Sometimes I think I’m going to meet myself coming and going–through cyberspace, that is. Here’s what I’ve been up to, when I’m not here writing about books and movies to make you travel and trying to get you to sign up for an e-mail subscription by offering you a wonderful FREE new book (YOUR CHOICE) to start your summer reading season…. At Reel Life With Jane I talk about all-American Henry Fonda and a new set of ten movies in The Henry Fonda Film Collection. At Donna Hull’s great travel resource, My Itchy Travel Feet, I reviewed a terrific guidebook to the Sierras of California. Get outdoors and get active with the TrailBlazer Guides.
At Authentic Luxury Travel, I got to talk about my favorite region of Italy, Le Marche, and show off some of my pretty pictures from that trip. Why don’t you meet me in one or two of those places? And keep in mind….TRAVEL might be the distance between what we were at the beginning and what we are at the end.
Book: What Changes Everything (NEW June 2013) by Masha Hamilton
(Disclosure: years ago, before she had published her first novel, I knew Masha Hamilton when she lived in Tucson)
Before you even open this book, you get a treat. The dust jacket is the most striking cover art I’ve seen this year. And the style and choice of artwork becomes clear when you read the book. I spend a lot of time complaining about book covers, so I wanted to take this opportunity to praise the publisher, Unbridled Books and designers David Ryski and Kathleen Lynch.
Even better–in this case you CAN tell a book by its cover. What Changes Everything is as innovative, arresting, gritty, relevant and personal as the cover suggests. Masha Hamilton clearly knows the country and the people–Americans in Brooklyn, Afghans, Russian emigres–that she writes about. She currently serves as the press officer for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Even before that, she had been a regular in Afghanistan, and founded the Afghan Women’s Writing Project–and if you don’t know about it, you can learn more in this article I wrote about AWWP.
Masha Hamilton is a fearless writer. That too, hardly is surprising, given that she spent years as a foreign correspondent, some of that in war zones. Her bold approach to life is echoed in her bold approach to writing. Normally I am put off by novels that are fragmented–jumping from character to character as point of view shifts in each chapter and I have to piece the story together. But the style is entirely appropriate for this story that combines the main story of an aid worker who is kidnapped in Kabul when he goes to buy ice cream, with the story of a mother and brother trying to make sense of the death in Afghanistan of their son/brother, and the story of a mother of a double amputee–injured while on duty in Afghanistan.
The jittery uncertainty of living in this country where no one is clearly a friend and death can come at you around any corner, the fractured feeling of different cultures clashing, all this is reflected in the form of the novel. The uncertainty spills over into the lives of those left in America by soldiers and humanitarian workers who go to Afghanistan, and even affects an Afghan man who went to college in the United States but returned to his country as half-outsider, unsure of how to navigate.
The small pieces of each person’s story comes together to form a picture of a still puzzling situation, both within Afghanistan and between the U.S. and Afghanistan. The questions of lawlessness, authority (who has it and is it legitimate), individual responsibility and respect for others all roll around inside the pages of What Changes Everything.
And yet there is the core story–the will he survive story–that keeps us riveted. And there is the introduction of a foreign culture–no, two foreign cultures. The culture of Afghanistan and the culture of a tagger in Brooklyn are portrayed with loads of detail because Masha Hamilton knows them both. She lives both places. (Not as a tagger, I hasten to add–but in Brooklyn.) Her observation is keen and clear.
Amin spread his rug on the ground behind the office and then parted his lips to inhale fully. A crippled sparrow stood in stingy bush-shade and watched. Smoke and exhaust threaded through Kabul’s air, and the city’s tensions pressed against the compound walls…
The Afghanistan the author shows us is not a place travelers are going to want to go any time soon, but still it is good to know something more about a country that has this unwanted connection with the United States. And we can see why some Americans sincerely love Afghanistan and the Afghan people and want to go there, even while it is dangerous. And it makes us want peace to come so we can see it for ourselves.
