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YES DISASTROUS TIMES

Our unusually far-flung correspondents report

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Of the many protagonists in modern Iraq’s tumultuous history, Jonathan Kandell met only one, Dame Freya Stark. But at the time, says Kandell, who wrote our story about Iraq’s tortured recent history ("Iraq’s Unruly Century"), he was unaware of Stark’s close connection to historic events. "It was 1991 and she was 98 years old when we were introduced over a lunch in Asolo, the small northern Italian village where she lived after her Baghdad sojourns," he says. When Kandell, on assignment for a travel magazine, told Stark he was writing a piece about Italy’s Veneto region, she allowed that she had written a few books that might qualify as travel writing herself. That was wry understatement: Stark’s dispatches from Baghdad in the 1920s and ’30s are invaluable accounts of the changing nation. "Her Baghdad Sketches offer some of the most vivid depictions of Iraq between the world wars," Kandell says approvingly. We would like to think that Stark, who died in 1993, would approve of Kandell’s report as well.

Immediately after covering Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest in 1953 for the London Times, Jan Morris—then James Morris—was approached by an advertising agency asking if he would appear in an advertisement for the brand of typewriter he’d used. "The highest typewriter on earth or something of that sort," says Morris, whose elegant memoir of the momentous ascent, "Finally, the Top of the World." "I was, of course, much attracted by the idea—why not?—but since the Times was written anonymously in those days and was rigidly devoted to protocol, I thought it might be wiser to ask permission first." So Morris sent a cable asking if it would be "disastrous" to his career to accept the offer. "And there came back the following very Timesy reply: YES DISASTROUS TIMES."

Cuba, says Eugene Linden, may be one of the easiest countries to drive in. "There is no traffic anywhere, anytime," says Linden, who wrote our cover story ("The Nature of Cuba"). "Perhaps Cuba will become a destination for ‘traffic tourists’ who want the experience of freedom on the roads." More likely, it will become a destination for ecotourists, naturalists and anyone who enjoys wildlife and flora in a virtually unspoiled environment. Adds Linden, who has written four books on animal behavior, including The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity: "Over the last ten years, a series of accidents and coincidences—and significant planning—have preserved vast areas of Cuban habitat."

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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