Caroline Moorehead

Good companions

‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In the 1970s, Hugh Leach’s companion on his travels to Northern Yemen was Freya Stark, and she has become his companion again, in this affectionate hommage of photographs and short, scholarly texts.

‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In the 1970s, Hugh Leach’s companion on his travels to Northern Yemen was Freya Stark, and she has become his companion again, in this affectionate hommage of photographs and short, scholarly texts.

‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In the 1970s, Hugh Leach’s companion on his travels to Northern Yemen was Freya Stark, and she has become his companion again, in this affectionate hommage of photographs and short, scholarly texts. Stark herself is all the more present in that she appears from time to time among the monuments, with her small stout figure, beaky nose and sensible shoes, smiling out from under wide-brimmed hats.

In the early 1970s, long before he met Stark and while he was serving in the British Western Aden Protectorate, Leach made a short tour of the Hadhramaut. Looking at Stark’s book about the area, published by John Murray in 1938, he was struck by the simplicity and clarity of the photographs, the uncompromising borderless photo- gravure images on mushroom-coloured paper, taken with the very screw-thread Leica he favoured himself.

On his way home he stopped in to call on her in Asolo, in Northern Italy, and when he told her that his next posting was to be to Sana’a, she proposed visiting him, so that they could travel together. The fact that she was 83 had not dimmed her longing for exploration.

Leach, an Arabist, soldier and diplomat, who endearingly lists his interests as vintage cars, early Christianity, crystal sets and circuses, seems to have been her perfect companion — no easy feat given her exigeant nature.

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