For several holidays I tried to take with me a book set in the country I was about to visit, thinking that it was a more interesting way of discovering something of the local culture and attitudes than reading a dry guide book.
And so it proved. Reading Maximum City on the flight over to Mumbai not only gave me a glimpse of the traffic chaos I was about to experience, it helped me understand why some of my Indian colleagues are so determined. To survive in a city of more than 18 million, you have to be flexible as well as persistent. Around 75% of the population of the city live in the north but work in the south – and there is really only one north south main road. It’s supposed to have four lanes but the concept of lanes is really only notional in India. Faced with total gridlock, Indian drivers do what their counterparts all over the world do – pound on the horn. But then they find the narrow gap between two ‘lanes’ of vehicles and go for it – no matter if the vehicle to the left or right has to move over or there is a tuk tuk driver who has exactly the same idea. They all ‘adjust’ to make room.
Dr Zhivago was a good introduction to the complexities of Russian names though nothing could have prepared me for the bone-chilling winter conditions.
But my favourite ‘travel-related’ book of recent years was Alice Steinbach’s Adventures of a Curious Woman. Immediately I read the chapters set in Paris, I knew I had to go to the Church in the Left Bank area and stand like Alice bathed in the light from its stained glass windows.
All of which is a long introduction to an interesting marketing promotion that landed in my in box today from the Book Depository. Each day for the next 12 days they will be highlighting a selection of books set in one of 12 countries in the world. Today is the turn of Spain. Maybe seeing what countries they feature in the next few days could help me make up my mind where to go for this year’s holiday – well it beats sticking a pin in the globe!