Guest blogger C.M. Mayo is the author of Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California just released in paperback by Milkweed Editions, and Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, a collection of Mexican fiction and literary prose. Her most recent travel writing, "From Mexico to Miramar or, Across the Lake of Oblivion", an essay in Massachusetts Review about a journey to the Emperor of Mexico's castle in Italy, won the 2007 Washington Prize for Personal Essay.
Around the World with Madam Mayo
Bon voyage, feliz viaje, and how do you say that in Icelandic? Speaking of which, one of my favorite travel memoirs, perfect for whiling away lazy afternoons in a deckchair, is Charles Fergus's Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World, about his mid-life stay at Litla Hraun in western Iceland.
For some reason, though my own writing tends to focus on Mexico, most of my favorite travel books are about the far north--- Farley Mowat's dirge-like Walking on the Land (about Canada's Ilhalmiut people); Gretel Ehrlich's low-altitude, vegetable-free romp, This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland; and for sheer wierdness (wierd to me, anyway), Gontran de Poncins' cult classic, Kabloona. But I certainly do read books on Mexico. My all-time favorite is Frances Calderon de la Barca's 1842 Life in Mexico--- not so much a seamless narrative as a patchwork quilt of vivid, often comic scenes. Two new ones well worth reading: Jeff Biggers's In the Sierra Madre, and Sam Quinones's Antonio's Gun and Delphino's Dream, a rollicking collection which includes chapters about the black velvet paintings, opera in Tijuana, and--- that's right--- Mennonite narcotraffickers.
On Southeast Asia, I've yet to read anything that beats the drama and haunting poetry of war correspondent Jon Swain's River of Time. For Francophiles: Sara Mansfield Taber's Bread of Three Rivers, in which the story of the best loaf of French bread rises to become the story of the whole world. For Italophiles, subspecies Venetophile: Judith Martin's hot-off-the-presses No Vulgar Hotel. Jog a bit around the Adriatic for Jan Morris's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, a meditation on this most un-Italian of Italian cities, with denizens as unlikely as Mexico's Emperor, Maximilian, and James Joyce. Oops, that's eleven. Ciao for now. I'm going to California.