Rouechâ€š at his swankiest, in 18 pieces set in the States and five European locales. His pieces have an attractive level of beautiful observation, mellowed out with good dining, catch-as-catch-can table companions, double martinis, half-bottles of wine, and snug, clean sheets, as on his cross-country winter Amtrak journey from New York to Seattle: ""l woke up, as I often do, in what felt like the middle of the night. . .I lay for a moment in the sensual grip of pure comfort. The sheets were soft, the pillow was just firm enough, and it was difficult to believe that l was lying in a berth. It was six and a half feet long, and at least as wide as my twin bed at home."" And this is 16 feet up, in the second story of a new Amtrak sleeper car, whose five-foot window gives a view from the terrace of the snowy winter-side. ""This wasn't Siberia; it was somewhere in North Dakota. But it was truly another country.""Surely the travel writer's life is a happy one. Rouechâ€š never harbors a vicious thought, records an unkind word. Mostly the reader just relaxes and envies his suave guide as he goes on the rounds at a small hospital in Jal, New Mexico, where many of whose patients have ulcers; on a canoe journey to King Island, Alaska, through a plain of dangerously shifting floes where the water is so cold the boats don't bother with life preservers (""When you go into the water up here, that's the end of the story. You've had it,"" he's told); down the glorious Mississippi, picking up the wit and wisdom of its watch captains (""You ask me, I'd rather have a sister in a whorehouse than a brother in Texas,"" one says); and on trips to Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, to three towns on Long Island (sleepy Sag Harbor--as it was 40 years ago, East Hampton for old-time shore whaling, and Amagansett, Rouechâ€š's home, for an ice storm and martinis and fettucini by candlelight); and from Copenhagen to Paris, to Rome, by barge to Dijon, and to Nancy, France. A terrific gift book, especially for the sick or housebound (or snowbound), chockablock with wistfully wonderful description.