The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006

The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006

$16.95True Stories from Around the World

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By Lucy McCauley
June 2006
ISBN 1-932361-35-9 320 pages
bwtw2006_s

“Travelers’ Tales books luxuriate in that complicated, beautiful, shadowy place where the best stories begin, and the most compelling characters roam free.”
—Foreword Magazine

Since the publication of A Woman’s World in 1995, Travelers’ Tales has been publishing award-winning books by and for women. We continue this tradition with The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006, the second collection in our annual series guaranteed to inspire women to take their first trip—or to continue exploring the world with wit, soul, and verve, as so many adventurous women do each and every day. These 34 stories cover the globe, from riding on horseback from Senegal to Mali, reclaiming your life on a pilgrimage in Tibet to cooking an unexpected Thanksgiving turkey in Italy. The perspectives are global and themes encompass spiritual growth, high adventure, romance, and encounters with exotic cuisine.

In The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006 readers will:

  • Practice “the art of a wasted day” with Patricia Hampl in the Czech Republic
  • Learn the benefits of “traveling heavy” with Susan Orlean
  • Electrify your doubting boyfriend in Mexico with Anita Kugelstadt
  • Learn the lesson of a lifetime with Amy Wilson in Malawi
  • Rediscover your past in Dresden with Hannelore Hahn
  • Find your way out of a real jam in the Malaysian jungle with Kari J. Bodnarchuk
  • Bask in a traditional Turkish hamam with Sharon Balentine in Turkey
  • Make your way through bandit territory along the Thailand-Malaysia border with Faith Adiele
  • Discover turquoise dreams in the Caribbean with Bonnie Smetts…and much more.

by Lucy McCauley

A number of years ago I volunteered on an archaeological dig at Assos, on the western coast of Turkey. My days were spent sifting dirt in a cemetery from a distant time, sarcophagi open all around me—hundreds of them—many broken, strewn about like cracked treasure chests. Warm winds carried the scent of mint and thyme and sounds from the village nearby: a rooster’s crow, the hollow clang of goat bells.

We dug our trenches yards and yards deep, through a palimpsest of eras, all the way back to when the ancient city was at its height of glory, in the period just after Homer. I would use my fingers to break open the larger clumps of earth, feeling like the blind for what the eye couldn’t see: a pottery fragment or coin when it is caked with centuries of dirt. Mostly, though, I found bones, small ones, perhaps the bones of fingers.

I had never visited Turkey before, yet the country and the site of the dig, especially, felt deeply meaningful for me: a little more than a century before my arrival there, my great-great Uncle Frank had excavated the very same ancient city. He later married in Turkey and spent the rest of his life moving between his Boston home and his wife’s home on the Dardanelles Strait.

Stories of Uncle Frank’s adventures in Turkey filled my childhood. And there was also the tale of his journey by sailboat, when he was just twenty-two, down the Rhine and Danube rivers and into the Aegean Sea. All of this—the sailboat trip, the excavations at Assos—Uncle Frank documented in several volumes of journals filled with lively prose and meticulous drawings. As a child, sitting on the floor of an aunt’s house, I would pore over those volumes, sometimes becoming so immersed in my ancestor’s words and sketches that I would lose all track of time. Something that my uncle possessed resonated profoundly with the child I was and the adult I would become: the desire to travel, not just for its own sake, as an occupation or a compulsion or as a way of moving away from things, but rather a wish to dwell in the journey itself—to travel as a way of bringing you back to yourself.

Those are the reasons that I believe my uncle was a traveler, and why I would grow up to be a traveler, too. When, many years after those afternoons spent immersed in Uncle Frank’s journals, I found myself working on the same dig and retracing his footsteps through western Turkey, it felt like nothing less than the gathering of pieces of myself. I had come upon a particular memory of who I was and what I’d come from, of a family legacy of adventure, of choosing to live in a different way, outside the boundaries that life normally prescribes for us.

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera describes this aspect of reclaiming parts of ourselves through the act of journeying. “Memories are scattered all over the world,” he wrote. “We must travel if we want to find them and flush them from their hiding places.” For women, I think this idea of gathering memory through travel rings especially true—and feels critically important. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean travel to a place where we have a direct link to the past, as I did in Turkey—or as Patricia Hampl does in her story in this collection, “The Art of the Wasted Day,” in which she travels to Prague and connects with her Czech heritage. Rather, simply by sallying forth to where we are drawn, by journeying away from our domestic routines and the ways that other people define us, we come to recall our most authentic selves.

Travel allows us the anonymity and solitude of the wanderer; it opens a place of suspended time that enables us, for a while, to be neither here nor there. To happen upon experience through the act of putting one foot in front of the other, inviting insight and inner meandering. Through travel we discover parts of ourselves whose outlines are usually obscured by the veneer of daily life. In moving from this periphery outward—in the journey away from the selves that we cultivate in our everyday lives—we come, paradoxically, to our center. We remember, then, what we’ve always known, connecting with memory that resides in our bodies, hearts, unconscious, and the part of ourselves that exists out of time.

