Today revisits a 2012 episode from previous hosts Sarah and Deblina. After a childhood spent roaming Europe, Freya Stark began saving money to take Arabic lessons. Once fluent, she traveled into areas few outsiders had ever been, documenting her travels in best-selling books.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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happy Saturday, everybody we have a new podcast launching on our network. It is called parkland here and it's about the journeys of.
Added MAC Cure Whack, who bought an ivy and they are travelling full time trying to
as many national parks as they can and documenting their journey as they go. So in the spirit of that theme, today we are going back to our episode on France, stark whose alternatives Freya of Arabia, who spent much of her life travelling and documented. Her travels,
series of best selling books and stay tuned at the end to get a sneak beak at parkland ia, well,
the stuff you missed in history, class of production of I radios house of works
well and welcome to the high costs, unfair, daddy and I'm going to talk about it and not too long ago we talked about a few Real Indiana Jones possibility when one of the guys who made our short lesbian go into too many details about it. But one of the guys who met our short list was the very famous t, Lawrence, better known, of course, as Lawrence
rabies, and I think lords of Arabia could still make a really great solo topic. But today we're gonna discuss someone who's, occasionally associated with him, Dame Freya Stark, who sometimes called the female
its of Arabia. To me, though, stark relief reminds me less of Lawrence of Arabia and more of another podcast subject. We have discussed Ottoman traveller evilly, a cello, be they explored,
sleep different areas of the world. They were obviously separated by several centuries, but
really stand out from other adventures we ve talked about before because of their attention to detail.
They were almost more writers before they were travellers, Zena that that was what they were really focusing on. They bothered to me all different types of people and learn: local customs speak people's own languages and they always
preferred the slow road to. I think, if you remember when we talked about earlier, he didn't like ships. Kamikaze was scared of them, but it made his travel really flow in the same is true for Freya, who could have taken a car a lot of places, but prefer to travel by donkey or by mule. You know really take her time with that. There were some differences between them, though chubby ultimately produce
one epic travel account and one very impressive map stark riding in the modern age broke her accounts down into volumes in her one hundred years. She produced twenty four travel books and autobiographies and eight volumes of letters. Many of them were best sellers depicting arrest by the french trips to the fortress of the assassins, the secret life of hearings and a month long siege at the british embassy in Baghdad, but
personal life and her penchant for wild hats is really just as interesting as this sort of professional life she had. It all starts in an appropriate Lee Bohemian.
she was born January thirty, first eighteen, ninety three in a much studio to artistic parents who were also first cousins when she was
two years old, her parents started wandering carrying her and her baby sister over the Alps in a basket yeah very romantic founding life. The most settled period of her childhood, though, is spent in her fathers home at Devon sure, where she slept in a bed her mother had painted with ships again all very romantic and Approach
for her later life, but the family basically lived all over Europe and she grew up speaking English, with an accent which is kind of ironic. Considering she was often thought to be. The quintessential englishwoman German was really her first language. She also knew french and italian as a child and learned a few other languages later on. As will see, it wasn't really quite is fine as it sounds, though, this life of childhood wandering, but it really did make Frere resourceful. She didn't have very much formal education and she and her sister would instead study with occasion
governesses pick up a few things in just read as much as they could. According to Jaclyn Mclean and women of adventure, she later said quote are wandering life made us precocious and pretty tough, but when Freya was
Nine years old, her mother left her father for a twenty three year old broke italian count and took the kids with her to Northern ITALY before
others, money was cut off the count, bought a rug and basket factory and the family managed to make a meagre living off. Of that, then, just before a phrase, thirteenth
day while visiting the factory she got her hair caught and some machinery it pulled her up to the sea
and mangled her scalp and her right ear before she could finally be freed so horrible. In fact,.
Sean's almost killed her, but doctors in Turin ultimately were able to save her life with skin graphs. That came from her thighs for the accident
really made her quite self conscious. She would dress her here over the right side of her faith and later she would, where large had seen out. We ve meant that already, but it also gave her some time to recover to in some time to start exploring new things. While she was recovering, she started to read adventure stories and get really fixated on the idea of travel, something I guess she had grown up doing, but wasn't really
doing by this point just sort of stock in northern ITALY, where she was pretty unhappy. Eventually, though, her father, who was now living far off in Canada, agreed to send her to college
London, where she studied english law
mature in history. She wasn't there for long, though, before
world where one began and she had to return home to ITALY and there she became a nurse during the two
but she was gone, though her younger sister Vera, who is just eighteen at the time, married her mothers italian count boyfriend can of the strain
the situation. There is indeed, according to Claudia Roth, pure point in the new Yorker there's some
the agreement between Starks biographers, about how this actually played out some of them suggests that account first courted Freya
he simply chose Vieira instead and that, whatever the case, they had a view.