Clarissa, the wife left behind in Brooklyn, thinks about Todd, who has been kidnapped:
There were people who spent their whole lives in one zip code, and then people who constantly fled for new adventures, horizons, and faces…..Now Todd was held prisoner on soil stained by decades of bloodshed, in a part of the planet that had felt to him almost like a second home and seemed to her so unlikely as to be imaginary.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, plays second fiddle to Manhattan when travelers go to New York City, but Masha Hamilton, tempts us to travel to Brooklyn, too. The tagger, Danil, the tagger, visits a bit of Brooklyn history, that he explains is visited mostly by “urban explorers, photographers, and the occasional graffiti writer”:
He passed through the vine-claimed front door and headed cautiously up to the second floor. Admiral’s Row, once an oasis of stately entryways and arched windows for high-ranking military officers, was built in the late 1800s complete with a skating rink, greenhouse, parade grounds , and a sense of exclusivity.
This book goes on the list of books that one reader can choose if he/she subscribes by e-mail to A Traveler’s Library during June. But if you don’t choose it now, get your hands on it at your bookstore, or at your library or at Amazon. You’ll be glad you did.
Note: This book was provided for review by the publisher, but my opinions are still my own. When you click a link to Amazon on this site, anything you buy will help support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks for your help.
See my review of Masha Hamilton’s book set in historic Jordan, Staircase of a Thousand Steps. She has also written The Camel Bookmobile, set in Africa; The Distance Between Us, about an American journalist in the Mid East; and 31 Hours, about a young would-be terrorist in New York.
Book: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman (Ages 3-7)
Article by Jennifer Close
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman is a whimsical children’s picture book that takes you on a journey around the world to gather ingredients for an apple pie. The main character decides that she is going to make an apple pie but unfortunately the market is closed. Rather than wait for the market to open, she decides to pack a suitcase and catch a steamship to Europe.
While in Europe, she stops by Italy to gather some wheat and France to pick up a chicken. Then she heads to Sri Lanka to pick up the bark of a kurundu tree so she can get some cinnamon. While in England, she picks up a cow for the freshest milk possible. The journey continues through Jamaica and her last stop before home is an apple orchard in Vermont.
When she gets home, she has to make the flour, cinnamon and salt as well as milk the cow and get the chicken to lay an egg. Once she has all of her ingredients, she makes her delicious apple pie and has friends over to help eat it.
My favorite part of the picture book was when she hopped the train to France to locate a chicken. I liked the way the drawings capture the hustle and bustle of a European train station. The book is full of fun and fancy. It is quite unrealistic but children will love the bright colors and the drawings. The places that you can visit together while you read the book will certainly spark the wanderlust. My daughter is already asking why we haven’t hopped a train to France!
The story concludes with a made-from-scratch apple pie recipe that uses just a handful of ingredients.
If you like How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, check out How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A by the same author, who is both author and illustrator with many books to her credit, both as illustrator of other authors work and her own. Zin,Zin, the Violin, that Priceman illustrated and Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Balloon Ride, which she both wrote and illustrated each won Caldecott honors.
There are many reason to travel west out of New Orleans into Cajun country, and music is certainly one of the most important. We had some wonderful musical experiences when we traveled through the Parishes of Acadia, Evangeline, St. Landry along the Zydeco Cajun Prairie Scenic Byway. But certainly the most exciting was the opportunity to meet musician and accordion maker Mark Savoy in his workshop near Eunice, Louisiana and learn from an expert the history and science of accordions.
Mark Savoy is charming and brilliant. He seemed to have all the time in the world to share his love of all things Cajun, and particularly his knowledge of accordions. Did you know that most accordions used by Cajun musicians are hand-made right there in Louisiana? Did you know that the particular squeeze box used by the Cajuns came originally from German immigrants? Did you know that there is an essential link between Louisiana and Italy? Our conversation with him led us eventually to a small hill town in the Le Marche region of Italy in one of those unexpected and wonderful experiences that can come from random meetings along the travel road.
