who are all across the spectrum as regards the politics of it all. Ultimately, my position is that I am not Irish and thus, well, I don’t have a position. Only a general one, which applies more or less across the board to all situations: killing innocent civilians is a pretty bad thing to do whether it’s state-sponsored or not. Colonizing other countries is also bad. Undoing colonization can be easier said than done when the effects of said colonization are entrenched in a culture and economy. When people are made to feel powerless and marginalized from a social and economic standpoint, it’s more likely that they will ally themselves with an organization that makes them feel as though they belong to something. People often have the same reasons for joining their country’s military as others do for engaging in guerrilla warfare and terrorist activities, whether it’s the aforementioned marginalization or notions about honor and justice. Most people think they are doing the right thing, whatever it is they are doing; people also do right things for wrong reasons and wrong things for right reasons. A few people are sociopaths who will take advantage of any breakdown in the social order or any institutionalized opportunity for violence to act out their sociopathy. Ireland has a complicated history and if you are not Irish (and by that I mean Irish-Irish not “Irish American”) and you think you understand it you probably don’t.

All this is by way of saying, it was lovely to return to a de-militarized, as it were, North.

This is an excellent used bookstore I visited in Belfast. I could have easily spent hundreds of pounds in this store if I’d had it. All my favorite sections — general fiction, classics, science fiction, fantasy, and travel — were bursting with books I want to read. It’s a small shop, but whoever does the buying is only selecting the best stuff.

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I don’t have a photo of the shop next door, Atomic Collectibles, where for just a couple of pounds I scored these two paperbacks:

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Now my secret is out: yes, I have a weakness for Dennis Wheatley novels. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure.

And I never pass up a chance to read a new-to-me John Wyndham novel, and that’s one I’d never heard of before.

Onwards to Derry. The soldiers have left the streets in the North, but the Union Jack still flies to mark Unionist areas while paint on road signs obscures the “London” part of “Londonderry.”

Derry was the site for the awful massacre of innocent civilians by British troops in 1972 known as Bloody Sunday. Conditions for the Catholic residents at the time were appalling, and nationalists had established an area known as “Free Derry.”

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Today, murals tell the story of the events in Derry at the time. These are just a few.

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The Museum of Free Derry is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about these events, and I’d highly recommend a visit to anyone stopping off in the town.

It would be naive to simply say all that it is in the past now. The dead are far from forgotten.

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Tensions remain. Signs and graffiti reference “POWs” and demand their release. You’ll need to click on the photo below to enlarge it and read the graffiti that says “RIP DOLOURS PRICE IRA.”

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But Derry, and the North in general, is still a very different place now.

And the 2D Festival is a lovely one, across three excellent venues, friendly and fun — that’s the report from the Forbidden Planet blog. And Maura McHugh’s report is here. Here was no politics, no tragedy, no broken divided city, just kids and grown-ups, comics readers and artists and writers and creators mingling (like the legendary Herb Trimpe! who I did not know was legendary as I chattered away to him and his lovely wife in Sandino’s Bar on Friday night!). As someone who prefers my conventions small and homey and focused on literature, whose idea of hell is attending a massive media extravaganza like the San Diego Comicon, 2D with its mix of independents and big names, Irish and international titles, is the perfect size and atmosphere.

I feel like I should have a moral to wrap all this up at the end here, but the only things I can think of sound simplistic and patronizing. So: Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and people and places don’t always change, but sometimes they do. And it does give one hope.

Fantasycon 2012 and a little good magic

In 2010, I went to the best con I’ve ever attended, the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England. When I found out that the same team that was responsible for that awesome weekend would be running the British Fantasy Convention at the same hotel in 2012, I immediately put it on my wish list.

Well, the best laid plans, etc. etc., and as the date hurtled ever closer it became increasingly clear to me that for various reasons, I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I sucked it up, as you do; you can’t always get what you want, as the song tells us, and there’d be other cons (but I didn’t want other cons, I wanted this con). I’d spend the weekend writing furiously and resolutely not thinking about all the fun I wasn’t having.

