Reading travel writing, Frances Mayes

This summer I am creating a manuscript about our year in China. I’ll be including material from many of the posts I wrote during my adventure in Guangzhou. In preparation for this work (which will commence once the kids start summer camp and I put the finishing touches on an academic article that needed revising) I am reading some popular travel writers. I have neither an interest in nor a talent for trying to mimic anyone else’s style, but I want to get a sense of some of the ways in which people create coherence in their accounts. I also want to use the writing of others as a foil to consider my own style and voice.

This evening I fought the jetlag long enough to get started with A Year in the World by Frances Mayes. Mayes is a very accomplished writer who writes in a very descriptive, astute, literary style. In other words, our styles are nothing alike. Observe the way in which she turns travelling into high literature:

Here, at sea, I am breathing cooled Hellenic air again. The gossamer breeze makes me want to say the word aeolian. The Milky Way strews a path of grated diamonds, Off the port side the coast rises, mysterious in shadowy outlines against the sky… (p. 276) 

Despite our stylistic differences, however, Mayes and I seem to have similar feelings about the joys of travel:

Travel pushes my boundaries. Seemingly self-indulgent, travel paradoxically obliterates me-me-me, because very quickly – prestissimo – the own-little self is unlocked from the present and released to move through layers of time…

You are released also because you are insignificant to the life of the new place. When you travel, you become invisible, if you want. I do want. I like to be the observer. What makes these people who they are? Could I feel at home here?..

Travel releases spontaneity. .. You open, as in childhood, and – for a time – receive this world. There’s the visceral aspect, too – the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth. (p. xix)

It is the experience of travelling, of the insight you gain by being an outsider to everyone and everything but your own immediate self, that makes travel such an exciting and rewarding experience.

I would love to say more but I just caught myself dozing off at the keyboard. Time to capitulate to the jetlag.

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