Book (Series) Crush: Vintage Travel Writing

11 11 2010

Here’s the unfortunate history of travel writing (and, incidentally, of travel itself): It came about thanks to imperialism. While we owe much to the great explorers and their great explorations, original travel writing came about, for the most part, because of that rotten “E” word: Empire. Some texts, like the fictional Gulliver’s Travels protested imperialism. Countless others, however, chronicled real life (and fictional) adventures in foreign lands as a means of supporting, of getting people excited about, the expansion of Western culture (consider anything written by Rudyard Kipling).

But enough of my soapbox. The fact is that we as a people have a curiosity of the unknown, the exotic. While these days it seems we have to go off to space to find the unexplored, there is still the desire to travel, actually or via a good book. And with that, I flash back to a series of early travel guides, from none other than that classic publisher Penguin Books.

The first of the “Travel and Adventure” series of Penguin Books, with their signature cerise (cherry red) covers was The Dark Invader, recollections of a German intelligence officer in the first world war. From this first in 1936 to the last in 1959, Penguin cerise put out 96 travel and adventure titles, some by writers who are now literary legends, like Vita Sackville-West and D.H. Lawrence, others who have faded into obscurity.

The point is, these books are fascinating. Yes, most were written during the time of Empire, and many promoted Empire, but they are like any other literature from that period, now a little bit of history. There are adventures to the Arctic, journeys on the Oregon Trail, and war stories from the Spanish Civil War. Best of all, there are eight adventurous ladies in the mix, one of whom, Rosita Forbes, penned three cerise titles.

Sometimes, travel is as captivating to read as it is to do, and these titles certainly underline that fact. See a full archive of the books on this handy guide, and check out this great history of them.

New York Roots (and Travel Tips)

2 10 2010

A long, long time ago (at least it seems that way), when I first took the big leap and moved to the frightening and exhilarating city that is New York, I was lucky enough to find an internship at a friendly little travel website called EuroCheapo. With brothers Tom and Pete Meyers at the helm, EuroCheapo aims to make European (and New York, since that’s where they’re based) travel affordable by reviewing budget hotels that are actually comfortable.

I so loved going to the sunny office in Soho, and writing about travel, and laughing and joking and listening to great music with small but mighty EC crew, that I just kept going, and finally I was upgraded from intern to assistant editor. It was a sad day when I had to leave EuroCheapo, but now I’m making a triumphant return, not to the office, but to the blog!

I’ve just become the New York blogger for EuroCheapo, and I’ll be writing every other week about unique and affordable activities in New York City. It’s a fun turn of events that my first year of getting to know New York found me at EuroCheapo, and now I’m such a New York veteran that I can provide regular advice on what to see and do (and no Empire State Building here, folks!). Follow my New York tips and adventures here!

Aruba Recap

9 12 2009

Aruba was warm and the people were kind (save for the crazy Dutchman, who shall remain nameless, who yelled at me), but I must say it was a bit of a tease. I continuously drove past gorgeous white sand beaches and that pristine Caribbean turquoise blue, but didn’t have much time to enjoy it.

Such is the life of the travel writer. If I seem a little “woe is me,” it is not because I spent a few days reveling in warmth and gazing at gorgeous ocean. It’s because I spent a few days lost on tiny roads, trying not to freak out. I generally have a great sense of direction, but Aruba was like an abyss to me. Few of the streets are on the maps, which makes little difference since even fewer actually have signs marking them. Instead, locals give directions via landmarks, turn left at th Wendy’s and right at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Except that this gets confusing when there are three Wendy’s and two Dunkins on the same street (noticing a trend? there is also a Tony Roma’s, a TGI Fridays, oh, and a Hooters).

I sought out some music, but Saturday (strange?) turns out to be a bad night for live music on the island, and being always lost in the day time, I wasn’t feeling super comfortable venturing too far after nightfall anyhow. Turns out there is a good music scene, I just happened to miss it (more in the guide).

So in all, not to whine, the trip was a bit of a bust, though highly productive from a work standpoint, and I did get to see some cool buildings downtown. Oh, and, but in chilly “27 feels like 9” degree New York, that sun brings some pretty happy memories… (More photos here.)

