Travels with Myself and Another
Travels with Myself and Another
Out of a lifetime of travelling, Gellhorn has selected her ‘best horror journeys’. She bumps through rain-sodden, war-torn China to meet Chiang Kai-Shek, floats listlessly in search of U-boats in the wartime Caribbean and visits a dissident writer in the Soviet Union against her better judgement.
Written with the eye of a novelist and an ironic black humour, what makes these tales irresistible are Gellhorn’s explosive and often surprising reactions. Indignant, but never righteous and not always right, through the crucible of hell on earth emerges a woman who makes you laugh with her at life, while thanking God that you are not with her.
‘One of the funniest travel books of our time.’ Dervla Murphy
‘She is incapable of writing a dull sentence.’ The Times
‘I just laughed until the tears ran down my face.’ Hannah Gordon, Radio 4
Travels with Myself and Another: Five Journeys from Hell
Format: 296pp demi pb
Martha Gellhorn (1908-98) published five novels, fourteen novellas and two collections of short stories. She wanted to be remembered primarily as a novelist, yet to most people she is remembered as an outstanding war correspondent and for something which infuriated her, her brief marriage to Ernest Hemingway during the Second World War.
As a war correspondent she covered almost every major conflict from the Spanish Civil War to the American invasion of Panama in 1989. For a woman it was completely ground-breaking work, and she took it on with an absolute commitment to the truth. "All politicians are bores and liars and fakes. I talk to people", she said, explaining her paramount interest in war's civilian victims, the unseen casualties. She was one of the great war correspondents, one of the great witnesses, of the twentieth century.
Her life as a war correspondent is well illustrated by two incidents. After Hemingway stole her accreditation, she stowed away on a hospital ship on 7 June 1944 and went ashore during the Normandy invasion to help collect wounded men; she was also refused a visa to return to Vietnam by the American military, so infuriated were they by her reports for the Guardian.
She was a woman of strong opinions and incredible energy. Though she turned down reporting on the Bosnian war in her 80s, saying she wasn't nimble enough, she flew to Brazil at the age of eighty-seven to research and write an article about the murder of street children. Touch-typing, although she could barely see, she was driven by a compassion for the powerless and a curiosity undimmed by age.
Extract from Chapter One
I WAS SEIZED by the idea of this book while sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip of Crete, flanked by a waterlogged shoe and a rusted potty. Around me, the litter of our species. I had the depressed feeling that I spent my life doing this sort of thing and might well end my days here. This is the traveller’s deep dark night of the soul and can happen anywhere at any hour.
No one suggested or recommended this sewer. I found it unaided, studying a map on the cheap night flight to Heraklion. Very pleased with myself too because I’d become so practical; before leaping into the unknown I actually telephoned the Greek Tourist Office in London and received a map of Crete, a list of hotels and the usual travel bumf written in the usual purple prose. Reading matter for the plane.
Way off there, alone on a bay, was a place named Kastelli with one C Class hotel. Just the ticket; far from the beaten track, the C Class hotel was sure to be a sweet little taverna, clean, no running water, grape arbour. I pictured Kastelli as an unspoiled fishing village, sugar cube houses clustered behind a golden beach. All day I would swim in lovely water, the purpose of the journey; at night I would drink ouzo in the grape arbour and watch the fishermen lollop about like Zorba under the moon.
It took as long to get from Heraklion to Kastelli, by three buses, as from London to New York by Jumbo Jet. All buses sang Arab-type Musak. Kastelli had two streets of squat cement dwellings and shops; the Aegean was not in sight. The C Class hotel was a three-storey cement box; my room was a cubbyhole with a full complement of dead flies, mashed mosquitoes on the walls and hairy dust balls drifting around the floor. The population of Kastelli, not surprisingly, appeared sunk in speechless gloom, none more so than the proprietor of the C Class hotel where I was, also not surprisingly, the only guest. On the side of the Post Office, across from my room, a political enthusiast had painted a large black slogan. Amepikanoi was the
first word, and I needed no Greek to know that it meant Yank Go Home. You bet your boots, gladly, cannot wait to oblige; but there was no way out until the afternoon bus the next day.
I had made prodigious efforts to reach this death trap for the purpose of swimming and swim I would. In the morning, a twenty-minute walk past a disused factory and some hideous small unoccupied villas brought me to a café by the sea, which provided unspeakable food and a closet half filled with mouldy potatoes for undressing. And so to the beach, like a minor garbage pit, the sea having cast up rubbish to join the crushed cigarette packs, tin cans, dirty papers, bottles left by previous swimmers. Anyhow nobody else was here and the water looked fine, transparent and calm over sand but too shallow for swimming. Beyond the little promontory, the waves were choppy with whitecaps, no obstacle to a dedicated swimmer. Once out into the deep water the current grabbed me and began to move me at speed westwards. Next stop Malta.
We are supposed to learn by experience; fat lot of good that does if you only remember experience too late. Flailing for shore, I remembered the circular current of Mauritius where I was caught and borne for a time on a fast scary round trip of that island. Such currents might be a disagreeable feature of large isolated islands; the kind of information it would be helpful to know. A few minutes earlier I had been warning myself not to get dashed against the promontory on the return trip; a few minutes later I did my best to get dashed and clung with fingers and fingernails, washed away, clinging again, until I could pull back into the still protected water. And now sat on the sand, bleeding gently from scratches, somewhat winded, and in despair.
Où sont les plages d’antan? I remember when beaches had no debris on them except seaweed and were safe and often so deserted that I was the sole naked tenant. The coves around the small Caribbean islands, the water turquoise and Nile green; bays in Cuba surrounded by jungle; Mexico on the Gulf and on the Pacific; beaches backed by umbrella pines along the Var coast, the Mediterranean side of Italy all the way down to Calabria, the Costa Brava and the great beach at Zarauz; marvellous beaches in the state of Washington; miles of white sand by the Indian Ocean.