Winner! Gold Medal for Best Travel Book in the Society of American Travel Writers Western Chapter Awards 2005. Here’s what the judges had to say.
“In a category filled with transcendent writing, this one stands out because it defies expectation. It deftly avoids the “women’s writing” trap, which produces stories more concerned with the writer’s inner life than with her ostensible subject. This collection more often employs the writer’s sensibility as a filter for conveying the soul of a place—through its castles or its war-torn sidewalks or quirks of its famous citizens, to be sure, but mostly through encounters with its construction workers, pub denizens, landladies and pilgrims. In fact, a couple of these stories border on perfection. And when the story hinges on romance, as many do, we realize before the last page that no matter how enticing the object of affection, the true affair is with this new place, with travel, with life. Refreshing, and masterfully done.”
A Woman’s Europe explores this marvelous continent from a totally female point of view, for women of all ages. Break away from the strictures of home and discover yourself in exhilarating places from Ireland to the Alps to the Greek isles. Laugh in a palace, cavort in the streets of foreign capitals, hear yourself change as you learn to speak another language: rediscover in Europe the love in your life and the roots of your history. Notable authors include Frances Mayes, Isabella Tree, Jan Morris, Laurie Gough, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, Michele Anna Jordan, Constance Hale, and many more.
Introduction by Mary Morris
Hang out all night with singing firemen in Athens
Search for a Tuscan villa that fulfills your dreams
Parachute, free as a bird, over Scotland
Get milk for your muesli right from a cow in the Swiss Alps
Restore a castle in the French countryside
Find a place among the eccentrics at the British Museum
Savor a meal that might seduce in Venice
Enjoy a Christmas from another century in Vienna
Abandon your itinerary in Prague to run off with a kindred spirit…and much more
by Mary Morris
I went to Europe for the first time with my mother. I didn’t want to go. I was a reluctant teenager who had just learned to drive. I preferred to cruise around northern Illinois with my friends. But it was not to be. My mother marched me down to the passport office and away we went.
It was the grand tour. London, Paris, Rome. Cities she had longed to see. I lost her in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I wandered the streets of London in search of fresh fruit, and in the Borghese gardens I was followed by herds of boys, and a few overage men. We saw our bus driver kiss his wife good-bye in Rome as she handed him his lunch and kiss another woman hello in Florence as she gave him his clean laundry. In Genoa my laughing mother hurled her cultured pearls into the sea.
I returned ever altered and my own journeys began. Many of them. Over years and continents, but at least once a year I try to go back to Europe where it all began. When I think of women and travel, I go back to my mother—so filled with longing to go places—and that first trip abroad.
There is something about “going abroad” which for generations has had its allure. As if crossing borders (not to mention the sea) enabled one to cross boundaries as well. While Americans claim heritage from around the world, Europe has shaped us historically in ways no other culture has—for better or worse. And to Americans going abroad, it offers art, culture, and free expression in a way that few cultures can. For generations, Americans have gone to Europe to learn. And to break free.
It was true for Henry James and for “The Lost Generation” of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, a myriad of painters, and, of course, Gertrude Stein. It was always true for the English and Irish writers—Beckett and Joyce, E. M. Forster who understands the impact of an old cathedral in his beloved A Room with a View. It was true for men. And, of course, it was always true for women writers as well, though perhaps less clearly defined. Edith Wharton, for one, understood Europe’s allure.
As I have long suspected, and as this impressive volume confirms, women do move through the world differently than men. Whether we like it or not, the dangers women face, the connections we make, are based on who we are and a part of who we are is female. Whether being chased down freezing Moscow streets by drunken men, as Stephanie Elizondo Griest is in her essay “After Midnight,” or needing a hand to hoist our luggage into an overhead rack as Lollie Ragana does in “Restoration,” women’s experience is not the same as their male counterparts.
That is why I welcome this volume. As Henry Miller wrote in The Colossus of Maroussi, “Voyages are accomplished inwardly and the most difficult are made without leaving the spot.” The real journey, as anyone who has gone anywhere knows, is an inner one—an existential one. And the women here don’t resist this. They understand that travel is about change. Life is a journey after all, one of constant vicissitudes and surprises.
For Frances Mayes in “Yearning for the Sun,” a house sought becomes a home. Andrea Carlisle in a hilarious essay, “The Full Brontë,” goes to England in search of the Brontës’ ancestral home and finds them on soap and place mats. There are journeys that seek out family and roots as in Janis Cooke Newman’s “The Road to Balbriggan” and Drina Iva Boban’s touching meeting with her Croatian grandmother in “Cement Pole.” And of course there is just the thrill of adventure as Robyn S. Shaw parachutes over Scotland in “Flying with the Gulls.”