Where Travel Writing Is Headed?

16 10 2009

Can a satellite view of the world change the world? It may just be able to change the travel publishing industry. Today MediaBistro published this post about John Higham, whose recent book 360 Degrees Longitude—which chronicles his family’s year-long adventure traveling the world—includes Google Earth links to some of the places visited. A wave of the travel future? It looks that way.

Though I am definitely an old-fashioned gal when it comes to my love of underlining and curled up pages of traditional books (though terribly outdated, my very shabby and much loved copy of Let’s Go Western Europe still inhabits a place of honor on the book shelf) the traveler in me thrills at the prospect of seeing a satellite view of some wondrous place I’m visiting while I’m visiting…

New York Times Travel Show

10 02 2009

On Saturday afternoon, at a travel writing workshop in a stale (but relatively packed) subterranean room in the terrible Javits Center, Max Hartshorne and Kent St. John, editors from, both mentioned that travel writers are some of the worst complainers out there. It was funny, but as I sat there, tired and a little grumpy from a long day of wandering the show floor carting increasingly heavier bags of pamphlets and materials on sundry places and cursing the Q train that would inevitably be as slow getting me home as it was delivering me that morning, I realized they were certainly correct. I mean I was, after all, at a TRAVEL SHOW, and despite the throngs wandering aimlessly through the crowded booths, I had seen some good dancing, sipped the Peruvian corn drink Chicha, and entered countless drawings, one of which I am bound (please, please?) to win.

And so, despite my griping, as, according to Max and Kent, only a good travel writer can do, I’d say, overall, the show was a success. I missed, alas, the trade day on Friday, so had to face the crowds of people actually planning trips, but I collected some great information and cultivated some new wanderlust. Top of the list now, in addition to the longstanding Petra and Russia, are Brescia, Guatemala, and(random, I know) Maine. I met a few people in the industry and ran into a few from the World Hum party and I came home with perhaps more information than I will ever need.

Some standout booths were: the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance, GoPhilanthropic, and Intrepid Travel. In addition to’s very popular and informative wrokshop, I also attended “What’s New for Solo and Women Travelers” (answer: women are traveling sans males more often and are getting gustier about it all the time) and Travel Through the Eyes of Travel Writers, a panel talking about travel and travel writing tips from some of the best established in the business.

Perhaps the most entertaining moments of the day, however, were spent gawking at all the costumed enthusiasts at the nearby Comic Con (yikes) and then discovering the little known “booth” occupied by “Brooklyn Rugby.” Read: two Brooklyn boys who were turned away from Comic Con and managed to find themselves a table on the show floor, which they decorated with pamphlets from an interesting (and totally without rhyme or reason) array of destinations. I think I may have been the only one to stumble dazedly into their booth after a long day of gazing at tables overflowing with literature. At least they said I was the honorary winner of their drawing (a “front row” seat at the next Brooklyn rugby match), and had the pleasure of poking fun at their rumpled, “just rolled out of bed to attend Comic Con” attire.

All in all, a successful day, and I did my best not to complain about the crowded subway car that took the local route home. (When I say “did my best” I mean “failed miserably.”)

The Small World of Travel Writers

6 02 2009

It’s a huge world out there. And no one knows that better than travel writers.  And yet, in the travel writing world one learns quickly (as I did at a party last night for World Hum) that the world of travel writing is rather a small one. There, crammed into the tiny basement of the fantastic Lolita Bar, were countless writers and lovers of travel from all  publications and areas. The fascinating thing is that most know each other, and the even better thing is that, in the world of travel writing, even if we don’t know each other, there is that common bond of world exploration that is a constant and inexhaustible topic of conversation.

But the small world gets even smaller as so: First, I finally met Mr. David Farley, curator of the Restless Legs Reading Series, with whom I had only before emailed since he was a part of the first Lit Crawl (and very popular, I might add). But second, there I was, meeting new people, when I spotted a familiar face and yet could not place how it was familiar. It was driving me crazy trying to figure out how I knew this guy at the party, until I finally approached and he recognized me, though also did not know from where. Finally after a few moments we realized: we had been in the same travel writing class last year in Buenos Aires! Now if that isn’t a small world, I’m not sure what is. And then, of course, we both got to swapping travel stories and then pining over how much more there is to explore in that bright big world out there.

