What Will the Travel Writing Panel Bring to the Table?

"They say that travel broadens the mind, till you can't get your head out of doors." Elvis Costello,  "God's Comic" 1992

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“Another important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking." - Paul Bowles,  "The Sheltering Sky" 1949

By Vera Moret Frendak

When I adopted my travel panel half a year ago, these two quotes jumped to my mind immediately.  They share little in common on the surface.  One is s line from a song.  The other a quote from one of the finest books written.  And ever since, I have struggled with how they fit in with me and the authors who have been kind enough to participate in this event.

I have done some traveling in my life.  I'm a Swiss national and much of my family remains in both Switzerland and Germany.  Traveling was common in my life.  If we weren't going to visit family from Europe or visiting it ourselves, we were driving across the US in our orange VW bus.  I loved traveling.  I still do, although circumstances prohibit me from it these days.  I see the baton now handed off to my eldest daughter and her young family.

We visited Europe every other year when I was very young. I went to Switzerland with a friend when I was 11.  I toured Switzerland and Germany with my mother after my freshman year of college.  I did the six week backpacking post college trip through Europe.  I took my eldest daughter to Switzerland when she was 18 months and to Paris when she was 11.  I traveled with my father on his business trips across the US and toured cities on my own while he attended to his affairs.

But I have been struggling with whether I am the tourist or the traveler.  Really struggled.  I have been unable to write this blog because I could not place myself on either side of Bowles' quote.  I could discern others who do.  My brother was a traveler.  He would take off on short notice to truly foreign places such as Egypt.  He and his wife lived in Russia for two years with their young daughter.  Many members of my extended family have spent years on missionary visits to Africa and the Far East.  They are all travelers as well.  They sought to understand these cultures.  They sought to become part of the landscape. 

I also know tourists.  I know people who wear their travels as badges of honor.  They will corner you at parties and talk your ear off.  Many personify the ugly American.  They are pleased with themselves for being so cultured.  Their heads grow a bit larger with every trip.  They are the tourists.  They dismiss the very idea that other cultures could be superior to their own in any way or there is anything to be learned from them.  They return to the US unchanged and unmoved by what they have seen or experienced.  These are the Americans who eat at McDonald's in Prague.

And then I realized that I was neither.  I moved to this country when I was two.  I grew up in a French speaking household and took enough German through school to manage a conversation in that language as well.  All my traveling had been done in Europe.  I never strayed further than England and Norway.  I stayed in my comfort zone.  Europe was not foreign to me.  We typically stayed in homes I knew as well as my own.  I fit in in Europe.  I fit in in the US.  I never belonged to either.  I was Swiss when I was in the US and American when I was in Europe.  I never truly belonged to either, but they both felt like home.  I am neither traveler or tourist, just a child who grew up in a vast backyard.  With that internal struggle solved.  I could move on.

I have been an avid reader since childhood.  Travel has been a trope of literature prior to the travels of The Odyssey.  It runs deep through centuries of writing and through all levels of writing.  The knights of King Arthur and their quest for the Holy Grail.  The dark travels seeking Kurtz and this dark theme into the dark hearts of men that runs through "The Sheltering Sky."  Huck Finn rafted down the Mississippi running away from his troubles and drifting through his rite of passage into adulthood.  Dorothy went to Oz. Alice went through the looking glass.  The Pevensie siblings were sent to Narnia.  Frodo went into Mordor to destroy the One Ring.  Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson made the trip more important than the destination.  The more thought I gave to my favorite novels, from childhood on, I realized that travel, in one form or another was a theme in at least half of my favorite books.

When it comes to travel in literature, I am on familiar ground.  But when it comes to those who write about traveling, I am not.  Therein lies the second half; the practical half.  This is the other side of the coin.  These are writers who write about where to go and how to get there and what to do when you get there.  Travel has changed a great deal, even since I booked that trip to Paris over a decade ago on Expedia. If you want to learn about how to travel this is the place to be.  These are experts on the art of travel.  They travel for a living.  They publish and edit on traveling in major magazines and online sites.  They have specifically taught travel writing at the New School.  They have organized and taught at the college level for semesters at sea.  These are experts in their field.

Is the best information online?  Is there still a place for travel agents and the traditional travel magazines?  People travel for so many reasons. Some want to kick back and relax.  Others look for art and culture.  There are the adventurers who seek to push their own physical and mental boundaries.  Some want everything organized for them.  Others want to wander at will. And maneuvering through airports and new travel restrictions have complicated the matter further.  Its a complicated world out there.

So please join my panel of Ed Wetschler, Michael Pearson, and Sherry Amatenstein downstairs at bar at Waterwheel Cafe, Bakery, and Bar at 150 Water St. and Sawlkill Rd. at 2PM to listen, learn and participate in this conversation.  Come early and have lunch and a drink (or two), relax, and enjoy,  As the moderator, I'm looking for a fluid and organic feel. I am fortunate enough to have three experts in their field who can journey wherever the road takes us.

Learn more about the panel and, most importantly, the panelists here link and at my own blog site  link