So we’re standing in the street outside the brothel — or what used to be the brothel — in Pompeii. The one with the rude frescoes on the walls showing ancient Roman punters exactly what they could expect for their sesterces.
There are 20 of us, or thereabouts, and before we go in the man in the white cheesecloth shirt and the floppy sun hat would like a word.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our sighted guides,” says Amar Latif. “I’d just like to remind you of my words at the beginning of this holiday. You are not carers; you are fellow travelers, companions. And one of the most valuable things you can do is to describe in loving detail whatever you might see before you that is of visual interest. Here’s your chance.”
And so it is that Maggie Heraty, a jolly humanitarian logistics expert more used to organizing emergency relief operations in Liberia or Haiti, finds herself explaining to Jenny Tween, who works at the BBC and has optic atrophy, meaning she has been partially sighted since she was two, that here we have: “a gentleman, reclining. With a naked lady squatting on top.”
While over here, Heraty continues, undaunted by Tween’s snorts, we can see (or not, of course) “the doggy position. And just along from that, the lady’s on top of the gentleman, again. But facing his feet this time. Hmmm.” She pauses. “Sorry, Jenny. Just trying to work out the mechanics of that one. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it.”
It’s not, obviously, that these people spend their holiday discussing the sex lives of the Ancients.
But nor are they your regular holidaymakers. Half of them, for a start, are blind or visually impaired. The other half are fully sighted. The former have paid a bit more than they might do for a standard package holiday to come on this week-long break in Sorrento, southern Italy, including flights, transfers, half-board in a four-star hotel with pool, a cookery lesson and excursions to Pompeii, Capri and Positano.
The latter have paid quite a bit less. In exchange, every day they will take a different visually impaired traveler by the arm (not literally, there’s nothing a blind or partially sighted person — or “VI,” as they’re more familiarly known — loathes more than being patronized) and act as their guide. Show them, as it were, the sights.
Sighted travelers help VIs with obvious obstacles: curbs, low arches and doorways, busy roads, flights of stairs (“Step down. One more to go. That’s the bottom.”) They explain where the food is on a plate (“Chicken at three o’clock, peas at six”). And once in a while, they get to describe in loving detail the wall paintings in the Pompeii brothel.
It’s not hard. In fact it’s fun. You learn a lot. “You get to do things you wouldn’t normally do,” says Wendy Coley from Loughborough, England, a sighted veteran of many such expeditions. “Once, in China, they got to touch the terra-cotta warriors. Imagine. And the act of describing what you see ... You take in far more, somehow; see things in a very different way. It may sound silly, but going on holiday with blind people opens your eyes.”
It does. I tried it at Gatwick with Latif, the 36-year-old Glasgow-born entrepreneur who set up this strangely inspiring business seven years ago. Latif has been without 95 percent of his sight since his first year at university, thanks to an incurable eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. He founded Traveleyes, as the company is called, because “no one was doing the kind of holiday I wanted to go on,” and as far as he knows it’s the only one of its kind in the world.
An airport, you very quickly realize, is not a great place to be a VI. Inexpertly piloted baggage trolleys, beeping electric buggies, non-speaking departure boards, too many people in too much of a hurry; a nightmare. And if you ask for help, Latif says, they “put you in a wheelchair. Blind people go mental. It’s a liability avoidance thing, but it’s so humiliating. Most of us are highly independent, and extremely competent. We don’t need wheelchairs.”
Technology has made life easier in recent years, he concedes: “Piece of piss, to be honest, compared to what it was.” His mobile phone responds to vocal commands (assuming it understands his accent, which isn’t always), and speaks to him when he taps it. Screen reading software means blind and visually impaired people can use applications from Gmail to Excel, and even get the newspaper read to them online.
But navigating a crowded airport is another matter. Latif has his white cane, essential when he has to “go freestyle.” But it’s just more comfortable, sometimes, to be led. So what you do is, you stand beside and just slightly in front of the VI you’re leading, and offer them your elbow. They grasp it lightly (“Clicking on,” Latif calls it), and off you go. A tad slower than you otherwise might, but not much.
It’s that leading arm that transmits the messages. You have to talk, too, obviously, but it’s mainly just natural, friendly chat, interspersed with the odd alert (“Step up. Escalator coming.) Blind people feel in control when they’re holding your elbow, and will let go if they get anxious (or so says How to be a Sighted Traveler, the leaflet Traveleyes sends to its sighted customers).
You notice, too, that blind people pick up an awful lot more than you do through their other senses. “I can hear the hand-dryers,” says Latif. “Is that the gents, by any chance? Might just nip in.” Or, to a slightly nonplussed security man, “I can smell fruit. Exotic? Strawberries?” A fresh stick of Juicy Fruit gum, the guard admits.
You have to be a bit careful what you say, but you soon learn that an inadvertent “Did you see that?” or “Look, over there!” is not going to upset anyone.
Latif’s beaming presence helps hold the whole thing together. He’s a quite remarkable man; much in demand as a motivational speaker, and you can see why. A maths and finance graduate, he worked as a management accountant for eight years before striking out on his own, overcoming untold obstacles to launch a highly successful company, win a fistful of business and disability awards, and gladhand presidents and prime ministers.
