Nearly midway into "The Cellist of Sarajevo," a story about four fictional lives rerouted by a real war, Emina observes to her friend Dragan that the war has forced her to travel local streets she'd never been on before. Or, as she notes: "It has changed my geography."
Her geography was changed because soldiers sat in the hills around Sarajevo from 1992 until 1996 raining upon the city below shells and sniper fire.
I was reading The Cellist of Sarajevo on a train into Boston, and shortly after the passage about personal geography I looked up and saw a nearby passenger reading a story in the Boston Globe that had the headline: "4 Found Liable in N. Ireland's Omagh bombing." That, too, was a massacre of a particularly personal kind, when a sedan packed with explosives tore apart a peaceful day on main street, killing 29.
This double link between places and pain caused me to recall a moment just before the train ride began, when I was standing in a cafe near my home. A poster on the wall noted efforts to remove land mines from regions around the world. The map showed littered land in Africa, Asia and Central America, among other places. The mines, often, were put there by fighters trying to kill one another, but remained a great threat for civilians trying to carry on with their lives.
That reminded me of a scene in "Turtles Can Fly," in which Satellite, an enterprising teen in a Kurdish refugee camp, tries to help a young boy who'd wandered into a field filled with mines.
The child had been used to bumbling around freely, whether strolling dirt pathways or climbing over stone walls. But there on the slope, surrounded by unseen explosives, he learned so early the personal geography of war.
A friend yesterday pointed out that, when taking a flight, he always worries most about take-off, when engines fire up, wheels lift off and there is a feeling of unleashed energy until that little bell dings at 10,000 feet and life in the sky gets normal.
Flight attendants unbuckle to push beverage carts up and down the aisle. Seats go back. Movies begin. Books open.
It must have been like that on Air France flight 447 out over the Atlantic. There was probably even time for dinner to be served while moving 500 miles an hour 5 miles above one of the planet’s largest bodies of water.
Over the past decade of frequent flying, including dozens of trans-oceanic flights, I have never felt comfortable during those hours of crossing. Most flights I have taken traced the North Atlantic, and I would always relax a bit when the on-board map showed an eastbound flight crossing over Ireland, or a westbound route reaching the air above Newfoundland. Something about terra firma below, even if only false comfort.
Imagine then the frantic final minutes for the 228 souls on board the Air France flight bound from Rio to Paris when on-board routines were interrupted by free fall.
It is normal, of course, in a world in which we fly in comfort from continent to continent to think that everything could have been avoided. One questioner at the French newspaper website Le Monde asked if some routes are safer than others. The answer, from an aviation expert: No.
On a flight several years ago from Buenos Aires to Miami, a ten-hour red-eye that traced northward across South America, I awoke suddenly as the plane bucked through heavy turbulence. Overhead compartments jiggled their insides and sleeping passengers bolted upright, alert that something bad may be near.
The engines sighed as the pilot lowered altitude to smoother air. Somewhere over the Andes, a cloth seat belt around my waist, I wondered: What am I doing here?
In Boston, they have given up hoop and hockey dreams and are looking again toward the fall classic. In Cleveland, they're ringing their hands about LeBron. And in Pittsburgh, it's all Penguins all the time.
Early morning internet chatting today brought greetings from an old friend, Alessandro, a Barca fan in southern Lebanon, who wrote by way of introduction: "Tonight is the night."
In Italy, Andrea offered: "Tonight, I"ll support good football. Just hope it will be a fantastic game!"
And from Barcelona, Edu, five hours before game time: "Let's hope it will end as we expect. ... I hope it's going to be a great Mess-i."
Barcelona 2 - Manchester United 0
The action emerged from jungle darkness into the white heat of day. A group of men stood waist deep in murky water at the southern edge of Venezuela and used wads of mercury to sift gold from silt - a fortune, however small.
Globe photographer Essdras Suarez and I encountered this moment at the Las Cristinas gold mine six years ago. The families had come to the mine to find a way to survive. As I wrote in the story about life there:
"Pickup trucks shuttled men, women, and children west along a rocky road to the gold mine that they all, remembering the day one high mud wall fell too far too fast, call "Los Cuatro Muertos," The Four Dead.
