It all started innocently enough, a good review of an old classic and then another and another, soon I was hooked. They are all free as I check them out from the library and few are in great demand so renewing was easy enough. I always know they are there and can go back and take the trip again if I desire. All of these titles are well written, some, like the Steinbeck and the Leigh-Fermor, are verging on masterpieces.
Let’s start at the first free one, A visit to Don Otavio : A Traveler’s Tale from Mexico by Sybille Bedford (which is available from the New York Review of Books bookstore. )
A wonderful escape from the mid-1940’s North to the timeless Mexican South as told by a great writer. Bedford isn’t a household name as some of these others are, but she is incredibly warm and human and gives her story a tension which pulls you in. From the NYReview summary:
Bedford doesn’t so much describe Mexico as take the reader there—in second-class motor buses over thousands of miles, through arid noons and frigid nights, successions of comida corrida, botched excursions to the coast, conversations recorded verbatim, hilarious observations, and fascinating digressions into murky histories
The second is by John Steinbeck – The Log From the Sea of Cortez
It is an impressive, lively book, written in a bold style and like the above, it occurred a bit earlier, in 1940, with the World War looming on the horizon. The only thing I skipped was some of the longer taxonomic notes, where Steinbeck lists the biology pulled from the sea in detail. The essay at the end on Ed Ricketts almost stands alone, the relationship between the two men is dramatic.
Number three is by Patric Leigh Fermor – A Time of Gifts – On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube
Set in 1932, Fermor is just 18 years old and, armed with a passport stamped “STUDENT”, in December, he sets out on a walking adventure. As I write this, I’m only 2/3 of the way through the book, but it is so well written that I’m taking my time and reading or rather, savoring, a few pages at at time. It is nice to know the Fermor wrote this journey in three books, there is more to be read!
An interesting note, it seems he wrote and published this series in the 1970’s working from his travel notebooks and what must be a prodigious memory.
One thing all three have in common is the enormous amount of alcohol consumed by the writers and those in their company. Almost makes me want to get my rucksack, corkscrew, and head off – almost!
There will be more …