More than anything else, I think that what the women in this collection do is to tap memory—in ways that are wise and funny, poignant and startling. The book opens with Anita Kugelstadt’s very funny “Packing Light,” a story that helps us remember both the distinctive rush and the apprehension of embarking on a journey. Later, in “Saving Face and Smoking in Italy,” Maya Angelou travels to an art colony during Thanksgiving and is reminded of her own childhood feasts—and how “a respect for food and its preparation could obliterate distances between sexes, languages, oceans, and continents.” And Anne Lamott’s “Cruise Ship” recounts the author’s first ship-board vacation, which taps hilariously into the visceral memory of some of her own deepest fears, including group hugs and platters of cream puffs.

Several authors are forced in their travels to remember their courage and strength. Karla Theilen in “The Man Who Came in from the Cold” helps a frostbitten hunter search for his lost companion on a mountain; Kari Bodnarchuk in “Awash in the Jungle” is awakened in the night by a flash flood while camping in Malaysia. But other authors find that travel ignites the memory of their most feminine selves. Sharon Balentine’s “In the Hamam” describes her reconnection with her own beauty during a visit to an Istanbul bathhouse, where “we women lay out in a circle dreaming and luxuriating like great cats” on a hot slab of marble. Similarly, Marguerite Rigoglioso’s “Eruptions” recounts how, on a visit to Sicily, a live volcano and a delightful young man helped the author recall—and stoke—her own internal fires.

The book ends with two stories that poignantly remind us of other unique gifts that journeying offers. Ruth Kear’s “Oaxaca Care” describes a trip the author promised herself to mark her return to health after a long illness. And finally, Daisann McLane in “Point, Shoot, and Remember” muses on how photography during our travels can create memory itself—even if, as she points out, some of our best photographs are the ones we’ll never see.

These are just some of the stories in this volume, the “best” that we editors at Travelers’ Tales have seen over this past year in the sense that they each relay, in an authentic and enticingly readable way, some aspect of that most profound promise of travel—as a threshold onto a space where we might rediscover ourselves. And, as I experienced so tangibly during my own Turkish travels to the echoing ruins where my Uncle Frank had worked and dwelled, such journeys serve as passageways to our deepest memories and longings, to that which makes us human and ultimately underlies our connection to all being.

Introduction

Pack Light
Anita Kugelstadt
MEXICO

Saving Face and Smoking in Italy
Maya Angelou
ITALY

Kalidou’s Horse
Erika Connor
WEST AFRICA

Cruise Ship
Anne Lamott
CARIBBEAN

Postcard from the Edge
Alison Wright
TIBET

The Art of a Wasted Day
Patricia Hampl
CZECH REPUBLIC

Traveling Heavy
Susan Orlean
BHUTAN, THAILAND

What They Taught Me
Amy Wilson
MALAWI

The Barber’s Beads
Deborah J. Smith
LEBANON

Rudolph for Newlyweds
D’lynne Plummer
MONGOLIA

To Dresden with Tears
Hannelore Hahn
GERMANY

Tibetan Truths
Stephanie Elizondo Griest
TIBET

A Tale of a Journey Deferred
Judy Copeland
USA and INDIA

Aunty Mame Learns a Lesson
Sophia Dembling
ITALY

In the Hamam
Sharon Balentine
TURKEY

Passage Out of Madagascar
Gisele Rainer
MADAGASCAR

Awash in the Jungle
Kari J. Bodnarchuk
MALAYSIA

Bandit Territory
Faith Adiele
THAILAND

Transcending Language
Susan Butterworth
FRANCE

Turquoise Dreams
Bonnie Smetts
CARIBBEAN

Confessions of a Ritual Tourist
Francine Prose
ARIZONA and INDIA

The Man Who Came in from the Cold
Karla Theilen
IDAHO

Flying with the Honguitos
Laura Resau
MEXICO

Every Body Needs Milk
Deborah Fryer
MINNESOTA

The Tongue
Rebecca Lawton
OREGON

Goodbye, Brenda!
Jill Lowe
INDIA

Eruptions
Marguerite Rigoglioso
ITALY

The Slaying of the Yabbies
Lucy Friedland
AUSTRALIA

Cold Front
Jane Smiley
USA

Other Types of Wealth
Lea Aschkenas
CUBA

Only Real Castles Will Do
Nikki Finke
EUROPE

Hands Full of Kiwis
Sara B. Fraser
SPAIN

Oaxaca Care
Ruth Kear
MEXICO

Point, Shoot, and Remember
Daisann McLane
ITALY, AUSTRALIA and ASIA

 

Sample Chapter: The Barber’s Beads

by Deborah J. Smith

A traveler learns that the ritual of bargaining doesn’t end when the purchase is made.

