Jefferson has his Monticello; Washington, Mount Vernon. Now, Benjamin Franklin's only surviving residence, Number 36 Craven Street, London, opened its doors to the public. More inside.
What Was True. From the mid 1950s through the early 1980s, William Gedney (1932-1989) photographed throughout the United States, in India, and in Europe, and filling notebook after notebook with his observations. From the commerce of the street outside his Brooklyn apartment to the daily chores of unemployed coal miners, from the lifestyle of hippies in Haight-Ashbury to the sacred rituals of Hindu worshippers, Gedney was able to record the lives of others with clarity and poignancy. Gedney's America is a nation of averted eyes, and broken automobiles, and restlessness, a place Edward Hopper would recognize, but so, also, Walt Whitman.
The Parachute Artist. In the New Yorker's Journeys issue, Tad Friend explains how Lonely Planet's founders, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, changed travel. Tony Wheeler has a travel blog.
A Tale of Two Chinas, by photographer James Whitlow Delano. Whole swaths of cities have vanished, to be transformed with developments that have quickly made them look more like Houston, Qatar, or Singapore than the ancient China of our mind's eye. The old hutong, or alleyways, of Beijing that once formed a mosaic of passageways and the siheyuan, or walled courtyard houses, have been largely razed. The old brick rowhouses of Shanghai, are now being leveled and replaced by modern high-rises. Traditional marketplaces, residential neighborhoods, streets where medicine shops or bookstores bunched together, are now either gone or have been rouged up as tourist destinations, part of a new synthetic, virtual version of China's incredible past. The energy fueling this transformation bespeaks a powerful but often blind, unquestioning faith in an inchoate idea of progress that takes one's breath away, often literally. (Unrestrained growth has left China with the dubious honor of having 9 of the 10 most polluted cities in the world). Delano's new book is "Empire: Impressions from China". More inside.
Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang / A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India / And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on foot. / Ten thousand miles... / Mountains and deserts, / In search of the Truth... Traversing rivers and deserts, scaling mountains and passing through desolate lands with no traces of human habitation, 7th century Chinese monk Hsuan Tsang made his journey in 627 AD from Changan to India for religious purposes. His detailed travel journal is believed to be among the earliest reliable sources of information about distant countries whose terrain and customs had been known, at that time, in only the sketchiest way. He travelled over land mostly on foot and horseback along the Silk Road, west towards India. The Buddhist scholar’s pilgrimage (627-645 AD) contributed enormously to the cultural flow between East and West Asia. His "Hsi Yu Ki" or "Records of the Western World" is considered the most valuable book source for the study of ancient Indian history and culture. Italian explorer Marco Polo, whose travel writings fired the imagination of Europeans for centuries, was believed to have used Hsuan Tsang’s travelogue as a guide during his travels in the 13th century. More than 1,300 years after Hsuan Tsang’s historical journey, Taiwanese magazine Rhythms Monthly embarked on a project to retrace Hsuan Tsang’s 19-year pilgrimage through a road that, today, belongs to 11 different countries. more inside
"In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people".
Discovering Japan. As a perennial outsider at loose in Japan, writer Donald Richie captures the joyous freedom of being foreign. The foreign observer is likely to be happy only if he sees his foreignness as an adventure, and recognizes that he has given up a sense of belonging for a sense of freedom, traded the luxury of being understood for that of being permanently interested. Richie, the philosopher-king of expats in Asia for the past half-century, arrived in Tokyo in 1947 as a typist with the U.S. government and never really left, writing dozens of books , on Japanese movies, temples, history and fashion, while enjoying himself as an actor, musician, filmmaker and painter. The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 is a monument to the pleasures of displacement. Richie watchers can observe, more intimately than ever, a man who is generally happiest observing. More inside.
Himmler's Crusade: The True Story of the 1938 Nazi Expedition to Tibet. In 1935, the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler founded an organisation called Ancestral Heritage , to uncover the hidden past of the Aryan race he and his Führer regarded as the noblest and most vital force in human history. One of the scientific missions Himmler sponsored was a multitasked expedition to Tibet under the leadership of ornithologist Ernst Schäfer, an expert on rare Tibetan birds who liked to smear the blood of exotic kills on his face. Schäfer recruited an anthropologist to measure noses and skulls and to make face-masks; a geographer who specialised in the earth's geomagnetism; and a botanist who was also handy with a film camera. They managed to con their way into Tibet, past the British. The expedition is at the basis of a masterful story by Jim Shepard, the author of Love and Hydrogen (full text). More inside.