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Posts Tagged ‘travel literature’

Last night, while reading David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, I came across his essay “Six to Eight Black Men,” a travel essay about the Netherlands’ version of the Santa Claus story. Not only was it hilarious, it was the best piece of travel writing I’ve read in a while. I think travel writers can get too bogged down in the magnitude of their experiences and they forget that the most interesting stories about their time abroad can be the conversation they had with a local on their walk to the train station. It’s important to keep in mind that most of an individual’s travel experience is a very personal experience and not everything is going to resonate with an audience in the same way it did with the traveler. Rather than wax poetic about his experience admiring The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum, Sedaris selects an incident from his travels that conveys the real value and rewards of travel.

Firearms aren’t really an issue in Europe, so when traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. “What do your roosters say?” is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark “vow vow” and both the frog and the duck say “quack,” the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty “kik-a-riki.” Greek roosters crow “kiri-a-kee,” and in France they scream “coco-rico,” which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo,” my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.” (Sedaris, 158)

[On the difference between American and Dutch Christmas stories…] “We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just preten ot kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”

This is the reward for living in the Netherlands. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what’s not to love about being Dutch?” (Sedaris, 163)

–Sedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. New York: Back Bay, 2005.

Click here to listen to Sedaris narrating the full essay which originally appeared in Esquire Magazine.

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My pre-trip reading list for Barcelona…

Barcelona, the Great Enchantress, by Robert Hughes

This book is part of National Geographic’s Directions series which publishes travel writing that weaves together a powerful sense-of-place, personal memoir, and historical perspective by “some of the world’s most prominent and highly regarded literary figures.”  Susanna Moore’s book, I Myself Have Seen It, that I read in Hawaii earlier this year, is from this same series. Hughes’ book covers the history of his own relationship with the city starting in 1966, while incorporating the city’s larger history from its beginnings as an outpost of the Roman Empire to its modern identity as one of the foremost artistic and cultural meccas of Europe, featuring some of Barcelona’s foremost historical figures along the way.

Iberia, by James A. Michener

Another epic novel by the incomparable Michener, Iberia explores the history, culture, and lives of the people of a nation that became the author’s second home. Each chapter is centered around a different city or geographic locale ad its impact on Spain’s identity and place in history. Chapter ten is specifically about Barcelona.

Spain: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, edt. Peter Bush and Lisa Dillman

More from one of the best series for travel literature out there today, Whereabouts Press presents Spain: A Traveler’s Literary Companion featuring writing, arranged geographically, from some of its natives best-loved literary figures. The section on Barcelona includes four stories from authors such as Juan Marsé and Carme Riera.

 

 

Spain in Mind: An Anthology, edt. Alice Leccese Powers

Spain in Mind is an anthology featuring reflections and writings on Spain from some of history’s most famous authors including Langston Hughes, Lord Byron, and Ernest Hemingway. “…the glimpses of another world in Spain in Mind will enchant you.” [from the back cover]

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A post-WWII novel about an antiquarian book dealer in Barcelona who stumbles upon a mystery that leads him into “one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.”

Don’t these sound great? I can’t wait to get started!

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Beijing, China

May 2011

[See the complete album here!]

Last year when I accompanied you

As far as the Yang Chou Gate,

The snow was flying, like white willow cotton.

This year, Spring has come again,

And the willow cotton is like snow.

But you have not come back.

Alone before the open window,

I raise my wine cup to the shining moon.

The wind, moist with evening dew,

Blows the gauze curtains.

Maybe Chang-O, the moon goddess,

Will pity this single swallow

And join us together with the cord of light

That reaches beneath the painted eaves of your home.

– Su Tung-P’o, “To a Traveler”

For ten miles the mountains rise

Above the lake. The beauty

Of water and mountain is

Impossible to describe.

In the glow of evening

A traveler sits in front

Of an inn, sipping wine.

The moon shines above a

Little bridge and a single

Fisherman. Around the farm

A bamboo fence descends to

The water. I chat with an

Old man about work and crops.

Maybe, when the years have come

When I can lay aside my

Cap and robe of office,

I can take a little boat

And come back to this place.

– Chu His, “The Farm by the Lake”

The gentle breeze has died down

The perfumed dust has settled.

It is the end of the time

Of flowers. Evening falls

And all day I have been too

Lazy to comb my hair.

Our furniture is just the same.

He no longer exists.

All effort would be wasted.

Before I can speak,

My tears choke me.

I hear that Spring at Two Rivers

Is still beautiful.

I had hoped to take a boat there,

But I know so fragile a vessel

Won’t bear such a weight of sorrow.

– Li Ch’ing-Chao, “Spring Ends”

{Classic lunch: tea and noodle soup, at a tea house near Liulichang.}
{My souvenirs!}

[See the complete album here!]

P.S. These were the books I was reading while in Beijing…

And here are some other suggestions…

[Images by Kelly Overvold and Scott Zaban; all editing done by Kelly Overvold.]

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