Tag Archives: book

Travel Classic Two: Bruce Chatwin

Cerro Tennerife Patagonia

Cerro Tennerife Patagonia

Destination: Chile and Argentina, South America

Book: In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin uses one of the most engaging opening lines found in travel literature, or any other kind of literature, for that matter, to start In Patagonia (1977).

The classic of travel books begins , “In my grandmother’s dining room there was a glass-fronted cabinet and in the cabinet a piece of skin.”

When he asked about the strange object, he was told it was a brontosaurus that had lived in Patagonia in South America, “at the far end of the world.”  The hairy piece of skin becomes what Alfred Hitchcock called “the Magilla”–the object around which the drama builds. As he searches for the true story of the piece of skin, Chatwin develops a fascination for Patagonia which inevitably leads him to the far end of the world.

Chatwin tells stories in every paragraph, practically in every sentence.  He has the gift of looking at things in a skewed fashion and seeing them in completely new ways. “About fifty million years ago, when continents were wandering about…” he says. He leaves a museum, “reeling under the blows of Linnaean Latin.”

As he works his way south through Argentina and Chile, Chatwin meets with many people whose stories surprise and entertain the reader.  He also tells anecdotes about people who were once here, from Butch Cassidy and his gang to Darwin and his gang. Even Edgar Allen Poe plays a bit part in a story about the real life origins of his story Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. It is surprising the far-reaching impact of this remote place. But particularly, he is interested in the story of Charley Milward, a distant relative who found that piece of skin that was unfortuitously discarded, and of course must be rediscovered–or at least replaced.

Sometimes the journey, mostly on foot and hitch hiking on various decrepit vehicles, is very difficult. Sometimes it is very dangerous, as when a drunken sheepherder plays with his knife and wonders aloud what it would do the a gringo.  But regardless of whether you have the stamina to follow his route on the ground (and numerous travel agents stand ready to help you these days), In Patagonia provides a grand tour to take through reading a great piece of travel literature.

Photo by “Florasol” from Flickr, under Creative Commons License

Have you read it? Are you two for two this week? Or are you making a list? Share, please, we’re dying to know.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Argentina, Books, Chile, South America

A Book with some Naples History for Travelers

Naples, photographed by "Immagina" from Flickr

Naples, photographed by Ginaluca Ruggiero from Flickr

Destination: Naples, Italy

Book: Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth by Norman Lewis

Have you discovered the British travel writer Norman Lewis? Between 1938 and 2003, he published 23 travel books and 15 novels that can serve as travel books. I owe my discovery of Lewis to the manager of an inn on St. Lucia. Being British, he was quite astounded that I, a travel writer, did not know Norman Lewis’ work. He was quite right.

As a young soldier, Lewis was dispatched to (practically abandoned in) Naples after the Allies had driven out the German forces, but before the German army had left Rome.  A fact that complicated communications greatly, and gave a job to Lucky Luciano, who later became a Mafia chief in America.

The high command scarcely knew what to do with this situation.  One example of the idiocy that the occupation forces had to deal with. The people were starving. One of their mainstays before the war had been fishing.  But the army declared that no small boats could venture into the bay. So the fishermen lashed together doors to make a raft. The land was bare for several miles around the town, as the people walked out each day to harvest every blade of grass and stalk of weed to eat, sometimes having to walk ten miles for a couple of handsful. Much of the book deals with the lack of food.

Italian culture has enough inexplicable quirks on its own, as was pointed out ably in Italy Out of Hand. Pile on top of that decisions by military brass miles, if not continents away, and the friction between American and British forces and you have a situation both tragic and comic.  Sometimes I thought of Naples ’44 as the true forerunner of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 or M.A.S.H, except that Naples ’44 is not fiction.  Lewis lived through this. The people of Naples lived through it, amazingly.

I did not visit Naples when I was in Italy, but this books makes me want to go back, wander the streets and wonder at the resiliency of people.  A reader’s comment on Amazon caught my eye.  The reader, from Naples, wrote “The way people live then and now has not changed. Minus having sex in the cemetery.”  The book, from page to page, is filled with moments that catch your attention like that second sentence.

One paragraph, particularly, made me pause and think about the aftermath of war.

…I have arrived at a time when, in their hearts, these people must be thoroughly sick and tired of us.  A year ago we liberated them from the Fascist Monster, and they still sit doing their best to smile politely at us, as hungry as ever, more disease-ridden than ever before, in the ruins of their beautiful city where law and order have ceased to exist.  And what is the prize that is to be eventually won?  The rebirth of democracy.  The glorious prospect of being able one day to choose their rulers from a list of Powerful men, most of whose corruptions are generally known and accepted with weary resignation. The days of Benito Mussolini must seem like a lost paradise compared with this.

Learn more about the life of Norman Lewis in the Guardian’s obituary.

Have you been to Naples? What else should we read before going to Naples? And what are the not-to-be-missed sights?

If you have not yet subscribed to read A Traveler’s Library every day, please consider the RSS subscription button, or the opportunity to subscribe by e-mail.

Photograph by Ginaluca Ruggiero, Rome.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Destinations, Italy, Naples

Italy week at A Traveler's Library

The Coliseum, Rome

The Coliseum, Rome

Destination: Italy

Book: Italy out of Hand, A Capricious Tour by Barbara Hodgson

We are about to spend a whole week in Italy. Virtual Italy that is–through books.

Why?  Because Americans love to go to Italy? Because plenty of  literature exists to introduce us to Italy? Because several book s on Italy sit on my library shelves?  Well, all of the above and one more.  At the end of this week, the predictably block-buster movie, Angels and Demons opens. I read the book long enough ago, that I have forgotten many of the details. I felt it was insubstantial, error-ridden and found it easy to solve the puzzle. But that does not stop me from being enthusiastic about the movie. I kind of like “shallow” in my movies.

