How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel by Pierre Bayard
When I first read the title, I thought that it was a humor book. But it isn’t. Bayard’s book praises writers and “adventurers” who’ve not been to the places they talk about.
He claims that the role of fiction in the travelogue discourages people from traveling. They learn what they wanted to know about a place. Why put out the effort? Really?
How far did Marco Polo get? Maybe no further than Venice, according to Bayard. And how about Margaret Mead? She did go to Samoa and wrote Coming of Age in Samoa, which made her world famous. But according to Bayard, she didn’t stay with the local population for long. Therefore she came up with conclusions that Samoan teenagers were much freer with sex than their American counterparts. This was refuted in the 1980s.
Bayard spends too much time with Jayson Blair, the NY Times journalist who faked his stories. He was caught, shamed and fired but Bayard seems to redeem him. Same with Rosie Ruiz, the woman who took the NYC subway during the New York City marathon. If you read the chapter on Ruiz’ ruse in a certain way, you can say that Bayard understands and even condones her behavior.
The main reason I read the book cover to cover is that Bayard seems to explain and even praise the exact opposite of what I do. I won’t write about some place I haven’t been to.
Even if I get most of my information from the web and think I understand it, I need to go there. He talks about the spirit of the place.
What you can see when you travel may be “disconnected fragments of reality” or “common places devoid of interest”, he says. But I disagree. Common places are interesting, if you spend time in them. I’ve been to many, many national park service battlefields, by now. And they’re all different and interesting.
You got to get out more, Prof. Bayard. I’ll save armchair travel for when I’m really old.
I’m at Disneyworld, on a family vacation. Disneyworld is not exactly a natural environment but it’s something that I feel needs to be seen once or twice in a childhood. So we were part of the huge crowd at Epcot and even bigger crowd at the Magic Kingdom.
But every evening, when the grandkids were finally asleep, I read Fast, Light & Free: On the Appalachian Trail by Matt Kirk.
Kirk was a Carolina Mountain Club member for several years. He never came on our hikes because club members are obviously too slow for him.
But a few years ago, Kirk ran the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and set a record for an unsupported hike. It was only a matter of time until he tried to set the record for an unsupported hike on the Appalachian Trail. He walked 2,185 miles in 58 days, 9 hours and 38 minutes. That averages to over 37 miles a day, every day.
He explains the rules for his unsupported hike. No support of any kind. He walked in and out of resupply towns and didn’t get into a vehicle for any reason. Several other rules applied.
He carried less than 84 ounces on his back, plus his food and water. He only had one set of clothes, which explains a lot. No books to read, no extra anything…
The book is also a fast and light read. It’s very self-published. It doesn’t even have page numbers. But if you want to know the ins and out of speed hiking the A.T., as if Kirk was telling it to you, it’s a fun book.
The book was a good antidote to Disneyworld crowds and artifice. But tomorrow we head to a national park. Yeah!
I just finished a sweet memoir, Dear Bob and Sue, about a couple’s journey through the national parks. It’s written by Matt & Karen Smith, a 50ish couple who visited all the 59 national parks in the United States, including the one in American Samoa.
They write about their impressions of each park, letting their personalities come through. They didn’t do much research or background reading. They only seemed to write about what they learned when they were at a park. Still a fun read.
This is a funny book, no doubt about it. Matt and Karen, the authors, quit their jobs for a year when they (or at least, when he) were fifty.
They planned to visit all the 59 national park protected by the National Park Service. And they did! Some of the visits were really fly-in, fly out – literally in Alaska. They spend a lot of time drinking and looking for meals, but that’s their way of travelling.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my “home” park, so I immediately went to that write-up. Since they visited all these parks superficially, they had the usual stereotypes of the Southern Appalachians. Matt even expected to hear Dueling Banjos. He also said that he didn’t want to talk to people in the wilderness. You want to talk to everyone in the wilderness.
Hey, writers. I’m now in the prestigious club of those whose reviews has been rejected by Amazon. In this case they gave me a whole bunch of reasons for rejection. The only one I could think of is that I put “personally identifiable content in the review. So read it on my blog and see if you can pick out why they rejected me.
Answer – probably because I said that the Smokies was my home park. Yeah… Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. I’m not the only one that goes there often. In fact, I’m going there tomorrow. This rejection is done by a computer program – for sure.
What if this was a publicity stunt by Amazon? It surely got people talking.