Tomorrow it’s off to the NY Times Travel Show for more of the big (small) world of travel.

Downs and Ups

17 04 2008

This post is a combination of two categories I started and then neglected. It’s a list and book review in one. After a brief explanation:

Last week was a hard one for me. I have blogged before about the joys of travel writing, but there are many unjoys to it as well (and it goes without saying that being able to make up words goes under the joy column). Since I’ve been back in New York there have been many of both, and last week marked a period of frustration with the struggles of worming my way into the giant clique that is the editorial world.

I found out I had a connection to the Editor in Chief of my dream publication and immediately drafted an email to said editor, only to hear back the following day in a two line email that thanked me for my interest in the publication but unfortunately this editor was too busy for even the briefest of informational interviews. This was disheartening for many reasons, not the least of which being that part of the reason I love the publication so much is that the editor seems like such a cool person. Needless to say I ended the week feeling rather glum.

And so a list of things that are annoying and crappy:

  • Editors who don’t remember what it was like when they weren’t editors and knock your favorite publication down a rung or two.
  • Being a waitress with a Master’s degree.
  • Allergies.
  • Sitting next to a man on the subway who is picking his nose.

And to balance it out, a list of things that helped me out of the weekend blues:

  • An exceptionally warm and lovely Saturday with music, a saint bracelet, and the smells of spring.
  • The nice man at Barnes and Noble that let me exchange my large photography book (which I bought online for my thesis much longer than 14 days ago) for the three very exciting books I got instead: Swann’s Way, Up in the Old Hotel, and Poet in New York.
  • A surprise encouragement email from a friend and one of the most inspiring women I know (who, it should be told, has had her share of travel adventures, and also has a fantastic sense of style).
  • Lo Tengo Torrontes, the wine I brought to my own pity party. I bought it because it was $9 and from Argentina, but it turns out it was quite good, a little fruity without being too sweet. And it has a label with hologram tango dancers.
  • Friday Night Lights. (I’m obsessed. I admit it.)
  • My good buddy J.D.

This last is the book review part. Because, though I’m still in the middle of several other books, I dropped everything thing this weekend to return to Franny and Zooey. I’ve read it so many times there are parts I know by heart, but I keep going back to it. It’s a once a year thing, I guess, and it’s also what I do when I’m feeling really bad. And every time it helps, and every time I notice something new. This time, for example, I realized how ridiculously funny Zooey Glass is, and how much Mrs. Glass is my mother.

But mostly I just love it because it’s a story about love, about a family supporting each other and about loving what you do. Because I could never say it any better than Salinger, I’m just going to go ahead and quote what Buddy Glass writes to his brother Zooey (who is, incidentally one of those characters I wish were real because I’d like to be friends with him): “Act, Zachary Martin Glass, when and where you want to, since you feel you must, but do it with all your might.”

I have two fragmentary comments about this quote, the first being that only Salinger (or the Glasses) can over-italicize and pull it off, and the second is that if I replace “act” with “write” I have me some pretty strong inspiration, especially when you throw in the Fat Lady. (No, I won’t explain the Fat Lady. Read the book and find out who she is.)

And in addition to all these things that have always made this book great, there is the additional fact now that it is about New York, or a New York family. And it may sound bizarre, but I think it might be one of the reasons I always wanted to come to New York. I simply had to see the city that made the Glasses. So reading it this time around not only provided the above inspriation. but filled me with the distinct and comforting instinct that I came here for good reasons, and that I am in the midst of greatness, even if it’s fictional.

And on that note, a 1961 review I found from the New York Times—by John Updike, no less. It’s “cool factor” was slightly diminished by the fact that it’s a bit infuriating, but I still think it’s a fun find. Also interesting is that I never even dreamed that Franny might be pregnant. Those who haven’t read the book, I warn you not to think too much about what Updike says, because, frankly (and in my expert opinion), he’s way off. I have always liked “Zooey” better, and it’s because of, rather than in spite of, the great Glass world. And with that, I close my rant. In the words of Buddy (from my other favorite novel Seymour, an Introduction): “Go to bed. Quickly. Quickly and slowly.”