And how does the trail from Cajun accordions in Eunice, Louisiana lead to Italy? It turns out, Mark told us that there are certain parts that are too difficult to hand craft in his own workshop, so he scoured the world to find someone who made them well. He found what he was looking for in the town of Castlefidardo, Italy. At the time we were visiting with Savoy in 2006, we were preparing for a trip to Italy, and would be going right into the area of Castlefidardo. So of course we went there in search of accordion makers. But that is a story for another day.
This has been my contribution to Travel Photo Thursday. You can see many more pictures of world travels by going to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox.
Book: Death in the Vines (NEW June 2013) by M. L. Longworth
Here we are in Provence again–just can’t get enough of the south of France. But instead of contemplating life and language with Kristin Espinasse, or art in a Renoir painting, we’re solving a mystery–or several. And this time it is the town of Aix-en-Provence.
Wouldn’t you think that readers subjected to such a profusion of dead bodies would think twice about booking travel? Yet, these destination-rich mystery novels continue to be very popular–particularly with travelers who read.
M. L. Longworth writes about a crime-solving duo–Judge Verlaque and Commissioner Bonnard. The Judge takes an active role in investigation in France, directing the investigators rather than only presiding over a trial after all the sleuthing is done, as in the U. S. Read more about Canadian ex-pat in Provence Longworth’s life in the bio on her website.
Death in the Vines is the third Verlaque-Bonnard novel set in Aix-en-Provence. I loved the fact that we get a look at every day life in a city that is NOT Paris for a change. I liked the feeling that I was wandering through the town and learning about markets, the social life, the stratification of society and people’s attitudes. Having lived there for so long now, Longworth knows the French culture and customs well enough to give us an accurate picture of the life of Aix-en-Provence. However, this is not my favorite mystery series for several reasons.
Although the writing is solid and the recreation of place excellent, I constantly got lost trying to follow the plot and the characters. It is a tricky business being sure that readers can tell one character from another by the way they speak and their little quirky habits. In that regard, Verlaque and a victim, Mme. d’Arras, were the only one who stood out as easily identifiable. Unfortunately, I found the bevy of policemen, including Commissioner Bonnard getting muddled in my mind. Perhaps part of that is because this is the third in a series and the author is inadvertently writing for faithful readers.
The police procedural plot follows Verlaque and Bonnard through a complex mix of a wine theft, the disappearance of a confused old lady and the murder of young women. Of course they follow false leads, but putting the wine theft, which turns out to be peripheral, at the beginning means the author is giving the readers a false indication of what is important, and even worse, puts the least tension-building crime up front. While I appreciate the somewhat random and plodding progress of real police procedures, I would prefer my police procedural novels to provide more excitement, and sooner rather than later.
Actually, the saving grace for me, is that this book makes a great guide to the countryside around Aix. In addition to details of street names and places in the main town, the plot takes the characters outside of Aix-en-Provence for what will make some great sightseeing for travelers reading the book. For instance the small village of Rognes, shown in this You-Tube video. Although it is not the best video, it does give you a flavor of the town that Longworth describes in the book, through the voice of Mme. d’Arras.
The buildings ….all made of the local golden stone quarried just outside of town; the quarry and its porous yellow stone had given the village its wealth. The main road hadn’t changed either; it still veered eastward at the cave cooperative and then descended gently northward out of the village, until it reached the vine-covered plains outside of town.
On a trip into the countryside, the two detectives stop at the famous Millau bridge over the Tarn River.
Their journey takes them in search of a lover of Citroen automobiles.
So if you’re planning a trip to Provence, or even just dreaming of a trip to Aix-en-Provence and the beautiful surrounding countryside, you might want to take a look at Death in the Vines along with your guidebook.
Note: The book was provided by the publishers for review, but that never affects my opinions. Photos here are credited when possible, and you can click through to learn more. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Any time you do your shopping by clicking through from this site, you help us feed A Traveler’s Library. Thanks for your support.
REMEMBER–you may choose this book,or another on this list, if you subscribe to A Traveler’s Library during June. Present subscribers get an opportunity to choose a book also. Take a look at the rules and the list.