“This holiday,” he announces to all on the bus from Naples airport to Sorrento, “is all about enjoying things on an equal basis. So if you’re blind, don’t worry, so am I. And if you’re sighted, don’t be so bloody clever.”
When it comes to holidays, beyond imposing again on long-suffering friends and relatives, the blind or visually impaired have shockingly few options. A charity called Vitalise runs holidays for people with a range of disabilities, but that’s about it. Not just in Britain, either: 30 percent of Traveleyes’ VIs come from abroad, mainly North America, Australia and New Zealand.
On the way back through town, stopping to wonder at the heft of a tomato and inhale an olive oil in the market, we’re drawn into a shop selling limoncello, the lemon-based liqueur of the Gulf of Naples. Sensing a celebratory mood, the proprietor turns up the music. “Here we say: we have a lemon, we have a girl, we have a party!” he proclaims. And to Dean Martin belting out Volare, then That’s Amore, everyone — unembarrassed — dances.
For sighted travelers, the motivation for this kind of holiday is maybe more complex. There are two sighted couples on this trip, but many are single. Several have tried singles holidays, without enjoying them: too full of “people out for themselves”; you end up “feeling lonelier when you leave than when you arrived.”
Irene Sylvester, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, is newly retired. “I was looking for something I could do on my own,” she says, “but that wouldn’t make me feel I was on my own.” Jayn Bond, an HR and employment law specialist from Cambridge, wanted “a holiday that wouldn’t make me feel lonely, and where I could contribute.”
Others have less exalted reasons: Glyn Evans, a signalman from Rotherham, has been on a dozen Traveleyes holidays. He loves “the laughs. They’re great people.”
He’s on to something here, Latif, that’s about more than offering holidays for blind people. He knew the idea would work as soon as he tried it out for himself, with a student who used to read his textbooks for him at university: both of them had a ball. The first organized holiday, to a farmhouse in Andalucia, Spain, in 2004, was a roaring success; since then, Traveleyes has grown by 50 percent each year. And more than 60 percent of its business is repeat, from people who’ve been before.
Are there never problems? “You might think,” he says, “that the cheap holiday thing could attract the wrong people. We do a criminal records check and an employer’s check; it’s slightly tricky — you’re not employing people, but you do have to be aware that they’re dealing with vulnerable adults. But honestly, there’s never been a problem.”
Destinations are chosen carefully; there has to be plenty of opportunity for non-visual exploration. But blind people also love sightseeing, Latif insists. “The fact I can’t see the sights only heightens my curiosity,” he says.
It’s not uncommon, Latif says, for guests staying in the same hotel to ask whether they can join a Traveleyes group, “because they’ve seen the time we’re having, the atmosphere.” So what actually is happening here? A married couple, Dick and Lizzie Bulkely, turned away at the last minute by another firm because of Lizzie’s advancing glaucoma, put their finger on it.
“I’m really interested in how these groups work and get on,” says Dick, a retired clinical psychologist. “The constant negotiating, the compromise, the concern. There are real, important people skills going on here, all the time. I really like it. And you don’t come across it very often.”
The Taiwan of yesteryear was dominated in whole or in part by the Dutch, Spanish, Qing Empire and Japanese. But is the Taiwanese name for a popular edible fish derived from the Portuguese language? Cheng Wei-chung (鄭維中), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, says yes. The fish in question is the narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, which was listed in early 18th century Qing local gazetteers as Taiwanese specialities alongside milk fish and mullet, according to Cheng’s paper, “Mullet, narrow-barred Spanish mackerel and milkfish: Multiple contextual developments of three certified seafood specilaities in Taiwan, from the
Chen Wang-shi (陳罔市) doesn’t know where to go if she is forced to move. The 78-year-old Chen is an active “sea woman” (海女) in Taiwan’s easternmost fishing village of Makang (馬崗) in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮). When the waves are calm, she ventures out to forage for algae, oysters and other edible marine morsels. She lives alone in the village, as her children have moved to the cities for work, returning for weekends and festivals. “I cannot get used to living in Taipei, and I feel very uncomfortable if I don’t go out to the ocean to forage. I
Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 They called him the “No Problem Doctor” (沒關係醫生) because that’s what he always told his patients when they couldn’t pay up. Operating the only clinic in Changhua County’s Pusin Township (埔心) during the 1950s, Hsu Tsai-chih (許再枝) knew that life was difficult in his remote hometown. “They barely had enough to survive, so it was pointless to chase after them for the money,” an 81-year-old Hsu told the United Daily News in 2002. “I just went with the flow, some offered to pay me back years later but I had already forgotten
A widely criticized peer-reviewed study that measured the attractiveness of women with endometriosis has been retracted from the medical journal Fertility and Sterility. The study, “Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study,” was first published in 2013 and has been defended by the authors and the journal in the intervening years despite heavy criticism from doctors, other researchers and people with endometriosis for its ethical concerns and dubious justifications, with one advocate calling the study “heartbreaking” and “disgusting.” The study’s conclusion was: “Women with rectovaginal endometriosis were judged to be more attractive than those in the two control groups.