Home may be where the heart is, but most of us feel the urge, now and then, to be someplace else: to strap on a rucksack, have Jeeves pack up the steamer trunks, and hit the road. Here, some variations on taking the geographical cure.
At the Captain's Table
Packing light wasn't always a traveler's mantra. The leisured classes pictured in Alexis Gregory's The Golden Age of Travel, 1880-1939 (Cassell, dist. by Sterling Publishing, $24.95) didn't board ship without a different ensemble for every meal. "There were tweeds for the gentlemen and flannel skirts for the ladies, suits and silk dresses for lunch, diaphanous velvet tea gowns for the later afternoon and full evening dress except for the first and last nights which were spent unpacking and repacking the large Vuitton steamer trunks." Similar standards were maintained on the Orient Express, where even the liveried waiters in the dining car wore powdered wigs -- until passengers complained about powder falling into their food. Traveling can be such a strain.
This Grand Tour of a book follows the late Victorian and Edwardian rich on their annual migratory circuit, documenting each stop with period illustrations guaranteed to make the Conde Nast Traveler set drool. "In the cold weather, one went to the seaside -- southern Italy or the Riviera. . . . From Christmas to Lent there was the enchanting round of the Saint Petersburg season. The more adventurous weathered in India or Egypt, taking the sun on the tented terrace of the Cataract Hotel in Aswan or luxuriating at Shepheard's in Cairo . . . Spring and early summer were the social seasons of Paris, London, and Vienna. In mid-summer there were the spas -- Baden-Baden, Carlsbad, Bad Homburg, Montecatini, and Vichy -- or the mountain resorts of Switzerland and the Alto Adige. Fall brought shoots on the great estates of Britain, France, and Austria-Hungary. " `My whole life is a season,' complained a fashionable Edwardian gentleman."
The rough-and-ready contributors to In Search of Adventure: A Wild Travel Anthology, compiled by Bruce Northam and Brad Olsen (CCC Publishing, $17.95) would probably eat their luggage before they'd pack a velvet tea gown or shooting tweeds. If they have luggage at all -- this is the crowd that travels with a toothbrush, a pair of jeans and a passport. They're an eclectic crew of adventurers and hippies; the most far out of them has to be Mur (no other name given), "one of the original intercontinental overland hippies" who renounced his American citizenship "to become an Earth man." Other contributors, including Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) and Tim Cahill (Jaguars Ripped My Flesh), will be more familiar to mainstream readers.
Cahill recounts setting off for Mongolia to collect hair samples; stateside researchers wanted to conduct DNA tests to determine whether the Mongolians' ancestors peopled prehistoric America. Riding the steppes, he experiences the down side of Mongolian hospitality: You must give something in return. Wherever Cahill and party go, they're brought dairy products; he learns to dread the "yogurt riders," well-intentioned Mongolians traipsing after him with pails of the stuff. "Unfortunately, all up and down the Ider River Valley, the word was out about the strange Mer-ee-koons [Americans] who worshipped hair. People rode out to visit with us, and they never came empty handed. Generally, they carried metal dairy pails full of yogurt. We stopped, visited, ate the yogurt, rinsed the pails, and returned them full of polar fleece jackets . . . We sorted through what was left of our dwindling gear. Give 'em a couple of rain jackets: we had only a few more days and the weather might hold. Give 'em a few flashlights: we would be able to set up our camp by moonlight." At least giving away your gear makes the return trip through Customs that much easier.
A weightier new anthology of travel writing comes from Beacon Press, which has just published A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing, edited by Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish ($17.50). The editors have picked a quote from famous expat James Baldwin for their epigraph: "No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger . . . This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again." Griffin and Fish begin with some early adventurers, including Mary Seacole, who in 1857 published a book about her time as an unofficial nurse in the Crimean War. Part II highlights Africa (including W.E.B. Du Bois's final days in Ghana), France and Russia (Claude McKay and Langston Hughes turn up here). Part III turns to African Americans travelling in black cultures in Africa, the Bahamas and elsewhere, and the simultaneous sense of identification and displacement such journeys can produce.
