Frances Mayes bought a neglected villa in the Tuscan town of Cortona. The house was called "Bramasole", meaning "yearning for the sun", and the sunshiFrances Mayes bought a neglected villa in the Tuscan town of Cortona. The house was called "Bramasole", meaning "yearning for the sun", and the sunshine and warmth of Italy comes shining through Mayes' enthusiastic descriptions.
One gets a sense that Mayes is being reborn. After a midlife divorce, she is in a relationship with her future husband, Ed. The two poets both have demanding jobs as the heads of creative writing departments in their California universities. Both worked hard, along with Italian craftsmen, renovating the house in Tuscany during their summer and mid-winter breaks. They fell in love with the Italian culture, pace of life, and food.
The sense of time is so different in Tuscany with their villa surrounded by fascinating things from ancient times--an Etruscan wall, a Roman road, old churches, and a nearby Medici fortress. The walls of the old villa were thick slabs covered with plaster. Various owners had added on more rooms over the years so it was always a surprise to see what was under the last coat of plaster.
The Tuscan food is simple, fresh, and picked when perfectly ripe. Mayes' descriptions of the food and wine are sensuous, and she included a few recipes. Her tables are often topped with fresh flowers from the many gardens they planted.
I enjoyed the book, but wished I had spread the reading out more instead of reading it over three days since there is so much description. The mood of the book is upbeat, joyous, and often humorous. The Tuscan sun has definitely warmed up Mayes' life. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars....more
In 1934 Laurie Lee left his Cotswold home to walk south to see the ocean, then headed up to London. The nineteen-year-old played the violin on streetIn 1934 Laurie Lee left his Cotswold home to walk south to see the ocean, then headed up to London. The nineteen-year-old played the violin on street corners for tips, and also depended on the kindness of strangers. A professional tramp who did a yearly circuit around England taught him some of the tricks of survival on the road. Since this was during the years of economic depression, there were also many men on the road looking for work. He worked as a laborer on a construction site and lived in a rooming house for most of his time in London. Lee possessed a youthful energy, and enjoyed socializing with new acquaintances.
Lee than took a boat to northern Spain, and traversed western Spain during the heat of the summer. Although the people in many of the villages where he stopped were poor, most of them were very kind to the young Englishman. Modern times had not arrived in the small Spanish villages, and the people had close ties to the land and the sea.
The first signs of the Spanish Civil War were appearing when Lee was working at a hotel on the coast. He bonded with young people who were also impoverished--laborers and fisherman who were hoping for a better life when a leftist government came into power in 1936. War broke out between Franco's Fascist rebels and the Republican left. A British destroyer traveled down the Spanish coast picking up British subjects, including Lee, bringing them to safety. When Lee returns to England, he felt that he should help his Republican friends back in Spain. The epilogue is an exciting account of crossing the Pyrenees to reach the Spanish border.
Lee is also a poet, and his writing has a beautiful lyrical quality. He fell in love with the beauty of Spain and its passionate people. His two years on the road were an intense coming of age experience for Laurie Lee....more
On the day that his twin sons were born, Anthony Doerr received a letter informing him that he had won the Rome Prize. He was given a small apartment,On the day that his twin sons were born, Anthony Doerr received a letter informing him that he had won the Rome Prize. He was given a small apartment, a studio at the American Academy, and a monthly stipend to spend a year writing in the Eternal City. Six months later, he and his wife bundled up the twins and flew from Idaho to Italy.
Doerr writes about the challenges of parenting twins, especially the lack of sleep, and the love he feels for them. Communicating in Italian is another difficult task, sometimes with humorous results, and other times frightening as when he needed to get medical help for his wife Shauna. During the year the author read all 37 volumes of Pliny's "Natural History" (from AD 77) as well as many other works about Rome. His family walked and rode buses through the city with a twin stroller, marveling at the beauty they could find. The whole area of Rome and the Vatican is really a huge art museum. They were also witness to the events at Saint Peter's Square when the Pope died and another Pope was chosen.
Doerr is a keen observer of both people and nature. His lyrical writing is beautiful, and draws the reader in to experience Rome through his eyes. "Four Seasons in Rome" is an especially enjoyable travel memoir....more
Joe Hurley wore out six pairs of shoes as he walked across the United States on Route 6. The retired 59-year-old newspaper reporter from "The News-TimJoe Hurley wore out six pairs of shoes as he walked across the United States on Route 6. The retired 59-year-old newspaper reporter from "The News-Times" in Danbury, CT traveled from Cape Cod on the Atlantic Ocean to Long Beach on the Pacific, going through 14 states. His photographer, Travis Lindhorst, also played chauffeur at the beginning and end of each day in an old Geo Metro--until the brakes failed in the mountains outside Death Valley. Joe filed weekly stories with the newspapers who helped sponsor the trip.
