We are in the
doldrums of February, that ragged tail end of winter, when spring
is barely a whisper of promise, and we are listless...wanting only
flowers, leaves, green, sunlight....
rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
The answer is
perhaps a compendium, an anthology, a florilegium (with its
delightful origins in flower-gathering) of travel writing—because
this way one can visit where one pleases, sniff around different
destinations, pack ones bags at the drop of a hat, and hop to the
next place with ease, travel through time with impunity.
And so we
picked up Condé Nast Traveler’s
Unforgettable Journeys – Great Writers on Great Places.
We found that the rain and gray skies made us want to wander in
warmer climes, the sunnier selections from the magazine’s last 2
decades. We stopped in Capri with Shirley Hazzard who wrote
in 1991 of a 1957 visit (this is truly time traveling) '...who
can say why the shape of a legendary place—hill, harbor,
headland—should in itself strike us as significant, a destination?
In a region whose volcanic forms never appear random, the island
of Capri, lying at the horizon of the Neapolitan gulf, has grand
inevitability—as if “planted there on purpose” as Joseph Addison
observed three centuries ago, “to break the Violence of the Waves
that run into the Bay.”' And we stopped with Robert
Hughes on the Tyrrhenian coast where “...the ravine gathers the
sun’s heat like a parabolic mirror, the dust of the track hangs in
the air among the asphodels, your eyes sting with sweat, and a
kite circles....” Unfortunately we discovered that Petra
was cold -- Edmund White writing of Petra in the winter says:
“...the Middle East or at least Jordan, sounded suitably warm.
Moreover, I remembered a grade-school teacher who’d assured us
that ...Baby Jesus had been born amid sultry breezes and palm
trees...well, let me assure you Baby Jesus was cold.
We were in the same general area of Bethlehem and we were snowed
in.” So much for Petra.
immediately took off for Ethiopia with Pico Iyer and a trip to the
ancient rock churches of Lalibela, where he “felt as if [he]
were traveling through an illuminated Bible from the thirteenth
century, except that all the figures moved...."
And we also
a collection with a decidedly literary cast – not all travel
pieces, some are excerpts from other writings: there is Paul
Theroux on a marvelously mad train trip through the South of India
journeying towards Ceylon, Paul Bowles in Kerala (we found out
that Bowles had even been arrested for espionage in India), Mark
Twain (on a round-the-world commission), Allen Ginsberg, Hermann
Hesse (whose father and grandfather had been missionaries there),
Bruce Chatwin, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal.
Poems from Octavio Paz (who was the Mexican Ambassador in New
Paz writes in
In the Lodi Gardens:
literary travel cure was all it took to get us all fired up
Gardens, New Delhi
Traveler: Book of Unforgettable Journeys – Great Writers on Great
Mind, An Anthology