Armchair Traveler: Books that Take You There
By Josie Brown
The price of gas may have us thinking twice before traveling. The next best thing to being there: reading about someone else’s wonderful experience in a beautiful locale. Here are SMW’s top choices for armchair travelers seeking interesting people, places and worldly pleasures:
Elizabeth Gilbert grafts the structure of romantic fiction upon the inquiries of reporting in this sprawling yet methodical travelogue of soul-searching and self-discovery. Plagued with despair after a nasty divorce, the author, in her early 30s, divides a year equally among three dissimilar countries, exploring her competing urges for earthly delights and divine transcendence. First, pleasure: savoring Italy’s buffet of delights–the world’s best pizza, free-flowing wine and dashing conversation partners–Gilbert consumes la dolce vita as spiritual succor. “I came to Italy pinched and thin,” she writes, but soon fills out in waist and soul. Then, prayer and ascetic rigor: seeking communion with the divine at a sacred ashram in India, Gilbert emulates the ways of yogis in grueling hours of meditation, struggling to still her churning mind. Finally, a balancing act in Bali, where Gilbert tries for equipoise “betwixt and between” realms, studies with a merry medicine man and plunges into a charged love affair. Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year’s cultural and emotional tapestry–conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor–as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression.
Price, an artist living in 1960s New York City in her 20s, traveled to France in search of an outlet for her artistic creativity. Enthralled by Paris’s wrought-iron balconies and the urban landscape that inspired the Impressionists, Price was soon in a fervid romance with Yves, a Frenchman and artist, whom she married. Not long after the birth of their daughter, Danielle, Yves—against Price’s protests—bought half a hamlet in a bucolic corner of Brittany, and Price was left with the arduous task of rehabilitating their seven broken-down farmhouses. As her once-quixotic marriage languished with Yves’s increasing volatility and unreasonable demands that she stop painting, Price forms an unlikely friendship with her neighbor Jeanne, a villager in her late 60s who becomes her mentor—teaching her, above all else, self-sufficiency—while Price introduces her new companion to the art world and city life. In this sweet, simple memoir, Price redefines her idea of strength and resilience and commemorates a once-in-a-lifetime friendship.
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