Nomad's Hotel: Travels in Time and Space

Nomad's Hotel: Travels in Time and Space

by Cees Nooteboom

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Since his first voyage, as a sailor earning his passage from his native Holland to South America, Cees Nooteboom has never stopped traveling.Now his best travel pieces are gathered in this collection of immense range and depth, informed throughout by the author’s humanity and gentle humor. From exotic places such as Isfahan,Gambia, and Mali to seemingly…  See more details below


Since his first voyage, as a sailor earning his passage from his native Holland to South America, Cees Nooteboom has never stopped traveling.Now his best travel pieces are gathered in this collection of immense range and depth, informed throughout by the author’s humanity and gentle humor. From exotic places such as Isfahan,Gambia, and Mali to seemingly domesticated places such as Australia and Munich,Nooteboom shares his view of the world, showing us the strangeness in places we thought we knew and the familiarity of places most of us will probably never see.
His phenomenal gifts as an observer and the wealth of his reading and learning make him an authoritative and delightful companion.
Nomad’s Hotel is a record of a world-class traveler’s many discoveries and insights.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher


“A book for anyone who has ever felt that eternal traveler’s longing to see more, to know more, to live fully in every place they inhabit.”
-Madeleine Thien, author of Certainty

“A jewel of a travel book, free of pretension, full of easy adventure, fresh with childlike wonder for the world.”
-The Guardian


"These journeys of prizewinning Dutch novelist Nooteboom are as much head trips as passages through space....Nooteboom conveys the excitement of things he doesn't understand, signs and languages he can't decipher, a culture that rebuffs him and the refreshing shock of the wholly unknown...A profound engagement with travel on the astral plane."
-Kirkus Reviews

"[A] lyrical collection...Nooteboom weaves a compelling, perceptive, and yet wondering view of the places he visits...Armchair travelling at its best but also of interest to anyone who enjoys outstanding writing."
-Library Journal

"[Nooteboom] has spent a career traveling for the purpose of producing books and essays, and the results are stunning, as is shown in this collection."
-RL Magazine

Joshua Hammer
Nooteboom's observant eye and ravenous appetite for third-world backwaters sometimes recall the work of his contemporary, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Dutch writer Nooteboom, whose works include highly acclaimed novels (e.g., Lost Paradise), poetry, and plays, surrounds his reader with the sounds, sights, and smells of his wanderings in this lyrical collection written over three decades. From the bone-chilling dampness of winter in the Aran Islands and the insistent bells marking time in the labyrinth of Venice to the endless dry and empty lands of Gambia and Mali, whose people struggle to find their future, Nooteboom weaves a compelling, perceptive, and yet wondering view of the places he visits. He writes with unease about Iran's future near the end of the last shah's reign and with awe at the sight of a fresco by Andrea Mantegna in Mantua. The book includes a small number of handsome black-and-white photographs. Armchair traveling at its best but also of interest to anyone who enjoys outstanding writing.
—Linda M. Kaufmann

Kirkus Reviews
These journeys of prizewinning Dutch novelist Nooteboom (Lost Paradise, 2007, etc.) are as much head trips as passages through space..A footloose soul, the author finds within the cacophony of ever-changing milieus the composure in which to write. The feeling Nooteboom conveys of always floating several inches above the ground lends an appealing mystery to the places he visits. This MO works equally well for Zurich, where he admires the choreography of the swans in the lake, or the great square in Isfahan, where he conjures the heyday of mighty Persian Shah Abbas, who "once stood, lay, or sat, while watching the polo matches and races far below him. On such occasions the sides of the big terrace would be closed off, the silk curtains billowing in the wind." These travels in the mind's eye are supplemented by the author's intensely observed experiences. Of a ratty, gray hotel in Mali he writes, "it does not get much uglier than this." In Taourirt, Morocco, "I did see Death. Over in a dark corner where it is damp and cold, a pile of dirty rags lies moaning." Nooteboom conveys the excitement of things he doesn't understand, signs and languages he can't decipher, a culture that rebuffs him and the refreshing shock of the wholly unknown. Yet he also finds a bemused thrill in the quotidian. At the Ritz in Barcelona, the mirror on the cupboard opens toward the bed: "this mirror must have reflected a thing or two, but it remains silent as the earth into which so many of those guests have already disappeared." In his travels, Nooteboom discovers a balance of movement and peace, welcoming the indelible chance encounters that inevitably occur along the way..A profound engagement with travel onthe astral plane.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Eye of the Storm The origin of existence is movement. Immobility can have no part in it, for if existence was immobile it would return to its source, which is the Void. That is why the voyaging never stops, in this world or in the hereafter." These words, by the twelfth--century Arabian philosopher Ibn al-Arabi, are from his detailed tract on traveling, the Kitâb al-isfâr, The Book of Revelations on the Effects of Voyaging, a mystical and deeply religious piece of writing, in which everything—God, the universe, the soul—is viewed through the prism of movement, and throughout the entire book this movement is invariably referred to as voyaging. I am neither Muslim nor religious, I bought the book in Paris some time ago because it contained the word voyage (safar in Arabic, plural asfâr), because it was a dual-language edition and I love the beauty of Arabic script, and also because, when I flipped through it in that Parisian bookshop, I noticed a couple of things in the introduction that preoccupy all genuine travelers, be they from the twelfth century or the twentieth. The translator and writer of the introduction, Denis Gril, points out that he could have translated the word "effects" with "fruits"—on the one hand to underline the positive outcome of traveling, on the other hand because, due to its origin, the Arabic word for fruit, natâ’ij, makes one think of "to give birth," with its evocation of the intellectual, spiritual fruits of traveling. A voyage, says the text, is thus named because it reveals a person’s character, or, put more simply, for the benefit of those who travel alone: on a journey you get to know yourself.

