A rangy gathering of travel pieces without airs.
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for her feature writing at the Baltimore Sun, Steinbach (Without Reservations, 2000) claims modest intentions. “I wanted to study things that interested me in places that I found interesting,” she writes, to “offer a story about what I set out to learn and what I came back knowing.” The writer doesn’t expect her journeys to be travail-free, but she does like to travel in a measure of comfort, so her experiences need to be engaging enough to convince the next editor to finance her next freelance fancy. And they are: Steinbach is either a good faker, or she’s having the time of her life. She has serendipity on her side, too; she might be flummoxed in looking for a bonsai garden off a medieval street in Florence, but then she stumbles upon a rare opportunity to enter a private palazzo, which was “like opening a plain cardboard box and finding a Fabergé egg inside.” The author observes the architecture of Havana, takes a writing workshop in the Czech Republic, learns the Wakayagi style of dance in Kyoto, and studies French cooking at the Ritz, but these adventures often simply provide backgrounds for the people she meets; Steinbach has the humility to know a guide worth listening to. She basks in simple delights: “I bought a huge cup of pistachio gelato and sat eating it in the dappled shade.” Readers will admire her optimism (she carried a tube of 32 SPF sunscreen on a visit to Scotland) and enjoy her goofy humor as she describes rams—“the Scottish ones, not the Los Angeles ones”—stirring at the sight of her red windbreaker, while she walks slowly, “hoping that the color red did not have the same effect on rams as it does on bulls in Pamplona.”
A light, travel-going pleasure. (Line drawings throughout)