happy life together with four children, and this left Freya feeling
there that she had made the wrong choice or that she had been passed over. Others suggests, though, that Vieira had a horrible life with account and that Freya was instead troubled by her sisters, unhappy situation. Still I mean how fat again just kind of a strange
The jewish had kind, definitely odd to have your father, stuff,
therefore become your husband brother in law, known since your return but afraid had her
own broken engagement to all she was acting as a nurse in ITALY. Her fiance had left her when she got typhoid but
after the war was over Freya and her mother lived in a house on the Italian Revere and they were just barely scraping by they were very poor. Frere grew flowers so that she could seldom and supplement their income again. She was isolated, she was bored and to get away from this really claustrophobic life. She got into mountain climbing and started scaling the Alps and she started studying and something I guess she.
sort of put aside for a while. She was nursing a teacher of hers suggested well, aren't you learn a new language in a shared? He spoke english, german and french Italian
Where did you learn language? That's a little bit outside of the ordinary and he suggested. Maybe I slammed it could be a corn to learn but free. I had a smart hunch that there was potentially more promise in learning arabic
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So after World WAR one, the Ottoman Empire had been broken up and the british and French controlled much of the Middle EAST. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan in France,
that. Large parts of the air speaking world were starting to open up to traveller.
archaeologists cartographer, is in people doing government work, and so she her
that no in Arabic would get her interesting work and quote led me out into some sort of fairy land of my own
while she had romanticize notions of arabian nights from her readings as a girl. Yes, she was hoping it would be some grand adventure and away for her to go somewhere news someplace far away from where she was so. She took her study very seriously. She saved you know he mentioned she was barely scraping by here, but she save her lessons at the London School of oriental studies and added Persian to her repertoire too, as well as improving her arabic, but it wasn't until nineteen, twenty six after her sister Vieira died from a miscarriage that France decided that it was time to put her skills into practice time to go for it and travel like she had always wanted to. So she started off by taking a cargo ship to Beirut, and she recognized that that was a good starting place for her, because I had a strong french influence, it wouldn't be completely foreign. She could work her way and she could keep steadying arabic and she was really welcome when she came to
because she said that people thought she was. There quote neither to improve, nor to rob just to learn stuff, just to observe and really practice her language by March of nineteen twenty eight now
confident language skills Freya travelled to Damascus according to Mclean. This was kind of the first bubble, popping of that right,
man. Take Arabia, idea that she had. She found the city
war torn cold, full of fleas and herself sick with dysentery, but she also prove
Her early travellers, not all by not letting any of that stop her from exploring ruins and wandering the city now surely got out there and did what she had hoped to deal, but
where she didn't get her eventual reputation as a bold explorer for Edith powering, for
dysentery now getting out there. Followers
I think it is admirable that either
To do more than just wander around and already well known city, she got that reputation. Could she went to places where she wasn't supposed to go in the first place and her first major expedition like this with south of Damascus,
to the drew's tribe in a region that head rebelled recently, rebelled against french control and had been suppressed by the French, and then the French had actually place the entire area under martial law and barred travellers. From entering, though she was,
definitely not supposed to be visiting their, but Frere and of british friends looked at the border and dodge the french authorities as long as they could when they were finally caught fray and her friend played dumb
traveller lady, they were just kind of like whom, goodness are Thomas could guide book must have mister
How do we get here place we shouldn't be here? I didn't know that didn't quite work there,
french authorities, thought that they might be spies, and so they were sent to the army barracks, but free. I managed to charm her way out of their. She took pardon
army dinners horse rides. She even got permission to keep travelling and, most importantly, she had drew's street cried now. Since she had been arrested by their enemies, the french finance she was called the truth. Now, though, her next trap, which took place in nineteen twenty nine started in Baghdad, which, at the time was british, controlled but very diverse. It was filled with Arab than Greeks, Turks, Jews, Armenians, Kurds Persians and she really took advantage of that diversity to she. After study of Persian, she began learning folklore. She was very interested in history and literature and that type of thing- and this improved Persian of hers, prepared her for the main goal of the Strip, which was to visit the Elbe worth mountains in modern IRAN, which held the ruined fortress of the fast then, and
I've heard these thousands in conjunction with its how we have our word assassin or assassinate, but I didn't know too much about them and I think they could make a pretty cool podcast subject on their own, but they were a murderous, medieval fact that would do just what you expect them to do: infiltrate groups and then assassinate somebody
so travelling in what became her signature style. No servants view guides lots
medicine, lots of little presence and embossed letters of introduction, Stark set out with mules. The four
Chris had already been explored but stark, updated maps, she relocated and misplaced mountain, and she documented all the people that she met along the way. She also
popularize the place. Writing the valleys of the assassins and other person travels, which became a hit not just for the main attraction which, of course was the assassins, but for the other personal details that contain like an account of
poor woman, offering Frere the only tomatoes from her garden, but secretly slipping her son, the left over juice. That came out of slicing them, and I think this is a good point to mention two that stark is really well known for her depiction of women's live according to Roth Pierpont that New Yorker article we mentioned earlier she'd often be the first european woman in an area. So the first people who would be really interested in her were, of course, the the local women. You know they were interested in seeing your first european lady, and so she would make friends with them start talking with them first and learn about bridle customs and clothes and jewelry inheritance and kids, and just a day to day life and threw them ultimately gain access to the man's world.