The adventures of women in this volume come in many forms—through sheer sport danger or the danger of walking down a street, through the emotional baggage we try to leave behind to the physical baggage we try to carry with us. Like it or not, women make connections—with others, with landscapes, with themselves. Perhaps there is a gender stereotype here. A volume of men on Europe would surely be different. But then again it would be rare to see four drunk women chasing a man down the street. And that man running for his life. I am happy to see women, embracing what they do best and who they are. It is a long time coming.
When my mother turned eighty, she walked the Great Wall of China. She still talks about meeting me for a weekend in Montreal, maybe even getting back to Paris. The truth is she can’t. But I can, and her thirst for Europe shaped, and continues to shape, mine. I am glad to have this book. I’ve never been to Vienna. And perhaps it’s time to return to Provence. Or rejoice on a flight delayed and dance all night in Greece.
Mary Morris is the author of twelve books, including five novels, three collections of short stories, and a trilogy of travel memoirs, including Angels & Aliens: A Journey West, Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail, and Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. She has also co-edited with her husband, Larry O’Connor, Maiden Voyages, an anthology of the travel literature of women. Her numerous short stories and essays have appeared in such places as The Paris Review, The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, andVogue. The recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Morris teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
The Working Class
Smoke, No Fire
Yearning for the Sun
In a Soldier’s Care
Pedaling Through the Emerald Isle
Expatriate, with Olives
In the Bosom of Switzerland
MAXINE ROSE SCHUR
On Pleasures Oral
LINDA WATANABE MCFERRIN
Pilgrimage to Glastonbury
Embracing the Dark
Living in Two Languages
Pope on a Rope Tow
LISA ANNE AUERBACH
The Full Brontë
ETHEL F. MUSSEN
STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST
Vienna at Christmas
Walking in No Man’s Land
The Road to Balbriggan
JANIS COOKE NEWMAN
Full Circle on Mont Blanc
Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary
DRINA IVA BOBAN
Flying with the Gulls
ROBYN S. SHAW
A Portrait of the Artist as a Bold Man
An Uneasy Peace
The Power of a Good Book
JO BROYLES YOHAY
MICHELE ANNA JORDAN
Sometimes understanding comes by getting your fingernails dirty.
I am in southern Spain, walking toward an olive grove. It is Catherine’s, bought last year when she first came to live in the village. The grove has about fifty trees, said Manuel, who knows all of those trees better than Catherine does, from years of picking there.
The dog, the small curly-haired one who doesn’t look as fierce as he is, barks to announce my arrival. Catherine is there, and Bernhard, the young German, and Manuel. Manuel is seventy-three. Lines carve out his jaw and mouth and deep-set eyes, filmy with cataracts. His clippers are going full speed, a great claw squeaking as the dull blades clutch a branch and pull, strip it of olives, the fruit falling green-purple-black in soft drumbeats on the net below.
Since he was eight years old he’s been picking olives. He tells me: “I was even born under an olive tree.”
“Is that true, Manuel?” comes Catherine’s voice from behind a leafy branch.
“Well, no,” he replies, and we laugh. “But almost—in a farmhouse near an olive grove.”
Catherine is a Pennsylvanian who is tall and stands perfectly straight, long auburn hair flowing down her back. I have seen her walk for miles uphill and even then her back remains straight. On one of those walks she showed me the rosemary that grows wild near the side of the road in this part of Spain. “She who passes by rosemary and doesn’t pick it,” she said, reciting a village proverb, “neither has love nor dreams of it.” I watched her pick some, bring the pungent leaves to her nose, and drop them in her pocket.
Catherine divorced her husband and came to live in the village near this grove a year ago, after having visited every summer for twenty years. She is a poet; she came to the village, she says, because it is where she feels most at home in the world. She has had her disappointments. When she first came here she fell in love with a man from a neighboring village. Like many Spanish bachelors, he had lived at home with his mother all his life, but even after she died he could not bring himself to stay with Catherine, a woman of whom his mother disapproved because of her divorce and her foreignness.
But Catherine has her home in the village, her walls and tables draped in richly woven textiles, colorful clay pots and plates in the cupboards. She has her friendship with Manuel and other villagers who have come to love her.
And she has her olives.
