Sea and Sardinia – a final excerpt

Before I leave this book I would like to share this piece – it’s so good! It’s a short book and the writing is brilliant. You’d have to read every paragraph twice. It’s a delight for any reader.

And they fell on their soup. And never, from among the steam, have I heard a more joyful trio of soup-swilkering. They sucked it in from their spoons with long, gusto-rich sucks. The maialino was the treble – he trilled his soup into his mouth with a swift, sucking vibration, interrupted by bits of cabbage, which made the lamp start to dither again. Black-cap was the baritone; good, rolling spoon-sucks. And the one in spectacles was the bass: he gave sudden deep gulps. All was led by the long trilling of the maialino. Then suddenly, to vary matters, he cocked up his spoon in one hand, chewed a huge mouthful of bread, and swallowed it down with a smack-smack-smack! of his tongue against his palate. As children we used to call this “clapping”.

“Mother, she’s clapping!” I would yell with anger, against my sister. The German word is schmatzen.

So the maialino clapped like a pair of cymbals, while baritone and bass rolled on. Then in chimed the swift bright treble.

At this rate however, the soup did not last long. Arrived the beefsteaks of pork. And now the trio was a trio of castanet smacks and cymbal claps. Triumphantly the maialino looked around. He out-smacked all.

Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence – an excerpt

This is an account of the travels of D H Lawrence in Sardinia, with his wife, often referred to as the q-b (the queen bee). I’m not a great fan of Lawrence’s novels but this book is terrific, the writing mesmerising. Here is a short passage to give you a flavour:

And so we steam out. And almost at once the ship begins to take a long, slow, dizzy dip, and a fainting swoon upwards, and a long, slow, dizzy dip, slipping away from beneath one. The q-b turns pale. Up comes the deck in that fainting swoon backwards – then down it fades in that indescribable slither forwards. It is all quite gentle – quite, quite gentle. But oh, so long, and so slow, and so dizzy.

“Rather pleasant,” say I to the q-b.

“Yes. Rather lovely, really,” she answers wistfully.

To tell the truth there is something in the long, slow lift of the ship, and her long, slow slide forwards which makes my heart beat with joy. It is the motion of freedom. To feel her come up – then slide slowly forward, with a sound of the smashing of waters, is like the magic gallop of the sky, the magic gallop of elemental space. That long, slow, waveringly rhythmic rise and fall of the ship, with waters snorting as it were from her nostrils, oh God what a joy it is to the wild innermost soul. One is free at last – and lilting in a slow flight of the elements, wringing outwards. Oh God, to be free of all the hemmed-in life – the horror of human tension, the absolute insanity of machine persistence. The agony which a train is to me, really. And the long-drawn-out agony of a life among tense, resistant people on land. And then to feel the long, slow lift and drop of this almost empty ship, as she took the waters. Ah God, liberty, liberty, elemental liberty. I wished in my soul the voyage might last for ever, that the sea had no end, that one might float in this wavering, tremulous, yet long and surging pulsation while ever time lasted; space never exhausted, and no turning back, no looking back, even.”

This makes me wonder why I try to write at all! Sea and Sardinia is a short book but it is filled with magic writing like the above.

10 Favourite Travel Books

I have read an awful lot of travel books and it took me quite a while to choose ten; some authors are on my list more than once. I have been to several countries in Europe and to S Africa but this is as close as I’m going to get to the South Sea Islands or north Africa. I could have included books on travels in China, Australia or S America but these are really my favourites:

  1. The Happy Isles of Oceania – a journey round the South Sea Islands by Paul Theroux
  2. The Pillars of Hercules – a tour of the entire Mediterranean by Paul Theroux
  3. Dark Star Safari – from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux
  4. Sea and Sardinia – an exploration of the island by D H Lawrence (which I liked better than his novels)
  5. The Sign of the Cross – travels to places of pilgrimage in Europe by Colm Tóibín
  6. Homage to Barcelona – recollections of his time there as a teacher (and a nod to Orwell) by Colm Tóibín
  7. Homage to Catalonia – memories of the civil war by George Orwell
  8. A Place Apart – cycling across the border from the republic into the north of Ireland by Dervla Murphy
  9. South of the Limpopo – on the bicycle as always, touring S Africa by Dervla Murphy

If anyone can suggest more titles for me that would be good. I’m particularly interested in Japan and Korea at the moment.

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