Follow by Email

Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Travel Writing, Culture, and Geography

Charlotte Mason on the teaching of geography, from volume 6 of her 6 volume series on education (used with permission). She quotes Traherne:

"When I heard of any new kingdom beyond the seas the light and glory of it entered into me. It rose up within me and I was enlarged by the whole. I entered into it, I saw its commodities, springs, meadows, inhabitants and became possessor of that new room as if it had been prepared for me so much was I magnified and delighted in it. When the Bible was read my spirit was present in other ages. I saw the light and splendour of them, the land of Canaan, the Israelites entering into it, the ancient glory of the Amorites, their peace and riches, their cities, houses, vines and fig trees . . . I saw and felt all in such a lively manner as if there had been no other way to those places but in spirit only. Without changing place in myself I could behold and enjoy all those. Anything when it was proposed though it was a thousand years ago being always present before me."

I venture again to quote Traherne because I know of no writer who retains so clear a memory of his infancy; but Goethe gives as full and convincing an account of his experience of the Bible [See Some Studies in the Formation of Character, by the Writer, i.e. Charlotte Mason]; I say 'experience' advisedly, for the word denotes the process by which children get to know. They experienceall the things they hear and read of; these enter into them and are their life; and thus it is that ideas feed the mind in the most literal sense of the word 'feed.'

Do our Geography lessons take the children there?(emphases mine- Wendi).  Do, they experience, live in, our story of the call of Abraham?––or of the healing of the blind man on the way to Jericho?...
How many teachers know that children require no pictures excepting the pictures of great artists, which have quite another function than that of illustration? They see for themselves in their own minds a far more glorious, and indeed more accurate, presentation than we can afford in our miserable daubs. They read between the lines and put in all the author has left out....
This is how any child's mind works, and our concern is not to starve these fertile intelligences. They must have food in great abundance and variety....

Do we wish every child in a class to say,––or, if he does not say, to feel,––"I was enlarged wonderfully" by a Geography lesson? Let him see the place with the eyes of those who have seen or conceived it; your barographs, thermographs, contour lines, relief models, sections, profiles and the like, will not do it. A map of the world must be a panorama to a child of pictures so entrancing that he would rather ponder them than go out to play; and nothing is more easy than to give him this joie de vivre.

Let him see the world as we ourselves choose to see it when we travel; its cities and peoples, its mountains and rivers, and he will go away from his lesson with the piece of the world he has read about, be it county or country, sea or shore, as that of "a new room prepared for him, so much will he be magnified and delighted in it." (emphasis added, Wendi)

All the world is in truth the child's possession, prepared for him, and if we keep him out of his rights by our technical, commercial, even historical, geography, any sort of geography, in fact, made to illustrate our theories, we are guilty of fraudulent practices. What he wants is the world and every bit, piece by piece, each bit a key to the rest. He reads of the [tidal] Bore of the Severn [River] and is on speaking terms with a 'Bore' wherever it occurs. He need not see a mountain to know a mountain. He sees all that is described to him with a vividness of which we know nothing just as if there had been "no other way to those places but in spirit only." Who can take the measure of a child? The Genie of the Arabian tale is nothing to him. He, too, may be let out of his bottle and fill the world. But woe to us if we keep him corked up.

So we want to be reading great travel writing, the kind which gives readers the heart of the places depicted, a feel for the sweep of the land, the sparkle of the waters, the flora and fauna, the smells and sights. In addition, though I am not sure Charlotte ever mentions this, I cannot urge strongly enough the importance of including some cultural studies, some reading on different cultures and why they do the things they do.

 I can tell you about the adjustment we had to make in ordering food at restaurants in the Philippines, when the food was never brought to the table at once, but one person's order might arrive half an hour before the fourth person's food would come (and once, it was two hours, which was an outlier), and the 'appetizers' almost always came no sooner than the first order. I could describe the food, the delay between orders, the delicious flavors, smells, and exotic fruits and fresh seafoods- but this doesn't tell the full story. To a westerner unfamiliar with certain aspects of Philippine culture, this information alone, however well written, would communicate a strange sort of inefficiency for a business. But that's not what was happening.

