It’s been a scatty week, with not much chance to think straight, let alone blog straight. I’m now back in Switzerland, on the final research trip to update my Rough Guide to Switzerland, looking out at the Baroque facade of the cathedral in Solothurn – it’s a humid summer evening and there’s an electric storm rolling in off the mountains. Rain is sheeting down, the bells are tolling for Mass, chords crescendo from the cathedral organ as a clap of thunder echoes around the darkening sky… Melodrama? You couldn’t make it up.
I must admit that my mind isn’t fully on the guidebook job in hand: I’m returning to Oman next month, for my first visit to Salalah, in the southern Dhofar region. Ranulph Fiennes’ book Atlantis of the Sands about the discovery of Ubar, a ‘lost city’ in the Dhofari desert, is getting me in the mood. The tales of military derring-do are less than gripping (Fiennes was a mercenary, seconded to Dhofar in 1968-69 to protect the then Sultan of Oman against Marxist insurgents) but Fiennes knows his Arabian history, clearly understands and respects Dhofari culture, and can call on a nice turn of phrase. Six bald words he gives to a remote desert settlement named Fasad, describing it as “a place of wind and spiders”. It’s one of the most exciting, evocative lines of travel writing I think I’ve ever read. I now have to see Fasad.
So that’s my problem. I love Switzerland, honestly I do. And I’m trying to focus on updating my Swiss guidebook. It’s just that, even with an electric storm as a garnish, Baroque Solothurn can’t quite match up to the allure of “a place of wind and spiders”. I’m already half in Dhofar.