Archive for tourism

Nara snapshot [jatp]

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2019 by xi'an

Ankgor, encore [jatp]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2019 by xi'an

X’mas bookreads

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2014 by xi'an

Even though I am beyond schedule at several levels of reality, I took some time off during the X’mas break to read a few of the books from my to-read pile. The first one was The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams. While I read two fantasy series by Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Shadowmarch, which major drawback was that they both were unnecessarily long, this short novel is a mix of urban fantasy and of detective story, except that the detective working for Heaven in our current universe and fighting the “Opposition”, i.e. Hell, at every moment. This may sound quite a weird setting, but I nonetheless enjoyed the plot, the characters and the witty dialogues (as in “a man big enough to have his own zip code”). There were some lengthy parts, inevitably, but the whole scheme was addictive enough that I read it within two days. Now, there is a second (and then a third) volume in the series that does not sound up to par, judging from the amazon reviews. But this first volume got a very positive review from Patrick Rothfuss and it can be read on its own.

The second book I read over the vacations in Chamonix is Olen Steinhauer’s An American spy. This is the third instalment in the stories of Milo Weaver, the never-truly-retired Tourist. The volume is more into tying loose ends from previous books than into creating a new compelling story, even though it plays on the disappearance of loved ones and on a maze of double- and triple-agents. The fact that the story is told from many perspectives does not help (it is as if Weaver is now a secondary character) and the conclusion is fairly anticlimactic. A bit of nitpicking: a couple of spies (Tourists) travel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, but there is no such thing as a Saudi tourist visa. Plus, the behaviour of the characters there is incompatible with the strict laws of Saudi Arabia.

A third book completed during those vacations is Gutted, by Tony Black. (I had actually bought this book in Warwick for my son’ British studies project but he did not look further than the backcover.) The book is taking place in Edinburgh, starting on Corstorphine Hill with a dog beating, and continuing in the seediest estates of Edinburgh where dog fights are parts of the shadow economy. The main character of the novel is the anti-hero Gus Drury, who is engaged so thoroughly in self-destruction that he would make John Rebus sound like a teetotaller! Gus is an ex-journalist who lost his job and wife to scoosh, running a pub with the help of two friends. Why he gets involved in an investigation remains unclear to me for the whole book: While Black has been hailed as a beacon for Celtic Noir, and while the style is gritty and enjoyable, I find the plot a wee bit shallow, with an uncomfortable number of coincidences. While finding this book was like discovering a long lost sibling of Rankin’s Rebus, with a pleasurable stroll through Edinburgh (!), I am far from certain I can contemplate reading the whole series

Lastly, I read (most of) Giant Thief, by David Tallerman. By bits. This may be the least convincing book in the list. The story is one of a thief who finds himself enrolled in an army he has no reason to support and steals an artefact which value he is unaware of when deserting, along with a giant. The pursuit drags on forever. There are many reasons I disliked the book: the plot is shallow, the main character is the ultimate cynic, with not enough depth to build upon. Definitely missing the sparkling charm of the Lies of Locke Lamorra.

The Tourist & The Nearest Exit [book reviews]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by xi'an

“They took a lengthy route, heading out to Boulevard Adolphe Pinard, which circled the city.” The Tourist

Andrew and Caroline brought me two books from Olen Steinhauer a few weeks ago. I had never heard of this author, but I started reading the first book, The Tourist, on my trip to Vietnam. It proved such a page-turner that I finished it within a day from my return and then I could not resist starting the second volume The Nearest Exit. Which I also finished in a few days. The theme of these books is a secret branch of the CIA focussed on assassinations and similar murky operations. Kind of classic, in the spirit of Le Carré, with a touch of Bourne identity, since the central character is investigating his own hierarchy most of the time. But darker too, and deeply pessimistic as well.

“Milo looked at facts to find the connection, if any, between them, and then built up his theories (…) For someone like Gray, Occam’s razor did not exist, for his logic was already corrupted by assumptions.” The Nearest Exit

Besides the overall cynicism of the novel (those special spies are called Tourists!), and its rather accurate rendering of European scenes (with a major geographic blunder about Boulevard Adolphe Pinard, reproduced in the quote above: Boulevard Adolphe Pinard is where my CREST office is located and it is in the South of Paris, not all around Paris and certainly not close to Angela’s appartment, in the 11th Arrondissment: the name of the entire inner Paris beltway is called Boulevards des Maréchaux, because all boulevard names correspond to marshals of Napoléon’s army; it does not include Pinard, who is one of the fathers of French obstetrics), the interesting side of the novel is more the delve into the psychology of the central character Milo and the rising inner questioning induced by his nefarious activities. Esp. after he became a family man (which sounds a tad implausible). Rather than in the action parts. In this respect, I prefered The Nearest Exit to The Tourist because it brought a very interesting perspective on the utlra-classic mole-in-the-service plot. Although I again found the central piece of the novel, i.e. having to [and refusing to] murder a 15-year-old Moldavian, a bit too much of a stretch in terms of plausibility. (Here is a fair review from the NYT.)

“Espionage rarely, if ever, provoked wild emotions from men [who] worked from behind desks, and to [whom], losses and gains were extended mathematical equations (…) No one could get so upset over math.” The Nearest Exit

Overall, I recommend highly enough those novels to consider buying the next and final volume, An American Spy, whenever I find it in an airport. Perfect travel books (except when you start looking for Tourists among your fellow passengers…)

India snapshot (#4)

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , on January 1, 2013 by xi'an

Chinkara gazelles, Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India, Dec. 29, 2012

Although the visit of the Ranthambore National Park felt too much like a tourist trap, with dozens of jeeps and trucks criss-crossing the dirt roads at a density such that it is surprising they ever see tigers!, it was quite informative to observe the reactions (and plain colonial attitudes) of our fellow jeep passengers:

– (To me) Could you sit in the middle? I had the middle seat on the previous trip and I could not see a thing.

– (To the driver, after crossing a cattle herd) Now that we have seen these cows, could we please move somewhere where we can see some wild animals? Is this still the National Park? We are supposed to spend the visit in the National Park!

– (To the driver, as we were visibly heading back) Sir, we have paid till 10:30, there remains one hour, could we go somewhere else in the park and look for some wild animals? We should be given another chance to see tigers…