 In the Philippines, eating together is a communal activity, and sharing food is a given. So although the four members of my family were ordering individual dishes, our servers never imagined for a moment that we selfishly intended to eat the dish each of us had ordered all by ourselves. So they would bring perhaps my son's order, and put it in the center of the table and give us each a plate and/or bowl, and utensils, and it was assumed we would courteously share the dish amongst ourselves. And then later they would bring perhaps my order, and set it in the center, again expecting that we were eating as a family should, sharing our food together, perhaps over-eating, as Americans do (many times we were told a dish ordered would serve three people and it was a single serving for my 6'4" basketball playing, scuba diving, athletic son), but sharing, because community is vastly more important than individualism, and food is shared. Of course, there were restaurants which catered more to western tourists and so did things in a way more familiar to us- but they were also typically more expensive and the food was less interesting to us as well. Once we realized we should not expect to place four orders and receive them at the same time, nor should we expect to eat our orders entirely by ourselves but to share them with the rest of the family, eating out became a much more enjoyable experience.  My husband and I also came to prefer this more family style form of sharing a meal, although I suspect my ever hungry son would have liked to eat all of his own order by himself, and possibly some of ours as well.

I could write about the time when we were living in Japan and I tried to make an appointment to get our utilities turned on.  We were the only American family then living on our street, and not many lived in our community.  I wanted my power turned on by a certain date, and the lovely and very polite and totally noncommittal city employee kept telling me, "Hmmm. I am not sure. I think that will be difficult."  And I kept trying to get her to explain what was difficult about it and see how we could clear the difficulty away. And her smile would falter and she would reiterate that it was difficult but not tell me why or how to fix it, although she would suggest that perhaps I would like my power turned on an entirely different date (that didn't work for me).  If I tell that story, no matter how clear, accurate, and perfect my depiction, even to the point of placing you on the scene, it will not convey what was happening accurately to most westerners.  What was really happening is that within her culture, that poor, beleagured young lady was telling me as politely as she knew how "No, that is impossible, you need to accept a different date."  Any Japanese would have understood her instantly. She couldn't have been more clear on the subject- within her culture.  And I, blundering badly, culturally oblivious, was rudely ignoring her polite 'no, that is impossible,' and insisting that it must be possible. 

So I am going to suggest a few free and a few not quite so free travel reads which give a good feel for the scenery, the place and the experience (mostly from a western point of view).  And then I'm going to share a couple of my favourite resources on one of my favourite topics in the world- cultural differences.

Free and slightly more than free travel writing:

Alaska The Great Country by Ella Higginson
I just read a few pages, but it looks like an enchanting read, and a very interesting travel narrative. Such books are often lovely for geography studies, as they give the reader that piece by piece glimpse at a bit of the world, that is like a 'new room prepared for him,' which will magnify and delight his soul.
You can also read some here, as well as here (and there is an audio version at the second link).  Note that it is an older book, so not everything the author has to say about the native peoples is graced with the sort of speech that makes for comfortable reading today, but this is not always the case, and it is quite interesting reading.  Here's an excerpt:
A great Russian moved under inspiration when he sent Vitus Behring out to discover and explore the continent lying to the eastward; two great Americans—Seward and Sumner—were inspired when, nearly a century and a half later, they saved for us, in the face of the bitterest opposition, scorn, and ridicule, the country that Behring discovered and which is now coming to be recognized as the most glorious possession of any people; but, first of all, were the gentle, dark-eyed Aleuts inspired when they bestowed upon this same country—with the simplicity and dignified repression for which their character is noted—the beautiful and poetic name which means "the great country."

"Seaforth Channel is the dangerous reach leading into
[Pg 24] Millbank Sound. It is broken by rocks and reefs, on one of which, Rejetta Reef, the Willapa was stranded ten years ago. Running off Seaforth and Millbank are some of the finest fiords of the inland passage—Spiller, Johnston, Dean, Ellerslie, and Portlock channels, Cousins and Cascades inlets, and many others. Dean and Cascades channels are noted for many waterfalls of wonderful beauty. The former is ten miles long and half a mile wide. Cascades Inlet extends for the same distance in a northeasterly direction, opening into Dean. Innumerable cataracts fall sheer and foaming down their great precipices; the narrow canyons are filled with their musical, liquid thunder, and the prevailing color seems to be palest green, reflected from the color of the water underneath the beaded foam. Vancouver visited these canals and named them in 1793, and although, seemingly, but seldom moved by beauty, was deeply impressed by it here. He considered the cascades "extremely grand, and by much the largest and most tremendous we had ever beheld, their impetuosity sending currents of air across the canal."
These fiords are walled to a great height, and are of magnificent beauty. Some are so narrow and so deep that the sunlight penetrates only for a few hours each day, and eternal mist and twilight fill the spaces. In others, not disturbed by cascades, the waters are as clear and smooth as glass, and the stillness is so profound that one can hear a cone fall upon the water at a distance of many yards. Covered with constant moisture, the vegetation is of almost tropic luxuriance. In the shade, the huge leaves of the devil's-club seem to float, suspended, upon the air, drooping slightly at the edges when touched by the sun. Raspberries and salmon-berries grow to enormous size, but are so fragile and evanescent that they are gone at a breath, and the most delicate care must be[Pg 25]
exercised in securing them. They tremble for an instant between the tongue and the palate, and are gone, leaving a sensation as of dewdrops flavored with wine; a memory as haunting and elusive as an exquisite desire known once and never known again."

