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Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

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Member:hnn
Title:Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
Authors:Tim Mackintosh-Smith
Info:Picador (2002), Edition: 3, Paperback, 200 pages
Collections:Your library, Just read
Rating:****
Tags:india, history, middle east

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Travels with a Tangerine : A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (2001)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
What a fabulous book! Mackintosh-Smith starts with the book of travels dictated by Ibn Battutah, a 14th century from Tangiers who traveled far beyond the boders of the world of Islam of the day. This book traces him through northern Africa, Arabia, Syria, Anatolia, the Crimea and Constantinople. (Apparently he also traveled in central Asia, India, and China.) Mackintosh-Smith’s approach is to travel to a place looking for survivals related to Ibn Battutah’s experiences. He prowls through the local sites recording his conversations with the people he meets in his quest. I believe this was true to the flavor of Ibn Battutah’s book, but it also allows Mackintosh-Smith to put the past into juxtaposition with the present, with interesting results. He never fails to find survivals from Battutah’s time. The effect is something like rummaging through a very dark attic crowded with bric-a-brac with a very bright but narrow-beamed flashlight. Mackintosh-Smith seems to be extremely knowledgeable about medieval Islamic literature and history, and uses it to explain and entertain. At the same time he is a highly entertaining author. More than a few times I found myself laughing out loud. (Remember how they were “keeping the Sunni side up” in… was it the mosque in Damascus?) Mackintosh-Smith himself becomes a central object of speculation. He says relatively little about himself except to elucidate some Battutah-related point or experience, but you have to wonder about someone who chooses to live 17 years in Sana’a, is obsessed with Islamic culture, but chooses to remain a stolid Anglican in spite of regular friendly, well-meaning Islamic persuasion. This tension informs his discussion of the culture where so many religions and sects coexist, sometimes uneasily. People refer to him several times through the book as an Orientalist, and he calls himself an Arabist at one point. I look forward to Edward Said’s book for further considerations. ( )
  baobab | Nov 10, 2010 |
As others have observed, Tim Mackintosh-Smith does a very good impersonation of the charming, old-fashioned type of eccentric British scholar, both on screen and on the printed page. Quite a scary thought when I realise that he and I must have been contemporaries at university, though I don't think we ever met. I'm not that old, am I?

Travels with a tangerine simply oozes with charm — the nicest possible sort of ooze, Dundee marmalade, perhaps — a very English mix of erudition, self-deprecation, silly schoolboy puns, and that strange obsession with defecation that goes with a certain type of English middle-classness. He's quite aware of this, and frequently mocks himself for doing it. Interestingly, he cites Patrick Leigh Fermor as one of the travel writers he most admires.

It's a pure pleasure to follow him on his quasi-random wanderings around Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Oman, Turkey and the Crimea. Don't be surprised if it leaves you with an inexplicable urge to read medieval Arabic travel books, though.

I read Ibn Battutah's Travels (in Mackintosh-Smith's abridgement of the Gibb translation) just before Travels with a Tangerine (I had seen the TV documentaries a few years earlier): if possible, I think it is best to start out by forming your own impression of Ibn Battutah before you get Mackintosh-Smith's image of him lodged into your mind. Ibn Battutah (with the occasional help of M-S's discrete footnotes) is great fun and perfectly accessible to the ordinary reader, although few of us would have found our way to him without a bit of a nudge from Mackintosh-Smith. I have at least half a dozen books on my shelves where Ibn Battutah features in the index, but until I saw Mackintosh-Smith talking him up on the telly it never occurred to me to go and read him myself. That's Mackintosh-Smith's mission in operation: he's quoted in an interview (by Justin Marozzi) as saying "I shall not rest until people are saying 'Who's Marco Polo?' and they're saying, 'He's the Venetian Ibn Battutah'!" Of course, there is a bit more to it too: Mackintosh-Smith also wants to give his Western readers a gentle reminder that Arabs and Muslims are just ordinary people like the rest of us, and that there's more to the Middle East than what we see on television news.