The mine was conceived as a vast operation, digging deep to tap one of the world's largest gold deposits, and controlled, as is so much in South America, by foreign interests. Crystallex International Corp., a Canadian company, in 2002 obtained long-disputed rights to the Las Cristinas mine, as it is officially known, in hopes of harvesting a half-million ounces of gold a year, beginning in 2006.
Anyone riding the rails from Seville to Salzburg to Sofia will quickly get a sense of the diversity of language and culture across what has become the European Union. Yet as Barack Obama's visit to Istanbul illustrated today, the continental coalition could reach further.
During a town hall exchange, a student asked Obama whether Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia, should be admitted as a member of the European Union. Obama replied, in part:
"I think it's the right thing to do. I also think it would send a strong signal that Europe is not monolithic but is diverse and that that is a source of strength instead of weakness."
Scenes of Turkey's diverse heritage and modern moment emerge in the eastern arc of land that runs from Europe into the Middle East. As part of a four-part series, At the Edge of Europe, photographer Essdras Suarez and I met devout Muslims during Friday prayer, a colony of Christians worshipping, and Kurds celebrating their new year. The sense of time and place was epic and intimate nearly everywhere, but particularly just south of the town of Silopi, at the border with Iraq. As I wrote in a story:
"A Turkish policeman, his face defined by wider, flatter features common among more eastern Turkic people, stands outside a small shop and registers truck drivers waiting to cross. His efforts are part of a new system he says will shorten their wait.
'It will be similar to the European borders,' he says.
Beside the road, a shepherd, seemingly lost but surely not, tends his flock. A swallow darts above green grass grown from cold rain.
EU membership for Turkey will not come for years, if at all. Now, though, Iraqi Kurds, friends of the Turkish army during the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, talk of controlling oil in Kirkuk, and of having a state of their own. So Turkish army helicopters rise from a nearby base and buzz low. It is the ultimate point of power: For how long can force from above prevent change from below?
A stiff breeze blows, and the shepherd and his sheep move on. The swallow rises and falls, its angled wings beating against unseen currents."
Reflections on movement through time and place from "How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone" , a novel by Sasa Stanisic. Stanisic was born in 1978 in Visegrad, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and fled with his parents to Germany when war arrived in 1992. In this novel that tries to build a peace from pieces of the real past and fictional future, Stanisic's protagonist, Aleksandar, describes a writing assignment he received from Comrade-turned-democrat-teacher Mr. Fazlagic:
A wonderful trip, and it has to be an experience -- not just an event! Mr. Fazlagic looks at us. Vukoje, I shall stop reading after the twentieth spelling mistake. Faruk, anything illegible will lose you marks. And Aleksandar, I don't want to know anything about your great-grandma uprooting oaks, or inauguration parties for the family bathroom, or your Auntie Whirlwind running a race with Carl Lewis over the bridge and ending up in Tokyo. You've wandered off the subject in every essay you've written this year, so kindly restrain your imagination! Mr. Fazlagic comes up to my desk and bends down toward me. And we use quotation marks for direct speech, he says, leaning his fists on the desk top, you know that, I don't have to explain it to you every time. Now, you all have an hour!
The wind blows strong out on the plains of North Dakota, gusting and turning in different directions. To capture some sense of that, we published a multimedia project -- "Follow the winter winds" -- at boston.com. It incorporates videos, photos, text and audio to tell stories of wind energy development, Native American understanding of the natural element, and more. You can find the newspaper story here.
There were broader detours from our wind journey, of course. So here is an encounter with Nels Nelson, of Devils Lake, North Dakota, offering a plain-spoken view of what will get America working as he took a break from snow kiting the frozen lake.
As this interactive graphic shows, Bostonians have plenty of local customs for dealing with snow. Yesterday, during a snow/sleet mix that was less than advertised, the pedestrian route crossing over Morrissey Boulevard was being cleared by a team of shovel-wielding patrons of the trial court work-release program. At the JFK/UMass T stop, a bobcat with a snowplow cleared a round-about.
