"Wordsmiths & Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain"
Oxford University Press, $24.95
The English language is a strange and maddening thing, full of inconsistencies and so many spelling exceptions that they appear to be the rule rather than the exception. Ask anyone who has tried to learn it as a second language.
This delightful book by linguist and broadcaster David Crystal and daughter Hilary Crystal is, however, the opposite of maddening and rather a joyful romp exploring the linguistic heritage of Britain "as encountered through the places which shaped it." The title should be taken quite literally, because the authors do indeed include wordsmiths (from William Wordsworth and Robert Burns to Dylan Thomas and George Bernard Shaw) and warriors (King Alfred). Each chapter covers one topic and includes basic travel advice on how to get to a particular destination.
The authors start, logically, at the beginning, when the Anglo-Saxons arrived from the European mainland in what is now England, near a place called Pegwell Bay between Sandwich and Ramsgate in Kent. They explore the origin of the earliest-known English word, in rural Norwich. They pay homage to the Ruthwell Cross in southwest Scotland, which contains the longest runic inscription in Old English. They visit the site of the Tabard Inn in London, from which Chaucer and his merry band of pilgrims set off for Canterbury in 1386; the site where William Caxton established his printing press in 1476; and, of course, Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. They also mention some lesser-known literary figures, such as Isaac Pitman of Bath, who created the Pitman system of shorthand, or James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
In search of linguistic history, they go to places off the usual tourist beat, including Lichfield in Staffordshire, the birthplace of Samuel Johnson, who in 1755 published his singular achievement, Dictionary of the English Language. His house is now a museum. One of the more unusual finds is a tongue-in-cheek recreation of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayrshire, Scotland: 12 world-famous personalities (including Einstein, Mandela, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Shakespeare, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali and Sean Connery as James Bond, no less) huddle around the central figure of Burns.
The book is a feast for English-language tourists as well as wordsmiths everywhere.
"Where the Locals Go"
National Geographic, $24.95
The staff of National Geographic put together this colorful guide to more than 300 places around the world to "eat, play, shop, celebrate and relax."
Where to begin?
For those in search of Los Angeles-style fashion, the editors suggest a stretch of road on Third Street between South Edinburgh Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard that combines edginess and elegance. After doing some serious shopping, even if that just means window shopping, they recommend stopping by for a snack at Fonuts for gluten-free "fake-donuts," which they insist "taste better than the real thing."
Fado, the soulful indigenous music of Portugal, has been performed "in the streets and taverns" for many years. More recently, an intimate restaurant called Sr. Fado has opened in Lisbon, where the owners work in the kitchen, preparing traditional dishes such as seafood stew, then emerge later in the evening to perform the haunting songs of loss and love on the viola de fado and the 12-string Portuguese guitar.
The editors also recommend brew pubs in Portland, Ore.; jazz on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans ("the locals' Bourbon Street"); lobster suppers on Prince Edward Island; ice skating on the canals of the Netherlands; shoe shopping in Milan; Neapolitan pizza in Naples; and sandboarding in the United Arab Emirates.
A separate section describes local favorites in 15 cities: New York; Washington; Rio de Janeiro; Tokyo; Sydney; Shanghai; Jerusalem; St. Petersburg, Russia; Istanbul; Berlin; London; Paris; Rome; Barcelona, Spain; and Cape Town,