“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…” ~ Willa Cather
Flora Tristan, grandmother of artist Paul Gauguin, took a trip alone to Peru in 1833 to stake a claim to her family’s fortune. She wrote about that trip in Peregrinations of a Pariah. Margaret Fountaine, born in 1862, loved men and butterflies. She kept diaries of her travels, which she began when she was seventeen years old — to Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and beyond — studying butterflies and making friends with an assortment of men along the way. Her tales were published in Love Among the Butterflies; her diaries were not opened until 100 years after they were started. Freya Stark lived to be 100 years old and traveled extensively until a few years before her death in 1993. At one time she was the Arabia expert for the Ministry of Information in London. Her book, A Winter in Arabia: A Journey through Yemen, relates some of her experiences — both exotic and everyday.
And so many others — Willa Cather, Beryl Markham, Rose Macaulay, Eleanor Clark, Mary Lee Settle, Mary Morris, Isak Dinesen, Kate O’Brien…. The list could go on for pages, but these three might be a good place to start:
A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes (she is also author of Under the TuscanSun, among others). I especially enjoy travel books that jump from here to there to everywhere, but most of the time these tomes also have a different author for each place, such as the popular series, The Best Travel Writing of (insert date). In this book Ms. Mayes takes the reader along on a variety of journeys — to eat blood oranges in Andalucia, pasta in Italy, and fresh vegetables from the garden of her rented cottage in Scotland. But it’s not all about eating (that’s just the yummy extra), it is mostly about the exotic colors and local scenery of the ancient city of Fez in Morocco, what it’s like to cruise along Turkey’s Lycian coast in a traditional wooden gulet, and the rewards of meeting old friends and sharing a cottage in Scotland to reconnect and reinforce the ties that bind. There are also short glimpses and long looks at the Greek islands, Capri, Portugal, Burgundy…a great escape.
Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. Ms. Gelman is forty-eight years old and living the good life in LA when she feels that something is missing and heads off to find it. She sells all of her possessions and becomes a nomad, living in a small Zapotec village in Mexico, experiencing political turmoil up close in Guatemala and Nicaragua, and looking for her roots in Israel. There are also sojourns in the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, Thailand, and New Zealand. She writes books, soaks up the local cultures and traditions, and learns how to live an extraordinary life on very little money.
Marlena de Blasi’s A Thousand Days in Venice is more romance than travel. She’s a divorced American chef who speaks very little Italian; he’s a “stranger” in a Venice cafe who speaks very little English. She has given up on romantic love and he has fallen in love after seeing her once from across the Piazza San Marco. Sounds like fiction, reads like fiction, but it’s a true story with a few tasty recipes at the end. A quick read for a train, boat, or plane trip or for book clubs that need a “happily ever after” story with the menu included. USA Today called it “An irresistible grown-up love story.” That’s about right.