because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Freya Stark

Freya Stark was born in 1893, when women -- especially middle class women -- were expected to sit around quietly like part of the furniture. And she was ill a good bit as a child, which required that she do a fair amount of just that. But somewhere in the middle of it all, she managed to read A Thousand and One Nights (a collection of West and South Asian stories and folk tales) and she fell in love.

So, in her mid-thirties, having waited as long as she could, trying to act like women are supposed to act, Stark lit out for Beirut and spent the next forty-five years traveling like a nomad through the lands she had read about so long before. In the first few years, she took three highly dangerous journeys, often visiting areas no Westerner had ever seen, and began writing about them in books with titles like Baghdad Sketches, The Valley of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels, and The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut.

Stark continued to travel until she was nearly eighty and she continued to write almost as long as she lived, which was more than a hundred years. But she wasn't just gallivanting around to see the sites. This in-your-face woman was exploring human existence at its edges where few -- male or female -- have the courage or the willingness to go. "One can only really travel," Stark wrote at one point, "if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one's own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism."

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