Friday, January 13, 2006

walking across Andorra

I'm fond of travel narratives and adventure stories (which always involve travel don't they?). I like mountain climbing narratives such as Into Thin Air and the riveting Touching the Void. I like ocean passage narratives, such as the story of a trans-Atlantic crossing by rowboat (one of the first of the genre I can recall reading as a young teen) which, alas I cannot now find. I like books by famous travel writers, such as Bruce Chatwin, and by famous authors who also wrote travel pieces, such as D.H. Lawrence (it was Ernie who put me on to his travel writings 40 years ago). I like the classic memoirs that I suppose are high up in the travel-adventure canon, such as (the other) Lawerence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. I think Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle must fit in this category too. I like offbeat accounts, like Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey and Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). And, I should not leave out, I like myths, legends, and novels, such as The Odyssey, Inferno, Gulliver's Travels, Moby Dick. There's a lot to like. One top favorite is very hard to find: Narratives of the mission of George Bogle to Tibet, And of the journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa, edited by Clements R Markham. Another should be more readily available: Goethe, Italian Journey.

All that's by way of introduction.

The World Hum web site ('travel dispatches from a shrinking planet') has an article with the intriguing title: The Art of Writing a Story About Walking Across Andorra. It's a funny account which is both a travel narrative and a how-to for aspiring travel writers. The intro and section headings give the flavor of it:


He traversed an entire nation in a long weekend. Now Rolf Potts shows how you can impress members of the opposite sex and write a textbook-perfect travel article in eight easy steps.

I. Many Travel Stories Begin as an Attempt to Impress Pretty Women

II. Historical Details Make it Look Like You Know What You’re Talking About

III. Editors Are Impressed By Tidy Narrative Formulas

IV. When Bogged Down in Description, Trot Out Some Colorful Characters

V. Be Sure to Contrast the Purity of the Past With the Superficialities of Today

VI. Don’t Forget to Talk to a Local

VII. Public Festivals are the Holy Grail of Any Travel Story

VIII. End With a Tidy Generalization, or Perhaps a Knowing Wink


Endnote: There are some good books that I can't bring back to mind. One about Africa, one by Sir Walter Scott about travels around the fringe of Scotland, one about travels in the Arabian desert.

A quick google search shows me that -- as you'd expect -- there are some travel lit reading lists for college English classes. Cribbing from one of them, and from Wikipedia's list of Notable Travel Literature, here's some more good stuff in the genre:
Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Paul Theroux, Great Railway Bazaar
V.S. Naipaul, An Area of Darkness
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters from Constantinople
Tobias Smollett, Travels through France and Italy
Laurence Sterne, Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley