When you comment, you will be entered to win a book about a place you probably don’t want to travel to. (See below)
Destination: Afghanistan? No. Ethiopia? No. Sudan? No. Italy? Yes.
Book: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
A Guest Post by Alisa Bowman
The Books I Read When I Was Grounded
A few years ago, I found myself grounded in Pennsylvania. Our daughter was only three and she had both separation anxiety and a picky palate. She wasn’t the type of toddler that I would feel comfortable leaving with a sitter or good friend for a week while I traveled to Spain or Russia or the Canary Islands or a million other places I wanted to experience.
And she wasn’t the kind of kid I felt comfortable taking with me, either. Our budget was extremely tight anyway. My husband’s start up business was still on its way to becoming profitable. My marriage was vulnerable, too. We’d recently worked on things, and we’d seen a lot of improvement.
But this wasn’t the time to go rocking the boat—or climbing aboard one, either.
Yet, I desperately craved an escape. I wanted to immerse myself in a foreign culture. I wanted to taste foreign cuisine. And, just for a little while, I wanted to forget that I was a stressed out, exhausted, breadwinning mother.
So instead of a physical escape across the Atlantic Ocean, I turned to the next best thing: a mental escape through the pages of various books. Please do not misunderstand: I was not trying to read about foreign countries I wished to visit. No, I was reading to take my mind off the fact that I did not have the money, lifestyle or courage—at that time in my life—to travel to a foreign country.
This is why I did not read books that were about countries I wished to visit. That, my friends, would have been like buying chocolate and placing it on my office desk as a decoration. You know? Torture.
I made a point of reading books about places I was quite certain I would never be tempted to even think about visiting. You might call it the Un-Travel Book Reading Tour.
It started in Afghanistan with Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Nearly every relationship in this book (save two) were horrifically bad. That was good. It made me feel better about my still vulnerable marriage. The book was tragic, so much so that I sobbed at Pinocchio, a line you will only ever understand if you read the book. I needed that catharsis. After emptying all of the liquid out of my body through my tear ducts, I felt amazing. I’m sure I wasn’t just crying about the book. I was also crying about my marriage and about my life and about issues I was having with my career at that time.
Let me say this. After reading that book I had not one urge to travel to Afghanistan. But I loved that book. I highly recommend it.
Next came Melissa Fay Greene’s There is No Me Without You, which is about AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. I became lost in that book from the very first line. By the end, I felt dusty, as if I’d been in Ethiopia for the past week. Thankfully my husband had not read the book. So when I told him I wanted to adopt 8 Ethiopian orphans, he told me he’d think about it.
I don’t believe he ever got back to me.
That’s okay because I no longer want to adopt orphans. And I still don’t want to visit Ethiopia.
Next came Dave Eggers What is the What, about Lost Boys who travel on foot through the Sudan. As expected, I did not want to travel to the Sudan after reading that book. As expected, I wanted to adopt 10 or so orphaned Sudanese teens.
The yearning passed.
Then I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love. You might think that this book might be a risky pick. After all, one of the countries she writes about is quite close—only 8 or so hours away by plane. It also does not have a disease, orphan, poverty, drought or war issue going on.
I, however, did not see this as a temptation. You see, I do not frequent popular countries. No, the countries I’d traveled to pre-parenthood had been places like Finland, Hungary, Israel, Turkey and Dominica. Italy? So overrated.
Or so I thought.
Did I tell you that I love to eat?
And did I tell you that when I travel, I don’t sight see? I just eat. I eat my way through countries. That’s why I travel.
And so, of course, you know that Gilbert ate her way through Italy. The Italy section of her book is a literary food-gasm is what it is.
It left me with a yearning for pizza, pasta, wine, ice cream, and Italian men.
“I’d like to go to Italy,” I announced one night.
“I don’t want to go to Italy,” my husband said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I just don’t. How about we hike the alps?” He asked.
“Not what I had in mind,” I said.
So it was settled. I’d go without him.
It had now been three years since I’d started the Un-Travel Book Tour. Our daughter was on the cusp of 6. I was on the cusp of 40. We had a little more money than in year’s past.
And dang it, I was sick of not traveling.
I told my husband that I would like to go to Italy to celebrate the half of my life I still had left to live. He gave me his blessing. I met one of my best friends there, and I ate my way through Tuscany.
I didn’t partake in the Italian men. I only looked at them.
But I can tell you this: Tuscany is not overrated. I loved it so much that I’m thinking about going back. This time my husband says he might join me.
Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a book that tells the story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. She is also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.
Alisa, Ken and I had a moment of recognition from this story. I was 41, the country was Greece, but the conversation was almost the same. And the result–I made my first European trip without him. I’ll never forget when the passport arrived in the mail, and he said, “You’re really going to do this, aren’t you?” Ever since that time, he has traveled to Europe with me, as enthusiastic about the trips as I am.
Thank you so much for sharing your reading and traveling experiences with us. Having followed your blog, I knew that you would be totally honest with us about travel, too.
Now it is the reader’s turn. What’s your favorite un-travel book??
One person who comments today through 6:00 a.m. MST Jan. 11 will win the book, Cemetery of Dreams (Oct.2010) excellent novel about Iran, another place Alisa would not want to go. (see all the fine print about contests here.)