Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Travel dreams in winter

The urge to travel always hits me hard this time of year. I've got a restless streak a mile wide, as happy as I am in Maine, and being housebound by snowstorms and empty pockets has me feeling even more so than usual. After beginning the winter with accounts of the travels of Johnson and Boswell around Scotland, naturally I am daydreaming about seeing that place someday. This corner of it in particular looks quite nice:

I wonder if they have a bookseller's ticket I could add to my collection? It sure would be a pretty one, judging from that darling tiny sign.

In the fullness of things during my reading, I wondered what ever happened to Boswell's family estate in Ayrshire: Auchinleck, the lovely eighteenth-century Adam-esque house his father constructed near the ruins of the old castle they called home way back when. Well, it turns out one can rent Auchinleck. From the Landmark Trust. For a country house party, retreat, or what-have-you. (For many thousands of pounds per week, it goes without saying.) The Landmark Trust website is a fine rabbit hole to fall down, if one has an hour or two to spare, during which to fruitlessly dream about travel and imagine staying in The Library or at Casa Guidi.

Besides noodling around on the internet, the only traveling I'm doing right now is via my books. As usual. I just read A Garden in Lucca: Finding Paradise in Tuscany by Paul Gervais (Hyperion 2000) and Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (Scribner 2008). Doerr's memoir about his writing fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, and his wife and infant twins and this year abroad together, was very good. He really knows how to write a beautiful descriptive sentence, and does so again and again throughout this book. Lots of unusual similes and metaphors and I liked the entire narrative. But Paul Gervais's meandering, humorous gardening memoir I loved, and it had me wishing I could lead another life. Specifically, his. (If I wasn't so happy with the one I have already, of course.) Tuscany, gardens, food, wine, the struggles of life, and some sweet victories too. The story of a late bloomer who finds his place and truly blooms. Visit his blog for a taste. The two books encapsulated the difference between city and country for me, and since I have come to believe that in life, nature always wins, I prefer the country. Even Doerr, after side-trips to towns in Umbria, wishes he was in the country, in the midst of his own book about one of the world's great cities. But no matter, both books are fine ways to escape for a time.

Italy, Scotland. I guess I'll go ahead and add Australia while I'm at it, since around here we are absolutely hooked on watching MasterChef Australia online - the episodes are endless - season two is over eighty episodes and I can't seem to get enough. Keeping warm by the woodstove watching people on the other side of the world chop ginger and shallots and shell prawns, why is it so fascinating? Well, it is, from where I sit. Back to the present moment, today, here and now, not elsewhere, Maine: fresh snow overnight, and I'm headed outside with the snow shovel and some seeds for the chickadees that visit the row of cedars by our driveway. They seem quite cheerful, despite the long snowy winter. I hope the same for you, wherever in the world you may be.

Oh Sarah, I was so delighted to find your mention of my old book. I've always loved old books and now I've even got one! You're very charming, as I've read other posts of yours by now. I dream of old bookstores downeast like yours. I check them out when I'm in MA, but Maine for me is a distant memory that needs a bit of renewal. Many thanks.
Dear Paul, your book is not old! It is timeless! And it brings such pleasure - I particularly respond to your theme of love triumphing over filthy lucre. "For god's sake, don't sell the villa!" I shouted as I read that chapter. I also loved how you came to gardening in part through books, and then by trial and error. Many trials and much error. And then, success, and beauty, both on the page and in the garden.

Your blog reads as a sequel of sorts, because your readers catch glimpses of what has happened in the decade following your book. But, how much better a published sequel would be. (Just a thought. From one who loves books beyond any reasonable measure.)

Alas, my bookshop has turned into a book stall in an antiques shop. Hurrah, I have much more time to pursue my other passion, painting. I almost wrote *reading* - well, that, too.

Thank you for your kind comment! This reply is too long, but I am so happy to hear from you, you see.
Oh Sarah, half an hour up the snowy road from you, I too am feeling the claustrophobia---I have shoveled myself silly. I was about to recommend Paul Gervais's blog to you just to make things worse----he did some Moroccan posts that made me drool---but I see you've already found him, and vice versa.

Thank you, dear DED! Shall I tell you that I found my pristine first edition of Paul's book at the friends-of-the-library sale last weekend, in your very own town? And that I took it home and read it the very next day? Well, that's just what happened.

The exotic (to us) landscapes are indeed lovely, on Paul's blog, but the food, the FOOD!
Tooo funny. I meant to go to the sale, and completely spaced it out.
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