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Archive for January, 2021

    FerryBuildingDuring our pandemic year, among the many things to close down has been the opportunity to travel. Yet, against the odds, Bay Area travel writers keep coming up with stories to transport you and they keep publishing them. Here is a sampling from those I’ve received during Christmas Season 2020. Some are anthologies (including a new one in the Wandering In…series which I edit with Linda Watanabe McFerrin) and two have single authors. Sample and enjoy.

         Travel Stories of Wonder and Change, by members of Bay Area Travel Writers. Open the irresistible door on the cover and be swept away to a truck ride in the Philippines, a rug market in Istanbul, a rain forest in Vancouver, a New Year’s Eve in Luxor, or…just keep going. In particular, go on to the end of the volume and enjoy two local luminaries, the inimitable Don George who pays tribute to his most esteemed mentor and for decades the Northern California Doyenne of travel writers, Georgia Hess. Three of her biggest hits are reprinted in this volume. Listen to her as she clambers off a plane onto the North Pole and asks herself, “what does one do at the North Pole?” After trying to find a “bathroom” behind a pressure ridge, she notes: “We did something neither Peary nor Cook accomplished…Raising the candy-striped pole we had brought along, we popped open bottles of Mumm’s Cordon Rouge and downed it before it could turn to ice.”

          The Best Women’s Travel Writing, vol. 12, an imprint of Travelers’ Tales, edited by Lavinia Spalding. Whatever dreams of women traveling in whatever guise you may have—alone, with friends, with husbands or lovers, with family, or even in the company of Our Ravaged Lady, Notre Dame Cathedral—you will find them here. Join their parties as they return to Bahía Honda in rural Cuba, pursue stolen tickets in Indonesia, follow the hidden meaning of spirituals in Maryland, dodge donkeys and drones in Petra, take a child to Auschwitz, or parse the changes in a mother in “A Daughter’s Guide to Florence.” And by all means, take that breathless and terrifying climb with Anne Sigmon in “Good Enough.” to the top of Kilimanjaro “The terrain shifted again. We left the scree and stepped onto a steep rock face. No more rhythmic swaying, just fierce pushing up with the legs. Climb, push up, climb. Jagged boulders emerged, hideous, from the black night.

“My legs quivered. I gasped for breath and felt the parka clawing at my face. Another gasp. No air. I grabbed blindly at the fabric, ripping it back from my mouth, and sucked in half a breath. I stared at the moon perched on the ridge just above my head. So close now, so close. ‘Try, try,’ I whispered to myself.”

             One Hundred Years of Exile: A Romanov’s Search for Her Father’s Russia, by Tania Romanov, Traveler’s Tales. This is a fascinating tale of one woman’s search for her paternal roots. A consummate writer, Romanov (who also writes under the name Amochaev, and about her mother’s Serbian side of the family) is a consummate storyteller. This is memoir, history and galloping adventure rolled up in one tale, which reads like a novel with as many characters as Tolstoys.’ There are chance meetings, surprise connections and a glimpse into a long-forgotten group, the White Russians, who celebrate their Cossack roots and long for the return of the Tsar—not just in remote Russia, but in living rooms in San Francisco, where as a child, Romanov wanted to flee what she considered an oppressive upbringing. But reconnecting with her family’s past is also an act of reconciliation.

          Upon returning to San Francisco and her father’s grave, she writes: “I have been making peace with my father for some years, and I sense he has forgiven me. But now I feel a new, deeper connection with him. Through my travels in Russia I have gained an understanding of the country of his birth and the complex relationship he and my grandparents shared with it. I relax into this feeling.”

           My Mediterranean Gardens: Practical Personal Essays, by Barbara J. Euser, Writers’ Workshops International.  One of the magical things about travel writing is that it brings together and makes sense of disparate worlds. Though Euser’s book is about gardening, it also does just that. Hear what she has to say about the far-flung world of Mediterranean gardens. Having grown up in Colorado, she observes: “When I moved to California, everything I knew about the seasons in Colorado became irrelevant. The Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area is almost the opposite of Colorado’s. In Colorado, one plants after May 31 to make sure plants will not freeze in late snowfall. In Marin County, one plants in the fall, so new plants can benefit from the rainy season.” From knowing nothing she went on to become a Master Gardener and to know a great deal. Then, several years later, she started spending a lot of time in the Peloponnese in Southern Greece. There she bought a small olive farm and planted raised beds on terraces around her property for herbs and flowers and planted a rose garden which is visible beneath her bedroom balcony. And doing so, found a whole new dimension in Mediterranean gardening.

          Her book abounds with easy-to-understand information about plants, soil, watering, design and medicinal plants. To me, a Bay Area resident, I’ve found chapters on redwoods, cultivating edible olives everyday herbs– such as rosemary, French tarragon, sage, sorrel and chamomile– most fascinating. Then of course, there’s lots to grow into, like entries on growing grapes and cultivating Jujube dates.

          Wandering in Greece: Athens, Islands and Antiquities, edited by Linda Watanabe McFerrin and Joanna Biggar, Wanderland Writers. In this, the seventh anthology of the Wandering In…series, it is particularly gratifying to note that writers from all the other books mentioned above are among our Wanderland Writers traveling community. Many of them also have stories in this new book.

          Crisscrossing Greece together in June 2018, our writers found endless, fascinating adventures to experience, legends to research, poems to illuminate and stories to tell, or often retell with a modern twist. Here you will find ancient gods and legends, from myths of the Minotaur to the prophesies of Delphi to the exploits of Alexander the Great. You will discover the wizardry of ancient Greek technology (even including wine-serving robots), the magic of an undersea sunken city, the wisdom of the elders of Ikaria. You may dine (or not) on octopus, dabble in soap making, garden, or dance with Zorba. You may encounter soldiers in skirts, refugees, the words of a great contemporary poet, or follow hatchling turtles on their hazardous march to the sea.

          Or you may, as iconic travel writer Phil Cousineau, says in his Foreward to this book, find “an insight into the infinite moment, what Henry Miller describes as ‘the stillness of the world,’ and Dame Rose Macaulay called ‘the broken beauty’ of the ancient ruins of Bassae and Ephesus.

          “For me, this is where the hope of the avid traveler and the aspiration of the ardent reader are aligned. Both are longing for a glimpse of the deeply real, the underglimmer of truth that lies below the spuriousness of commercial travel.

          “This marvelous new anthology scratches both existential itches. The very title, Wandering in Greece, evokes a Greek aphorism, ‘to philosophize is to wander’… Again and again, what illuminates these stories is what Albert Camus remarked in his essay on Helen of Troy, ‘The Greeks died for beauty.’”

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