Mackintosh-Smith calls his technique "inverse archaeology", by which he seems to mean the search for traces of the present in the texts of Ibn Battutah and his contemporaries. He's always especially keen to find human traces: people, or stories, with a direct connection back to something Ibn Battutah mentions. Surprisingly often, he succeeds, and we can really feel his thrill when someone is able to cap a story Ibn Battutah tells or identify a person mentioned in the text as an ancestor. But he also loves looking for the buildings, tombs, and even camp-sites that Ibn Battutah describes, all of which he describes in a fresh, interesting way. I'm looking forward to the second instalment (and the third, when it comes...). ( )
  thorold | May 3, 2010 |
To my mind, M-S looks rather like a secretary bird. In case you've forgotten what a secretary bird looks like, Google: " secretary bird image" and for comparison "M-S...". Unfortunately, I have not found an image of M-S showing his legs, which makes it difficult for you to form a judgement.
M-S is one of those English eccentrics whom we cherish partly because they are so seldom encountered and may be becoming even rarer, indeed extinct in many parts of the British Isles and former colonies.
Travels is subtitled: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah. Ibn Battutah (IB) henceforth, was a native of Morrocco who set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca in the early thirteen hundreds, and kept on travelling - as far North as the Volga river, as far South as Tanzania and Mali in Africa, and then West through India and on to China. IB was a lucky man. He had an eye for the ladies and got married in most of his longer stopping points. He had his mishaps too. Having charmed an Indian potentate he was given a grand present to convey to the emperor of China. He lost it together with all his own possessions in a storm while his boat was still moored at the quayside. He spent some time in the Maldives and pronounced them paradise.
Travels is not Tim's first book, but it is the first book to catch the public's attention. A three-part documentary-type programme was flighted on BBC4 in 2006, in which M-S was filmed following parts of IB's journey. It was while watching this that the long-legged questing bird comparison occurred to me.
IB eventually returned to Tangiers where he dictated his memoirs at length and at leisure in several volumes. These books became famous across the Arab World. Now his name is becoming more familiar in the West. ( )
  dboydell | Dec 7, 2009 |
The author (Yemen: The Unknown Arabia), a British Arabist who has lived in Yemen for the past 17 years, traces the footsteps of an extraordinary, but relatively unknown, medieval explorer. He travels a wide swath from Tangiers to Constantinople via Egypt, Syria, Oman, Anatolia, and the Crimea. Ibn Battutah (1304-1368) grew up in Tangier within an educated family. At the age of 21, he embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca and spent the next 30 years traveling throughout the Middle and Far East. When Mackintosh-Smith happened on a translated version of Battutah's travels, he was hooked and decided to make the same journey. This volume covers only the first part of Battutah's path, from Tangier to Constantinople, but has enough excitement, exotic details and information to satisfy the most exacting armchair traveler. The author brings his research skills, scholarship and respect for all cultures to bear on Battutah's adventures and his own. Written with humoor and style, he describes how Battutah "schmoozed with sultans" in Denizli, Turkey. In Damascus, the author enjoys a brain burger for breakfast before visiting the Umayyad Mosque, a structure Battutah detailed in 10 pages and referred to as "the greatest Mosque on earth." Throughout this narrative, Mackintosh-Smith provides enough anecdotes about Battutah's knowledge of aphrodisiacs, the foods he ate, the hardships he endured, the people he met and, most tellingly, the wonders he beheld to bring this unique daredevil and his times to life.
  antimuzak | Aug 16, 2009 |
Great story - looking forward to reading "Hall of a Thousand Columns" (further travels with Ibn Battutah)! ( )
1 vote Seajack | Jun 25, 2008 |
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US Title: Travels with a Tangerine : From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812971647, Paperback)

In 1325, the great Arab traveler Ibn Battutah set out from his native Tangier in North Africa on pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned nearly thirty years later, he had seen most of the known world, covering three times the distance allegedly traveled by the great Venetian explorer Marco Polo—some 75,000 miles in all.

Captivated by Ibn Battutah’s account of his journey, the Arabic scholar and award-winning travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith set out to follow in the peripatetic Moroccan’s footsteps. Traversing Egyptian deserts and remote islands in the Arabian Sea, visiting castles in Syria and innumerable souks in medieval Islam’s great cities, Mackintosh-Smith sought clues to Ibn Battutah’s life and times, encountering the ghost of “IB” in everything from place names (in Tangier alone, a hotel, street, airport, and ferry bear IB’s name), to dietary staples to an Arabic online dating service— and introducing us to a world of unimaginable wonders.

By necessity, Mackintosh-Smith’s journey may have cut some corners (“I only wish I had the odd thirty years to spare, and Ibn Battutah’s enviable knack of extracting large amounts of cash, robes and slaves from compliant rulers.”) But in this wry, evocative, and uniquely engaging travelogue, he spares no effort in giving readers an unforgettable glimpse into both the present-day and fourteenth-century Islamic worlds.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Ibn Battutah set out in 1325 on the pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned 29 years later, he had visited most of the known world. This text follows his footsteps exploring both the 14th century and its parallel landscape - the Muslim world. Originally published: 2001.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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