Things get a bit more serious out on the prairie in North Dakota the day after a blizzard.FULL ENTRY
In the spring of 2003, after a week's reporting about the Islamic legacy in southern Spain, I spent a day in the town of Tarifa, set hard against the Strait of Gibraltar. While walking a street by the harbor, I came across a Red Cross office, and using my bad Spanish and the director's bad English, learned stories of the African immigrants who brave the seven-mile passage hoping for a new home in Europe.
In a blog post back then, I detailed a bit this epic setting between two continents and some of its modern traffic:
"The hills above Tarifa, the southernmost town in continental Europe, tumble toward the Strait of Gibraltar in swaths of soft green.
It was here, in the year 711, that the first Muslims crossed the nine miles of fabled sea and stepped ashore a peninsula inhabited by Visigoths, Christians, Jews and faithless others.
Today, when the sunlight is strong, the sky blue, villages, even houses, emerge from the hazy Moroccan ridges.
In our times, desperate Moroccans, mostly men from isolated regions in the Atlas Mountains, pay mafia traffickers, then wait for their own chance to ply these historic waters in small, unsteady boats. The motivation is not political, or religious, but economic. In Spain, beyond the wind turbines set on Tarifa's hilltops, orange groves and olive fields hold a chance for work.
The hopeful huddle and wait for the winds to calm and the waters to flatten, the only time a small boat has a chance of making the crossing. Still, when the boats push off from Africa, the short journey often ends badly, with passengers numbed from hypothermia, or, as happened 20 times last year, drowned."
I still have tacked to my desk in the newsroom a graphic from 2003 that appeared in the French news journal "Courrier International". A map entitled, "More and more foreigners in the world" shows the seven continents, with different sized arrows indicating the flow of people from one region to another. The biggest arrows: from South America to North America; from India and Southeast Asia to the Middle East; and from Africa to Europe.
The African immigrants more often come from south of the Sahara, and they make desperate attempts to reach many other points - including Spain's Canary Islands and the island nation of Malta - in addition to Tarifa.
For intimate images of some of these people and their lives in transit, see a recent posting at boston.com's The Big Picture.
A would-be immigrant after arriving at Spain's Gran Canaria off the coast of West Africa.(Reuters/Borja Suarez)
An incredibly vivid photo essay of the Khone Falls fishermen by photographer Suthep Kristsanavarin was posted today at globalpost.com. The falls are the world's widest series of cataracts and the geographic feature that has effectively split the Mekong River in two.
It is in many ways a remote region, and one that certainly changes little during four years, the amount of time since Globe photographer Essdras Suarez and I journeyed from Cambodia into Laos as part of our Crossing Divides project.
(Globe Staff: Essdras M Suarez)
In that story, I wrote:
"The falls foiled French colonial attempts to run steamships north toward China and helped isolate from the region, and the wider world, many who live near the river. French mapmakers traced a colonial border south of the falls, determining in part who would live in Cambodia, and suffer the cruelties of the Khmer Rouge regime, and who in Laos, struggling in what remains a communist state.
... The French dubbed the last of their failed efforts to navigate the Mekong and the falls' dangerous blockade 'The End of Illusions.'"
We followed the fishermen for their daily work. I wrote:
"Shortly after daybreak in the heart of another of the Khone's cataracts, three fishermen, taut and lean, climbed on top of a nearly-submerged bamboo cage and began a perilous water ballet.
One man, Kamsee Vongsadee, leapt into the current and grabbed a line tied to a second cage. He crossed hand-over-hand, his arms bracing, his body beaten nearly horizontal.FULL ENTRY
As New England thaws out after a major overnight ice storm, photographer Essdras Suarez and I are finalizing plans for a trip Monday to North Dakota.
We plan to report on wind in its many forms in the windiest state in the lower 48. While talking with a contact in Fargo earlier in the week, he said: "My wife said last night, 'oh, I'm just ready for a blizzard.' She's looking forward to the first of the season, when the place sort of shuts down, and we're required to just be."