Although Route 6 does go through some major cities, most of the road is a two lane highway through small towns. Joe talked to the everyday people who make up the country as well as visiting scenic and historical areas along the way. Travis' color photographs are beautiful. I enjoyed reading about the travels of Joe and Travis--and it was so much easier from an armchair.
John Steinbeck took a road trip around the United States in the fall of 1960 "to try to rediscover this monster land." He bought a pick-up truck withJohn Steinbeck took a road trip around the United States in the fall of 1960 "to try to rediscover this monster land." He bought a pick-up truck with a camper top, and named it Rocinante (after Don Quixote's horse). Charley, an older large French poodle, was Steinbeck's traveling companion. Charley served as an ice-breaker, making it easier for Steinbeck to meet strangers. Steinbeck had a chronic illness at the time of his trip, and Charley had his own set of veterinary problems, but they offered emotional support to each other. Charley also added some humor to the story, such as when he turned into a vicious barking beast when he spotted and smelled the bears in Yellowstone Park.
Steinbeck tried to talk to the "everyman" during his journey--farmers, migrant workers, and waitresses--to take the pulse of the country. Although Steinbeck has associated with many famous people, he has never forgotten his humble roots as a dock worker. As one who has lived through the 1960s, I felt that he gave a true sense of the era. He traveled through the Northeast, then took a northern route to the west coast, then headed home by taking a southern route eastward.
The most awe-inspiring stop on his journey was at a forest of majestic redwoods. The most upsetting incident was in New Orleans where a group of women (called the Cheerleaders) shouted racist comments at small black children walking to their recently integrated school. His visit to a bar in his hometown in California showed that you really can't go home again after an absence of many years--people change and the town changes.
Steinbeck got lost quite often during his trip. He seemed to suggest that America was also getting lost as the population moved from the country to the city to work in industry. He was concerned about damage to the environment as factories, garbage dumps, and interstate highways ringed the cities.
There has been some controversy about the accuracy of Steinbeck's tale, especially in journalist Bill steigerwald's book, "Dogging Steinbeck". Steinbeck did not camp out as often as his book relates, his wife flew out to meet him quite often during the trip, and his conversations with people seem to often be composites of several people. That really did not bother me since I find that most travel books give the flavor of a location, and are not a day-to-day diary. I can also understand why Steinbeck would be spending many nights in motels, considering his poor health. I enjoyed the hours I spent with Steinbeck and Charley on the road....more
3.5 stars The tale from Greek mythology of Demeter and Persephone, mother and daughter, acts as a theme for this travel story. Ann Kidd Taylor had just3.5 stars The tale from Greek mythology of Demeter and Persephone, mother and daughter, acts as a theme for this travel story. Ann Kidd Taylor had just received a rejection letter from a graduate program she wished to attend, and was unsure what direction her life should follow. Her mother, Sue Monk Kidd, was trying to adjust to the changes life was throwing her as she turned fifty--from hot flashes to acting on her dream of writing a novel.
Each found inspiration from mythological and historical female figures encountered on their trips to Greece and France. Sue sought out sacred feminine images, especially the Black Madonna that she incorporated into her novel The Secret Life of Bees. Ann drew strength from a trio of inspirational females--Mary, Athena, and Joan of Arc.
This is a book of reflection with alternating chapters written by each woman. Their travels helped them find their way spiritually as individuals, and strengthened the bond between mother and daughter....more
Robyn Davidson was a young woman who had a dream of traveling with camels through the bush of the northern and western areas of Australia. She arrivedRobyn Davidson was a young woman who had a dream of traveling with camels through the bush of the northern and western areas of Australia. She arrived in Alice Springs with her dog and six dollars, hoping to find work and learn to train camels. After two years she still did not have the funds to start on her trek, so she signed a contract with "National Geographic" to allow a photographer to spend a few days with her several times during the trip.
Davidson was a hard working, tenacious woman who loved the camels and her dog. She felt that she enjoyed being around animals more than people. It did occasionally make me cringe when she had to discipline the animals to keep them in line, but the camels were tricky, intelligent, and stubborn. The "camel lady" set off from Alice Springs and traveled six months through the Aboriginal Reserve areas and the desert, westward to the Indian Ocean.
Davidson tended to overreact to the presence of Rick Smolan, the camera man. The trip would not have been possible without the National Geographic sponsorship. He was also very helpful obtaining water and food for the camels so she could continue across the desert. She wanted the trip to be a personal journey, and had a hard time compromising during the three times Smolan drove out into the desert to photograph. By the end of the trip, she valued his friendship.
