A collection of tales about searching the globe for inspiration, only to find fulfillment on the return home.
Seemingly inspired by Martin Buber (“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware”), Mayes (Swan, 2002, etc.) finds comfort in the world as a visitor, not a permanent resident. In previous work, Mayes has described her adopted provenance of Tuscany with insight and allure. Here, her location has changed, but her writing remains in familiar territory. Divided into chapters that each represent a separate adventure, the book is at its best when its author describes the people she encounters along the way, like Rachid, the faithful tour guide in Fez who possesses an unusual enthusiasm for Joseph Conrad, and Guven, the rug dealer in Istanbul who speaks eight languages and sends notes woven in miniature looms. Literate and seductive, Mayes’s anecdotes are immersed in the culture of each destination. Whether it’s listening to soul-filled fado in Portugal, sailing in a traditional Turkish gulet along the Lycian Coast or participating in a Greek baptism in Mani, her observations get to the essence of place. The travelogue falters a bit when Mayes details her visits to museums and ruins; these guidebook staples can grow tiresome and require a degree of patience. Food is a constant topic throughout the book: tortilla de verdura in Madrid, steaming churros in Sevilla, tajines in Morocco and Sally Lunn bread in the Cotswolds. Shelter causes concern because Mayes and her companion, Ed, suffer from a common affliction: They have high expectations. They crave intimacy with their environment; large, impersonal chain hotels are out of the question. Getting the nod is an old stone charmer in the south of France and a well-outfitted row house in Lisbon. A noisy rental in the English countryside, meanwhile, proves unacceptable.
This is Mayes in top form.