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Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Time Event
11:57p
A travel book ...
A few weeks back, a local used book store was having a benefit sale ... you donated $5 and they gave you a shopping bag that you could fill up from about a dozen boxes of books outside on the sidewalk ... I got quite a haul, and am starting to read through these, this being the second I've gotten through (but the first reviewed).

"Back in the day" I used to do a lot of traveling, and I really do miss it. This caught my eye for being an intensely illustrated travel guide for an area that I've not visited. However, Emmanuel Dehan's Our Visit To Israel is almost more fascinating as an example of entrepreneurial publishing than anything. The copy I got was from 1980, with a copyright notice in it which indicated that there may have been annual editions going back to 1974. The book also lacks an ISBN, which put me on a Google search to see what I could dig up, and it appears that at some point a different edition was published by a New York house.

The author is a professional Israeli tour guide and this is how he describes the book's origins:

"During my many years of professional guiding in Israel, I have often noticed tourists in my groups taking notes and writing diaries of their trips as we went along. A few of these persisted with their writing, but more often than not, they abandoned their notes after a few hours or at most after a day or two. It was for those visitors to Israel that I first prepared my summarized itineraries and brief descriptions of the routes actually traveled ..."
This, obviously, leads to the creation of a much different sort of travel guide than most, as it is more of an on-going narrative accompanying hundreds of snapshots.

Some of the snapshots are also of stuff one might not typically see ... things like the back of a Kibbutz guest house (where one supposes his tour group stayed) or a seafood restaurant (not even mentioned in the text) which likely was a lunch stop on the trip. Also, with this being nearly 30 years old at this point, there is certain "quaintness" to some of the shots in terms of styles of cars, dress, and building decor.

Dehan's initial versions of this were intended as "study guides", but with the expansion to a full-color book format, it really becomes a bit of a travelogue, taking the reader along on a journey through Israel in 1980. Of course, not having been along on the trip, it's hard to judge just how things were presented ... why, for example, does he spend five pages describing in detail the "Chagall Windows" from a medical center? One can only guess that these were one of the things that his charges were fascinated with and had a hard time taking notes on ... so he writes up descriptions of all 12 (the tribes of Israel) with accompanying photos. There are other "what?" instances here, like a picture of frumpy middle-aged women "picking stones in the brook" in a dry stream bed ... which only comes into focus when he mentions in the text that this is the supposed place where David picked up the stones he used in his sling to slay Goliath (leading one to wonder that after enough tour groups had come through, the locals must have to re-supply suitable small stones for the souvenir pickers!).

The resulting format certainly has a lot to recommend itself as a travel book ... especially for a place that one might not end up visiting ... although it does have certain aspects of sitting around in a relative's house being "treated to" their vacation slides with a long and detailed narrative! A handful of photos of Dehan are sprinkled through the book (unidentified, but you figure the same guy in four different contexts must be the tour guide), and I was hoping to have been able to google up some info on him (if just newspaper/magazine pieces), but I couldn't find anything (well, except for a young chef by the same name working in Europe, who may well be his son!), which is a pity. I fear that it is going to be more and more the reality that if it happened before 1995 (when the web took off) it's not really in the collective memory.

This also has a quaintness in its publishing, having likely been hand-set, with resulting typographic issues (there are several sections where there is no space following a period or comma, leading to a disjointed reading experience) and the photo reproduction is more reminiscent of the 1960's.

Due to the "self published" nature of Our Visit To Israel, and lack of ISBN, it is unlikely that anybody would have much of a chance to landing a copy of this specific edition, but I've done the links so they point to a later (1993) "21st Anniversary Edition" on Amazon (where, if you search on the author name, there are various other copies available). If this sounds like something you'd like, there are "very good" copies of the Bloch Publishing 1978 edition (the one "mass market" version?) available through the new/used vendors for as little as $0.15 (plus shipping, of course).

I found this quite interesting, and just wish I'd been able to ferret out more "back story" about the author and his tour operation!


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