Here's an Amazon review:
Samuel Hall Young here is writing about his adventures with John Muir and Hall's Dog Stickeen,
not that Stickeen belonged to anyone according to the book. So if you've read Muir's
book "Stickeen", this is where it started.
The stories about Muir are beautiful for lack of a better word. Samuel Hall Young was a missionary
and John Muir was doing what he always did. They were going to the same places so they went together
and continued writing to each other until Muir's death. Samuel Hall Young lost all those letters when
the "steamer went to the bottom of the Yukon".
It's too bad those letters didn't survive.
Anyway, if you know who John Muir is, and you appreciate what all he did (Sierra Club etc..) this is a
great book that is a first hand account of what he was like.The part where Muir rescues Hall Young after a fall while climbing is worth a book in itself.
Truly awesome book,, this is what Kindle is all about..
Eothen, or, Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East
by Alexander Kingslake. I read this and loved it. Do you know that scene in Sense and Sensibility (the movie with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson), where the youngest girl asks the Colonel what it was like in the East Indies, and he says, "The air is full of spices"? That's what I thought of when I read this book. Maybe you will feel differently, but it had that sense of the exotic, a whiff of foreign odors.

From Amazon:
In her fourth travelogue, Susie and her husband take to their bikes to explore the Marne valley, following in the carriage tracks of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI in their abortive escape attempt from the French revolution.
Susie is not a born cyclist, as she discovers within the first five minutes of a journey that will last three weeks. Neither does she look her best in Lycra cycling gear. While her husband whirls along effortlessly, she frequently grinds to a halt and has to be rescued. But the pair keep pedalling. From the glitz of Versailles to the hilly Champagne vineyards, via a hair-raising ride through Paris.Through quaint provincial towns and sombre World War II battlefields.
Like the bestselling "Best Foot Forward – a 500-mile Walk Through Hidden France", and "Travels with Tinkerbelle – 6,000 miles Around France in a Mechanical Wreck", "The Valley of Heaven and Hell – Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette" is an enjoyable mixture of travel and history, told in Susie's characteristically light-hearted and self-depreciating style. One for armchair travellers to enjoy, or a good holiday read - fans of France, fans of travel writing, fans of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle will love this book.

Days of Déjà vu (this is not free, unless you have Kindle Unlimited. It's 4.99)
Amazon review:
Born land-locked six hundred miles from the nearest ocean, this is an autobiography of an ordinary man with an extraordinary dream of building a sea going yacht and sailing the world.
Opening on the threshold of wild transition in South Africa in the 1970s, the author and his American wife struggle to build a sailing vessel on the outskirts of Johannesburg, whose skyline soon erupts in black clouds of fire and revolution.
Through all the struggles of personal relationships, exodus, poverty, sorrow, and loss, the dream of the sail remains constant. As that dream becomes reality, the story tells of an inexperienced crew battling rough seas, mind numbing calms, near death experiences, solo sailing for thousands of miles, land adventures with distant south sea tribes, and through it all, a constant wonder and appreciation of the amazing world we live in.
There are lessons to be learned from the author's homespun philosophy, honesty, and mistakes, as well as a wealth of sailing facts and accounts of the fascinating places the author and crew visit, all woven together in an amazingly vivid account of this decade long adventure through the oceans of the world.

