World Travel, Esoteric Lands, Archaeology

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

World Travel, Esoteric Lands, Archaeology


Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Wherever Frances Mayes goes, the patter is familiar, the scene intimate. Alas, all too familiar. The author of "Under the Tuscan Sun" and three other books about Tuscany now has expanded her scope to take off for A Year in the World (Broadway Books, $26 , 420 pages). It's an idiosyncratic itinerary, subtitled "Journeys of a Passionate Traveller," the better to keep us guessing her next port of call. Seemingly without a care in the world, and certainly without any money worries, she goes from Italy, to Spain, Portugal, back to Italy again, Morocco, Burgundy, and on and on.

She spares us no details, even tedious ones about her husband's health, so that much of the book seems to have been lifted directly from notes entered into a journal the end of each day. We are given a smorgasbord of information: Colette's early life in Auxerre, the beauties of Wales, walking in Capri, and more than enough about food and drink enjoyed along the way. The bibliography is a welcome addition.

* * *

Britisher Lawrence Osborne, a New York resident, covets a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach signaled by his title, The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall (North Point Press, $24, 278 pages). He picks places that he senses soon will be overtaken by the tourist industry. He is an adroit writer and interviewer; the comic touches about such esoteric lands as Dubai currently remaking itself into Las Vegas crossed by Disneyland and a visit to the secluded Andaman Islands are hugely entertaining.

He can be thoughtful, too, when pondering the complications of being a tourist in these far lands, speculating on what the future holds when every distant and theoretically "new" tourist haunt has been discovered. Ross Island, a former British colonial outpost located between stops in Calcutta and Bangkok, strikes him as "exactly what the ruins of our own mega-resorts will look like in a hundred Years' time. Ross had been a fantasy island, just as a Four Seasons island would be the same exclusivity, the same illusion of tropical splendor carefully manicured and arranged."

Pausing in his tracks in Calcutta, he asks himself about the roles he sees tourists play in foreign countries. "Which part of you is real and which is the part? . . . Because in reality no one is ever taken purely as an individual look at the way Western anthropologists look at Indians or, more extremely, Papuans." Reflecting on his own "Britishness," he mentions the British fondness for islands as seen in the country's literature "The Tempest," "Robinson Crusoe," "Lord of the Flies," etc. "For us, the island is a source of wondrous dread it has a psychology all its own."

He wanders on, to Thailand, ("Hedonopolis" and "The Spa"), Bali ("Paradise Made"), Papua New Guinea ("The Naked Tourist" not for the fainthearted), pondering in a world-weary way where he might end up next year. The book is a fast read and handy to have along when trapped in the doldrums of airport waiting rooms. No illustrations, unfortunately.

* * *

Far more esoteric and specialized is From Stonehenge to Samarkand: An Anthology of Archaeological Travel Writing (Oxford University Press, $35, 384 pages) by Brian Fagan, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. It's fascinating to the contemporary reader for, among other reasons, a look backwards at current hot spots of the world such as Baghdad. …

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