I stood on a corner under my $11 umbrella, glad it wasn’t a $5 umbrella. I laughed out loud. What else could I do? After about five minutes, a teenage girl emerged from the mist. She was wearing headphones and a surgical mask. Surgical masks are very popular in Japan. They are supposed to be all about protecting yourself and other people from disease, but they’re also worn to indicate a lack of sociability, with which I theoretically sympathize but at this particular moment found inconvenient. No fool, the girl started to cross the street before she reached me, and I shouted “Excuse me, excuse me” and then even ran after her. She did not break stride. She did not even move her eyes.
If you have utterly humiliated yourself but no one is around to witness your humiliation, is it possible it has indeed not taken place? Asking for a friend.
In 2016, I published my New Year’s resolutions on Longreads. As 2017 dawns, I thought I’d check in with my old self, dust off 2016’s goals and set some new intentions.
1. Alas, I never did make it to Iceland, but I did a lot of domestic travel in 2016. In Washington State, I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time and slept on a sailboat. In Asheville, I got a new tattoo and swooned inside Firestorm Books & Cafe. I saw friends and family marry in Richmond and Chautauqua. I saw Deaf West perform Spring Awakening and the one-weekend revival of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater in NYC. I even visited Foamhenge! (That’s me in the photo above.) I’m returning to Asheville in 2017; beyond that, I have no concrete travel plans. Feel free to sponsor me on a trip to the ends of the Earth and back! I’ll write about it! For now, I’m seeing the world via the following essays from 2016:
- “Here’s What It’s Like to Travel While Wearing a Hijab.” (Sarah Hagi, Fusion)
- “The Extreme Travelers Who Self-Exile in Siberia.” (Yann Laubscher & Albertine Bourget, Narratively)
- “What I Learned Tindering My Way Across Europe.” (Allison P. Davis, Travel & Leisure)
- “Meet a Man Who Took 14 Cross-Country Flights in 7 Days for the Miles.” (Ester Bloom, The Billfold)
- “Temples for the Literary Pilgrim.” (The New York Times)
Laura Yan | Longreads | July 2016 | 13 minutes (3035 words)
Three years ago, I quit my job in New York to go backpacking in South America. It was a blessed time, full of postcard travel highs: swimming in mirror-glazed lakes dipped in sunset, burning coca leaves for mystic rituals, falling in love with a hippie as we hitchhiked beneath the stars. I was 23, and learning to be wild and light and free. I spoke about my travels with an editor at The Hairpin, and wrote about it elsewhere. Sometimes readers emailed me asking for travel advice. They asked mostly innocuous questions: What should I pack? How do I save up to travel? Where should I visit? I tried to answer when I could. One girl asked if I’d ever been in serious danger.
I didn’t know how to reply. Read more…
Pico Iyer’s travel writing — whether he’s describing a long walk in Kyoto, a jetlag-fueled airport layover, or a quiet moment in a monastery — captures not just the physicality of places, but also the spaces within and between them.
In his essay “Why We Travel,” Iyer writes that he has been a traveler since birth: born in Oxford to parents from India, schooled in England and the United States, then living in Japan since 1992 (with annual trips to California). These seven reads reveal Iyer as a perpetual wanderer of both place and time: navigating spaces in flux or forgotten, meditating on finding one’s place in an ever-shifting world, and, as part of this journey, exploring that which is deep within us. Read more…
Our latest Longreads Exclusive is a series of travel journal entries adapted from poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s forthcoming book, Writing Across the Landscape. It first appeared in The American Scholar’s Summer 2015 issue (subscribe here!).
I was part of that Greatest Generation that came of age at the beginning of the Second World War. As I worked in San Francisco, the days and years fell away into the great maw of time. America went through a sea change after that. San Francisco, which had been a small provincial capital, grew up. So did I, and I started voyaging. I was usually traveling to some literary or political event or tracking down some author whose undiscovered masterpiece I could publish at City Lights Books. I didn’t keep journals consistently, so some literary capers went unrecorded, such as when I visited Paul Bowles in Tangier to pry from him his Moroccan tales in A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard. This was agreed to, and then we sat dully in his high-rise apartment near the American Embassy. And when Jane Bowles suggested we turn-on, Paul said he didn’t have any hash. I was clean-shaven in a white suit, and I imagine he thought I was a narc. Paranoia, the doper’s constant companion! I wrote these peripatetic pages for myself, never thinking to publish them. It is as if much of my life were a continuation of my youthful Wanderjahr, my walk-about in the world. Rereading them now, I see a wandering figure in momentous times. …The war ends, decades whir by, there is a rumble in the wings, the scene darkens, and Camelot lost! Read more…
Subject matter can be almost self-consciously esoteric. The latest issue of Ernest includes a piece by Queen guitarist Brian May on diableries (19th-century stereoscopic photographs of clay model demons). Cereal has 10 pages on Anglepoise lamps; Avaunt has a feature headlined “Politics of map projections”.
The new magazines also move away from the traditional “colonial” model of travel journalism, where a writer is sent overseas to experience a trip as a holiday-maker would, then report back. Instead, many of the new titles commission pieces from writers with existing connections to a destination (a model that happily saves on travel costs, too). Boat magazine, an early independent which first published in 2010, produces an entire issue focused on a single destination, and moves its editorial team there for several weeks to seek out stories. Many of the new editors are scathing about conventional titles’ focus on hotels and restaurants, and their extensive use of lists. The independents see themselves as being about places, rather than holidays.