It’s 1851 and the Crystal Palace Exhibition is on in England. English American the Reverend, Dr. Choules, leaves Newport, Rhode Island with three teenaged students - James Robinson, George Vanderbuilt, and Weld French, who are forced to leave the fourth member of their blue-blooded quartet at home - and all four travelers promise to write to “Dear Charley”, Charles Duston, of later fame. The boys meet the Duke of Wellington, travel down the Rhine, and meet many friends along the way. While the letters are filled with some prejudice against the Catholic religion, they are a product of their time - a sometimes ignorant, but often dazzling, period of our history. (Summary by Sibella Denton) Above description taken from here, where you can get an audio version.
Utterly Random Excerpt from Gutenberg:
On the 8th at five in the morning, the wind coming still more to the northward, we could no longer keep on the same tack, on account of the ice, but were obliged to stand to the westward. At this time our soundings had decreased to nineteen fathoms, from which, on comparing it with our observations on the depth of water last year, we concluded that we were not at a greater distance from the American shore than six or seven leagues; but our view was confined within a much shorter compass, by a violent fall of snow. At noon, the latitude, by account, was 69° 21', longitude 192° 42'. At two in the afternoon the weather cleared up, and we found ourselves close to an expanse of what appeared from the deck solid ice; but, from the mast-head, it was discovered to be composed of huge compact bodies, close and united toward the outer edge, but in the interior parts several pieces were seen floating in vacant spaces of the water. It extended from N.E. by the N. to W.S.W. We bore away by the edge of it to the southward, that we might get into clearer water; for the strong northerly winds had drifted down such quantities of loose pieces, that we had been for some time surrounded by them, and could not avoid striking against several, notwithstanding we reefed the topsails, and stood under an easy sail.
On the 9th we had a fresh gale from the N.N.W., with heavy showers of snow and sleet. The thermometer was in the night time 28°, and at noon 30°. We continued to steer W.S.W., as before, keeping as near the large body of ice as we could, and had the misfortune to rub off some of the sheathing from the bows against the drift pieces, and to damage the cutwater. Indeed, the shocks we could not avoid receiving, were frequently so severe, as to be attended with considerable danger. At noon, the latitude, by account, was 69° 12',. and longitude 188° 5'. The variation in the afternoon was found to be 29° 30' E.
As we had now sailed near forty leagues to the westward, along the edge of the ice, without seeing any opening, or a clear sea to the northward beyond it, and had therefore no prospect of advancing farther N. for the present, Captain Clerke resolved to bear away to the S. by E. (the only quarter that was clear), and to wait till the season was more advanced, before he made any farther efforts to penetrate through the ice. The intermediate time he proposed to spend in examining the bay of Saint Laurence, and the coast to the southward of it; as a harbour so near, in case of future damage from the ice, would be very desirable. We also wished to pay another visit to our Tschutski friends; and particularly since the accounts we had heard of them from the commander of Kamtschatka.

Amazon reviewer writes:
...To some people who may not be interested in the history of Oxford, it may seem to be somewhat slightly dry reading but I am finding it to be enjoyable and interesting. The writer does describe quite well (with a sort of the old "It's my college" love) the history of Oxford, which the earliest known teaching was in 1096 AD He describes in much detail the "scenery" of each land, town, castle within the Illustrations/chapters which each describes in detail the additions and subtractions of buildings, gardens, or castles and their changes (due to wars against Kings, again well illustrated with words, or buildings or castles falling down due to age) throughout the centuries up until our present day; describing nearly 1000 years of changes all the way until our time today. This book describes the sort of "love" one feels for Oxford while and after attending the College; or visiting and viewing in awe, the College whilst having a full knowledge of nearly a millenium of it's history.

Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes, 4.99- a more modern example of travel writing, pretty much loved by everybody who has read it.  As I recall there were one or two spots that might call for a bit of judicious editing if reading aloud to a youngster, or not, depending on your family.  One of them I seem to remember had something to do with a discussion of nomenclature for a type of bread that compares it to human breasts, but I am fuzzy on the details.

On Culture: Expand Your Borders: Discover Ten Cultural Clusters (CQ Insight Series Book 1) Kindle Edition by David A. Livermore 9.99 for Kindle I like most things by Livermore, although my favourite, by far, is his Great Courses lecture, which I got from Audible and think it was entirely worth it and wish I could make everybody listen to it. Here's an Amazon blurb on the above book: "Rather than rehashing the overused stereotypes of Indians versus Brits or Koreans vs. Brazilians, this book provides you with a macro comparison of the most significant cultural similarities and differences you’ll encounter as you travel across today’s multicultural environment—at home and abroad. Expand Your Borders takes you on a whirlwind tour across ten cultural clusters around the world. You’ll see why dressing with too much bling could get you in trouble in Nordic Europe. You’ll learn the story behind chopsticks in Confucian Asia, and hear why Livermore needed his own nurse after surviving a serious dune buggy accident in Brazil. Rooted in academic research and brought to life with stories and best practices, this is a book you can read once for a quick overview, and then return to as needed when preparing for an overseas trip or reflecting on a recent cross-cultural encounter. And as you learn about the ten cultural clusters, you can improve the quality and enjoyment of your cross-cultural travels, work, and relationships!"

  Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes- I loved how this dovetailed with so many of our own experiences in the PHilippines. One of the authors served as a missionary to Indonesia for years, and the insights on culture differences between eastern and western Christians were fascinating to me (and resonated with my own experiences). I am sure there are others just as valuable, and there are very likely excellent oks from an Eastern perspective rather than western, but being western, I can't really presume to access their quality, accuracy, or usefulness. I'm open to suggestions, though!


The following items are for sale, and  proceeds support my family's work.  When creating these things,  my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families?  What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?'  I hope you can tell. 

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  
 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

No comments:

Post a Comment