Category Archives: travel

The Lunatic Express (interview)

I’m reading a book right now called The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman. This video is an interview with the author and is just so, so interesting and touching that I had to share it ahead of my review. The review will be coming up in a future post!


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Across the Endless River

Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart is a historical novel about Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of the well-known Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, who was of invaluable help to Lewis and Clark on their expeditions.

The book’s gorgeous cover art gives you a hint of the beautiful writing that awaits. Carhart successfully transports the reader to the 1800’s and to a world very different from today.

Baptiste, or “Pompy” as he is called by his mother’s tribe, must learn to live life as a white man like his father, and also as a Shoshone like his mother, neither of which feels right. Forced back and forth between living in a house and going to school and church in St. Louis, to spending months in a teepee close to the river, Baptiste isn’t sure where he belongs.

When his mother dies, Baptiste finds he has inherited her love of wandering, discovery, and her ability to slip between worlds. A scientist recognizes Baptiste’s valuable abilities and hires him as a guide, to accompany him on his journeys which include going back to Europe where Baptiste continues to discover the world and himself.

Below, enjoy an article by the author which I have been authorized to share.

Imagining the Past in Paris
By Thad Carhart,

Author of Across the Endless River

To walk in Paris is to walk through multiple layers of the past, more than 900 years of built history that awaits any stroller. Having lived here for twenty years, I’ve seen the city change with new roads and bridges, new museums, new rows of apartments. And yet the deep respect that Parisians have developed for what they call their patrimoine, their inheritance, ensures that old buildings are regularly restored and preserved, integrated into the flux of daily life. The look of the city changes subtly, as it has throughout history.

The biggest transformation in modern times was simply the cleaning of the stone edifices of central Paris, initiated in the 1960’s by de Gaulle’s Minister of Culture, André Malraux. No change could have been more surprising, or more deeply satisfying. When I was a very young boy living in Paris, I was convinced that all of the buildings were made from the same stone, black as night and so softened by centuries of wood and coal dust that the surface was a felt-like matte whose edges looked as if they would soon crumble. This was the “atmospheric” Paris of all those voluptuous black-and-white photos (what blacks and grays there were on every side), the ponderous Paris of Buffet prints and countless tourist posters.

Then the government started to clean the major monuments one by one — Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre — and the transformation was shocking, almost troubling in its strange newness. The buildings of Paris weren’t black after all, but very nearly . . . white! It took almost two decades of careful cleaning and restoration, but Paris emerged from the process the albino twin of its former self. To appreciate the contrast, buy a vintage postcard aerial view, dating from 1970 or earlier, at one of the bouquiniste stalls along the banks of the Seine, then compare it with the present-day aerial shot: the era of dirt and grime looks like a photographic negative of the light and airy Paris that current tourists will recognize as the “real” Paris.

Walking, however, reveals just one facet of the landscape. Recently, in researching a historical novel, I needed to imagine Paris as it would have appeared in the 1820s. The first stop for any such endeavor is the splendid Musée Carnavalet, the Museum of the City of Paris, whose collection documents in elaborate and fascinating detail every step of the city’s past. As I consulted paintings, prints, and manuscripts, many of the differences were obvious: in 1825 the Champs-Elysées was already a broad, fashionable avenue, but the Arc de Triomphe did not yet grace its rise; the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t appear until 1889; and, of course, Beaubourg, the Pyramid of the Louvre, and the Grande Arche, all sturdy Paris fixtures today, would only appear within the last four decades.

Another clear difference was the absence of cars, though factoring them out mentally also involved imagining the presence of horses . . . lots of horses. As I examined the numberless paintings at Carnavalet, I thought a lot about the look, the sound, and the smell of tens of thousands of horses plying the streets of Paris close to 200 years ago. Merely disposing of their manure — and Paris was very well organized in this department — was a Herculean task daily. And, just as in our day, when playboys often drive Porsches and tradesmen more likely use vans, the paintings reveal fancy thoroughbreds ridden solo by dandies, sturdy draft horses pulling huge wagons, and bony nags hitched to battered carts.

Perhaps the biggest surprise that comes with seeking the past in the Paris landscape, especially after examining the documentary record, it to realize how little the scale of buildings has changed over the centuries. With two exceptions on the Left Bank (the Tour Montparnasse and the university’s Tour Jussieu), no high-rises spoil the illusion in the center of Paris that the modern age has yet arrived. Individual facades, a modern infrastructure, and hordes of cars all tell a different story, but the look and feel of many quartiers — the Marais and the Latin Quarter are simply the best known examples — would feel appropriate to a Parisian of the early nineteenth century. This tenuous, heady relationship to the past is often seductive, and yet it can also feel weighty, old-fashioned, and artificial. How long it can prevail in the face of change is anybody’s guess.