But pick up a lot about a kind of an unexplored aspect of life. In the meantime. So after a third to your trip, stark began to be seen as a Middle EAST expert back home. The world geographic society
on her and began to help fund future trips of hers so
eighteen thirty, four, she decided her next trip would be less about mapping and more about discover,
She really wanted to find an ancient trading spot believed to be the origin of the franc, incense trade round, and possibly the capital of the queen of Sheba pretty much any foreign explore
we should say here pretty much any explore in the Middle EAST at the time wanted to find, shall Bois, which was believed to be buried, but the area was a harsh desert and contested ground between two warring tribe. So
dangerous to attempt to this and to make matters worse and even more difficult, stark would have to cross into independently
Fraud and Northern Yemen, where foreigners were not welcome and so she'd have to do it in secret. So she went travelling with bedouin guides and got. We know a decent ways before she caught measles from a child in a harem on a stop along the way she got pretty near to Shabata. But she
got sick again this time with malaria, and then she made a bad mistake about mixing medication. She combined her
malaria, medicine with her dysentery medicine, which cause major heart problems, and she ultimately had to be evacuated by the Royal AIR force. But while she was in the hospital, this message has been so disappointing. While she was in the hospital
and photographer found the fortress ruins. She did later get credit from the guy who explored them more fully. But she didn't get them or discover them herself.
When world were too began, Freya chose
her english alliances over her italian, though her home was in ITALY in her nieces nephews were all italian
join the Ministry of Information and was posted to Arden. As the South Arabia expert. Her job was basically
you keep Yemen and later Cairo in Baghdad, pro British or at least neutral. So sheep essentially became a pr woman
propaganda woman. She,
battle, not fear fascist propaganda, with pro british propaganda trying to convince people that the British could win the war, which was something that was a little bit on the fence in the early years. She'd also help disseminate new, should translate Reuters reports, fur broadcast and she'd even poorer.
slowly arrange propaganda exhibitions herself in northern Yemen, for instance. She snuck in a projector claiming that it was some sort of portable commode and made friends with the minister there or made friends with the ministers wife there. She would have tee with our chat with her in Arabic to sort of get comfortable with everybody movies and record.
Were forbidden there for religious reasons, but stark found a way around that by describing the movies to the Ladys of the harem, and she must have done it enticing, lay enough that the Ladys were eventually allowed to wash. They eventually pressured somebody to allow them.
watch movies and soon enough. The men were also watching these pro british propaganda films and of many credits dark for at least partially being responsible for keeping Yemen neutral during world or two miles. Its framework yes, said across from each other:
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pick up: some Smirnoff, ornaments and police. It responsibly only share with those twenty one, an older in Cairo. She recruited members for an anti fascist pro democracy group called Brotherhood of freedom and she had just gone to bed
got to start a new chapter there when a pro nazi coup took place in April, one thousand nine hundred and forty one most british allied foreigners tried to hunker down at this point but starts just took a
to Tehran and then remarkably, came back to Baghdad because she was worried
all her empty friends. She was arrested by frontier police but managed to talk
The way out of it claiming that she couldn't possibly say
without a lady's made and she kind of flattered the guy.
a little bit, and this was just the way
made part of it was really. It was opposite to her actual
living without any about she's. So good. At talking
her way out of these situations, even if it involves saying something completely counter to what she really believes.
