Posts Tagged ‘paul theroux’

The Gift of Books

Someone’s idea of the perfect library.

Paul Theroux and Dorothy Gilmore  

Travel writer Paul Theroux, in his book Deep South, said few people he met while traveling to such places as Greensboro – Catfish Capital of Alabama – knew his name. But the unlettered person, he added, “has other refined skills and is often more watchful, shrewd, and freer in discussion than the literate person.”

But when he met up with a reader like himself, he noted that “a reader meeting another reader is an encounter of kindred spirits.”

How true, I thought, remembering how delighted I always am when I meet someone who has read some of the same books as I have. We end up having what I call the best kinds of conversation. We talk about ideas, writing, characters, human traits and differences of opinions about what we read, among other things. The talk is almost always interesting and exciting.

I recently got my best friend reading the Mrs. Polifax books by Dorothy Gilmore, which I’m currently rereading, and that has resulted in interesting texts back and forth about her upbeat philosophy. I have many a quote from Mrs. Polifax, as written by Gilmore, in my journals.

As an old broad myself, I especially like these: “I have a flexible mind – I believe it’s one of the advantages of growing old. I find youth quite rigid at times,” and “It’s terribly important for everyone, at any age, to live to his full potential. Otherwise, a kind of dry rot sets in, a rust, a disintegration of personality,”

Meanwhile, when I first started reading Deep South, which is about Theroux’s travels on backroads through small towns, many of which were dying, I thought he was writing about a bygone area. But I began to see things different as he wrote about the gun shows and Black churches he visited — two extremes of Southern ongoings. I then realized the author was writing about the background of what’s going on in the world today. I’m being educated as I read.

I’ve been a reader all my life, having begun by reading everything in my late grandfather’s library, which was all stuffed into a chest at my grandmother’s home. He had had many classics, including the complete works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. I even read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor before I understood it was all about an unmarried woman having sex. It’s actually quite tame compared to what’s written in many non-erotic books today, in which the author forgot to close the bedroom door.

When I was in junior high school, I heard some girls talking about the “naughty” book, Forever Amber, and so I went back and reread it. I was still too naïve to understand what the fuss was all about.

But being a reader is one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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During my traveling days, I did manage a few train trips, like the one to the top of Colorado's Royal Gorge. I took this photo as the train curved around a bend while on the train itself. -- Photo by Pat Bean

          “There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived between 535-475 B.C.

          I’m currently reading Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar by Train Through Asia, which was published in 1975. It recalls a four-month trip the author took in 1973.

          Almost half a century has passed since then, which makes the book as much about history as travel. At times, it’s a bit confusing because names of countries have changed, and the places Paul visited are not the same today as they were then. Some sites have died out, while others have grown into giant cities.

To keep track of everything, and because armchair travel has become the most comfortable way for this 82-year-old-broad to continually be exposed to new places, my reading is constantly being interrupted with questions. I’m continually chasing down the answers to my curiosity by checking up-to-date maps (I have a good atlas) and internet resources, the latter being one of the reasons why I don’t long for the “good old days.”

Having the time to do this is one of the upsides of aging to offset the downsides.

But the changes that happened in the world since Paul’s book was written, makes me wonder about the changes time has brought to the places I visited in my own rambling journeys in a small RV between 2004 and 2013. My book, Travels with Maggie, is about a slice of that traveling life that took place during six months of 2006, but the book wasn’t even published until 2017.

I wonder if someone will read my book with questions, and if they will take the time to find the answers as I do? No idea how to answer this question.

Meanwhile, I noted that Paul’s journey began with him taking the 1530 -London to Paris Train, and him writing: “Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I were on it.”

Those words made me think of when I was a young child and the Texas Zephyr that blow its whistle each day as it roared behind my grandmother’s home in Dallas.

I always wondered where it had been and where it was going, and yearned to go along for the ride. Perhaps that’s why I’m enjoying my trip across Asia with Paul.

Photo: Train to the top of Colorado’s Royal Gorge, which I rode in 2007. I took the photo from the train as it curved around a bend.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining

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        “It’s always better when you give a damn!” – John D. MacDonald

Kim and I with our Tusker's beer after a long, dusty day.

Kim and I with our Tusker’s beer after a long, dusty day.

Theroux Recaptures an African Night

I’m slowly reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. I emphasize slowly because Theroux’s writing cannot be fully appreciated any other way. In the book, he has just crossed into Kenya from Ethiopia, having been shot at by bandits during his journey as a $3 paying passenger aboard a cattle truck whose normal speed is 10 mph because of the pot-holed, boulder-dotted, deep-rutted road.