Once you have seen the glorious locations in the city of Rome, you will cancel plans to visit Aunt Susie in Columbus, Ohio, and instead book the first plane to Italy. (Unless, of course you are one of my many Twitter buddies who have the good fortune to already BE in Italy.) Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Italy

Italy week at A Traveler’s Library

The Coliseum, Rome

The Coliseum, Rome

Destination: Italy

Book: Italy out of Hand, A Capricious Tour by Barbara Hodgson

We are about to spend a whole week in Italy. Virtual Italy that is–through books.

Why?  Because Americans love to go to Italy? Because plenty of  literature exists to introduce us to Italy? Because several book s on Italy sit on my library shelves?  Well, all of the above and one more.  At the end of this week, the predictably block-buster movie, Angels and Demons opens. I read the book long enough ago, that I have forgotten many of the details. I felt it was insubstantial, error-ridden and found it easy to solve the puzzle. But that does not stop me from being enthusiastic about the movie. I kind of like “shallow” in my movies.

Once you have seen the glorious locations in the city of Rome, you will cancel plans to visit Aunt Susie in Columbus, Ohio, and instead book the first plane to Italy. (Unless, of course you are one of my many Twitter buddies who have the good fortune to already BE in Italy.) Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Italy

Cinco de Mayo and the American Southwest

Mariachi and Dancer as part of a table at Bellota Ranch

Mariachi and Dancer as part of a table at Bellota Ranch

Destination:  Southwestern United States

Book: Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink:Offbeat Travels through America’s Southwest by Tom Miller

Yes, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but as I am going to try to convince you, the Southwestern United States is oh, so close to Mexico. (Sometimes it is tempting to turn on its head that old Mexican quote and say, “Poor Arizona. So close to Mexico. So far from God.”) So I am featuring a book about the Southwest today, Cinco de Mayo, because it is celebrated at least as fervently in the Southwest as in old Mexico.

In the introduction to his book,  Tom Miller says, “To the Northeast, the Southwest is exotic, the other.”  For good reason. Many factors make the American Southwest distinctive within  both the American landscape and culture. The lure of the American West draws people here–wide open spaces, the possibility of reinvention and opportunities to disappear or strike it rich.  Along with other western states, it is a land of frontiers.

It is also a land of borders.  Not so long ago, compared to Asian or European history, there were no borders between what is now the Southwestern United States and Mexico.  Where I live, in Tucson, was the northern edge of the Spanish New World. The roots of Spanish heritage dig far deeper than the northern European heritage that influenced the rest of the states.

Therefore, you can’t explain the Southwest without reference both to the wild west, to Spain and Mexico and to the Borderlands Culture.  Since this is where I live, I’ll return to authors who understand the border–both sides of it–but first up is Tom Miller and Jack Ruby’s Kitchen Sink, a winning title if there ever was one. Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Mexico, United States

A Leisurely Read About a Caribbean Trip

Chickens on the street

Chickens on the street

Destination: Caribbean Islands

Book: The Traveller’s Tree by Patrick Leigh Fermor

When last seen in A Traveler’s Library, Patrick Leigh Fermor was hiking across the rough landscape of the Mani peninsula in Greece’s Peloponese.  His journey to the Caribbean came between his adventures in Crete during the war and the many Greek  journeys that he took in the following thirty years.

In The Traveller’s Tree, Fermor tells us about a journey by plane and boat through the islands of the lesser Antilles, Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba in 1946.  Be warned that the islands he described no longer look and sound the way they did when he was there. Life moves on.  But with his fine eye for detail and his love of learning, he brings a depth to the experience of island culture far beyond what you might glean from today’s slick advertising.

St. Lucia beach

St. Lucia beach

His is not a book full of white sands and hammocks slung from palm trees. Instead he quotes frequently from the earliest travel writer to visit the Caribbean, the French Monk, Father Labat, as he weaves a picture of the islands as they are in 1946 against their history, from native Caribs through Columbus to the Europeans who established dominion.

You can read present day guidebooks for weeks on end, and never learn about Labat, to whom Fermor says all students of the area owe a large debt. “He is a sort of monastic West Indian Pepys.  He has the same devouring curiosity and sense of humour and practical flair, and, above all, the same lucid and indefatigable garrulousness. Nothing is too important or too trivial for him to set on record in his vigorous and entertaining prose.” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Bruges, Destinations, Greece

Best Travel Writer

Destination: Peloponnese, Greece

Book: Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor

“All of Greece is absorbing and rewarding.  There is hardly a rock or a stream without a battle or a myth, a miracle or a peasant anecdote or a superstition; and talk and incident, nearly all of it odd or memorable, thicken round the traveller’s path at every step.” P.L.F.

I will admit that I shy away from naming things “best”, but I belatedly read a list of the 20 best books on travel in the on-line London Telegraph and found that they had left out my personal favorite–and he’s British, too. (Go ahead and read their list–then come back and see who they left out.)

Several years ago my husband and I spent a week driving the Eastern part of the Peloponnese–with the objective of seeing some of the lesser visited parts of Greece.  Our reward was a stay in the damp, dark, mosquito-filled stone tower-house in the Mani peninsula. Other than the mosquitoes, the experience fit the journey perfectly.

A drive through the Mani sometimes seems a bit surreal. I am amazed that no one has filmed a medieval or apocalyptic science fiction film there. (If they have, I’m sure one of my eagle-eyed readers will let me know.)  Besides the wonderfully rough landscape, with the Balkan Mountains dwindling down toward the sea, the fields are dotted with  three and four story gray stone towers.  It looks as though someone had subtracted the Medieval castles that should be attached, and you are confident that the buildings date back to at least 1400.  But they do not. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Destinations, Greece, Peloponnese