Looks like she'll get her wish this weekend. Here's the map from the National Weather Service in Bismarck:
And an excerpt from their alert: "Strong winds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, will likely accompany the snow. Winds of this magnitude can produce significant blowing and drifting snow, which could produce blizzard conditions across the area. ... Bitterly cold temperatures are also expected to spill in across the region Saturday night. Temperatures are forecast to drop below zero on Sunday morning, and will likely remain below zero across most of the region through Tuesday. These temperatures, combined with the strong winds, will likely produce dangerous wind chills of 25 to 45 degrees below zero during this time."
Things are getting serious at sea for Rich Wilson, who is racing solo in this year's Vendee Globe. I wrote about his challenge here in an earlier post. Today, Globe colleague Martin Finucane has the latest here. Says Wilson, who's rounded Cape Horn and is heading into the thick of a storm: “This is the scary part of it all because you’re so far away from anything."
I blogged about this more than a year ago, but always worth a return to Paris, especially when it includes riding shotgun with Claude Lelouch.
If you're in a hurry, pick it up from one minute in.
For a look in black and white at the days of Indian partition, and the efforts of Mohandas K. Gandhi and others who brought independence to India and Pakistan, the Times of London has gathered archival coverage of events more than 50 years ago. You can find links here and here.
You can find a collection of four photos of the Salt March that Gandhi led in 1930 here. (Realize, of course, that the Times coverage in 1930 came from the point of view of an empire losing its possession. One headline about Gandhi's march: "Extremist in illegal salt march collection.")
The attacks last month in Mumbai brought back to mind a trip I'd made three years ago to join Gandhi's great grandson and hundreds of others in a re-enactment of the march. You can find a story about that here.
And here you can find an essay I wrote about the Mumbai attacks and Gandhi's message, which was published yesterday in the Boston Globe.
In "State by State," a collection of fifty essays by fifty writers released this fall, it is clear there are many ways to begin a journey.
In Tennesee, for example, the novelist Ann Patchett opens with this: "I have on several occasions been told that the secret to making money, big money, is to find that place at the edge of a town where the real estate stops being priced by the square foot and begins to be priced by the acre."
Or in New Mexico, Ellery Washington: "Shortly after my tenth birthday I was nearly struck by lightning."
As a reader, though you may not be sure exactly where, it is clear you are going somewhere interesting.
In that spirit, travel writer Rory McLean recently put together a list of writers' favorite travel books for the Guardian newspaper.
One that I hope to explore: "The Bridge," by Geert Mak, about Istanbul's Galata Bridge. Like a good first sentence, the seemingly simple title starts one place, but hints, too, that you will end up somewhere different.
The Iraqi-born, London-based architect Zaha Hadid has been busy working at the crossroads between eastern and western architecture, including with a massive urban park project in Istanbul. That city straddling Europe and Asia is pulsing with its own contemporary creations.
Now word comes from The Architects' Journal that Hadid, as well as British architect Norman Foster, is in the running for a particularly well-traveled renovation: the Great Mosque of al-Haram and its surroundings, in Mecca.
Plans, apparently, call for expanding the centuries old pilgrimmage site from a capacity of 900,000 to 3,000,000.
To hear rhythms with a different accent, tune in here. Click on the "ECOUTER RFI" tab on upper left, then "RFI MUSIQUE."
On a recent day, first came "Caterpillar," a jazzy, sultry song from Alain Souchon. Then Rafael & Toots, with a sort of '80s rock ballad backed by a Carla Bruni-esque voice, on "Adieu Haiti". More: Toumani Diabate, drums, whistles, flutes and such in "Africa Challenge." "Day by Day," by Femi Kuti. You get the idea. So go explore.
Or for something altogether different.
Learn about the vast continent of Africa through an intimate introduction to one village: Kitane, in northeast Uganda.
The Guardian newspaper's website is producing a fascinating document of three years of life in the village. You can learn about the bigger development project here.
For a spirited musical encounter with the place, check out this video.
Speaking about contemporary art last May on an otherwise stable day, President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson said: "Perhaps nobody can explain how we have created a modern 21st-century society. But there is an important message for the world: If we can do it, everywhere else can too."
Since, the economy of Iceland - home to 300,000 people -- has collapsed, threatening to take much with it.
