The movie opens today and some will go to the theater primarily to see the talented Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts, others will go because they loved the book, and a few might just want to travel vicariously to Italy, India, and/or Indonesia. Books, as well as movies, can be delightful temporary escapes into exotic lives, but they can also inspire and influence ordinary lives in extraordinary ways.
A few more favorite glimpses through the eyes of women travelers from Canada to Kabul to Japan, from the eccentric to the exotic, from other times and other places…
“The sun enriched the old poles grandly. They were carved elaborately and with great sincerity. Several times the figure of a woman that held a child was represented. The babies had faces like wise little old men. The mothers expressed all womanhood…I sat in front of a totem and began to draw — so full of her strange, wild beauty that I did not notice the storm that was coming…. Bang upon bang came the claps of thunder…sheets of rain washed over me.”
~ Emily Carr, Klee Wyck (Klee Wyck means “Laughing One.” Ms. Carr was a Canadian artist and writer best known for her paintings of sacred totem poles inspired by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. She lived alone and was known by her neighbors as the woman who often pushed a baby buggy full of dogs and cats and even a monkey, on occasion.)
When writers travel they almost always take along something new to read or a few favorite books…
“At dusk we slipped through the mat of dust that hung motionless above the road. Under our headlights, riders clothed in white seemed to be moving silently through smoke. Later we thought…we were overtaking majestically pacing elephants…but they were only tall camels…. (it) looked like a lunar country asphyxiated by too much dry heat. It was the nature of the soil and lack of relief…that were responsible for the deadly whiteness of the light…. We traveled with a bookshelf fixed above the back of our seat…Marco Polo, Pelliot, Evans-Wentz, Vivekananda, a life of Alexander the Great.
~ Ella Maillart, The Cruel Way (Ms. Maillart’s travel books always included the politics and history of a place, but she was also one of the first to write about the personal discoveries made on a journey. She once lived among the Kirghiz and Kazakh tribesmen and, in The Cruel Way, she recounts her travels from Geneva to Kabul to Peshawar, Pakistan during the Second World War.)
“I walk down the path to Nagata-san’s white house on the corner. The October air smells musty and sweet, not unlike the fall scent of an orchard, but tinged with the sharp odor of distant fire and smoke. Through the tall stands of still bamboo a pale morning light filters down over spreading cinnamon leaf and scattered fern…. Dressed for work in the rice fields, I’ve hidden my yellow hair under a maroon bandanna.”
~ Leila Philip, The Road Through Miyama (Ms. Philip went to Japan to learn to be a potter; this excerpt, however, was taken from the recounting of a day she spent harvesting rice with the women of the village. Unlike Ms. Maillart — above — who emphasizes her own inner journey during her travels, Ms. Philip concentrates more on the culture of the people and on accurately recording their customs.)
***See “ON BOOKS AND WRITING” for books by other women travelers.***