Journey Without Maps
What if you find yourself physically displaced -- hopelessly lost, in other words? You'll be glad you tucked a copy of Harold Gatty's Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass (Dover, $7.95) into your carry-on. Gatty made navigational history in 1931 when he flew with pilot Wiley Post around the world in 8 days. He served in World War II with the Royal Australian Air Force, then settled in the Fiji Islands, where he wrote this book, originally published as Nature Is Your Guide.
Though modern man's ability to "read" them has atrophied, "natural signs and guideposts" are everywhere "for us to observe and interpret. By means of them we can find our way in remote and lonely places, on land or sea . . . Nature always has a reason, and the purpose of this book is to help you interpret those reasons and apply them in pathfinding."
If Gatty's advice were reduced to one item, it would be "Pay attention." Cast a keen eye over the terrain; pick out natural landmarks. Every time you go for a walk, train yourself to see, really see, what's around you. Forgot the compass? Depending on where you are, you may be able to orient yourself by carefully examining the trees. "The southern branches . . . tend to be more horizontal because they secure full sunlight, whereas the northern branches tend to be more vertical as they reach up to obtain more light. There is also a greater branch foliage on the souther side."
Monitor the flora and fauna. Gatty's especially big on birds, who are natural navigators. At sea, certain species may lead the sailor to land. If you find yourself staggering with an empty canteen through the Sahara or Death Valley, pay attention to the pigeons. "There are 289 species of pigeons and doves in the world; and there is no desert (apart from the ice deserts of the north and south) which does not have one or more species native to it. Birds of this order are easily recognizable by their shape and style; and nearly every species has a habit of perching in trees or shrubs near desert water holes, especially towards the evening. . . Occasionally they drink at daybreak: always do they drink in the early evening: never do they drink during the heat of the day." Gatty also discusses how to read direction from the wind and waves, from the sun and moon and stars, and how to make sure you're going in a straight line (harder than you'd think).
Then again, it might be less strenuous to invest in a good guidebook. Though this isn't the place to conduct a comprehensive survey, several new titles suggest the range of guides now available. For instance, a traveler already acquainted with Paris, or a first-timer who wants to supplement the standard Fodor's or Blue Guide, now has Thirza Vallois's three-volume Around and About Paris (Iliad, dist. by Midpoint Trade Books, 1263 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan., 66103; $19.95 each volume). Vallois, a Paris resident for 30-plus years, takes the reader through the city arrondissement by arrondissement, "so as to allow the city to unfold little by little before your eyes. The names of streets, the geographic location of the city's monuments, the social and ethnic distribution of the population will become meaningful and coherent. You will understand that it is not pure chance that draws the wealthy to the 16th arrondissement or publishers to the 6th. You will find out how and why haute couture started in the 1st arrondissement and why it has recently shifted to the 8th. You will realize why the 5th has to some extent lost its soul and why embassies are often located in the 7th."
Moving from the urban to the wild, a new breed of guidebook focuses on flora and fauna (and not in the way Harold Gatty did). Tropical Mexico: The Ecotravellers' Wildlife Guide, by Les Beletsky (Natural World/Academic Press, $27.95), grew out of its nature-loving author's frustration that "I could not locate a single book to take along on a trip that would help me identify all the types of animals that really interested me." So Beletsky wrote one that did. Combining natural history -- lore, habits, best places to spot each creature -- with pointers on specific sites and background on the state of conservation in the region today, Tropical Mexico covers Cancun, the Yucatan Peninsula, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco; Beletsky has produced similar guides to Costa Rica and Belize and Northern Guatemala. The Wildlife Conservation Society endorses the series, future volumes of which will cover Hawaii, Ecuador and the Galapagos. n
Jennifer Howard's e-mail address is email@example.com.