—Tom Robbins writing in the Financial Times (registration required) about the new breed of print travel magazines that have emerged as commercial travel magazines suffer diminishing circulation.
Does the travel help your writing?
It’s essential for me. There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh. I’m used to traveling. It’s not a question of meeting or seeing new faces particularly, or hearing new stories, but of looking at life in a different way. It’s the curtain coming up on another act.
I’m not the first person who feels that it’s the writer’s true occupation to travel. In a certain sense, a writer is an exile, an outsider, always reporting on things, and it is part of his life to keep on the move. Travel is natural. Furthermore, many men of ancient times died on the road, and the image is a strong one. Kings of Arabia, when they are buried, are not given great tombs. They are buried on the side of the road beneath ordinary stones. One thing I saw in England long ago struck me and has always stayed with me. I was going to visit someone in a little village, walking from the railway station across the fields, and I saw an old man, perhaps in his seventies, with a pack on his back. He looked to be a vagabond, dignified, somewhat threadbare, marching along with his staff. A dog trotted at his heels. It was an image I thought should be the final one of a life. Traveling on.
—James Salter, in an interview with poet Edward Hirsch from The Paris Review. Hirsch interviewed Salter in late summer 1992 and the interview appeared in the Review’s Summer 1993 issue. Salter died June 19 at the age of 90.
Then there is the intriguing way airways are navigated, using radio beacons and “waypoints”, spots defined by geographic co-ordinates or their bearing and distance from a beacon. These waypoints are typically given five-letter capitalised names that are supposed to be simple enough for any controller or pilot to recognise them, regardless of their first language.
Europe’s sky-mappers turn out to have taken a fairly business-like approach to naming their waypoints, though there is a TULIP off the Dutch coast and England has a DRAKE, for Sir Francis. Australians have had a bit more fun, naming points off their west coast WONSA, JOLLY, SWAGY, CAMBS, BUIYA, BYLLA, BONGS, in honour of the opening lines of the country’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”. The Americans have just gone mad. Detroit has MOTWN and WONDR (Stevie was born in Michigan). Houston has a ROKIT for its Space Center. There is a NIMOY in Boston (where Leonard was born) plus several local culinary references (CHWDH, LBSTA and CLAWW) and SSOXS, STRKK and OUTTT for the Red Sox baseball team.
—Pilita Clark writing in the Financial Times about the future of flying.
See Also: “The Secret Language of the Skies” (Deborah Fallows, The Atlantic, 2013)
The legendary Ellen Willis (first-ever pop critic for The New Yorker, feminist role model extraordinaire, etc.) passed away in 2006, but her work is enjoying a second renaissance thanks to The Essential Ellen Willis, a 2014 collection edited by her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz. Earlier this month the National Book Critics Circle posthumously awarded Willis their top prize in criticism for the anthology. In honor of the honor, The Village Voice has reprinted “Escape from New York,” a fantastic Willis essay about loneliness, human connection, aging radicals and criss-crossing the country on a Greyhound bus. The essay first appeared as the Voice’s July 29, 1981 cover story, and has since been reprinted in The Essential Ellen Willis.
For Americans, long-distances buses are the transportation of last resort. As most people see it, buses combine the comfort of a crowded jail cell with the glamour of a liverwurst sandwich. Though I can’t really refute that assessment, I don’t really share it, either. As a student with lots of time, little money, and no driver’s license, I often traveled by bus. Un-American as it may be, I feel nostalgic about those trips, even about their discomforts. In my no doubt idealized memory, discomfort was the cement that bound together an instant community of outsiders, people who for reasons of age, race, class, occupation (student, soldier), handicap, or bohemian poverty were marginal — at least for the time being — to a car-oriented culture.
It is this idea of community that moves me now. Lately I’ve been feeling isolated, spending too much time hiding out in my apartment, wrestling with abstract ideas. What better remedy than to take a bus trip, join the transportation-of-last-resort community, come back and write about what I’ve learned.
Thanks to a travel grant and a discounted Amtrak pass, Danya Sherman recently spent thirty days traveling around the country by train, studying the public realm of long-distance rail travel. Sherman formerly served as Director of Public Programs, Education & Community Engagement at the High Line. As a planner and cultural programmer, she hoped to learn what makes trains such powerful spaces for interaction, and how those lessons can be applied elsewhere in the urban environment. In a recent piece for Next City, she explored some of these ideas:
The long-distance train is one of America’s greatest and least heralded public spaces. Perhaps without intending to, the train encapsulates many qualities of public spaces that planners and designers try so hard to create. It is democratic in that it serves people across many different communities, geographies and interest groups. It is diverse in that it appeals to a broad spectrum of people across ages, ethnicities, races, nationalities and genders, and critically, it facilitates connections between these different people. (While traveling from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I met a gay couple going to Houston, a Latino family headed to Albuquerque, an indie rock-loving pizza-maker from Austin, a minister going to Tucson and an L.A.-bound retired merchant marine who taught me how to play dominoes.) Unlike planes, trains foster a sense of appreciation and curiosity about the landscapes through which they pass, which in turn help passengers develop a deeper connection to place.