Posted by: ktzefr | July 13, 2011

Have Book, Will Travel

“Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m listening to “Asilah” by Ensemble Ethnique (Buddha Bar Ten Years), and I’m easily transported to another time and place.  In this case it’s Asilah, Morocco, a place I’ve never been. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, unable to work outside because the temp is crawling toward 100 degrees; the ceiling fan whirrs, the CD spins, and the chocolate truffles and jasmine tea sit within easy reach.  Life’s good.

I enjoy traveling — for real.  But, if a trip to an exotic locale is not on the calendar or in the foreseeable future, I’m more than willing to travel vicariously through the tales of others.  In June I did both — traveled and read about travel.  I didn’t realize this, the reading part, until I looked, again, at the stack of books I’d read in June — an anthology of travel essays, a book about Tuscany, a children’s novel about crossing the ocean, and two books of poetry (with a hint of travel).


I always enjoy “traveling” with Frances Mayes and this one, Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life, visits, again, the wonderful people, art, and cuisine of Under the Tuscan Sun.  There are more than 25 recipes scattered amongst the stories, and they’ve sent me to the kitchen and/or farmers’ market more than once.   Ripe tomatoes, basil, squash blossoms.  I pined for a pizza oven.  The author’s favorite pizza?  A thin-crusted margherita topped with caramelized onions.  Also scattered amongst the stories are a few words of wisdom.  I like the following quote from Ms. Mayes:  “A revelation about love came to me in my mid-twenties…. Passions and interests could reinvent my everlasting desire to fall in love.”


Sharon Creech’s The Wanderer is about a thirteen-year-old girl who sails across the Atlantic with her uncles and cousins and has the adventure of a lifetime.  I can relate to the author’s magical images — bright stars against a velvet sky, the scent of the sea, the feel of the wind.  But one short-short chapter in the book sums up why I would prefer crossing the ocean thirty-thousand feet in the air: “It’s all wind and walls of water.  Everything howls and churns.  I think we are doomed.”  A great adventure for older elementary and middle school kids.


When The Best Women’s Travel Writing: True Stories from Around the World, 2011 (edited by Lavinia Spalding) came out I quickly added it to my collection.  I love listening to and reading the tales of well-traveled women.  I scanned this new issue to find stories about the places I’d been — Costa Rica, Italy, Hawaii, France, Mexico, Ecuador…and savored the familiar images, feelings, moments.  I saved the new places for last — Cambodia, Serbia, Ghana, Niger, Japan.  These true stories always make for great escapes during long flights to somewhere else or quiet times at home when there’s no place to go.


Ahhh…the poets.  I can’t last very long without reading poetry.  I love the take-your-breath-away quality of a handful of words falling in just the right order.  And I try to balance the challenging and the comfortable.  The choices?  E.E. Cummings for the challenge; Billy Collins for the comfortable.

At first glance Nine Horses: Poems by Billy Collins doesn’t appear to have anything at all to do with travel.  But my subconscious knew what it was doing when I selected this little volume.  On closer inspection (via re-reading) I find poems set in Istanbul, Albany, Bermuda, Colorado, Italy, New Orleans, Berkeley, Arizona, Kathmandu, and beyond.  I was so busy paying attention to the lovely images and beautiful words in Nine Horses that I didn’t realize I was also being whisked around the world.

The challenge — E. E. Cummings: Selected Poems, edited by Richard S. Kennedy.   Okay, I’m thinking this one doesn’t have anything to do with travel.  The poems in this volume stretch across the poet’s lifetime and were selected for the 100th anniversary of his birth.  I enjoy Cummings, but sometimes struggle with the meaning of his poems.  I have to get tangled up in his tangled-up words before a bell rings, a bulb lights up, an insight comes.  After flipping back through the book and making note of the pages and passages I had dogeared or underlined, I am reminded of this nugget of wisdom from Henry Miller: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.”  Of course!

Here, then, are a few new ways of looking at things —  passages I couldn’t pass up and wanted to pass on…

“…whatever we lose (like a you or a me)/it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”


“deeds cannot dream what dreams can do”


“–when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,/the single secret will still be man”


“along the brittle treacherous bright streets/of memory comes my heart, singing like/an idiot, whispering like a drunken man”


“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing/than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance”


“…clocks have enough to do/without confusing timelessness and time.”


“(existing’s tricky:but to live’s a gift)”



  1. You have scaled some fascinating philosophical heights in this posting! And you ave reminded me to choose my reading material with an eye to breadth as well as depth. Brava!

    • Ah…I’m not sure about the philosophical heights, but it was fun to look back at what I had read and see connections that I hadn’t been aware of when choosing books to read.

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