Paul Theroux, my favorite travel writer, has a new book out about his extensive African experiences. I can’t wait to read The Lower River. In the meantime, I have to content myself with an article Theroux wrote that was published in the January 13 New York Times called “The Man Who’s Been Everywhere, Except These Places”. These places include Idaho, Montana, The Dakotas, and Alaska. Alaska!
This gives me hope because there are so many places I want to go to and not enough time for them all. I always assume that well-known travel writers’ travels have far exceeded mine. But I’ve been to Alaska half a dozen times!
When I lived in St Louis, my distance star was Gig Gwin, a local travel director and agent who claims to have visited all of the countries in the world and calls himself the world’s most traveled travel agent. By 2011 he had been on 2,600 flights and notched 3,750,000 miles. How did he visit North Korea?, I once asked myself. I learned the answer. He walked around the negotiating table in the Demilitarized Zone. Should that count?
I wouldn’t have counted it. St. Louisan Martha Gellhorn wrote in Travels with Myself and Another that she didn’t count India because she wasn’t there long enough. She claimed in 1978 that she had, therefore, been in only 53 countries and 49 U.S. states. “By been in,” she stated, “I mean stayed long enough to learn something of the local life and customs.” At that point in her vivid life, the only U.S. state she hadn’t made it to was Alaska. Alaska! Someone, please tell Paul Theroux. She may have made it there because Gellhorn lived another 20 years and died at the age of 89 after a truly fascinating life that included 2 marriages, one to Ernest Hemingway.
Then there’s Ibn Battuta. Between his birth in 1304 and death in 1368(?), this Moroccan traveler visited, according to Wikipedia, most of the Islamic World, North & West Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe, and lots of Asia including China. His distance far surpassed near-contemporary Marco Polo. We all have travel rules, and, according to Paul Theroux, one of Ibn’s was, “Never take the same road twice.”
That’s not me either. I can’t get enough of some roads, like 170 in Texas, which I recently wrote about. I’m more like M.F. K. Fisher who wrote 2 of my favorite travel books: Map of Another Town about Aix-en-Provence & A Considerable Town about Marseille. Both were incorporated into the best-selling, still widely available Two Towns in Provence. In the late 1950s Fisher moved near Aix to give her daughters cultural immersion by enrolling them in a French boarding school and thoroughly exploring one of my favorite cities, Aix, with them. Only in Aix long enough to learn something about local life and customs, Ruth & I plan to choose a place soon and live there for a couple of months, like Fisher.
In the meantime, I have a new traveler to check out, Patrick Leigh Fermor. There’s a new book out about him by Artemis Cooper. Fermor traveled widely, smoked up to 100 cigarettes a day, and swam the Hellespont in Turkey when he was 69. This man really sounds interesting.