Those looking at Iceland now are mostly doing so to find cautionary signs in this crisis felt round the world. In other words, Iceland, which in recent years had been the cutting edge innovator of Nordic culture built upon a hothouse economy, has become a kind of geographic poster child for the global credit crunch.
One artist I'd met in Iceland sent a broadcast email to friends:
"The scenario of defaulting banks in iceland is crucially different from for example the USA, because all the banks that went bust in here are also savings banks, not only investment banks," she wrote from Reykjavik, "and people that believed they were depositing money with no risk, have also been victims."
There were signs of this in May. The morning my flight arrived and I paid nearly $100 for a ride from the airport to the city center, then something like $8 for a coffee -- prices even then were prohibitively high -- I woke to the sound of truck horns in the alley outside my hotel window. The trucks were protesting high gas prices.
Piercing blows bouncing around little lanes then up into the fog: a pretty sure sign something was ready to blow.
So now, geographic travel as means of explanation for the credit collapse:
Banks failed, and last week the IMF set up a $4.6 billion-dollar bailout.
As is their wont, tourists are finding bargains.
The International Monetary Fund is not an island. Who will bail out it?
... the west coast of Africa. For skipper Rich Wilson of Marblehead and the other solo sailors in the recently begun Vendee Globe, only the world to go.
Here's a video of what life on the sea alone can be like...
The race began Nov. 9, and students or anyone with an interest can get a great education of life at sea by following Rich live online at Sites Alive.
I had a chance to speak with Rich as he prepared last spring. Part of that conversation appears in a q & a this Sunday in the Boston Globe Magazine.
And Rich phoned in to the Globe's Martin Finucane from on board the Great American III this afternoon. You can hear audio of that conversation here.
It has been a rough few days for Rich and all the sailors, as this excerpt of a diary entry he posted yesterday at Sites Alive details:
"This afternoon I finally lowered the reacher and hoisted the big genaker. I targeted a full-on effort to do the swap in 30 minutes. Made it to the minute. Part of my fatigue through midday was also that in jibbing this morning several times, the last one had a sheet go over the sideFULL ENTRY
Well, no, but it's not like the people in the wider world don't have a stake in the upcoming US presidential election. A story in this Sunday's Boston Globe takes a look at the world view traveling students find. For something barely more scientific, check out this from Foreign Policy. And this, from The Economist, where even the land is covered by a sea of blue.
In voting at The Economist.com, Georgia, a solidly McCain country only a few days ago, is now only leaning McCain. Yet the Republican does hold a lead in seven countries, including Iraq and Cuba. Hmmm...maybe American votes are swinging this election, too.
Changing seasons in China...
And closer to home...
For an awesome look at this year's personal and universal passage,
check out today's Big Picture.
I once flipped over the handlebars of a mountain bike while descending a wooded trail in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia. It is an idyllic place - valleys with steepled villages and fields full of cows. After a visit to the ER that afternoon, I softened the train ride from Klagenfurt, the region's capital, back to Vienna with bottles of Austrian beer.
A month before the bike accident, I'd sat in a swank Viennese hotel and interviewed Jorg Haider for a story for The Boston Globe about Haider's political rise. Haider was then governor of Carinthia, but he was far more famous, and notorious, for his provocative role as a far-right politician playing on Austria's past. When the Freedom Party, which Haider was leading at the time, won a spot in Austria's government the next year, European Union leaders staged a diplomatic boycott against Austria, then a young member of the union.
Then, and until his death in a car crash over the weekend, Haider drew his power from maneuvering between two extremes - the rooted identity of Austria's past as a Nazi ally and the uncertain future of urban Vienna and its European dreams.
The map above shows the countries in which people tend to travel by plane.
And this, the countries in which they tend to ride mopeds and motorbikes.
Plenty of other interesting angles to look out. Wondering, for example, who has the nukes?
Sarah Palin explained again last night how close Russia is to Alaska.
If you're still curious about just what goes on up there, and how different two pieces of land separated by the 50-mile-wide Bering Straight can be, read here for a story that traversed the strait as part of a series documenting geographic and cultural divides.
Two islands near the middle of the strait - Big Diomede (Russia) and Little Diomede (US) - are only a few miles apart.
Still, most of the time there's just no getting from one country to the other.