©2009 Thad Carhart, author of Across the Endless River

Author Bio
Thad Carhart, author of Across the Endless River, is a dual citizen of of the United States and Ireland. He lives in Paris with his wife, the photographer Simo Neri, and their two children.

For more information please visit

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The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini is the story of a girl named Lindiwe growing up in 1980’s Zimbabwe under the new Mugabe government.

A mysterious tragedy occurs in the house next door – her neighbor is burned alive. The victim’s stepson, a white man named Ian is the prime suspect but is soon released. Lindiwe and Ian forge an unlikely friendship but circumstances and the deterioration of conditions in Zimbabwe threaten to divide them.

The Boy Next Door is about politics, race, corruption and love.

I haven’t finished this book yet. I’m intrigued by the plot and the setting of Zimbabwe as it’s been popping up in the news this past year. Some of the lingo is puzzling and is left without explanation for the reader to figure out but overall it does not impede the reader from enjoying the story.


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Biblioteca Virtual, Mexico’s airplane library

(Image source: RS-Camaleon)

This library in Mexico City is on board an airplane. The “Biblioteca Virtual” (Virtual Library), shelves the books in the cargo hold. The airplane seats were left in place and are a comfortable spot to sit and use the computers.

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Italian For Beginners

italianDespite the title, Italian for Beginners by Kristin Harmel, is not an instructional language book.

This chick lit novel takes us on a spontaneous trip to Rome, Italy with the main character Cat Connelly. Cat is a 34 year old  single American woman who tends to play it safe with everything in her life from love to money. She works as an accountant in New York, has never taken a sick day, and carries no debt on her credit cards.

When Cat’s younger sister gets married and Cat is humiliated at her wedding by the gossip of family members wondering why she’s still single, she decides to shake things up and take a trip to Italy where she struggles with her past ghosts, love and what it is she wants to do with the rest of her life.

Author Kristin Harmel is well liked in the genre and has several other published works. While I felt some of the dialogue was repetitive and the references to the film Roman Holiday overdone, I also consider her portrayal of Rome and Italians to be pitch perfect, having visited and fallen in love with the city myself.

This book is scheduled to be published 8/13/09.


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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

templeheavenbookUndress Me in the Temple of Heaven, a travel memoir by Susan Jane Gilman, surprised and impressed me. I have read plenty of travel memoirs but this one was especially captivating.

The book starts out innocently enough. Two recent college graduates who are casual friends decide to take a trip around the world starting in China, (which during the time period, 1986, had only recently opened up to independent travelers.)

The travel mates are opposites in many ways. Susie, the author, is Jewish, liberal, and grew up in a government subsidized housing project in New York. Her friend Claire is wealthy, Republican and comes off as prudish and spoiled.

It would be easy to put the two young women in these easily defined categories and leave it at that, but there is more to the story.

After the first few chapters I almost abandoned this book. It just wasn’t grabbing me and seemed too self absorbed. (It is a memoir though!)  After a few more chapters I became more engaged but then in Chapter Seven, Susie and Claire do something that stabbed me in the heart. It was almost too unforgivable to continue. I don’t want to give away any of the book so you’ll just have to trust me that what they did was really heinous, (or you’ll have to read the book yourself to see exactly what I mean.)

I set the book down for a couple days because I was kind of angry at Susie and Claire. I didn’t know if I cared to hear the rest of their story. I don’t know why, but I picked up the book and started reading it again. I still feel a prick of sadness when I think about Chapter Seven, but the book was worth finishing.

It is difficult to explain without giving away what happens, but the book takes a very unexpected turn and becomes more of a very unpredictable thriller than travel memoir. I absolutely could not put the book down for over 5 hours and finished reading it at 3 in the morning.

If you pick this one up, stick it out and you’ll be rewarded.


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Library on the border – no passport needed

Haskell Library in Derby Line, Vermont sits on the US and Canadian border. The entrance is on the US side but to browse the books you would have to enter Canada. The only indication one would have that they had left their country is a fading black line across the floor.

The library’s patrons are both Canadian and American. The building is 106 years old and has enjoyed an informal immunity to border restrictions. Due to new concerns over immigration and national security, some are questioning if this should be changed.

Derby Line, and the town of Stanstead, Quebec on the other side, have a few unguarded streets which lead across the border. There are signs stating that you should stop at an immigration office down the road but the office is easily avoided and Derby Line has become an increasingly popular illegal point of entry.


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