Culture vulture

20th August 2004 at 01:00
Travelling inspires Janet Starkey

Summer projects

As an anthropologist, I've spent a lot of time in the Middle East with nomads in the Sudan, Jordan and Kuwait. This will be the second summer I've taught anthropology to gifted and talented children at Durham University.

We have about 18 children aged 11 to 16, from diverse backgrounds, for two weeks. We'll look at Papua New Guinea, refugees, popular culture, biological and nutritional anthropology. They're wonderful. They interrupt and ask questions and they're so bright, it's daunting. Very different from 200 undergraduates in a lecture hall.

Summer reading

My research at the moment is based on travellers' tales so I'm hoping to read and re-read lots of those, including a book by two Scottish doctors who lived in Aleppo, in Syria, for about 15 years in the 18th century. I'm reading an autobiography of Evliya Chelebi, a 17th-century Turkish traveller in the Ottoman Empire, and hoping to read Tim Mackintosh-Smith's book about Ibn Battutah, a 15th-century Moroccan traveller. I also want to reread Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond. It's about the Middle East; the characters are eccentric and the style beautiful.

Away from it all

We hope to go to Puglia in Italy, which has ancient houses, like beehives, whitewashed, with one room (above). You find them in Syria, too; they probably go back to the Ancient Greeks. It's very relaxing. We will drive there, stay for a while and move on. Last year we went through Macedonia, Albania and Greece to Poland. We turn up, and sometimes there's somewhere to stay and sometimes there isn't.

Summer sounds

We have classical tapes in the car. I love Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. And sometimes we buy music while we're travelling: Russian Gregorian chant or Lebanese music. I like Fairouz, who's a Lebanese singer from the 1970s.

Will you visit any galleries?

I want to go to the exhibition of women travellers at the National Portrait Gallery, and the Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House. I'll be at the British Museum because I'm working on a project connected with their Sudan exhibition, Hidden Treasures.

Janet Starkey, 56, is an anthropologist. She was talking to Karen Gold. The NPG's Three Centuries of Women Travellers runs from July 7 to October 31.

The British Museum's Hidden Treasures opens on September 9. Friday magazine, which features Culture Vulture every week, returns on September 3

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