Freya Stark lived for an entire century (1893-1993). One senses that it was her indomitable spirit and relentless curiosity that simply drove her to live that long, in order to "fit it all in." Peripatetic and immensely erudite, she learned both Persian and Arabic, handy linguistic skills when traveling in the remoter regions of Southwest Asia. Often she travelled alone, visiting areas where virtually no Western male had seen. I've read, reviewed and highly recommend two other works of hers: The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (Modern Library Paperbacks) which is an account of her 1934 trip to the Hadhramaut, famous in the days of the Roman Empire for its frankincense, and, much more recently, for being the ancestor homeland of Osama bin Laden. The other book is The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion in Afghanistan (Freya Stark Collection), an account of a 1968 trip through the heart of Afghanistan. She relates, among other anecdotes, to taking a bath in a cold mountain spring, at the age of 75. Hard-core, as we once said. "The Lycian Shore" is an account of her 1952 trip, in the autumn, along the Turkish coast, by small boat. She was "one of a kind," and I suspect they just don't make them like that anymore.
The turmoil and displacement of the Second World War had largely subsided. Stark's travels in the Hadhramaut she had done solo. With the success of her earlier depictions of her travels, she obviously developed contacts in the British diplomatic corps, which she used both on this trip, as well as the one in Afghanistan. And it was a different era for the diplomats too. Instead of being barricaded against the population, their duties involved learning about, and traveling in the country. David Balfour was the Consular official stationed in Smyrna (modern day Izmir). For a couple of months they travelled, along with Balfour's wife, and the "native help," in a 30 ft. sloop, "the Elfin," along the coast. The title is a tad misleading, since Lycia itself is only the main protuberance on the southwestern shore, located between the island of Rhodes, and Antalya. Approximately three-fourths of the book concerns their coastal travels before they reach Lycia.
The true strength of this work is Stark's phenomenal knowledge of the ancient world. Though she will make references to other periods, for example, the Roman empire, as well as World War II, the vast majority of the historical references date from the 5th and 4th Century, B.C., from the Battle of Marathon to the partitioning of Alexander the Great's empire (there is an excellent, succinct appendix that covers key events during those two centuries.) She had read Xenophon, Thucydides, Plutarch, Livy, and numerous others, and had internalized the knowledge and can related it to a given place as though it had happened only yesterday. I disliked Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana since he seemed oblivious to the present, and focused exclusively on the ancient world, going from "one pile of stones to another." Stark has that tendency too, but she clearly announces that this is her intention. On the other hand, she does relate interesting anecdotes concerning the present, including her visit to a monastery on Padmos, the school teacher who had never seen the ancient ruins in his village, and the Bedouin who still traveled along the coast (the latter was a big surprise to me.)
Speaking of the nomads, Stark says: "for the nomad dies in prison, and so does a man, in a world that he feels too small...Happiness, as I rode down towards the beach in the evening, seemed to me to belong to those three ages, ever with a growing awareness: to the nomad, whose infinity lies about him unquestioned; to the Aegean sailing without fear toward a yet undiscovered horizon; and to those, in the religions of our time, `whose service is perfect freedom' since they have seen their bars melted and infinity renewed." Stark continued to renew her infinity, all the way to 100.
As a final note, we had a dinner party last night, and one of the topics was the turmoil in the publishing industry, with the "harm" being done by, er...ah... the present site I'm reviewing on. Not surprisingly perhaps, I leaned in favor of the present site, for renewing and expanding the number of possibilities for a writer to reach a reading audience. Furthermore, like many other "elites," from Wall Street, to the leadership at various governmental agencies, I espoused the position that the big publishing houses have abdicated in their duties, particular by publishing numerous frauds, on which Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival is but one example. I'm happy to say that a wonderful counterpoint to my thesis is Tauris Parke, who deserves kudos to the second power, at least, for keeping Stark in print, and I look forward to the new editions being released over the next year or so. 5-stars for this one.