―W. Somerset Maugham
TraveLit--A blog about travel literature.
Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.
―W. Somerset Maugham
The Path to Rome
By Hilaire Belloc. Various editions and Project Gutenberg.
First published in 1902 and continuously in print ever since, Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome chronicles his journey from his birthplace near Toul in France to Rome, “the centre of the world.” An ardent Catholic, Belloc is decidedly on a pilgrimage. But, a canny writer as well—one of the most prolific writers of his era—he has also crafted a secular tale of adventure.
Like any good pilgrim, Belloc starts off with vows: “I will walk all the way and take advantage of no wheeled thing,” he writes. “I will sleep rough and cover thirty miles a day, and I will hear Mass every morning; and I will be present at high Mass in St. Peter’s on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.” He is also determined to walk by night and sleep by day, when it will be too hot to hike, and to travel in a straight line.
One of the humorous threads running through the book is how, one by one, he breaks each of these vows Read More
"The average traveler when asked why he or she travels almost always responds with something like, "I want to experience someone else's culture. That's a red herring. How can you experience someone else's culture from an air-conditioned bus going 20 miles an hour through the streets of Pusan? All right. Get off the bus and walk through the fish market. You haven't experienced someone else's culture. All you've experienced is a lot of fish for sale. Most anthropologists spend years trying to get inside someone else's culture. Many of them come back home to a nervous breakdown for their efforts. Culture hopping isn't easy." Read More
By Barry Unsworth. National Geographic, 2004, 170 pp.
Even for the Greeks of old, “Crete was the most venerable and ancient place imaginable,” says the novelist Barry Unsworth in his chronicle of a trip he took to the island with his wife one spring. According to myth, Crete was the birthplace of Zeus, and it was where Zeus later carried Europa, daughter of a Phoenician king, having seduced her in the shape of a bull. “Crete then, not only gave Europe its name, it was where Europe began,” he says, “a truth Cretans have always known.”
Writing with imagery that is evocative but not flamboyant, Unsworth conveys the antiquity—as well as the spirit—of this rugged island which abounds in caves, gorges, and magnificent views of the sea. Visiting ruins, Read More
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Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska.
By Seth Kantner. Milkweed Editions, 2008, 240 pp.
Many years ago, a student in my writing seminar, a young woman who had grown up in Barrow, Alaska, said that she wanted to write a memoir—but not about herself: she wanted to write a memoir about the tundra. I didn’t fully get it at the time, and she didn’t get far with her project, but after reading Kantner’s book and seeing his spectacular photographs—of wildlife, ice, and tundra—I now understand the grip this powerful landscape had on her.
Kantner was born in Arctic Alaska—in an igloo—the younger son of Howie and Erna, both originally from Ohio, who felt the pull of that landscape and moved there in the sixties to live, like the natives, off the land. Read More