Destination: France (Paris & Provence), Cambridge, Massachusetts
Book: Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in the Company of Cats (2012)
By Pamela Douglas Webster
If you grew up watching television in America, you know Julia Child had a passion for cooking. If you’ve seen a documentary of her life or the feature film, Julie and Julia, you know of her passion for her husband, Paul.
But did you know about her passion for cats? I thought not.
Documentary filmmakers Patricia Barey and Therese Burson thought that was a shame. After all, as chef and close friend Jim Dodge said, “If you don’t know how much Julia loved cats, you didn’t know Julia.”
Julia’s Cats begins in Paris. Paul Child worked for the Foreign Service and had pulled the plum assignment of designing cultural exhibits for the American embassy.
While exploring her new home and improving her language skills, Julia noticed the cats who ruled the city. Much has been made of Paris restaurants and shops catering to dogs and their doting people. But the markets, rooftops, and alleyways are ruled by cats.
It didn’t take long for Julia and Paul to realize their apartment would only become a home when it hosted its own feline. They adopted Minette.
Minette’s escapades were the subject of JuPaul’s (one of the many combined names they used) frequent correspondence with family. Paul even entered into a friendly rivalry with his twin brother over whose cat played the more inventive games.
While reading the imaginative messages— “Minette wants everyone to know she caught a bird on the roof.”—I start to wonder if Julia and Paul Child weren’t the first pet bloggers, simply lacking the technology to share their love with a wider audience.
After Julia enrolled in le Cordon Bleu to learn the techniques that produced the exquisite French food she had fallen in love with, Minette watched every experiment. And when Julia prepared her first Cordon Bleu meal for her husband and sister, Minette arrived in the dining room resting like a stole around the chef’s neck.
When Paul’s new posting took the couple to Marseilles, Julia had to leave her beloved Minette behind. Luckily, Julia’s friendship with the local fishmonger and fellow cat lover led her to the owner of a charcuterie who was inconsolable after losing her beloved cat.
Julia was sorry to say goodbye to little Minette. But she knew that no one could provide a more loving (and delicious) home for the wee cat.
For many years, Julia was unable to have her own, full time cat.
After leaving France, Paul’s work took them to Germany, Washington, DC, Norway, and eventually, Cambridge, Massachusetts. And, by the time they landed in Cambridge, the success of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking had led first to book tours and eventually to her own cooking show. The frequent travel meant that Julia would have to fill her love for cats with her regular attendance of cat shows and her greeting of every cat she met in her travels.
The success of Julia’s television show and the exhaustion that resulted from all the work involved drew the couple to look for a place to recover their energy. They found it in Provence.
With a small home near her collaborator and friend, Simone Beck, Julia was again able to adopt a cat of her own. And, when she returned to Massachusetts for the television season, Julia was able to leave her kitty in her friend’s capable care.
The authors detail the various cats the Childs befriended, in Provence, in Cambridge, and in their eventual retirement home (although even two weeks before her death, Julia Child could hardly be called retired) of Santa Barbara, California.
The book ends with two lovely portraits of Julia Child. Paul Child took one of her and her kitty Minette in Paris as a young newlywed. The other was taken a week before her death at 92, holding her cat Minou.
Julia Child was an unlikely television star. But people responded to her passion and lack of pretension. I did too.
I find enthusiasts irresistible. Even when I don’t share their enthusiasm.
But Julia Child’s love of food, of France, and of her meowing poussiquettes are all enthusiasms I can relate to.
I loved the way Barey’s and Burson’s research brought the cat angle to a biography already quite familiar to me. And their inclusion of dozens of photographs taken by Paul Child brought Julia, her charming cats, and the stunning landscapes to life.
I’m even tempted to believe, as Julia Child did, that “Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil.” (A house without a cat is life without sunshine.)
Note: Don’t miss Pamela’s other take on this book at her blog, Something Wagging This Way Comes, with more cute cat pictures.
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