(On Saturday, June 25, 2011, at the Book Passage Corte Madera store, the editor and contributors to The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011 will read from their wonderful book. Here are my excerpts from this year’s annual anthology published by Travelers' Tales; read them and you won’t be able to resist buying a copy for yourself.)
Why Bother?Why travel? Why write about travel? What does it take to so? Here’s the answer:
“… it's not easy to embark on a life of travel, much less continue once you've begun. It takes courage and sacrifice, flexibility, creativity, time, and money.” (Lavinia Spalding, editor’s Introduction).
Starting OutIn the “lede” (that’s the way travel writers and editors spell “lead”), the travel writer must lure the reader into moving beyond the story’s beginning and continuing to its the last word has been consumed by the eye and brain. Put out the bait, and when the reader “bites,” set the hook.
What follows is sometimes the actual lede, and at other times, just a little bit of one of the thirty-three stories. I have selected each to make you think: “What is this all about? I must find out!”
- “’ What are you doing?” I asked. Russian literature was full of fever dreams, and I believed I was having one. The clarity was dazzling—two guys in blue shirts, the older one with a pale smoker’s complexion and hair all neat like a little boy on school picture day. The younger one had gray eyes that betrayed a flicker of menace, as if I were the one intruding.” (Marcia DeSanctis, Masha)
- “Some things, however, I don't have to wait for. Things I didn't learn and therefore cannot lose. Things like the elusive, hungry rhythm of samba steps. No matter how many times I attempted them, I always resembled a drunken pretzel.” (Joceyln Edelstein, Returning)
- “,,, unanswered knocks always leave me feeling guilty—like I'm shirking some social(ist) duty. Which is how I find myself tiptoeing around my apartment and turning down the radio. Can they hear me? I wonder, before realizing this is how the cycle of compulsion-compliance works. This is what it means to go native.” (Conner Gorry, Elvis Has Entered The Casa)
- “It had to be India. Continents and countless countries later, of course it would happen here. I should take my compass and put a heart over magnetic north, the pull is so strong. The impression I give of single adventurous woman—so brave—is just a front. I can navigate myself from Novosibirsk to Mendoza, transcend language barriers, go hungry, and dine with royalty. I can go thirty days without a bath and step out of the trek into luxury. Yes, I am adventurous, independent, not one to be waylaid by something as simple as love. Yet there I was, stopped in my tracks on a sidewalk in India by a mere human, and blue-eyed at that.” (Kasha Rigby, Of Mountains and Men)
- “It was so obvious that he was a Bedouin prince and I a fair maiden, kidnapped and carried away to the desert to be his bride.” (Anena Hansen, I Am)
- “Ichiyo stopped in front of a bright Pepto-pink building with a giant purple sign that declared, ‘Boom Boom Palace.’ A porn shop. An impressive window display featured all kinds of erotic delights. The mannequins were stylishly dressed in the latest S&M fashion. This definitely wasn't the adventure I had in mind.” (Anne Van, Going Underground)
- “’Get your shit together, Flaca, were going boating.’ Roland bursts through the bedroom door, his shirtless, wiry frame hardly blocking my swollen eyes from the early-morning light.” (Bridget Crocker, The Labyrinth)
- “The sizzling testicles weren’t as round as I’d expected them to be. Instead, they’d been sliced in half and looked like lumpy pieces of chicken breast. Next to the pan, which was propped up over a fire, a man crouched on a wooden stool, eyeing the delicacies to make sure they didn't burn. I pointed at the meat. ‘Kangaroo?’” (Anna Wexler, Belle of The Ball)
- “For months I'd known that I would be spending Christmas alone in West Africa. No big deal, I’d thought. I'd be working. I'd be busy. It would be an adventure.” (Michelle Theriault Boots, Unsilent Night)
- “Something launches itself out of the bottle-green river, traces a silver arc in the air, and slams back down with a report like a rifle shot. Whatever it is, it's big The locals waiting with us at the crumbling cement dock don't even look up.” (Erin Van Rheenen, Up The Rio Frio Once Last Time)
- “Ten ancient Italians with snow-white hair are lined up up on gurneys in the corridor of San Giuseppe Hospital. Ten ancient Italians and me. (Laura Deutsch, The Rhythms of Arezzo)
- “Following a group of children I just met into the outskirts of a strange town is not the sort of thing I'd likely do it home, but this is travel: a trusting, outstretched hand, an invitation to glimpse beneath the slippery surface of first impressions and second guesses—a chance for deeper understanding. Besides, what could go wrong? Not even the dreaded Maoist insurgents recruit seven-year-olds—or do they?” (Laurie Weed, The Goddess Of Wealth)
