life in and around NYC is insane

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Of wanderlust and travelogues

As my 50th birthday approached (can you believe it's almost two years ago?) I knew I needed to celebrate in a big way, and began planning a Caribbean cruise. I wanted...no, needed...to go someplace where I'd never been before, to see unfamiliar parts of the world.Just about the time we were planning the trip, I won two tickets to a Jimmy Buffett concert. Jimmy's music was perfect, it set the tone for the partying that followed on the ship. I'd never really been a fan of his before, but after that concert I was hooked. A true Parrothead.

And so I read his books....Tales From Margaritaville, A Salty Piece of Land, Swine Not, and his autobiography, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, the last being a bit of a travelogue, describing the special trip he took to Central America to celebrate his 50th birthday. Gee, why would that hit home?

Jimmy's themes of growing older but not up, of life being an adventure, of the need to party and have fun, synced perfectly with my mood as I planned my birthday trip.

A few months ago I visited San Diego on business. I'd never been to the West coast before, and Southern California was so different from anywhere I'd been before -- my travels until then were limited to the East Coast, Canada and the Caribbean. The 6 hour flight across the country, and the dramatic differences in the landscape there, made me realize just how little of the world I've actually seen.

Around this time I heard that On The Road is about to be made into a movie. And I realized I'd never read Kerouac's masterpiece, or for that matter, anything he'd written. So I downloaded it to my nook. Struggled through it. The writing style is brilliant -- he writes as if he's having a conversation with the reader, as if he's talking about mutual friends the reader is presumed to know. I was pulled into the book early on, by the beautiful descriptions of the glorious landscape of our country. But the Beatnik lifestyle, so shocking to the readership of the 1950's, is ready quite commonplace to 21st century eyes. And ultimately the plot leads to disillusionment and despair.

but how well I understand the wanderlust!

The last book I want to mention is John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. I read this book in my teens, before I read The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, before I knew who Steinbeck really was. It was a paperback I found in my parents' basement, with Steinbeck and his poodle staring out at the reader from the book's cover. The book romanticizes travel around the country...early on, Steinbeck relates that as he was preparing his vehicle (a truck with a cabin mounted on it), the neighbor boy is jealous and wants to go...anywhere...with Steinbeck.
And so did I...

Although the themes of On the Road are so very very different than Steinbeck's story, reading Kerouac made me nostalgic for Charley. So I downloaded it to my nook. I wonder what Steinbeck, who lamented the homogenized, technologically advanced society he discovered on his trip in 1960, would think of a device that does away with paper and the printed word...

The book was written in 1960, the year I was born, and I first read it in 1975 or so. Reading it now, in 2011, is an interesting experience. I see so much now that my younger eyes weren't able to capture...Steinbeck was 58 when he wrote the book, and although he doesn't elaborate on it, he was seriously ill, and he knew this would be his last chance to see the country.

But the love of travel and the joy of seeing new landscapes...that still rings out from Steinbeck's prose.

And yes, I can understand the wanderlust.


and yes, I want to go....anywhere...

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