This is Catherine’s first time collecting the olives of her trees. Harvesting comes once a year, late fall, and lasts a little over a month. Today at twilight she will take the sacks we have filled to the molina in town that you can hear grinding away when the winds blow a certain direction, even from up here in the hills, making oil from the villagers’ olives.
Clip, slide, snap, whoosh—we skin olives from branches and they tumble to the ground like rain. The sun gets hot and bright in southern Spain, even now in late fall. But the breezes from the Mediterranean dry the sweat beading on my forehead before it can trickle down my face. Bernhard and Manuel use the two pairs of clippers, so Catherine and I use our hands, better for feeling the round bubbles of meat, smooth and taut, as we gently clasp the branches and pull through silvery-green leaves.
Before I came to this village, I’d never seen an olive tree up close—only from a distance, driving past groves of them on Spanish highways. An olive branch really does look like a symbol of peace. Graceful, with small feathery leaves that finger outward optimistically from a bumpy little spine, the larger branches bending and twisting together in one direction—toward sun or away from wind or downhill with gravity.
I like standing among the olive branches, enjoy the communal feel of encircling this tree with my companions, each with our own group of branches to clear but still working in tandem, accompanying each other with fragments of conversation and the whoosh-whoosh of falling olives. Bernhard tells me he is an artist. He came from Germany five years ago to live in the countryside and to paint, and to collect olives by day for cash. His Spanish is fluid with a German lilt, flattening vowels long at the ends of words rather than spitting them out as a Spaniard would. He paints landscapes, uses fat swirling strokes to form clouds and olive groves.
The conversation lags for a moment, and I think how grateful I am that Catherine has invited me here to pick with her, Bernhard, and Manuel. She has befriended me, taken me out of the isolation of static days at my writing desk in the small house I’m renting in the village. We have stayed up together late into the night, drinking wine and reading poetry, listening to Miles Davis in a cavelike den she’s made in her home for the express purpose of listening to music and reading. Its door is a pair of heavy drapes; its floor the terracotta from an old goat shed that once stood there. She lights little fires in the hearth, and burns incense.
On nights like that sometimes she tells me of the pain of losing the man she fell in love with when she arrived in Spain. How he often still passes through the village on the way to his own; he’ll walk by her on the road without so much as a hello.
Catherine has given me a glimpse of what it might be like to leave home and family behind, to transform oneself, make a new start in a place that is a home for the heart. But she has also shown me how life is life anywhere you go: you cannot run from heartbreak, or from the daily routines that inevitably set in.
And just as there is everywhere, there is work to be done here. So now I stand in Catherine’s olive grove with the sun in my eyes, light glinting from the shiny fruit as we harvest it ripe from the bough.
First, you must place the nets on the ground—it takes two nets, side by side, overlapping slightly—wrap the tree trunk close with them, then spread the nets across the dirt so the olives from every branch have a place to fall. These are Manuel’s directions, which he projects with an edge of impatience to us novice harvesters. Catherine has known Manuel since she began visiting the village two decades ago, knows the gentle heart beneath his bark, and she laughs at his gruffness. Still, she defers to him in her olive grove, cocking her head when Manuel gives a command, grateful to have this expert midwife for her harvest.
“The strings of the nets abajo—down,” Manuel says emphatically. The strings tie the downhill part of the nets up, on the branches of a neighboring tree, so that when the olives tumble downhill, they run up the end of the nets like a soccer ball would, caught in a net-gutter.
After standing in one place for so long, stripping branches of olives, I like bringing the nets to the next tree like an offering, spreading them out to form a perfect chalice. The branches offer themselves, boughs leaning low. We begin taking the olives again, reverently, as if counting prayer beads, thumbs and forefingers moving along branches and over the round pebbles of fruit, pulling through the leaves, olives raining down. Reach, pull, bend, lift; these movements feel imprinted on my brain like an archetype, a ritual known to humans since the first tree appeared in the first garden.
I watch Bernhard’s dark bristled hair bob through the high branches where he sits, trying to reach reluctant olives. The tree is picked when only the leaves are left shimmering in the sun, no circles of olives spotting the branches dark. Manuel and Catherine lift the net from the upside of the hill to let the straggling fruit roll down, roaring quietly like ocean in a conch shell. At the downhill part of the net, Bernhard unties the strings. He directs me to hold up one corner, the net heavy with olives, and I feel the weight of my obligation to keep our work for the last half hour from streaming downhill in one great river.
