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In the Glow of the Phantom Palace: Travels from Granada to Timbuktu by Michael Jacobs
Published by Pallas Athene, paperback £8.95, ISBN 1-873429-36-3

Micheal Jacobs is not concerned with desert fastnesses. If you pick up this book hoping to march in the sand filled footsteps of Antonie Saint-Exupery, Isabelle Eberhardt, Charles de Foucauld or Reneť Cailliť you are in for a surprise. Micheal Jacobs is an explorer of books and bars, ruins and restaurants, a scholar who can clearly lunch the best of us under the table. I found him to be the very best sort of travelling companion: whether he was day dreaming of returning to the bed of his ex-girlfriend, hunting down the genuine relics of the Moors of Andalucia amongst the schmaltz of the last century or joining some bacchic orgy in the dark steamy waters of an ancient bath. Apart from a passing concern for his borrowed car and the sanity of his travelling companions this is a determinedly unheroic travelogue. The route is punctuated not by desert bivouacs but by Belmonte's, a morning pick-me-up created from coffee, brandy and condensed milk.

Beneath the entertaining hedonism and sexual burlesque this is however the work of an exceptionally well informed mind. In the company of Jacobs, a self confessed Jewish-Catholic agnostic with an interest in the mystical suggestions of the Sufi poet-philosopher Ibn Arabi, many doors are opened. You learn of a Spanish Kama Sutra, of the romantic glow still cast over Granada by a long-forgotten Polish gothic novel, of a bearded Sufi sheikh who was once producer to the Beatles, you pass through the fevered dream world of orientalists like De Amicis, to arrive at the central core of a Hispanic tragedy.

The Spanish 'final solution' which in the 17th century expelled all those of Moorish blood from the land. These dreary columns, 300,000 souls all told, left to the sound of incessant church bells celebrating the exodus. They were permitted to take only what they could carry but at the ports a final bureaucratic cruelty was prepared for them which seperated children under seven from their families. These exiles are the true heroes of Michael Jacobs book and he follows their traces and achievements down through the cities of Morocco. Timbuktu is the culmination of this historical pilgrimmage, a city that was only added to the Moroccan Empire due to the generalship of a Spanish-borne Moor. Fellow armchair travellers should however be beware of the possible consequences. I have just received my air tickets for Timbuktu.

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