      Yet another word, siyâha, pilgrimage, catches my attention in that introduction, possibly due to my fascination with Santiago de Compostela. Its de?nition reads: "parcourir la terre pour pratiquer la méditation—i’tibâr—et se rapprocher de Dieu." Traveling around the world, meditating and drawing nearer to God. The latter would be a pretension for me, but substitute the word God with mystery and I do feel able to subscribe to it. For how do these things come about? One fine day, and I know how romantic and old-fashioned that sounds, but it is what happened in my case, I packed a rucksack, took leave of my mother, and caught the train to Breda. An hour later—you know how small the Netherlands is—I was standing at the side of the road on the Belgian border sticking my thumb in the air, and I have never really stopped since. At that time any meditative thought, any metaphysical pretension was foreign to me, those sorts of things only come later, rather in the way a Tibetan prayer wheel functions in fact, with the movement preceding the thought. To put it in a different way, I never again stopped moving around, and gradually I began to think while doing it, and you could, if you wished, call this thinking meditation.
     Two things are significant here: anyone who is constantly traveling is always somewhere else, and therefore always absent. This holds good for oneself, and it holds good for the others, the friends; for although it is true that you are "somewhere else," and that, consequently, there is somewhere you are not, there is one place where you are constantly, all the time, namely with "yourself." And no matter how simple it sounds, it does take a long time before you become fully aware of this. For there is always the incomprehension of the "others" to contend with. How many times did I have to hear Pascal’s dictum, "the root of the world’s misfortune lies in the fact that human beings are unable to remain in one room for twenty-four hours," before it began to dawn on me that, on the contrary, I was the one who was always at home, namely with myself. But that traveling self was repeatedly confronted by the stay-at-homes’ questions, with one question recurring with monotonous regularity at each interview, so much so that I have lost count of all the fabrications with which I replied. "Why do you travel, why do you travel so much?," followed by (accusingly), "Are you running away from something?," by which they meant and mean, running away from yourself, which for me conjures up visions of a demonic, pathetic, tortured self, forever driving me back into the desert or on to the high seas. The true answer, having to do with learning and contemplation, with curiosity and perplexity, is just not spectacular enough. In 1993 I wrote an introduction to a little book called De Koning van Suriname (The King of Surinam). It contains my earliest traveler’s tales, written in the 1950s, when I was a seaman, plying the route to Surinam, on the north-east cost of South America. My introduction begins. "Traveling, too, is something . . ."
     Traveling, too, is something you have to learn. It is a constant transaction with others in the course of which you are simultaneously alone. And therein lies the paradox: you journey alone in a world that is controlled by others. It is they who own the boarding house where you want a room, they who decide whether there is space for you on the plane that only goes once a week, it is they who are poorer than you and can benefit from you, they who are more powerful because they can refuse a stamp or document. They speak in tongues you cannot comprehend, stand next to you on a ferry or sit next to you on the bus, they sell you food at the market and send you in the right or wrong direction, sometimes they are dangerous, but usually they are not, and all this has to be learned: what you should do, what you should not do, and what you should never do. You have to learn how to deal with their drunkenness and yours; you have to be able to recognise a gesture and a glance, for no matter how solitary a traveler you are you will always be surrounded by others; by their expressions, their overtures, their disdain, their expectations. And every place is different, and nowhere does it resemble what you were accustomed to in the country you come from. That slow process of learning the things I would need later on, in Burma and Mali, Iran and Peru, began then. Not that I was aware of it in those days, I was far too busy keeping myself afloat in a sea of new impressions. I had no time to think about myself, I traveled and wrote like someone who could not yet travel and write. All I could do was observe, and then attempt to circle around what I saw with words. I had no theories about the world with which to test the confusing reality all about me, and everything I could not yet do is manifest in these stories.
     Maybe the genuine traveler is always positioned in the eye of the storm. The storm being the world, the eye that with which he views it. Meteorologists tell us that within this eye all is silent, perhaps as silent as a monk’s cell. Whoever learns how to see with this eye might also learn how to distinguish between what is real and what is not, if only by observing the ways in which things and people differ, and the ways in which they are the same.
Baudelaire wrote that travelers leave in order to depart, and he also wrote about the spurious notions they take with them, and about the "bitter knowledge" their travels provide them with, about "the petty, monotonous world that allows us to glimpse ourselves, yesterday, today, and tomorrow: an oasis of horror in a desert of tedium." Looked at from this point of view, perhaps it is he who stays at home among the familiar anecdotage of daily life who is running scared, being unable to stomach this bitter knowledge. As far as I am concerned it is not about which of us is the hero here, but about which of us is doing his soul’s bidding, at whatever cost.
     Once, when I had no way of knowing what I now know, I chose movement, and later on, when I understood more, I realized I would be able, within this movement, to find the silence necessary in order to write; that movement and silence are balanced in a union of opposites. That the world, with all its drama and crazy beauty, its baffling vortex of countries, peoples, and histories is itself a traveler in an endlessly voyaging universe, a traveler on its way to new journeys, or, to put it in the words of Ibn al-Arabi: "As soon as you see a house you say, this is where I want to stay, but scarcely have you arrived before you leave again, in order to be on your way once more." I once wrote a poem about this way—the way as destiny, calling, or temptation—that attempts to convey this eternal, cyclical movement. Hence its title.

"The Way"

I am the way.
Straight as an arrow
aimed at the distance,
but in the distance
I am
far away.

If you follow me,
Here, there, everywhere
You will arrive,

A way is away.

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