- “We see them move in with their big black duffels and wheeled bags—big guys! Speaking German? No? Dorothy spots the red-stitched word LATVIA on a black T-shirt.” (Marianne Rogoff, Common Tongues)
- “Laila had just met me at the Kabul Airport when she brought up the subject of ice cream. All around us were cesspools, crumbling walls scarred by trails of bullet holes, and amputee landmine victims begging for bakhshesh—but there was ice cream, she assured me.” (Angie Chuang, Vice And Virtue)
- “The train chugs into the countryside; panoramas of sunflowers tilt toward the sun, and fiery orange poppies shimmy as we pass. My husband is fathering solo for the week and expects nothing but lots of sex when I return. I’ve struck a good deal.” (Carol Reichert, Contratiempo)
- “Personally, my rule of thumb is that if the health department doesn't want you to eat something, it must be worth trying.” (Marcy Gordon, In Lardo We Trust)
- “The bus suddenly brakes to a halt and the driver announces over the intercom, ‘Hangar Adama.’ As quickly as it stops, the bus skids off again—a caravan of immigrants and refugees tumbling through the open sandscape—and there I stand in a cloud of dust. I have seen this scene in movies before—the foreigner with a little suitcase left on the side of the road. The desert cannot help but amplify the absurd.” (Eva Tuschman, Without Knowing I Had Ever Been Lost)
- “Deep in the center of the market, I saw squiggly eels, battling crabs, skinned chickens and pigs. Fish flopped wildly in raffia baskets, some managing to make their way to the slick floor.” (Jacqueline Luckett, Traveling With Ghosts)
“There's a piranha on the end of my fishing pole, and I haven't showered in an entire week, and my hair has begun to change its texture, possibly for good.” (Annie Nilsson, Fish Tale)
So, Who Are These Women To Me, Anyway?
Lavinia Spalding, editor of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011 and novelist Jacqueline Luckett, (author of Searching for Tina Turner) were students in classes I took at Book Passage. Erin Van Rheenen is a fellow member of Bay Area Travel Writers. I met Laura Deutsch, Marianne Rogoff, and Eva Tuschman, earlier this month when they read their stories at Rebound Bookstore in San Rafael. I have been in touch with some of the others via Facebook. All are exceptionally talented writers who have led quite interesting lives.
A short “bio” of the author appears at the end of each story. Here are three which I found especially intriguing or amusing:
- Sarah Katin: “After graduating with a B.A. in Sociology, Sarah took a sabbatical from her distinguished waitressing career and traveled to South Korea to teach English. This move proved challenging as she had no formal training in the profession, a disinclination for children with sticky hands, and little knowledge of the basic usage of comments. (A problem, she still, has today.) Eight years later she is still traveling the globe. She has been a television host in Korea, a professor in Japan, a tree house dweller in Laos, a house painter in New Orleans, a sangria swiller in Spain, a dragon hunter in Indonesia, and a fishmonger in Australia. She is currently planning to make a plan for her next adventure.”
- Anne Van: “Anne Van has always heard stories in her head. It's in her DNA. The storyteller gene was passed down from her grandfather, known in his small town as King of the Whoppers. Majoring in art, she attended college in Tokyo, Japan, and learned a lot more than how to paint a koi fish. Currently Anne splits her time between painting the next Mona Lisa and putting her whoppers on paper.”
- Anna Wexler: “Anna Wexler is a writer, documentary filmmaker, neuroscientist, and adventure traveler whose trip ideas are continual source of concern for her friends and family. She has yet to top the solo bicycle ride across Mexico, but volcano boarding in Nicaragua, motorcycling through northern Vietnam, and seal hunting in Greenland all came pretty close. When Wexler isn't on the road, she writes about science, travel, and food from her sea view desk in Tel Aviv.”
(From time to time travel writer Dick Jordan posts book reviews under the “Armchair Travel” and “Book Review” sections of his blog, Tales Told From The Road. His last post to the Book(ed) Passage blog was about European travel guru Rick Steves’ radio show.
When Dick isn’t traveling, you can usually find him hanging out with other members of Left Coast Writers at the Book Passage Corte Madera store on the evening of the first Monday of each month.)
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