In a mindless stupor I Google travel spots — beaches, mountain retreats, high meadows with bees a-buzzing, birds a-twittering, and I am perched on a buffalo plaid blanket with a hamper of delectables, and probably reading sonnets.
To the four winds, I suppose, since no one I know wants to be anywhere near me. Or near anyone else, for that matter. I think surely there are some bargains to be had in holiday rentals, preferably locations less than a day’s drive away. I need a change of scene. But then I get hung up on the bathroom situation, and how clean, really, how disinfected will the cabin/condo/hotel room be, and it makes me tired and I have to lie down.
I might, just might have, considered getting on a plane, until I learned they plan to spray us with disinfectant — or are thinking about it — before we board. We must wear masks in the terminal and as we board, and that’s OK. We might, or might not, have to wear masks during the flight. Could I fly for several hours in a mask? I just don’t know.
Then, arriving in the mail yesterday, came a wonderful book thoughtful friends sent me.
“Between the Woods and The Water,” by Patrick Leigh Fermor, is a memoir of his long-ago travels from Holland through middle Europe, on his way to Istanbul. He doesn’t make it that far in this book, but he spends time in Hungary and the Carpathians, Bulgaria and Romania, more or less following the Rhine and Danube along their meandering paths.
And I am reminded, again, how wonderful to tag along with writers who have the talent and generosity to take us with them on their travels. How satisfying it is to see the places they have seen, to see, filtered through their sensibilities, the people and the lay of the land. To not be overly burdened with the big “lesson,” but to learn some things, nevertheless.
I decided to quit torturing myself with places I can’t go right now, and to think about places I have already visited, or plan to visit, in some of my favorite travel books. Let’s start with the one I just mentioned.
“Between the Woods and the Water” is written a good 50 years after the author took his trek across Europe, back in the 1930s, when Hitler was just rising to power, and the world was heading for disaster, although he didn’t know it, or see the signs, or know what they meant at the time.
He was young, after all.
It is the wonderfully written chronicle of a youthful adventure as reflected upon by one’s older, wiser self. The book captivates from the first paragraph of the introduction, written by Jan Morris.
If Africa is on your bucket list, you can’t hardly improve upon Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.” The movie is fine, of course, and maybe a nice adjunct to watch again after you have read the book. But the book is superb. It is beautifully written, with descriptions of the place, both stunning in what they help us see, and stunning in the rich use of language, poetic and soaring without being sappy.
Another, lesser-known book — because there was no movie —i s Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night.” It is her memoir of growing up in Kenya and her extraordinary life there, including her time as a racehorse trainer and a bush pilot. I liked this book as much as, maybe a little more than, “Out of Africa.”
My dad talked about reading Richard Halliburton’s books as a boy. Halliburton was an adventurer and writer and his exotic tales of his time of the road, thought “transparently bogus” by “Vanity Fair,” nevertheless influenced young readers, and in a significant way, from Walter Cronkite, to Lenny Bruce, to
Susan Sontag. You
almost can’t find his books now, although I have located and downloaded the Kindle version of his “Royal Road to Romance,” written in 1925.
It is immensely readable, and maybe just a little bit preposterous, but I want to believe every word is true. My dad did. So did all those young impressionable minds who read him at the time. And in true adventurer fashion, he died at 39, on his last big adventure, attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco.
I’m ready for summer break. I’m still in the Carpathians with Fermor, but then I’ll be heading somewhere else.