What Should I Read Before My Next Trip?

LessJust read the novel Less in under 24 hours. I had to find out what happened next, then discover the ending. Andrew Sean Greer won the 2018 Pulitzer for fiction with this travel novel. Most booksellers will rightfully shelve it in fiction. I have placed it with my favorite travel reads.

Similar to Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, it is the tale of an author traveling the globe to escape heartache and to find oneself. Except that Arthur Less is fictional. In this story Arthur learns to love himself a little more as he turns the big 5-0. It also gave me insight into gay culture. The author also exploits the advantage of a narrator who seems to be in Arthur’s head. We travel with Arthur from San Francisco to New York City to Mexico to Turin Italy, to Germany, to Morocco, to India, to Kyoto Japan to the Vulcan Steps in San Francisco. The descriptions are delightful, awful, and sometimes also funny, depending on the circumstance.

I have started to highlight “sparkletts” that I love rolling off my tongue or around in my head. Samples from Less include: …that crazy quilt of a writer’s life: warm enough, though it never quite covers the toes …what he met were not young Turks but proud bloated middle-aged artists who rolled in the river like sea lions… The kind of guy who wore his bicycle helmet while shopping…knuckle-whitening rattletrap wellspring of trauma.

It got me thinking about the various books I’ve read to prep for travel or to temporarily satisfy the need for travel in my life. My favorite travel authors whose work I’ve read EVERYTHING include: Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island, and Tony Horwitz Confederates in the Attic. I just learned that Tony Horwitz has a new book coming out May 14, 2019: Spying on the South. (Just preordered!)

I consume a lot of podcasts. One of my favorites is What Should I Read Next? with Ann Bogel. And I was thinking about promoting the release of my travel guide for planning your own civil rights crawl. I thought about applying to be a guest–and there is a questionnaire to complete–so I’m practicing here. The topic I would want to discuss with her is travel literature. Not guidebooks, per se, but the broader idea of books where the characters or author travel. Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a classic, but there are many more that take a little effort to find.

IMG_7759You may also find suggestions for the place you are traveling next from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. I have found some terrific books from her recommendations and some duds. Sometimes I discover that my interest in, say Norwegian, literature is limited. One of her recommendations is in my top three travel books I love:

1. Come On Shore and We Will Eat You All by Christina Thompson, a New Zealand story.

It is hard to choose among so many great books, and yet I remember #2 book having a tremendous impact on me, perhaps because my heart was already tenderized by Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham classics.

2. Looking for Lovedu by Ann Jones, a memoir of traveling from Africa top to bottom

Choosing the third book is really tough because there are so many options. I only have one continent left to visit–Antarctica. I have read the journals of explorers and book about penguins by scientists. When I was in Australia I discovered #3 on my list.

3. Shiver by Nikki Gemmell, a novel set in Antarctica

Ann Bogel also asks her guests for one book they hate (or didn’t care for if you hate the “h” word, haha). This is harder to select because some years ago I learned to abandon books I do not enjoy. In knitting an abandoned project is “frogged” so I write this in my the back of my journal with a note why. I had to rack my memory for a travel book I abandoned or read with a sour face. In college I tried reading something by Paul Theroux. I can’t remember exactly what but I was completely turned off by his tone of disdain for the place or for the reader or both, my memory is fuzzy after 35 years. Nancy Pearl tried to convince me to give him another try, but alas, one chapter in a book store and I returned The Great Railway Bazaar to the shelf. I will provide a more current answer though. After PBS began showing The Durrells television series, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I hoped (I love Keeley Hawes mostly). They said, “Oh, you have to read the book it’s based on! I loved it.” So I dutifully bought Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals about their life on Corfu and waited for it to get good. And waited. And waited till the end. It’s not for me.

Ann Bogel also asks guests what they are reading now. I have several books on the go, but in keeping with the theme of travel, I am reading next: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This stretches the theme of travel as it is historical fiction involving travel by hot air balloon.

If Ann Bogel asked me what I’d like to be different about my reading life, I’d be hard pressed. I love the variety of my reading, and the amount I read. I enjoy both printed books and e-books. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I’m not that keen on listening to books. Although sometimes the narrator experience tempts me–like when I heard a review of Lincoln at the Bardo–a book I struggled to read and keep the characters straight. Hearing Liz Dolan recommend the audio version with dozens of actors sounded like fun. I don’t like headphones either, so that makes it hard to listen to books on planes or in public. I was feeling bad about not getting more books from the library until I heard one of her guests refer to her book buying as being a patron of the arts. That’s me! Plus when I buy them used from Time Tested Books, or new from Avid Reader, I can share them with my mom and others and keep my local bookstores open.

I write this blog to inspire travel. I am pushing myself into writing travel guides, where I am much less comfortable, because I want to help people design their own more off-beat adventures. Just as Arthur Less and Elizabeth Gilbert learned aspects about themselves that they’d never had known if they had not left home, I always discover so much about what I love, what’s not for me, and what I want to do next when I travel. And always, I pack books I can leave behind so I can lug more books home that I discovered along the way.

