Acclimation and Decompression part 1

The suitcases are back in the attic, and the maps and guidebooks have been stowed back in the bookcase. This last activity took a bit of time because the floor to ceiling double bookcase in our living room is totally jammed with other maps and guides that needed culling before I could possibly squeeze another thing in there. What struck me as I poked around for space on these crowded shelves was how incredibly fortunate we have been to enjoy the road map of travel, both dreamed of and realized, that this collection described.

Some choices were easy: “Hiking Trails of Mt St Helen” – out. “Wilderness Camping With Children” – definitely out. No library in its right mind would consider accepting a donation of the World Atlas that Sam received as a bar mitzvah gift in 1995, but perhaps they would be interested in a first edition of “Chowing Down The Strip; A Field Guide to the Restaurants of Las Vegas.” There were books that must have been left by strangers stealing into our house at night desperate to rid their own sagging shelves of surplus travel books: “Say It In Swahili” and “The Rough Guide to Mongolia” were certainly not my purchases. Then there were books that, just seeing the title on the spine, brought back such heart-happy memories: “Paris Walks”, “Frommer’s Guide to Capri” and “The Vietnamese Phrase Book” (not that I ever actually said anything in Vietnamese). The 1969 Blue Guide to Morocco is almost as old as our marriage and while it may be a bit out of date, just seeing it there reminds me that, thanks to Crosby Stills and Nash, we were, once upon a time, inspired to take a trip because of a song.

Books I loved about places I once assumed we would only visit by proxy, including Stuart Steven’s “Malaria Dreams” and Mark Salzman’s “Iron and Silk”, will remain part of the permanent collection. My travel journals overstuffed with mementos and cards recall meals and hotels I will never forget as well as meals and hotels that deserved to be immediately forgotten (but linger on in memory to be trotted out whenever people share their travel horror stories). There is a whole section (well, ‘section’ implies that there is some order to the books on these shelves – trust me, there is not – perhaps ‘collection’ is a better word) I think of as ‘inspirational’ books. No, not the “Complete Guide to Walking the Camino Compostela Santiago” (out). I mean books that one of us purchased in hope and/or expectation, however misguided, of trips that were simply waiting for the right time and the right bank account to happen. A quartet of still pristine Lonely Planet Guides: Cuba, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Sicily with their shiny covers and stiff spines were keeping each other company. Hopefully someday we will be able to put an end to their loneliness and take them along on a trip.

It’s easy to tell which books have logged miles and which are waiting on ‘standby.’ Dogeared pages alternating with yellow Post-It notes covered with David’s neat writing or my illegible chicken scratching are the telltale signs. Open these books and admission tickets to places like Kartchner Cavern State Park and the Titan Missile Museum flutter out of guides to southern Arizona, and site maps of Pompeii are glued by dried drips of gianduja gelato to a menu from a tiny roadside cafe in Naples.

There is absolutely no organization to the books, although I keep promising myself that someday I will create some sort of order. Right now though, if someone wanted to know the name of that fabulous trattoria in Venice where we had the pasta with squid ink I’d raved about, I would first have to locate the guide book we took to Venice which could be anywhere, but was in fact sandwiched in between “Hawaii Access” and “Taming Alaska: An RV Odyssey.” Then I’d have to leaf through the book to find the place that listed two restaurants that served pasta with squid ink sauce. An emphatic ‘THIS’ not ‘THAT’ indicates which was which.

A good number of our books have taken multiple journeys in suitcases and backpacks other than ours. They’ve traveled in the company of family members, friends, and friends of friends who have taken them along on trips of their own. I always request that the borrowers jot down notes of their own or tuck into the pages business cards or brochures that then expand the reach of the printed page. A solid thumbs up or thumbs down by someone who has actually experienced a place goes a long way in smoothing the road for the next traveler. If you are planning a trip, please visit these shelves before you visit Amazon (the website, not the river).

A large part of the pleasure of this last journey was the chance to write about it. The writer’s block that had laid me low these past few years has somehow moved off shore, leaving me finally able to express myself in print again. The chance to share it with you and get your feedback gave me great pleasure. I am determined to make the most of that reunion of thought and voice, and am certain that the inspiration for another trip lies in the helter-skelter traffic jam of volumes here. Meanwhile, back to the task at hand.