One afternoon in Lebanon I came upon a barbershop in the small town of Juneih. A glass case inside, filled with beautiful prayer beads, caught my eye as gifts to bring home. But it seemed strange to stop in a barbershop, point at prayer beads, and just crassly buy them. There had to be some other way to do this.

The barber soon appeared. He spoke French and Arabic, so we chatted about the weather, where I was from, how I liked Lebanon. As I moved to the case, complimenting him on his prayer beads, stones in nearly every color of the rainbow glittered and shone. They were really lovely. Before I knew it, I was bargaining—something I hadn’t yet done in the Middle East.

Bargaining isn’t all about price. It’s a conversation, a flirt with numbers, a way of cleverly communicating what you are willing to offer or accept—a dance with currency attached. Somewhere in the midst of it, you forget price and simply enjoy the art of making a deal with someone

“These are very nice,” the barber said, holding up a set of lapis blue beads the color of deep water. “I can make you a very good price.”

“Those are pretty.” I pointed to a green jade pair.

“Yes, and you like colors? I have all sorts.” He pointed to larger beads on the wall.

“No, I really like the smaller ones.”

“If you buy ten, I’ll make you a good price for ten.”

“But I don’t need ten. I just want two pair.”

We negotiated back and forth. I began to add up numbers, which changed incrementally depending on how many I’d agree to buy. Finally, after comparative additions on the calculator before us, I could see what dealmakers got out of this. It was exhilarating. The barber was beaming. It was a slow afternoon in Juneih and he was having more fun than he’d had all day. I was getting a great price and enjoying the banter.

I pointed out two pair of beads: one was rock crystal, shiny and transparent. The other was mother-of-pearl, the gleaming, milky inner lining of seashells.

He quoted a price I thought was a little too high. Looking into my wallet, hardly registering what was in there, I said; “I don’t have that.” We waited, I admired, the price dropped some more—now, buy. Agreeing on a price, I handed over my money as he put the prayer beads into gift bags. My friends were thrilled to get them for Christmas.

When I returned a second time to Lebanon, I told the barber how much the gifts were appreciated. He pulled out a set of rosewood beads in response and let me smell them. Rosewood looks brown and plain, but it contains oils that give the wood a pleasing fragrance. Soon—you guessed it—we were back at the case admiring beads.

I didn’t drive as hard a bargain this time. He offered a good price, so I made my choice—a set of yellow agate prayer beads and another mother-of–pearl.

I left briefly to get cash from the ATM up the street. On my return the barber was sitting near the mirrors at the back of the shop, a drawer open before him. He waved me over to the barber chair. At dusk on my last day in Lebanon, we sat and chatted.

It still surprises me how much I can manage to understand, even though my spoken French is abominable. Even without a shared language, we communicated amazingly well. I listened and from other cues I could understand most of what the barber was saying, or I could pick up the general topic. I couldn’t speak French, but he understood English enough to figure out what I meant. We talked about his family and mine: he in French and I in broken Arabic and English. He pointed at photos of his relatives in the shop as he told me about them. I pulled my small pack of family photos from my wallet.

Then the barber opened the drawer a little and exhibited new prayer beads he had—he needed to attach the silver ends to them before putting them on display. Like the others, they were gorgeous. Rich red gleamed from a pair of ruby beads, while another pair shone in royal blue. He had turquoise ones, and a set of black prayer beads with silver filigree embedded into them. These last black beads, I assured him, would be a treat I’d buy for myself when I returned to Lebanon in the fall.

I left the barber thinking of an Arabic proverb I’d heard: “Hell is life without people.” Appreciative of visitors, the Lebanese enjoy sharing their love of country and family with others. It’s not over when a purchase is done. They’ll continue talking, and ask about your family or how you like the country. They’ll shoot the breeze, drink coffee with you, and pass the time of day, even with their prayer beads in hand. They are looking for life with people. Perhaps, for Heaven.

Deborah J. Smith is a faculty member with Empire State College’s International Program in Lebanon, where she teaches the course “Stories of Food and Culture.” She has written about travel, food, and faith for various publications including Tastes of Italia magazine, theRome Italy Tourist Portal, the Berkshire Women’s Times, and other Travelers’ Tales anthologies. Smith is a native of Troy, New York, and her work is frequently broadcast on Northeast Public Radio.

Lucy McCauley’s travel essays have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, the Los Angeles Times, Harvard Review, and Salon.com. She is editor of three previous Travelers’ Tales anthologies—Spain, Women in the Wild, A Woman’s Path, and The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2005. In addition, she has written case studies in Latin America for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and now works as a developmental editor for publishers such as Harvard Business School Press.
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