Normally, I’m a fairly voracious reader, but in 2009, I went on an unplanned “book diet”. It took me four months to read a single novel. In the meantime, my waistline expanded and my brain shrank.
I didn’t pick up another book for four more months, but I finished that one (Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by travel writer Rolf Potts) in about a week. Rolf and I talked briefly (I’m not sure what about; I didn’t take any notes) at the 2009 Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference (which now includes food writers, too). Someone (maybe former San Francisco Chronicle Travel editor, John Flinn) recommended Rolf’s book to me, so I bought it during the conference, then promptly went off to Europe for a month, left the book at home, and didn’t begin reading it until a week or so after I returned.
Marco Polo Didn’t Go There is full of great stories about places such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and more importantly, about “locals” Rolf met, such as Mr. Benny the Barber, and Mr. Ibrahim, the man who held Rolf hostage in Beirut. And as a writer, I’m very glad that he included end notes to each chapter explaining how he went about writing the stories.
Reading Rolf’s book helped me sort out in my mind the type of stories to write based on my just-completed trip through the not-so-wild, but tourist-invested regions of Western (and part of Eastern) Europe, dragging my rolling bag behind me, and figuratively hacking my way through a wall of living flesh using my digital camera as a pseudo-machete.
Although Rolf has reported from more than sixty countries for many major U.S. magazines and National Public Radio, he now lives on a 30-acre farm in Kansas. The map of the United States that I carry around inside of my head has a large region marked “Terra Incognita” running roughly between the meridians of longitude coursing north and south through Denver and Chicago. Kansas lies in my No-Fly-Or-Drive-To-Zone, but maybe (unlike Marco Polo) I’ll get there one day.
(From time to time travel writer Dick Jordan posts book reviews under the “Armchair Travel” section of his blog, Tales Told From The Road. His last post to the Book(ed) Passage blog was “"Getting Taken By 'City of Thieves'.”
When he isn’t traveling, you can usually find him hanging out with other members of Left Coast Writers at the Book Passage Corte Madera store on the evening of the first Monday of each month.)
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