Speaking of Tim Mackintosh-Smith

Fatima Ali Raza, the owner of La Fontaine Center for Contemporary Art, invited me for dinner.  As we ate under the moon, she asked me,

“You know Ibn Battuta don’t you,” she began.  Her eyes sparkled.

Ibn Battuta, Ibn Battutua, the name echoed in my brain.  However, no thoughts came to mind.

“No,” I admitted.

“Ibn Battuta was an Arab explorer.  He traveled from Tangier to China and covered more parts of the world than Marco Polo.  So many people do not know who he is.  And do you know who I have coming to La Fontaine?”

“Ibn Battuta’s ghost?”

She paused, “Tim Mackintosh-Smith, the expert on Ibn Battuta.”

Now it registered.

At the 2011 Dubai Literary Festival, my friends, Deborah and Maeve, went to his lecture.  The British Mackintosh-Smith is an Arabist living in Yemen.  He is the go-to man for anything about Yemen – and Ibn Battuta.

Mackintosh-Smith literally re-traced Ibn Battuta’s footsteps around the world.  Then he condensed the 14th century traveler’s thirty years of travel into a trilogy.  Travels with a Tangerine, the first in the series, made it to the best sellers list.

“For three years I have been inviting Mackintosh-Smith to Bahrain.  And he finally accepted.  He will be coming in November.  We are planning to offer several workshops over the three days he is here, both in Arabic and English,” Fatima announced triumphantly.

“That’s fantastic,” I said.  “Now I know what to suggest to my book club.”

“But don’t read all of his books.  I am ordering some for the event.”

I decided to see how well-known Ibn Battuta was.  I posed the question to Mojo who corrects my American history mistakes.

“If I say Ibn Battuta what comes to your mind?” I asked him.

“The Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai.”

“Have I got a gift for you.”

Get ready for this November event at La Fontaine by reading Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s Travels with a Tangerine.

La Fontaine Center for Contemporary Art is featured in The Best of Bahrain vol. 2 which is being launched this Saturday, September 15th, 2012.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

When I mentioned the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at dinner last night, three people piped up that they had read the book by Paul Torday.

The premise of salmon fishing in the desert made everyone ask, “is this a true story?”

Almost any story about bringing water thus life to the desert seems to be preposterous.  But did you know in the Egyptian desert are whale fossils with legs?  Have you read there are signs that Sahel, a semi-desert zone along the Sahara, is becoming green?

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, the British writer and Yemen expert, wrote in his review that twenty years ago he came upon a man fishing with a pole and a string in a wadi.  Like this man, he said Torday’s book is about the belief in the impossible and belief itself.

The Arabian Peninsula is a land guided by faith.  Every year HRH King Abdullah, Keeper of the Holy Mosque, and his men perform their Islamic rain dance.

While growing up in Saudi Arabia, my step-father told us they were discussing the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica across the Indian Ocean into the Arabian Gulf.  Granted half of it would melt, but if the iceberg was large enough ….

There was also an idea for a kind of desert terrarium that people could live in.  The ideas never materialized but simply knowing these ideas existed made me believe the movie’s premise that desert sheikhs will try impossible things.

Actor Ewan McGregor plays the British fisheries-expert who is hired by the Yemeni-Sheikh to figure out how to populate the Yemen with British salmon.  As it turns out the very, very, VERY rich Sheikh loves fly fishing in which he finds many metaphysical lessons.

As soon as I saw McGregor I fell under the movie’s spell.  For I remembered him as the young Albert Finney in the movie Big Fish, the story of son who discovers the people in his father’s “tall-tale” life were real.  And whose father believed that all myths and legends stem from some truth.  How that truth is interpreted by future generations depends on the stories men craft around it.

If you would like to see a movie about possibilities that pokes fun at politics and has romance, I suggest Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  In Bahrain, it is currently playing at City Center.

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