Posted by: ktzefr | June 23, 2010

Women Travelers and Writers: Classic Reads

This is my “summer office” and also the spot from which I have taken many journeys.   I make travel plans, relive past trips, and read about and imagine the journeys of others.

I like the way the light filters down through the trees. The song birds usually keep a fine track going in the background, and the squirrels eat and then fall asleep  on the branches above me.  One little frog comes back year after year.  In early summer we usually find him in the outdoor grill, which could spell disaster if we didn’t remember to do a search before firing it up.  As of late he’s taken up residence in a wicker planter with a nice pool of water in the liner and blue blossoms for shade.

So, I sit and work and read and watch the critters — and often travel vicariously through the adventures of others.  Classic travel books are not for everyone.  Tourists interested in current facts and information, i.e. the best hotel deals, where to buy knick knacks, or the price of taxi rides from here to there, will not find these books very helpful.  But the traveler who enjoys being immersed in other cultures, looks for adventure, and appreciates a little history, some exotic images and a dose of inspiration may find a keeper amongst this lot of tales by women writers and travelers.


From The Fabled Shore by Rose Macaulay

“A round full moon rose corn-coloured behind a fringe of palms.  Swimming out to sea, I saw the whole of the bay, and the Malaga lights twinkling in the middle of it, as if the wedge of cheese were being devoured by a thousand fireflies.”

The Fabled Shore is the only travel book Rose Macaulay wrote.  In it she describes a car journey from Port Bou to Cape Vincent on the coast of Spain.  It was 1948.  Ms. Macaulay’s book was so enticing that her road trip has been repeated again and again by thousands of travelers.

Macaulay also wrote several novels, one of which The Towers of Trebizond, was believed by some to be a real travelogue.  Not so, but it’s one of the funniest travel adventure novels in print.   From Istanbul to the legendary Trebizond the narrator weaves through unique landscapes and the lives of unusual people.  There are sorcerers and southern evangelists, real incidents and symbolic ones, faith and doubt, laughter and pathos.  It’s back in print.  Don’t miss it.

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From Tamrart: Thirteen Days in the Sahara by Eleanor Clark

“The shapes come on us, loom over us, grow on us and before we can come to an understanding of them or with them have been replaced by something in a different idiom.  Yet it’s not clouds we’re experiencing, it’s rock, and more and more rock but some memory or dream from billions of years ago seems not to have altogether subsided in them.”

Ms. Clark traveled with her husband (Robert Penn Warren) and family to the Sahara to climb a mountain range in Algeria.  She spent thirteen days trekking across the Sahara with a camel caravan.  Tamrart is the name she was called by the Tuareg (nomadic tribes).  Tamrart refers to the dominant female in a group.

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From Muddling Through in Madagascar by Dervla Murphy

“I stared in wonder at the still starry purple-violet zenith — a tinge belonging to neither night nor day.  The stars vanished as I gazed.  To the east lay distant chunks of mountain darkly colourless below a magnolia glow.  To the west drifted royal-blue banks of broken retreating rain-cloud.  I held my breath, waiting.  Then the sun was up, behind the chunky mountain, and purple-violet changed to powder-blue — magnolia to the palest green — royal-blue to gold and crimson. “

Ms. Murphy’s traveling companion in Madagascar is her 14-year-old daughter.  What an experience and an education!  They travel around the country by bus and taxi and on foot.  Sometimes they hitchhike.  They have good times and funny times and a few unfortunate ones as well.  They make mistakes along the way.  They don’t always understand the culture and local traditions.  But Ms. Murphy shows how to travel in a developing country and get the most out of the journey by respecting local people and local ways and absorbing the culture and traditions.

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From Willa Cather in Europe by Willa Cather

“There is nothing but a little cardboard house of stucco, and a plateau of brown pine needles, and green fir trees, the scent of dried lavender always in the air, and the sea reaching like a wide blue road into the sky.”

Ten years before Willa Cather published O Pioneers! she toured England and France and sent back 14 travel articles to the Nebraska State Journal.  She would use some of these descriptions and insights in her later works.  These are wonderful first impressions of a young woman who appreciated the history of place and the beauty of landscape.

Ms. Cather had a special appreciation for Lavandou, a French fishing village on the Mediterranean.  In her words:

“No books have ever been written about Lavandou, no music or pictures ever came from here, but I know well enough that I shall yearn for it long after I have forgotten London and Paris.  One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame.”

Lovely writing, wonderful insights. Do you have a Lavandou??

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