Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Armchair Traveling

I love to travel, as you probably know. I do it quite often, but still, with time and salary constraints (go go frequent flier miles racked up by someone who loves me) it doesn't happen as much as I'd like.

(The travel photos are, at right, Dan and me in Turkey, were the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. The land mass to the left is Europe, to the right is Asia. Below is me in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Further into the post is one of me in front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.)

Which is were some great books can come into play to take you away from it all...

But first, today's song is Guess How Much I Love You by The Lucksmiths. It's my favorite rainy day song. Not that today is rainy, but rather because it fits in well with today's theme. This is cartography for beginners, on map the gap's three fingers but it's more than that, more than that...

Anyway, books. Right.

The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World by Todd Pruzan (and Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer)

Some time ago, Pruzan ran across a copy of The Countries of Europe Described, a sort of Victorian travel-guide to Europe. It contained such gems of advice and knowledge as German women are "not fond of reading useful books. When they read, it is novels about people who have never lived. It would be better to read nothing than such books."

Puzan was hooked. He tracked down other travel guides and books by Mrs. Mortimer (Churchill himself was taught to read with her Reading Without Tears, though he said "it certainly did not justify its title in my case."

In The Clumsiest People in Europe, Puzan has published extracts from Mrs. Mortimer's opinions on all corners of globe (amazing for a woman who never left England). His introductory text explaining current political issues and boundaries is invaluable. Mrs. Mortimer's opinions on the other hand...

This book is hilarious, but you can't admit that and you'll feel rather dirty for laughing at it, though sometimes you're laughing just at the sheer audacity of it. Not that Mrs. Mortimer held any opinions that weren't common to Victorian England...

Some places look pretty at a distance which look very ugly when you come up to them--Lisbon is one of these places.

There are no people as fond of parties as the people of Vienna. Morning, noon, and evening, they are thinking of treats, and holidays, of music and dances. They are fond of eating nice things.

The capital of Malacca is Malacca, and this city belongs to the English; but it is of little use to them, because the harbour is not good.

[In Ireland] potatoes are the food. Potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for dinner, and potatoes for supper.

Of course, sometimes, she hits things right on the head. In her entry on the US she says:

In the Southern States, SLAVERY prevails...

Some people declare, that these slaves are as happy as free labourers.

The slaves show plainly, that
they do not think themselves happy, by often running away. Every day there are advertisements in the newspapers for runaway slaves.

And although it starts off odious, her entry on Affghanistan hits some truths that might not have been widely accepted:

The Affghan, though living on fruits, is far from being a harmless and amiable character; on the contrary, he is cruel, covetous, and treacherous. Much British blood has been shed in the valleys of Affghanistan.

We cannot blame the Affghans for defending their own country. It was natural for them to ask, "What right has Britain to interfere with us?"

A British Army was once sent to Affghanistan to force the people to have a king they did not like, instead of one they did like.

And of course:

Poor Poland has no king of her own. She has been torn to pieces by three great countries--Austria, Russia, and Prussia. They have divided Poland between them. This was very wrong.

And, not really a travel book, but a book about a great journey is

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Everyone's read this, and everyone loved it, and everyone wept when it didn't get the Newberry.

Except me. Well, ok, I didn't read it until after Newberry's were announced but... where this is a book for children, much like The Velveteen Rabbit, this is a book to be read to children, not for children to read to themselves--the sentence structure is very complex. The message, too, I think is almost more for adults than for kids.

That said, Edward Tulane is a story of a porcelain rabbit who is very selfish and vain. He expects everyone to love him and, when his heart is broken, is left emotionally shattered and bitter. As he travels, he learns to heal and love again.

What makes this story magical (and it really is) is DiCamillo's prose--beautifully elegant, haunting and soft. After reading, you just want to find someplace quiet for awhile...

Other great travel books:

On the Road Jack Kerouac
13 Little Blue Envelopes Maureen Johnson
Maiden Voyage Tania Aebi and Bernadette Brennan
You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons - The World on One Cartoon a Day Mo Willems

And, of course, don't forget Mike's Walkabout, which is a blog by my friend Mike who saved up a bunch of money, quit his job, and is now backpacking around the world.

What are your favorite armchair travel books?


Anonymous said...

I'm generally a lurker here, but I *love* armchair travel! (Primarily because it's about all I can afford.) My favourite armchair travel books include:

-"Under the Tuscan sun" by Frances Mayes
-"A fair wind and plenty of it: a modern-day tall ship adventure" by Rigel Crockett
-"A traveller's war" by Alaric Jacob (I believe it's out of print, but it's a wonderful book by a British journalist who followed British troops around Africa and Asia during WW2)
-anything by Bill Bryson
-"Round Ireland with a fridge" by Tony Hawks (hilarious!)
-"Worlds to explore: classic tales of travel and adventure from National Geographic"

I'm looking forward to hearing other people's suggestions. :)

Jennie said...

Yay for posting by lurkers!

I haven't read any of these books, but they're all going on my list. "A Fair Wind and Plenty of It" and "A Traveller's War" especially look right up my alley.

Thanks for the great reccomendations!

MotherReader said...

My favorite travel book is The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by Troost. Funny, interesting, and not as risque as it sounds.

BTW, I have a different, non-loving take on bunny book in my Tulane Readers Theatre.