27 May 2008
Some men love people. Others have a fondness for things. And then there are those who love places most of all. I think the English explorer Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) probably fell into the last category. Born in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and educated at Eton and Oxford, Thesiger spent a lifetime exploring Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. His many books, such as Arabian Sands (1959) and Marsh Arabs (1964), are testament to his wanderings and keen insights. He was a talented photographer. Thesiger twice crossed the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula by foot and camel. An aristocrat who maintained a flat in Chelsea and who wore impeccable three-piece suits and tweed jackets from Savile Row, he sympathised strongly with savage peoples untouched by modernity. I highly recommend his outstanding autobiography, A Life of My Choice (1987). Great and unsusual men like Thesiger are increasingly rare in a shrinking, homogenised world. I doubt we will ever see his kind again.