In addition to her interesting travel story, she also wrote about the sexism and racism that was present in 1970s Australia. She was especially concerned about the treatment of the Aborigines who had been rounded up into special areas (similar to the way the Native Americans were treated in North America). My favorite part of the book was when she walked with an older Pitjantjara man for several weeks, gaining a close connection with the environment. Davidson was a daring, gutsy woman who set a goal, and although she was not the most organized person, she reached it. I enjoyed this colorful memoir set in the bush of Australia....more
The South Pacific is not totally the paradise one might imagine from travel posters. J. Maarten Troost has written a humorous travel book where he telThe South Pacific is not totally the paradise one might imagine from travel posters. J. Maarten Troost has written a humorous travel book where he tells of primitive transportation, corrupt governments, harrowing cyclones, huge venonous centipedes, and traveling to the rim of an active volcano. He is fascinated with the history of cannibalism, and learns about the missionaries and rival villagers who were victims to the practice. As the title suggests, he enjoys getting stoned with a native drink called kava which is especially strong in Vanuatu. When his wife gets pregnant, they move from Vanuatu to Fiji where there is better medical care available. The Fijians were especially warm with babies, and their infant son was passed from one loving pair of arms to another.
This is a witty account of the years the author spent on Vanuatu and Fiji as a writer while his wife worked for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific. I wish it had a little more detail about the everyday lives of the native people on the islands. The strength of the book was that the author was an excellent storyteller. His tales were entertaining, keenly observant, and laced with humor. ...more
Vietnamese-American Andrew Pham writes about his search for cultural identity in a book that is both a memoir and a biking travelogue. He remembers thVietnamese-American Andrew Pham writes about his search for cultural identity in a book that is both a memoir and a biking travelogue. He remembers the fall of Saigon, his father's imprisonment in a communist reeducation camp, and the family's escape from Vietnam in a leaky fishing boat when he was a ten-year-old. After a stay in an Indonesian refugee camp, the family came to the United States and eventually settled in California. Although he recognizes the sacrifices made by his parents, he also recounts how the Pham children were subjected to his father's temper and beatings. The suicide of his transgendered sibling was the impetus for Andrew Pham's journey of self-discovery.
The author quit his job as an aerospace engineer, and traveled by bike up the Pacific Coast, through Japan, and up the length of Vietnam. He visited important places in his family's history and found them completely changed. While he had some enjoyable times, he also saw terrible poverty and extreme corruption. Dysentery was an unwelcome companion over part of the trip. He weaves together two story lines--about his family and about his bike trip.
He was called "Viet-kieu" (foreign Vietnamese) in Vietnam, a slur by people who envy his success. In America, he also feels like an outsider. He experiences survivor guilt, explores his roots, and feels the pull of two cultures. He still seems to be searching at the book's end--and maybe it will be a lifelong search--for who he is. Laced with adventure and humor, this was an engaging story that held my interest....more
What a wonderful, inspiring book! Conor Grennan wanted to see the world so he took a year off from working. He decided to volunteerRecommended by Will
What a wonderful, inspiring book! Conor Grennan wanted to see the world so he took a year off from working. He decided to volunteer at the Little Princes Children's Home in Nepal for three months before continuing on his world tour.
The children in the home were not actually orphans. Child traffickers had told their families that they would take their children from the unsafe villages during the civil war for a price. The traffickers promised the parents that the children would have safe homes in Kathmandu with plenty of food and good schooling. But the children were abandoned or kept in wretched conditions once they reached the city of Kathmandu.
Conor had never worked with children before, but he fell in love with them. Most of the children were boys since the parents were trying to protect them from being forced to be soldiers in the Maoist army, and they were also more apt to send the boys to school. Conor made it his mission to find the families of these children so that they could be eventually reunited. He treked through the dangerous mountains of Nepal with a painful knee injury to the villages of the children's parents.
He also met the woman of his dreams during this time. Liz had done volunteer work as a humanitarian in Third World countries as well. An e-mail relationship progressed from friendship to romance.
Conor and his French friend Farid founded the non-profit organization Next Generation Nepal (NGN). The group opened another home for the children, and is still working to reunite chilren with their parents in the mountainous villages.
Conor's story is told with humility and self-deprecating humor. The love he has for these children shines throughout the book. There is also plenty of adventure and adjustment as he describes his travels through the mountains of Nepal, deals with government officials, learns to live with the slower pace of Nepal time, and deals with sub-standard medical care. This is a very special book that we all should read. _______________________________ More to read or view:
"Children of God" is a documentary film about the children who live on the sacred grounds of a Hindu temple in Katmandu next to a river where funeral rites are carried out. Great sums of money are spent to honor the dead, while the children resort to begging and stealing funeral offerings....more