Armchair travels with William Dalrymple at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013

William Dalrymple was definitely one of the hits of the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, indicated by unseemly shoving at his session in the big room and a plaintive cry of  “if anyone has a spare ticket I’ll buy it” outside a smaller venue.

Cover: In XanaduAlthough he abandoned travel writing some years ago, he devoted a session to reading from his travel books, and as he said, he still travels for his work. Does getting shot at count as armchair travelling?

Dalrymple read first from In Xanadu, his first book; “a young man’s book” and one with some “hugely embarrassing bits”. In it he follows the path of Marco Polo from the Holy Sepulchre to Xanadu.

City of Djinns was next up. It’s about Delhi, a centre of refinement and manners in the culture of India, but a world split in two by Partition.

From the Holy Mountain is about another world that is disappearing: the world of the Christians of the Middle East.  They survived centuries of Islamic expansion, but now huge emigrations have seen them all but disappear from the lands they lived in for generations.

Cover: Nine Lives Nine Lives is his last travel book to date, and one he is not in at all, apart from a little bit of setting up. It attempts to describe the different Eastern religions, a subject more misrepresented by Western writers than any other.

For Dalrymple the worst thing a travel writer can do is the same thing over and over again. I don’t think he’s in any danger, but he did say he could re-write From the Holy Mountain in the light of what has happened to the Christians of the Middle East.

So who are the travel writers he rates?

Christchurch – this week in history (27 May – 2 June)

May 28, 1840
Major Bunbury on HMS “Herald” visits Akaroa collecting signatures of Maori chiefs for the Treaty of Waitangi.
May 28, 1866
George Dobson (brother of Arthur Dudley Dobson) murdered by the Burgess and Kelly gang in the Southern Alps. The gang mistook him for a gold courier.
May 28, 1955
First parking meters installed.
May 29, 1926
New Zealand’s first sports broadcast – a rugby match from Lancaster Park. Commentator Allan Allardyce was soon to pioneer broadcasts of racing, cricket and hockey for station 3YA. He also gave live coverage of Kingsford-Smith’s landing at Wigram in 1928.
May 29, 1967
Opening of the new Bank of New Zealand building in Cathedral Square.
May 30, 1874
First rugby match played.
May 30, 1890
Richmond joins City.
May 30, 1912
First netball match in City.
First skirmish between the invading North Island Ngati Toa (led by Te Rauparaha) and the Ngai Tahu at Kaiapohia. Te Rauparaha plans revenge after 8 of his chiefs are killed.
May, 1845
Gebbie and Manson families establish their own farms. William Tod and family settle with Deans.
May, 1851
Ferrymead ferry service begins.
May, 1877
The Normal School (designed by Samuel Farr, and opened in April 1876) becomes New Zealand’s first teachers training college.
May, 1883
Woolston (now Skellerup Woolston) Brass Band formed.
photo of Royal ExchangeMay, 1905
Royal Exchange building (now the Regent Theatre) opens. The building boasted the city’s first passenger lift.
May, 1915
First electric street lights in operation.
May, 1917
Mrs A. Wells becomes Christchurch’s first woman City Councillor.
May, 1926
Vertical aerial photos taken of the complete city area for the City Council. This was probably the country’s first aerial mapping.
May, 1942
Air raid shelters dug in Cathedral Square.
May, 1952
New Zealand’s first television signals transmitted from experimental station ZL3XT at Canterbury University.
June 1, 1862
Hospital opens on site in Hagley Park. But only after the first vigorous “Hands off Hagley” protests by irate citizens.
June 1, 1961
Television transmission begins from CHTV 3, Christchurch.
June 2, 1902
Municipal refuse destructor in operation. The destructor chimney, by the present site of the MED, was a dominant city landmark for many years.