By now, almost halfway through a day of picking together, all this is done like a dance, each of us knowing what needs to happen next, the same sequence for each tree. Sometimes we switch roles, but no matter; someone does a job and the others do what’s left: get the cubo, the bucket used to scoop fruit shining in the sun then shadow where someone else leans over, plucking the large branches out.
I hold open an enormous burlap sack as Manuel pours in olives from the cubo we have filled. The bag grows fuller with each scoop until olives threaten to spill from the top. Bernhard shakes the sack to settle the olives, then ties the corners together. His face is already shining with sweat before he hoists the sack to his shoulders in one graceful motion and walks uphill, his broad back one with the sack and the incline.
We lunch under a tree near the edge of the grove, away from our work. I unpack the garlicky green olives I have brought, and everyone groans. But we each take one anyway and nibble in communion. Manuel passes me a granada, a pomegranate lusciously pink, seeds spilling like forbidden fruit—“Tómelo, tómelo!” he commands—passes a chunk of bread to Bernhard who has none, only a can of tuna he opens in a zig-zag with his knife. But Bernhard has brought oranges, picked from the trees behind his house, and he passes them around. They smell sweet as we rip them, the scent mingling with the dirt and olive oil on our palms and under our nails, and the juice is thirst-quenching in the hot Spanish sun.
Catherine has wine that she pours in a mug to share among us. I watch her pour, and I wonder if she gets lonely here in the village, even among so many friends. I wonder if her nights are long, and how long she will continue to feel the sting of losing her love.
When we are full, our bodies growing languid in the heat of the day, Manuel announces it’s time to pick the next tree. It feels good to be standing again, moving my arms like pistons, the branches like udders of a cow that I milk, the olives pelting my tennis shoes and rolling down the net. Manuel bends to find his walking stick and whacks the tree for straggling olives. Bernhard reaches into the high branches. I untie the corners of the net; Catherine lifts the edge and watches her harvest cascade around her feet.
She looks at me and her eyes shimmer, pleased at the olives that we have picked from her tree and will load into bags to take to the molina.
And whether her love returns or not, at Christmastime Catherine will make presents to friends of her olive oil, drop into the bottles long stems of rosemary that she has picked on one of her long walks. And throughout the year, until the next harvest, the smell of her oil and the rosemary will waft from her kitchen and wind through the streets of this village that she now calls home.
Lucy McCauley is the editor of Travelers’ Tales Spain, A Woman’s Path, and Women in the Wild. Her writing has appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, Harvard Review, Fast Company, and several Travelers’ Tales books. She lives in Dallas, Texas.
Marybeth Bond has not always been a Gutsy Woman. During summer camp, at the age of ten, she was nicknamed “Misty” because she had a bad case of homesickness. Not one of her counselors would have predicted the bright travel career that lay ahead.
Now a nationally recognized travel expert, speaker, and media personality known as the “Gutsy Traveler,” she is the award-winning author/editor of seven women’s travel books including the national bestseller, A Woman’s World, winner of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Gold Medal for Best Travel Book from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation.
Marybeth has walked, hiked, climbed, cycled, and kayaked her way through six continents and more than seventy countries. Her travels have taken her from the depths of the Flores Sea to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, across the Himalayas and the Sahara Desert. She made her first gutsy decision when she left a successful corporate career, put her worldly possessions in storage, and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. While some thought (and told her) she was nuts, she traveled “single and solo” for two years around the world. It was during her travels that she discovered the “gutsy woman” within herself and had the time of her life.
Marybeth continues to criss-cross the globe educating, enlightening, and empowering others to explore it through travel. Whether your idea of a “gutsy traveler” is taking your first plane ride across the Atlantic, navigating the promenades of Paris, or rafting in the Rockies, Marybeth’s travel tips, know-how, and practical advice will guide you along the way.
A highly sought after speaker, Marybeth has addressed numerous consumer groups, corporations, and industry insiders about the amazing benefits of travel. She’s also appeared on more than 250 network and cable media outlets including CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, CNN, NPR to name a few. She was a featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she discussed with Oprah how it is through travel that women can refresh, renew, and recharge themselves and be ready to take on the world.
Currently Marybeth is Adventure Editor for TravelGirl Magazine and a travel correspondent for iVillage.com and USAToday.com. Her articles have been published in magazines and newspapers around the country.
Marybeth is a member of National Association of Journal-ists and Authors and the Society of American Travel Writers and was an advisor for Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
She now lives in Northern California with her husband (whom she met while trekking in Nepal!), two daughters and the family dog. Please visit her web site at www.gutsy-traveler.com for more news, updates, and travel advice from Marybeth.