But! At the last minute, some good magic happened–it does that sometimes, you know, when you least expect it–and almost literally before I knew what had happened with my reversal of fortune I was on a train hurtling back down to Brighton.

And a fine, fine, fine weekend it was indeed. It was lovely to see people I’d met two years earlier and not seen since; it was wonderful to make new friends (though I really missed those of you I met in 2010 who couldn’t attend this convention). I did a panel on blurring genre boundaries in place of Emma Newman, who couldn’t attend at the last minute, and there was a reading that wasn’t, and a terrific panel on fairy folk (where I learned it’s wisest to never actually utter that word) and an awesome Joe Lansdale interview and ice cream on a chilly beach and a few spins by moonlight on the Brighton Wheel and interesting rocks collected in a solitary walk along the shore and more kebabs than any human should eat over a four-day period and (permit me my single moment of name-dropping) getting to tell Robin Hardy that The Wicker Man is one of my favorite films of all time and then chatting with him about US presidential politics, and new friends and talking and talking and talking to some of the most wonderful and engaging people and not just about books and writing, either, but about film and football and feminism and music and more. Oh! And I got to hold the British Fantasy Award deservedly won (well, I would say that, wouldn’t it?) by Black Static. My solitary regret is the people I meant to speak to over the weekend and somehow missed, or those of you I managed only to speak to rather than having a substantial conversation. Next time I shall make a list and I won’t rest till I’ve tracked you all down like a demented scavenger hunter. (That sounds much more unsettling than intended, coming from a horror writer, doesn’t it? I only want to chat! And probably tell you how much I loved this one amazing story that you wrote!)

It turned out to be exactly what I needed and then some, a glorious writerly weekend in the very best company. And next year I get to do it all again! World Fantasy Convention in Brighton 2013, run by the same folks yet again (mustn’t they be worn out by now?), in a slightly more upscale venue (but I will forever have a deep love for the Royal Albion in all its faded seaside glory). And I have the bones of a Brighton story taking unsettling shape somewhere in the cellars of my brain. So thanks to lovely Brighton for showing me a good time yet again, to the Royal Albion Hotel, to the 2012 Fantasycon committee, to everyone who turned up and made every minute so much fun, and to the good magic that spirited me there.

for sche schulde than make al the world to wondyr on hir*

Two terrific stories of contemporary women adventurers/explorers:

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker succeeded in sailing solo around the world. I’ve been following her story since 2009, when the Dutch government denied her permission to set out on this journey at 14, citing child welfare issues. Given what lots of kids endure just by virtue of turning up at school, I find it difficult to sympathize with their position on this. But all’s well that ends well, and Laura’s been able to complete her journey at last. Her website is here.

Also: Felicity Aston has become the first women to cross the Antarctica solo, in fifty-nine days. I have a real fascination for tales of Antarctic exploration, although personally I loathe being cold. A few years ago I had a brief period of fantasizing about working down at McMurdo Station after reading Jerri Nielson’s Icebound (sadly, she’s since succumbed to the cancer that first surfaced while she was working there) before coming to my senses. Antarctica’s on my long list of places to visit someday, but I don’t expect to be particularly adventurous or ground-breaking in the attempt.

There are still too few women travellers and adventurers as role models, although if we scratch below history’s surface they certainly exist. (Try eleventh-century Japanese lady-in-waiting Lady Sarashina’s As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams for one of the earliest surviving accounts of a woman traveller.) When I was a child, I used to wish I’d been born a boy, because as far as I could see, boys got to do things and girls didn’t. I hope that is less the case for kids today, but I’m not sure it is; Bella Swan came after Buffy, not before, which makes me think that old gender stratification is in many ways as pernicious as ever.

*From The Boke of Margery Kempe, the account of another medieval woman traveller (and mystic). In Modern English: For she should then make all the world to wonder on her.