So the guard did send her on her way to Baghdad where she slipped into the british embassy, just as they were,
and backing the doors for a month. Long siege. The phrase spent the next month with three hundred and fifty other people inside that embassies and the Royal AIR Force Base had been closed by the iraqi army. The British were attempting to show the base. Try to reclaim et cetera, could gather folk thou, but despite sniper fire and summer, he and obviously close quarters in the embassy. May people were sleeping on the lawns stark who was, after all, by this point kind of a british celebrity, really try to keep morale up and keep folks entertainer. Already piano concert something
that would be stage. But she gave a lecture about her travels. She made sure that the Ladys were can have soap and faith powder, even though that in their requests is granted, even though one iraqi policemen supposedly said he couldn't imagine why the Harriman side would bother thinking about something like face patter, because they were all about to be murdered when the siege finally did end. According to rough Pierpont, Hitler was only able to commit to squadrons of planes because he had been in the process of sending these huge numbers of troops to the Soviet Union that, when the siege finally did and stark promptly it headed out but
three new hats and just kind of a side note they are too. She was really into not only hats but close. She apparently wrote their fusaro through which a new dress or hot will not send a little gleam of hope. However, fugitive I think that's
surprising reminded me of always Boyd almost with her flowers. She would where, in the Arctic on her Artic Expedition, that this lady, who obviously could rough it for awhile, was still pretty interested and hats with clock patterns on them.
an interesting clothes and that everything well a nineteen, forty three? She took those hats with her on the road when she was sent on a tour of the? U S, to try to influence America
politicians to oppose the creation of a jewish state and Palestine. While she was welcomed, as
famous writer. Her speeches did not go over well, at all
Did her assertion that immigration required arab consent. She
really dismayed that many people consider her and anti zionist and was horrified to be considered anti semitic. While she wrote a book during this period,
it, was her last on a radio politics just turned out to be not really her thing. She preferred history instead and she preferred its travelling to after the war. She moved back to ITALY. She found that fascist officers had been living in her house and she got married. This was a very odd interlude in her life. She married a historian and diplomat who she had met through her war time work and who had an she'd known for a few years. Unfortunately, he was known to be gay by pretty much everybody, except for her, and the marriage was not what she was anticipating. She had not been expecting a marriage between friends and the two sides,
braided pretty soon after that, she did continue calling herself MRS Freya Stark, which I think is an unusual little nod to her married station and get divorced either. She must have really liked to have that and MRS
title, but have her own name attached to it. Yeah
She was made a dame of the british empire at age. Seventy seven wrote until her death,
Nineteen ninety three at age, one hundred travelled until she was
Andy three visited much of IRAN retracing the rule of law.
under the great army going to remote spots in Afghanistan and her seven bees
in her eighties and nineties. She's stuck mostly to Europe escorting her many godchildren on travels as well, so she sort of passed on the travel bug in a way. I guess I was like she did some of her godchildren to have even written about her account. Then of course later in life to she was doing a lot of photography and was considered pretty great at documenting places and an interesting, interesting,
protect way for such a lifelong traveller, though it's maybe not to surprising that she even saw her own death as as a type of journey, she told a friend quote waiting for death. My dear is very much like being in an old fashioned steam train
setting out on a journey, her story and her fame are more remarkable to when you consider that she wasn't a great explorer, as in she didn't
make many important discoveries per se. Her bigger
contribution was really her ability to observe and to document chain you paved roads, new states,
you like that as well as traditions of all classes, men and men and women and her books are filled with incredibly descriptive passages and she could convince people to open up to her, and that was a real talent, partly because she spoke their language and many of the people she met on her travels became lifelong friends of hers too, but I think what might be the most notable thing about France. Starks life was her almost complete disregard for danger. She just hurry leading Carrie. She could almost always get out of things. I think a great illustration of this was when she was exploring ancient graves in what is today I run and she crossed yet. Another border illegally seems to be a common theme here.
and was stopped by the police when she was delivered by the police to the governor. He was more amazed and angry because she was alive and she had been in this area that was riddled with bandits and, in fact,
later learned. That murder had been stocking her right before she was captured by the police, and I think that the such a strange example because we ve seen all these ones where she talks her way out, but how many near misses or are there to its true it's interesting to that she seems to have
lay like embraced this aspect of her personality, this third letter in a matter- and it's really am indicative. I think in this quote of hers when she said I- I wanted space, distance history and danger. Thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday. If you have heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of today's that besides, since it is from the archive that might be out of date, now you can email us at history, podcast at how stuff works, dot com- and you can find us all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to our shadow on apple podcast. Google podcast
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