Tuesday, August 08, 2006


That’s 1:31 p.m. and last Friday it was the time I began to feel a tad warm. Warm, mind you, after days of dripping with sweat before I had even got a pot of coffee brewed. Our last guests had left that morning and I reveled in the cool and quiet.

We had a house brimming with people for days (I will try to catch up on that later) and it had been uncomfortably hot for much of that time. The realization that the entire country was suffering from the heat wave made it a little more tolerable. The last book I read before everyone arrived made me feel like a real sissy when I complained about the heat. I heartily recommend Men of Salt by Michael Benanav for those of you who enjoy the exploits of travelers in wild and wooly places. Bananav and his guide Walid made the trip by camel from Timbuktu to Taoudenni in Mali. They were joined at times by an assortment of colorful characters and they returned part of the way with a caravan of nomads who still regularly make the journey to the mines at Taoudenni and return with huge slabs of salt, the White Gold of the Sahara. In truth, it could have been a boring book. Most days followed the same pattern: up at 3:00 a.m., drink tea, jump on a camel and ride for eighteen hours, with a stop or two for sand-encrusted rice and the occasional meal of unmentionable goat parts (the word rancid appears frequently). But Benanav intersperses the narrative with interesting accounts of the history of the area and the Saharan salt trade, and with anecdotes about the lives and customs of the nomads. Scorching heat and sand are his constant companions. It is a well written book and it chronicles a way of life that will not last much longer.

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