Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘travel’

Elsewhere by Rosita Boland

Elsewhere One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel is a collection of travel stories by Irish journalist, Rosita Boland.

Boland started travelling as a young woman. She kept a diary and saved tickets and receipts and maps and other bits and pieces to remind herself of the places she had been, but took no photos, in keeping with her love for words.

Each chapter of the book starts with an unusual and relatively unknown word and its definition, a word which the author related to her emotions at the time. For example, the first chapter, Australia, starts with the word ‘eleutheromania’ which means ‘an intense desire for freedom.’

The Australian chapter told of the author’s experience living and working in a remote resort in the Daintree Rainforest with a handful of other travellers, swimming in a pool at the bottom of a waterfall, trekking an hour through the bush to get to a beautiful, secluded beach, drinking as only far-northern Queenslanders can and watching a rugby league team’s emotions run high after experiencing a boar hunt.

‘Brame’ means fierce longing, passion and this time, the author was travelling through Pakistan, madly in love with a man in England who already had a girlfriend. Travelling on narrow roads high above gorges to a remote location was terrifying reading, and on learning that there were many, many accidents on that particular road the author decided instead of returning by road she would fly out of the mountainous, foggy destination. The plane trip didn’t turn out to be much better. In those conditions it seemed sensible that instead of giving a safety demonstration the pilot said a prayer.

One of my favourite chapters told of the author’s visit to Antarctica on a cruise ship. She backpacked to the bottom of Argentina, then managed to jag an extraordinarily cheap ticket at the last minute due to a cancellation. I prefer the warmth to the cold and have never considered visiting the Antarctica before, but reading about icebergs that glitter more colours of blue than I could have imagined, and penguins getting on with their day, and the staff of a little shop at a place called Port Lockroy reading the visitor’s postcards at night to amuse themselves make me want to go too. Not even the author’s frightening story of her zodiac being caught in ice for four hours before they could be rescued put me off, but when I investigated the cost of a cruise to the Antarctica, I came crashing back down to reality.

This book, which would give the happiest of homebodies itchy feet also included stories from the author’s travels to Iceland, Bali, London, Japan, Thailand and Peru.

The stories are well told. They are evocative and give a sense of the places the author visited and the emotions she felt while she was there. I particularly liked the word ‘Fernweh’ which means ‘an ache for distant places’ but fear my own experience will be ‘onism,’ the ‘awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience.’

Thank goodness for books. And thank goodness for people like Rosita Boland, who not only travel, but tell the rest of us what it was like.

By Road Across the U.S.A. by Robert Bell

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I found By Road Across the U.S.A. by Robert Bell at an Op Shop last year Christmas and suggested to Miss S, who was with me, that I would be thrilled to find this book under the tree for me on Christmas morning. Miss S did her thing and by the time Christmas came, I’d forgotten all about the book and was genuinely delighted to unwrap it.

The author was part of a Travel Book Club, all of whom went here and there, writing and publishing their findings in order that others could learn from their experiences (or enjoy from the comfort of their armchairs). This trip took place in 1963 and the book was published the same year. Some of the anecdotes made me roar with laughter while others made me grateful that we’ve come so far over the last 55 years…

Although the book is titled By Road Across the U.S.A., it probably should have been called ‘By Bus Across the U.S.A.’, with Greyhound being the bus company of choice. Honestly, the author and his travelling companion, Michael, must have spent a large portion of their 28 days in the U.S.A. sitting on the bus or waiting in a bus station. I read about the comfort of the seats on the bus, the convenience of having a toilet on the bus (unheard of in England at the time), where the author and Michael sat on the bus, where everyone else on the bus sat, and from time to time, what they saw out of the window of the bus. The author’s advice included information about the bus stations they stopped at, including what food was available from the cafeterias of each and at what cost, the cleanliness of the toilets and the cost of a local telephone call from the telephone in the bus station (10 cents for three minutes) or the cost of a shoe-shine (ordinary 20 cents, wax 30 cents and a sports shine 40 cents, whatever that might be).

I laughed when the author said that outside of New York, they noticed that women wore the “shortest of short shorts in a cool-looking material, no stockings and only sandals.” I know the author was writing in a different time, but his comments about women began to grate eventually. He commented on blondes on and off the bus, the attractiveness of the women they sat next to on the bus, the unexpectedness of women wearing bikinis into casinos in Las Vegas (okay, I’ll give them that one…), where to find a strip club in every town the bus stopped in, gave his opinion that the girls in New Orleans must be amongst the loveliest in the world and said that Michael thought American women have very good legs… There was more, but you get the point…

The author also commented regularly on Negro passengers on the bus, including where they sat, how they were dressed and how they were treated by other passengers. These comments felt a bit along the lines of, “Look at how cosmopolitan I am, I’ve seen a Negro person,” but there is no doubt that the author witnessed Negro, Mexican and people of other ethnicities being treated disgracefully by white Americans (on and off the bus) at that time and that as an Englishman, he found this unacceptable but felt unable to intervene while a guest in another country.

Regardless, the author’s humour kept me interested the whole way through the trip. At the top of the Empire State Building he comments that the safety rails, inward-curving overhead spikes are “a safety precaution against those who would like to jump over the side without the benefit of a parachute” and struggling to finish eating a massive piece of steak feeling “that the honour of England lay in the balance.” There was a ‘how-to’ guide to using the automatic doors at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International) and a section on the joys of air conditioning in American cars.

Other fascinating titles in the Travel Book Club include The Grand Cruise, Beyond the River of the Dead (would love to get my hands on that one), The Splendour of Israel and The Lost World of Quintana Roo. I suspect these travelling authors were each other’s best audience and loved to think up exotic trips to outdo their peers. This was as much a trip back in time as a road trip across the U.S.A. and was an enjoyable few days of armchair travelling for me.

 

 

 

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