A genial, amusing, and instructive collection of essays by the veteran English travel writer.
Newby’s collection, roughly chronological, begins in 1924 (when Newby was five) with a wistful meditation on his boyhood neighborhood (near Hammersmith Bridge) that featured a long street with a slight bend. The volume ends at home, as well, with a love song to the house in southern England, where he and his indefatigable traveling companion and wife, Wanda, lived from 1977 to 1996. (His account of his battles with moles, badgers, and deer is an adornment.) In between these homey ruminations are descriptions of places and experiences that range from wild to weird, from near to far, from funny to feckless. Among the latter: When he was 72, Newby traveled by bicycle along the meridian Two Degrees West, which slices through England. Employing the gentle exaggeration and self-deprecation that are his forte, he tells about having to stop for dozens of tire repairs because English farmers have strewn the towpaths with the thorny trimmings from their hedges. Perhaps the weirdest detail: horse racers in the Palio (an event in Siena, Italy) flog both their mounts and one another with special whips fashioned from the dried penises of calves. Newby delights in undercutting his own achievements. Once he is on a cycling trip around Holland on an expensive touring bicycle. “From time to time,” he writes, “we were overtaken by elderly Dutch ladies, some of them in national garb and mounted on bicycles that looked like two harps welded together.” Neither does he neglect the ominous. Kurds with rifles guard an important site in Anatolia. And in a nearly abandoned village in southern Italy: “We saw a doll impaled with a nail on a tree, which was rather disturbing, and a solitary tethered lamb, guarded by a ferocious tethered dog.” Newby has the usual traveler-troubles: forgotten luggage, ill-natured automobiles, noisy hotel neighbors, wrong turns, and unsavory food.
Full of odd and quiet moments, telling detail, wit, and wisdom. (16 pp. b&w photos)