Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah by Tim
published by John Murray, ISBN 0-7195-5849-2, hardback, priced at £19.
Travels with a Tangerine is an exceptional book. Inspired by the half-title
I have filled the blank pages at the back of the book with a cornucopia of
notes; on subjects as varied and fascinating as how to prepare your own
soothsayer from sesame oil, how to make medieval anaesthetic (from a gag of
opium, hashish and belladona), what to do with the penis of a palm tree, on
Al-Khadir the immortal Muslim greenman and how Islam and Christendom are
split on the matter of shaving, one faith preffering a clean face, the other
a clean crotch.
At first glance it appears to follow the standard travel writers literary
device of following in the footsteps of an ancient traveller - in this case
Ibn Battutah, the Tangier-born traveller who on mileage alone knocks Marco
Polo into the shade. Despite the fact that the current collected English
edition of Ibn Battutah's travels fills five volumes (as published by the
Hakluyt Society) we are actually quite short on biographical facts about the
great Tangerine. This is no great loss to the reader whose affection has in
any case slipped quite quickly from the shoulders of Ibn Battutah to that of
Tim Mackintosh-Smith. Indeed we are kept quite on tenterhooks as we follow
our hero, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, on his erudite tour through the Arabic and
Turkish speaking lands of Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Oman, Turkey and Crimea.
Will he? Wont he? For Travels with a Tangerine is nothing less than a love
story - not with mere man, woman or beast, let alone the ancient ghost of a
traveller - but with the spirit of Islam. Is it possible for someone like
Tim, so immersed in the poetry, culture, literature and linguistic snobbery
of Arabia, to remain at the final test, a Christian outsider? Fortunately
the journey in the footnotes of Ibn Battutah does not end with the book, and
we can look forward to being tantalised by a man on the threshold of two
cultures in further volumes.
The publishers should be congratulated on including the elegant pen sketches
of Martin Yeoman in the text, though not on their choice of binding. My
unsewn hardback copy (which I did admittedly read under the Moroccan sun) is
already breaking up.
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by Barnaby Rogerson