 

 

Celebrate Penguins!

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Art from a greeting card; originally in London Tube advertisement to entice you to ride subway to the London Zoo.

April 25th is World Penguin Day! People in Australia and New Zealand may already be celebrating!

I adore penguins. I will extend my celebration until Saturday when Mom and I are going to see the new film, Penguins.

More Than Words Inspires

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I am visiting my son in Boston and he just moved to South End (between downtown and South Boston). It is a place in transition with new buildings going up on almost every block. Around the corner from him in the redbrick Medieval Manor a local nonprofit, More Than Words, is opening a new used bookstore. It is more than words/books as it provides job training and life skills to at risk youth in the neighborhood. Based on the Google listing I walked there expecting to go book shopping.

Unfortunately the old bookstore is closed so they can remodel and reopen later this summer with far more space, a coffee shop, and meeting space. Fortunately they were hosting an open house today so I was able to take a tour of their warehouse facility and learn more about their youth program.

It all begins with book donations from people in the greater Boston community. This is a community of readers and it looked like the quality of donations was a notch above what the Sacramento Library receives. Program participants are paid to sort the books, check the ISBN numbers for marketability, catalog the books into their tracking system, shelve the books, retrieve them as on-line orders come in, and ship them out.

They also have kiosks like the one at the local coffeeshop where people can select a book and pay a flat $4 via Venmo and start reading.

The new bookstore location (opening this summer) will give even more job training opportunities. Program participants are held accountable for showing up on time to work, not missing days of work, setting goals and achieving them, school attendance and more. They make a base salary of $108 a month and if they perform well they have opportunities to work more hours and earn more. There is also a clear path to earning more responsibility.

It is hugely inspiring. My son forwarded me a crowdfunding appeal later the same day and I was happy to make a contribution. I am happy to report that they exceeded both their goal of $50,000 and their stretch goal of $75,000.

IMG_4590Also in the neighborhood: Grab breakfast or lunch at Cuppa Coffee, the Aussie coffee shop around the corner on Traveler Street. Be sure to get the egg and cheese pie, or lamb pie, or other meat pies specially made to their recipes. There is also a Blue Bikes bikeshare kiosk on the same corner.

 

Confessions of a Cycling Fan

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This email got me thinking about my relationship to cycling as a fan and rider.

I have followed professional cycling for decades or since Greg LeMond won his first Tour de France. I have spent much of my precious time and resources as an avid fan in Italy, France, England California and Australia. When the UCI ejected Peter Sagan from the Tour de France last July, my fan heart was broken.

I never thought Lance Armstrong was clean because I saw an interview with Greg LeMond talking about getting dropped by riders who the year before were middling racers. Then he knew the drugs were winning. Lance was up among the elite riders who were winning and they were getting caught doping. My assumption was that he was better at not getting caught. So I left some room for being wrong and cheered Columbia High Road and other riders on. Besides he was a bully, that was clear without a urine sample.

Somehow I survived those wretched years when the press broke a new drug scandal every year. I remember once I was traveling in Africa and spent some time with a German couple. He was a sports writer and the German press had just made a big deal about not televising or covering the Tour de France because of the drugs. I couldn’t understand how you could just stop caring. I was still in the throes of attraction to cycling.

Now I understand. Sometimes the corruption of the officials and the lack of fair play doesn’t just knock the wind out of you, it hits you with such a punch you just don’t give a flying fig anymore. I have huge respect for Peter Sagan. His cycling skills are unparalleled today. And his attitude is super fun and eccentric. He brings excitement to the sport. Oh, and he’s won the world championship 3 years in a row. He was on track to win the green jersey again, when his crash with Mark Cavendish drew the ire of race officials. They didn’t just relegate him for that stage (like they did Mark Cavendish when he had a similar crash back in the day), but ejected him from the race. Later the UCI dropped the disqualification, as if that does anything to erase the stupidity of the first decision.

The rest of the season I followed the Australian team and their excellent videos on social media. Orica Bike Exchange’s Backstage Pass was awesome. I stopped using my NBC Gold Pass to watch races. Still I wondered if I’d go back to feeling good as a fan after a break.

Then I received this email about Peter Sagan’s Fondos in California. Nope. I have a precedence. After many years as a USC football fan, I read about the concussions, then I took my family to a home game and the pre-game videos of greatest “hits” made me sick. Haven’t watched a game since. The Olympics, well who hasn’t lost faith in the Olympics? The latest in scandals is the Russians’ systematic doping. But that has been going my whole life. See the documentary Icarus on Netflix for a refresher.

I am sad to announce my heart break was finally irrevocable. I am a former cycling fan.

Shop in Adelaide’s Central Market

IMG_9055It is “Throwback Thursday” and this is my last post for my recent adventure in Australia. This shopping experience reminds me so much of the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In my Phnom Penh adventures there were many markets, but the Russian Market was the most staggering. It is still the largest market that I have ever experienced for variety and depth. And the bargains! (sigh)  Alas those photos are stored on various crazy discs and not easily accessible. Instead we will feast on this shopping experience just a block from my Hilton Hotel in Adelaide.