Identity Crisis

1 03 2008

No, it’s actually not me having the identity crisis (although one may be impending given my new status as jobless wonder). Currently the mental instability and missing sense of self is reserved for my blog, not me. I have been unhappy with the blog title since its inception. I coined it with 20 minutes to spare before I had to get to the airport for my flight to Buenos Aires. Something about it has irked me ever since.

Then, while in Tilcara, I was talking with my friend Alex (check out his fantastic blog, Spendthrift Shoestring), who said he enjoyed the “shoe theme” my blog had going on. At that very moment I had on my feet a pair of borrowed tennis shoes, and had at least two more shoe blogs in the works. Clearly I loved the shoe theme as well.

So in honor of my love of shoes, and in the spirit of my impending business venture with new friend Liz (I’m not divulging any more here, but I will say that it has to do with travel—and shoes), I have been obsessed with a new new name for Somewhere Beyond, something that better captures its goal, which is to encapsulate exactly what you get when you mix a fearless (well, almost) woman, the perfect pair of shoes, and the great unknown (aka the world of travel).

Enter a huge problem: writer’s block. For two weeks I have been driving myself (and some very patient friends) crazy with titles that incorporate travel and shoes. With a million and one shoe sayings and songs at my disposal, I was coming up with such gems as “A Million Miles in These Shoes” and “Anywhere, Any Way and in Fabulous Shoes” (which started to seem suggestive of many things other than travel).

The list of boring or inappropriate shoe titles goes on, but I finally have a winner, at least for now: I think Around the World in Gold Stilettos has just enough quirkiness and just enough pizazz to capture my goal. So no, you haven’t landed on the wrong site; it’s still Suzanne’s blog with a new focus: to encourage bold woman to travel without inhibitions, and without giving up their sense of style. And, of course, there will be the occasional shoe obsession on my part.

Almost Famous

19 02 2008

Now that I have a working shower and am slowly becoming reacquainted with the real world, it’s time to get some work done. This evening I headed to the Viva! Guides website, to start posting my reviews of Northwest Argentina, but before I could get started I saw a familiar face: my own. Right there on the front page, in a box titled “Writers On The Road,” was me, with a note that I am in Lujan, Argentina.

Sure, this is routine. Sure, it is nothing more than promotional. But to a struggling writer going through Argentina withdrawals, both the fact of my writing on display and the thought of another me still in Lujan made me a happy, happy girl. So now I must do my bit, a small blog for shameless self-promotion, to send all my readers right over to Viva! to see my ten minutes of fame. If anyone who actually cares happens to miss it, you can also find my (pathetic, thrown together to apply to class) profile, complete with all the guidebook writing I have done thus far, here.

What Is Travel Writing?

10 01 2008

Thursday, 10 January, 2008.

Day four of an interesting but rather grueling traveling writing course. The day we spend entirely “in the field,” researching and writing a full “city guide” for one neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

I spent the morning becoming an expert on Retiro but could not find the Plaza de Embajaro Israel, all that remains after the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy. My intense thesis work not having satiated this obsession I seem to have developed with loss and memory, I was determined to see this monument to the lost and learn how Argentines remember their turbulent history.

I was looking at my map when I encountered Julio, a thin man in his sixties with thick coke bottle glasses. He bounded up and asked what I was looking for. Confident that I had already figured it out, but eager to practice my Spanish, I told him. Then he told me how to get there. I understood about half.

Julio walked four blocks with me, and we spoke (in Spanish) the whole way. Then he pointed out the Plaza and I realized (though I didn’t tell him) that I had been on this block earlier the same morning and had merely forgotten to look. Thank God for forgetfulness. After pointing out the Plaza Julio proceeded to tell me its history. And very patiently repeated it until I understood. I’d read the history in my guidebook, but it was much more poignant hearing it from Julio. This is the real key to memory I had been seeking.

Then we parted, Julio wishing me buena suerte (good luck) on the rest of my travels. I understood that part perfectly, and I walked on feeling a bit happier, and a bit giddy that my job (at least for this week) means not just seeing amazing places, but really seeing them, through the eyes of those who live there.