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A Look at Time and Tourism’s Toll on Ancient Egypt

EGYPT LOST AND FOUND

Explorers and Travelers on the Nile by Alberto Siliotti (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $60, hardcover).

Tourists first arrived at the great monuments of ancient Egypt in the 7th century BC--maybe earlier. They left behind graffiti explaining where they were from and their reasons for coming. By the visit of the Greek historian Herodotus, around 450 BC, some travelers had changed that approach: They left only footprints and took home only the elaborate maps and drawings and descriptions they had created. (Except, of course, for those who pioneered the plunder of antiquities.)

In this volume we learn about ancient Egypt obliquely, through the eyes of visitors. Forget the rulers, architects and builders who created the world’s greatest tourist and scholar trap. It’s the tourists and scholars who are important here.

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It is fascinating to see through the eyes of generations of explorers. And “see” is the key word. Siliotti’s accounts of exploration periods and individuals are engaging, but in most cases they are mere background for a generous, gorgeous, full-color presentation of the paintings, sketches and maps that fill most of the pages.

Often, a book this big and heavy (I’d guess 10 pounds) is disappointingly thin inside. This one’s a stunning exception.

TRAVEL SKETCHES--Arabian Nights Travel Adventure by Eli Luria (Santa Barbara County Art Museum, $25.95, paper).

A Santa Barbara real estate developer, Luria began sketching impressions of his travels on trips sponsored by the museum.

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He has a cartoonishly simple and colorful painting style, and his observations are similarly broad stroke. I suspect that this volume was published in part because, as the book’s foreword notes, Luria’s “extraordinary generosity has made a lasting impression on this community.”

Still, the large-format paintings offer a rare, intimately personal glimpse into a viewpoint unencumbered by highfalutin notions of travel writing as Journalism or Literature. So following his world travels with his wife, Leatrice, becomes a bit like getting postcards from friends or poking around in your aunt and uncle’s scrapbook.

One small self-portrait that accompanies Luria’s painting of the Temple of Karnak offers a cartoon bubble and the words: “These pharaohs knew what they were doing--the tourists are Egypt’s biggest source of revenue.”

THE GROWN-UP’S GUIDE TO RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME by Rosanne Knorr (Ten Speed Press, $11.95, paper).

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This book’s first chapter offers an epigraph by John Barrymore: “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”

Knorr is still dreaming. Figuring that “midlife is an ideal time for adventure overseas,” Knorr and her husband headed off to spend a year in France. She instructs readers in how to make a similar escape--and cites a 1994 Money magazine survey showing that one in five Americans longs to do so.

This is part motivational spiel, but largely solid advice on everything from financing your adventure and obtaining insurance to using the Internet for research.

Quick trips

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FODOR’S HEALTHY ESCAPES--248 Spas, Resorts and Retreats Where You Can Get Fit, Feel Good, Find Yourself and Get Away From It All (Fodor’s, $18.50, paper).

There was a time when a traveler would hear the word “Montana” and think only of dude ranches and fly fishing.

This book is here to tell you that Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena offers three vegetarian meals a day and classes in astrology, women’s studies, shamanism and yoga.

Escapes are categorized “Luxury Pampering,” “Holistic Health” or “Sports Conditioning.”

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GREAT WESTERN RV TRIPS by Jan Bannan (Ragged Mountain Press, $16.95, paper).

There’s a surprising lack of RV-specific information here: warnings about low bridges or tips on where to find holding-tank dump stations. But the general travel information is helpful, though readers should watch out for banality ambushes, as when Bannan writes: “Experiencing wilderness firsthand is even better than viewing a National Geographic special.”

Books to Go appears the second and fourth Sunday of the month.


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