Our tent in Pornini Camp in Kenya. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Our tent in Pornini Camp in Kenya. — Photo by Pat Bean

When the truck stops for the night in the town of Marsabit, he writes: “I walked around and found a place to stay, the Jey Jey … another three-dollar room. I had a shower in the communal washhouse, then walked to the market, drank a Tusker beer, and talked to some locals, boasting, ‘I got shot at.’ No one was surprised or impressed…”

Reading this flooded my little gray cells with memories. While I wasn’t shot at during my two weeks in Africa, I had experienced Africa’s rough roads (in a Land Rover with English-speaking native guides) and had stayed overnight in Africa (in isolated, but usually luxurious accommodations). But it wasn’t these things that ensnared my brain’s neurons, it was the mention of Tusker Beer.

The sundowner sunset. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The sundowner sunset. — Photo by Pat Bean

After a full day of travel that included crossing the border from Tanzania into Kenya, on roads as rough as Theroux described, I and my traveling companion Kim finally arrived at our tent camp near Amboseli National Park. We were just in time for a Sundowner, a late safari to a scenic spot to watch the sun go down. Still dusty from our day’s drive, we found a spot to park our weary bodies, and were handed a Tusker beer.

It was the perfect ending to an already perfect, if tiring, day. Thanks for the memories Paul. They made thus current non-wandering wanderer smile.

Blog pick of the day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: A Birdy Lunch http://tinyurl.com/n8wmaup This blog makes me want to pack up and head to Costa Rico.

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 “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Ten of Hundreds


Lake Powell, which destroyed Glen Canyon and which wouldn’t ever have existed if Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang” characters had anything to say about it. — Photo by Pat Bean

I won’t say these are my 10 favorite travel books, because I could name 10 more just as easily. But these are books that influenced my decision to become rootless and make the road my home for the past eight years.

I Married Adventure, 1940, by Osa Johnson. I picked this book up at the library when I was about 10 years old. I was always sneaking into the adult section. I think I already knew I had wanderlust, and this book simply confirmed it. I, too, wanted adventure.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. My 22-foot RV, Gypsy Lee, is my version of Moon’s green van, Ghost Dancing. I loved this book so much that I’ve given dozens of copies away as gifts. The green-dotted scenic byways marked on today’s maps are my blue highways.

Road Fever, by Tim Cahill, I have loved everything this Wyoming author has written, especially this book that details a 15,000-mile trip from Tierra del Fuego to the top of Alaska. I’ve read everything this author has written that I could come across, including his many Outside magazine stories.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This book fueled my desire to walk the Appalachian Trail, but except for a few miles on various sections it’s a to-do list item that I’ve waited too long to get around to doing. But I still have time to hike at least a few more miles on this trail whenever I come across one of its many trailheads.

One of Charles Kuralt’s more popular “On the Road” episodes wat the time he hooked up with a botanist to put names to all the wildflowers he was seeing, like this fireweed. — Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. I read this book many years ago, but reread it when I took to the road in 2004. My wordsmith friend, Charlie Trentelman, mentioned that I was the female version of Steinbeck, thus the title of my travel book, “Travels With Maggie.” Thank you Steinbeck.

On the Road with Charles Kuralt. Charles Kuralt was also influenced by Steinbeck. Kuralt, meanwhile, is actually the traveler most like me. We were both journalists, and we both prefer looking at life’s brighter side. I cried when Kuralt died, and one of my favorite travel photos is of his “On the Road” RV that’s on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.

The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthieson. A fantastic writer who makes one think. This book brought the Himalayas to life for me. I was privileged to have once heard this author speak.

Out of Africa by Isek Dinesen. Like Osa Johnson, this book made me want to travel to Africa. Not only did I do that in 2007, I visited Dinesen’s former coffee plantation in Nairobi.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. While I loved this book, Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” is my favorite of all that he has written. It, too, could be considered a travel book in that it includes awesome descriptions of Utah and Arizona’s red-rock landscape.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. No travel book collection would be complete without Theroux. This is my favorite of his many.

Book Report: Busy morning, then a four-hour lunch with a group of mostly crazy old broads, whose Bay of Pigs nickname rivals my former group of crazy old broad friends called the Murder of Crows, that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It comes under my umbrella mantra of smelling all the flowers and grabbing all the gusto this life has to offer. While I will do some editing as part of the rewrite of my travel book late this afternoon, I doubt I will add any significant word count. It’s the story of my writing life, conflicting goals. The good thing is that I no longer flagellate myself for such lapses.

Bean’s Pat: Photos and Facets; http://tinyurl.com/ckpfxer No! It’s not the London Bridge you’ve been seeing on television.

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