Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


There is no dust on Frances Mayes, poet and author, educator and esthete, whose appetite for new places is matched only by her ability to inhabit each one fully.

Already world-renowned for her books on travel to and settling in Tuscany - she and her husband, the poet Ed Kleinschmidt, renovated a sagging country estate there - this peripatetic poet has discovered that home is sweeter when one can get away from it.

"What if we didn't go home? What if we just kept traveling?" Mayes asks of her partner as they savor a trip to Sardinia in 2004.

The result is her eighth and latest book, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler. In rich and layered prose, Mayes documents a year roaming Europe and the Middle East.

This is not travel as most Americans experience it: brief glimpses of famous places on a tight timeline; the occasional exotic meal; inchoate encounters with natives.

Nor is Mayes' book a guide to take along for help in finding hotels and eateries.

What's provided instead is really more substantial, if less than pragmatic. "When you travel," the author notes, "you become invisible, if you want."

Personal and richly detailed accounts of sojourns to Spain, Great Britain, Morocco, Greece, France, Turkey, Portugal, and Southern Italy invite slow savoring, perhaps jotting notes on page borders, and rereading.

Mayes and Kleinschmidt tend to rent houses or apartments - not always successfully, as the author details - and devote their time to on-foot explorations of neighborhoods, less famous landmarks, and historical sites.

Preparation for each new visit means reading narratives by other inquisitive visitors as well as learning basic facts of the locale, the better to make sense of what they encounter.

The book, then, is a rich concoction of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings fed by contact with as many local residents as possible and enhanced by historical and literary connections. The couple, both academics, reveal a scholarly bias as they bring in ideas and quotes from other writers.

In the process, of course - and so it is with most travel narratives over centuries - readers will learn more about Mayes the traveler, who is nothing if not dedicated to note-taking. Her diligence in recording sensory, emotional, and intellectual experiences is a delightful prompt for travelers who, perhaps, are ready to make bold and travel in the same way.

And for those not in the mood or able to get away themselves, Mayes' new book helps take you away with the turn of each page.

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