Armchair Travel

Some readers may not have been convinced by my recent post about the pleasures of winter travel.

If you’re waiting for the spring thaw to board a plane (despite all my advice on how to enjoy the pleasures of the season!) some armchair travel might provide your travel fix. The following books all have their own charms – but combined they have made me laugh out loud at 2am, created an urge to move to Paris, and convinced me that a lifelong goal is to one day grow my own garden somewhere along the Italian Coast.

Positano – Italy’s Amalfi Coast

1. A Cook’s Tour | Anthony Bourdain

Some people simply despise Bourdain, while others love to despise him. I personally think he’s brilliant, and a recent read of ‘A Cook’s Tour’ has solidified it for me. This chef, author, and TV personality has a way with description that brings a moment so foreign and incomprehensible to life in a way that puts me at his side – in his head – and practically on his plate.

A Cook’s Tour has a simple premise – the search for the perfect meal. This simple premise brings the chef all over the globe on the hunt for a meal that might be called perfect. He has a tour guide in every city that speaks the local language, leading him on tapas bar crawls in Barcelona, throwing a fiesta in his honor in Mexico, and even setting up camp in the middle of the Moroccan desert for a traditional feast.

This book doesn’t need to be read in order, and each chapter acts as its own complete story. I thought this would be a book I might pick up every once in a while – but Bourdain had me hooked from his gripping prologue in a dodgy Cambodian hotel. What was he doing there? What sort of delicacies would he find?

Throughout his assault on vegetarians, plunging into a frozen lake in Russia, and sitting down at one of the finest tables in California – Bourdain retains his curiosity about the next meal – will it be perfect?

Streets of Paris

2. The Dud Avocado | Elaine Dundy

If you ever wanted to move to Paris and be young, poor, and in love – but never did – you should read Elaine Dundy’s ‘The Dud Avocado’. This short tale of Sally Jay Gorce, an American who moves to Paris in the late 1950s, penetrates the thoughts of a young actress living abroad. Throughout the stories of Parisian cafe life, beautiful Italian suitors, and dinner parties gone wrong Sally Jay surprisingly asks astute questions about life, love, and travel that only the reader can answer.

‘It’s amazing how right you can sometimes be about a person you don’t know; it’s only the people you do know who confuse you.’ Sally Jay tells the reader. While the book is set in Paris and the South of France, the setting is an icing on the cake of a book about personal growth, trust, and the troubles of youth.

If for some reason Paris has never been high on your travel wish list, give Elaine Dundy these 255 pages to convince you.

A Moveable Feast – Culinary Adventures from Across the Globe

3. A Moveable Feast | An Anthology of Food Adventures from Around the World

Not every story in this Lonely Planet anthology is magic – but there are a few that make the book worth reading. For example, I have never craved a taco so intensely as I did after reading a story called ‘Tijuana Terroir’ by Jim Benning. During ‘Of Boars, Baskets, and Brotherhood’ by David Downie I learned how wild boar have come to plague Italian gardens – and was left with a desire to plant a garden of my own on the Adriatic Coast.

Other highlights include ‘Italy in Seventeen Courses’ by Laura Fraser, where we are introduced to the customs of Sardinia through the courses of food served at a wedding. The introduction by Don George is especially memorable as well – he describes an incident in Japan where the food literally jumped off his plate. Fish was served to him still alive. The reader is left to decide whether he experienced the freshest sushi on the planet, or something a little less appetizing.

None of these books are intended to help you plan a trip or create an itinerary, but they do so nonetheless. Without even trying, Bourdain has convinced me that those Tapas bars in Barcelona have a spark of magic I have yet to experience despite my dining experiences in Spain. Elaine Dundy has aroused an interest in the underground theater of Paris while the writers of ‘A Moveable Feast’ have reminded me that traveling on your stomach is always full of rewards.

Have you read something recently that has inspired you to travel? Whether it is a book, magazine article, or blog share your comments below.

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