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Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance Paperback – November 7, 2000
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"Travel writers are romantics," writes contributor Wendy Belcher, and if there is a common chord to the 40 essays in this collection culled from Salon.com's "Wanderlust" section, it's that a majority of the authors find a certain ardor in exotic locations perceived with curious and eager eyes. Some find it in the literal sense--Maxine Rose Schur reminisces about being passionate and penniless in Paris, Laura Fraser finds the perfect Italian lover to help her forget the husband who's abandoned her, and Simon Winchester charms a Romanian girl with his borrowed Rolls Royce. In pursuit of luxury, Po Bronson loses his Club Med virginity to go activity-surfing at the Turkoise Club. Then there's inspiration--Isabelle Allende travels to the Amazon in the hopes of ending a three-year writing block and David Kohn, well, he gets to sample the best pork ribs at the Memphis World Barbecue Cooking Contest. There are certainly satisfactions in these tales, if only as small vicarious thrills (originally tailored for the Web, they are indeed short and sweet). In truth, however, the real gems take travel and travel writing a little more seriously, or perhaps a little less, with an ever-present eye out for the ironies that plague travelers. Wendy Belcher's insightful essay does not actually dwell on romance but the embarrassment of discovering virtually all travel books about Africa open the same way, including hers. Tim Cahill makes clear the chasm between our lives and others when he experiences reverse culture shock in New York City after living with a remote tribe in South America. And in some truly hilarious reports, Susan Hack goes on a desperate hunt for Tampax in Yemen, Rolf Potts attempts to infiltrate the set of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie in Thailand, and Douglas Cruickshank takes a decadent blitzkrieg through England ("Indeed, the scene is so excruciatingly exquisite that I've got a good mind to call Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory and tell them to get their softly lit Panavision asses up here.") While travel writers may be romantics, thank goodness they can also be great fun. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
Since Salon.com shut down its Wanderlust section earlier this year (there weren't enough page views to satisfy investors) and since George, the section's editor, has been reduced to contributing a weekly column, this collection preserves in print articles that were likely to become Internet ephemera. The 40 stories are tuned for the computer-screen reader: they are all quick, attention-grabbing, first-person narrativesAas short and direct as a shot of espresso. One-third come from well-known writers, including a handful of brand-name travel writers such as Jan Morris, Peter Mayle, Pico Iyer, Tim Cahill and even Tony Wheeler, the founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks. The others come from Salon's multifaceted contributors, many of whom have published books of their own. The best work here uses irony to convey the complex nature of travel in the age of the Internet, when much of the world is only a mouse click away. Rolf Potts's story "Storming the Beach," for example, contains daily e-mail dispatches about the author's attempt to replicate the events of Alex Garland's novel The Beach by substituting the fictional beach with the actual Thai beach where a film of the novel is being shot. "The Last Tourist in Mozambique" details Mary Roach's discovery that it is easier to get the country's president to talk about transcendental meditation than it is to convert dollars into local currency. Salon has always been a self-consciously literary Web site, so it is no surprise that these stories survive the transition from the computer screen to the printed page. But the shutdown of the site's Wanderlust section may limit the readership for this pleasant anthology. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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First, let me mention some of the best of the lot. Susan Hack's lament ("Tampax Nightmares") on the pitfalls to finding tampons in Third World countries, and Yemen in particular, was hilarious. (Here, I guess I must admit to being an Insensitive Male.) The essay by Mary Roach ("The Last Tourist In Mozambique") on her interview with that island's President, during which transcendental meditation was discussed and practiced, left me with little doubt as to why that country is in such a wretched condition. Don George's recollection of the family vacation ("Conquering Half Dome") with wife and two kids simply reinforced my intention never to attempt the feat myself - I'm sufficiently afraid of heights. While reading Lucy McCauley's "Expatriate, With Olives", I could feel the sun in my face and the olives in my hand as she stripped the latter from their branches in southern Spain. When Simon Winchester drives a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit across Europe ("Romance In Romania"), the reaction this magnificent car elicits in a young woman in a dingy Romanian border town is positively poignant. Laura Fraser's getaway to the island of Ischia ("Italian Affair") is, perhaps, what the rest of us can only dream about during a normal day's silent desperation.
Of course, there's the other end of the curve. Wendy Belcher's treatise ("Out Of Africa") examining the opening lines and themes common to a number of travel books on Africa was so excruciatingly ho-hum that I couldn't finish it - the only chapter so dishonored. Barry Yeoman's overwhelming need ("Embraced In Spain") to be adopted by the local crowd in Cádiz, in spite of his nervous stutter and half-out-of-the-closet gay lifestyle, verges on the pathetic. (The fact that he was unconditionally accepted by a group of locals makes for a warm and fuzzy, politically correct ending. But, it was hard to care.) David Downie's record ("Philosophy Au Lait") of the low drama in a Parisian philocafé was so much trivial prattle. (But, then, my shallow character has never concerned itself with life's deeper meanings.) Finally, Karl Greenfeld's self-absorbed jaunt through angst ("Fear, Drugs, and Soccer In Asia") left me hoping he would just snap out of it.
There were quite a few "just OK" chapters, but I'll let you discover those for yourself. Indeed, someone else reading WANDERLUST will likely observe a distribution curve much different than mine - perhaps one skewed to the 1-star or 5-star end of the scale. For me, there was enough good stuff between the covers to make the book ultimately enjoyable. In the end, that's all I really ask.
So observes Pico Iyer at the end of his foreword to this magical collection, adding that the above is also the reason that "the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end. "Anyone who has traveled at least a bit, who has loved at least once, or who is ready to be transformed should read this book. High praise is due Don George and Salon.com for gathering such a stirring and tantalizing collection of writings together: in forty short pieces not one dull or sappy note is struck.
For romance, the standouts of this collection are Maxine Rose Schur's "Passionate and Penniless in Paris," about the time she spent with her husband living in a van by the Quai de la Tournelle; Simon Winchester's "Romance in Romania" where the Rolls Royce he happens to be driving brings both him and a young Romanian girl into a beautiful moment that takes its romance from its very fleetingness; Iyer's own short, musical "Bewitched in Bali"; "Fade Into Blue," written in the third person by Amanda Jones; and most memorable of all, Laura Fraser's "Italian Affair," one of the most personal pieces in the book, but written completely in the second person (let's just say it begins with "Let's say your husband leaves you" and ends with her discovery of "la bella vita").
Notable for their adventurous qualities are Bill Belleville's "Looking for Mr. Watson" in the heart of the Florida Everglades; Don Meredith's relaxed brush with death in "Sleeping With Elephants"; Jeffrey Tayler's not-so-relaxed brush with death in "Lost in the Sahara"; editor Don George's surprising fear of climbing Half-Dome in Yosemite while watching his 8- and 10-year-old children scamper up like squirrels--he not afraid for them, he's jealous of them; and Susan Hack's humorous "Tampax Nightmares."
Of course romance and adventure are not mutually exclusive, and many of the stories here exhibit both. The writers of SALON.COM'S WANDERLUST convey the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the places they go--both externally and inside their own heads. The reader is transported to all seven continents and several states of being (drunk on absinthe, crashing a motorcycle while on heroin, eating the ambrosial sauces of the Memphis World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest). It will be hard to read just a quarter of these stories and not want to make your plane reservations, stuff a new notebook into your backpack and just go.