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Adelaide’s Central Market is not a place I would go for bargains. However, under one waterproof roof you can find loads of produce, cheese, bread, meat, used books–you name it–someone probably sells it. It is Los Angeles Farmers Market, a flea market and more all rolled under one roof.

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I especially liked how the vendors called out what they had to offer. It made it more fun and I do think it encourages you to make a purchase. California farmers markets are laid back by comparison and lack the energy of this place. And it is open everyday. I bought used books and some cheese and bread for lunch.

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Who can resist cheese?

 

Taste of Cape Town in Adelaide

Since eating at Africola in Adelaide I have been thinking of South Africa. Specifically I have been thinking about flying to Cape Town to see the penguins and to enjoy some time in the bush looking at animals.

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The decor is fun, but my favorite part was the sign on the door that asked patrons to leave quietly out of consideration to the neighbors. Hint, hint Rind in Midtown.

I read about Africola in Travel+Leisure magazine. I made my reservation on a website similar to OpenTable. It gave me the option of a table or at the bar and since I was dining solo–I chose the bar.

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Not sure if you can appreciate the deliciousness of the cauliflower above. It was amazing. I could have just eaten it for dinner. I wish I had the recipe. I even bought cauliflower when I got home at the farmers market. But it just tastes like cauliflower. meh

The service was terrific. With a gin and tonic and dessert my bill was about $65 US. I tipped even if it is not the custom in Australia.

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Got to love a restaurant with Nelson Mandela on the menu and cornbread for all patrons.

If I could eat like this at every evening meal in South Africa I would be very content. South Africa is not in my budget for 2016… Perhaps in 2017.

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Yes this dessert was too chocolatey. Never thought I could say that… it was out of balance. Only misstep all night.

Adelaide’s Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House

I have been moving my home and office since I got back from New Zealand, so I am behind on blogging about my trip. I cannot help but notice that all US social media is leaving a little space (after election coverage) to talk about the last episode of Downton Abbey airing on PBS this Sunday evening. The season traditionally ends with a Christmas episode that plays on Christmas Day in England.–obviously delayed in the USA. I bought Season 6 on Google Play so I have already seen the conclusion and I will not spoil it.

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It did make me think about Adelaide’s equivalent of Downton Abbey: Ayer’s House.

Growing up in California I can relate to places like Adelaide, South Australia. The sprung up, new fortune, scratch-a-community-out-of-the-bush feeling is one I know well. Whether it is a gold rush or agricultural land rush, the place history is not very old and the challenges of creating a “showplace” home to create status in a brand new community is familiar. When I walked up the circular drive to Ayer’s House in Adelaide it felt like a mansion in Grass Valley of another mining tycoon.

This particular tycoon, Henry Ayers, exaggerated his work experience. He was an office clerk but he claimed other skills so he could get a subsidy to emigrate to Adelaide with his wife Anna. He did well with the Burra Burra mines and ultimately served as the Premiere of South Australia five times between 1863 and 1873. He built a huge house in downtown Adelaide near the Botanic Garden. Even now it is gracious.

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The clothes are right for the 1920s Melbourne AND they feel modern.

I went to see it because I saw a flyer on the bookshop window advertising the exhibit of costumes from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I have watched all of the episodes on Netflix and the costumes depicting a wealthy feminist detective and her entourage solving mysteries. Sometimes with television I am disappointed with the reality of a set or costume because the camera can fool you. These costumes are the real deal–recreated couture to emulate the roaring 20’s.

I was ready to join the enthusiast crowd of women who sew or craft to go through the exhibit, but first I stopped and spoke with the docent at the front door. It was he who told me about Henry Ayers and why the house is worth a look even when there is not a fashion display in every room.

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This mermaid costume was worn by Phryne when she was undercover.

To make it more interesting, the museum staff also created a bit of a whodunit to solve while you walked through the rooms. I did not need anymore entertainment as I was completely enraptured with the clothes themselves. Beautifully made from exquisite fabrics, I enjoyed talking to other women who sew about where they source fabric and how hard it is to find. We all laughed because even though we were from USA and Australia, both of our mothers used to look at a garment in the department store and say the equivalent of “You could make it yourself for less.” Now it is quite the opposite. No one can say they are sewing to be thrifty.

This gives full permission to sew as a creative expression. Many of these garments are impractical and designed and executed as a celebration of beauty.

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The show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, is based on Australian author Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher book series. I have looked for them in the US and have not found them. The gift shop had a new copy of the first in the series Cocaine Blues. I bought it for my Mom. Then when I found a secondhand bookshop at the Central Market I was able to pick up quite a few more in the series. My Mom read them first and now I am reading them. They are not as complex as say Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series, but neither do you have to worry about gore or upsetting physical violence.  I hope Ms. Greenwood makes her books available electronically in the USA so more people can enjoy them.

If you are interested in fashion that pushes the envelope and is inspiring and beautiful, the check out WOW! The World of Wearable Art dates for 2016 are September 11-October 9 in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets are available here.