Books of the year 2011: Simon Blackburn

Old Calabria - Norman Douglas


Forty-five years ago, my wife-to-be, two friends and I crammed into a tiny old Ford van and drove down to Sicily. Reading Norman Douglas's Old Calabria (Tauris Parke, £12.99) vividly brought back the heat, the light, the poverty and the hostile beauty of the Mezzogiorno. Douglas was everything a travel writer should be and that we were not: fearless, scholarly, multilingual and indifferent to bedbugs and malaria. His world of flying monks, donkey travel, empty inns and venal customs officers ("whose only intelligible expression is one of malice trying to break through a crust of congenital cretinism") was just about disappearing when we were there but, from now on, I shall revisit it as much seeing through his clear eyes as depending on my own faulty memory.

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