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THREE MEN, THREE JOURNEYS: Three Richly Reflective Reports.

Work Title: THREE MEN, THREE JOURNEYS: Three Richly Reflective Reports

Work Author(s): Peter Skinner

Travel Books

Byline: Peter Skinner

In The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland (Milkweed Editions, endpaper maps, hardcover, 230 pages, $22.00, 978-1-57131-302-7), Bill Holm, a distinguished Minnesota-born poet, essayist, and musician, writes from Skagafjordur ("Skagafjord") on Iceland's northern coast, where a many-windowed, fjord-head cottage is his second home. Holm cogitates upon Icelandic life---rooted in close family and community relationships, farm-fresh foods, traditional furnishings, and a deep awareness of history and folklore: there is nothing remote about the sagas. Lava, raw rock, and scrubby soil appeal to Holm; birdlife---with gyrfalcons, gannets, and magnificent white-tailed eagles---enchants him, and Iceland as "the home of poetry" fascinates: how did an eighteenth-century rural priest achieve a magnificent translation of Paradise Lost, or a farmer write a sophisticated world-history in verse?

Holm explores the Icelanders' pragmatism: they accepted Christianity by fiat in 1000 (the axe hovered) and Lutheranism in 1550 (their overlord, Christian III of Denmark, beheaded their last bishop). Happily today, he notes, the joy of church music has a distinct edge over the solemnity of sermons. But no guaranteed island paradise emerges from Holm's explorations. Emigration (and Holm is of emigrant stock) is taking a toll, urbanization a worse one, and the development of a vast aluminum smelting plant in volcanic eastern Iceland may well prove catastrophic.

Contrapuntal to Holm's appreciation is his grim assessment of contemporary, war-driven America, where consumerism, noise, and excess acutely distress him and prompt his restorative Icelandic sojourns---which yields this finely observed, well-wrought and deeply thoughtful book.

Brandon Wilson is strictly fast-forward in his exhilarating Along The Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace (Pilgrim's Tales, 44 b/w maps/ illustrations, 314 pages, hardcover, $27.95, 978-0-9770536-9-8, softcover, $17.95, 978-0-9770-536-8-1). He briskly strides 2,650 miles from Dijon to Jerusalem at twenty to twenty-five miles per day, mostly following the route Godfrey of Bouillon took in the First Crusade. Ever cheerful, Wilson offers the Christian message of peace to all and sundry, not least to his curmudgeonly, impractical sixty-eight-year-old French fellow-walker. Émile, however, has numerous hitherto unmet Internet "friends," who arrive in moments of direst need to bear the duo off to food, showers, and comfortable beds.

Wilson adroitly weaves in asides on the attractions of places passed, particularly historic cities such as Munich, Budapest, Istanbul, and Jerusalem, where, in some cases, long-suffering spouses were waiting. Monasteries often provided lodgings, but Wilson's power to summon up "angels" is awesome: his pilgrim's scallop-headed staff frequently induced inn-keepers and others to lodge him and Émile gratis. Strangers (men, women and children) plied them with food, particularly in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Turkey: modest means never limited generosity. To bypass likely problems in Syria, Wilson (solo since Istanbul) went via ferry from Cyprus to Israel. He movingly describes the divorce between power politics and ordinary Arabs and Israelis: the "wall," the threat of war and the hope for peace dominated their conversation. Wilson's remarkably attractive account will galvanize couch potatoes---though many will want more information on health and hygiene than he provides.

Ganga: A Journey Down the Ganges River (Island Press, 9 maps, 282 pages, hardcover, $25.95, 978-1-59726-386-3) is no relaxed cultural cruise but a disturbing trip down a river in crisis. Julian Crandall Hollick, a seasoned traveler and radio broadcaster, tackles the Ganges's entire 1,560-mile/2,510-km length from its Himalayan source to its vast delta in Bangladesh---the first person known to have done so.

Hollick structures Ganga around two major paradoxes and a threat: How can Indians simultaneously revere the sacred goddess river, yet use it as a communal garbage dump? And how, despite its burden of pollutants, can Ganges water be considered (and seem to work as) a health-promoting drink? And when will the Ganges, dammed, diverted for irrigation, and silting up, cease to be a living river? The answers are not simple: In India modernity and tradition, science and superstition, and democracy and corruption happily/unhappily co-exist. Riverside dwellers argue that to "dirty" the goddess river with garbage is not to "pollute" it; the infant soiling its mother's lap does not "pollute" the mother.

The potability problem remains unsolved. Around Kanpur (Cawnpore), tanneries spew out chromium pollutants and the Ganges' water is demonstrably dangerous; downstream in Varanasi/Benares (a center of cremations and bathing) the water seems surprisingly potable. Hollick explores both traditional theories and recent scientific research on riverbed sulfur and waterborne bacteria-killers as being the possible key. A deft mix of travel, history, anthropology, and eco-politics (with attendant corruption) make Ganga a very pertinent lesson on the worldwide problem of threatened water resources.
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Title Annotation:The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland; Along The Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace; Ganga: A Journey Down the Ganges River
Author:Skinner, Peter
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2008
Previous Article:Book Stars.
Next Article:THE PAST IS PROLOGUE: The Future is Now.

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