Stellar work with a 360-degree gaze, reporting on places both exotic and familiar.
Mayes (Bella Tuscany, 1999, etc.), assuming the annual’s editing tasks for the first time, selects glimpses of places that run the gamut from the middle of nowhere, as in Michael Finkel’s piece on “The Void” (a.k.a. the center of the Sahara desert), to the middle of everything, as in Adam Gopnik’s report from NYC immediately following the September 11 terrorist attack, “The City and the Pillars.” Not surprisingly, 9/11 is acknowledged in a number of essays, most specifically in Thomas Swick’s thoughts on languishing air travel at the end of 2001 and in Scott Anderson’s “Below Canal Street.” The anticipated exotic spots, however, are also solidly represented: Laurence Gonzales sets out to visit the least inhabited area of the US in “Beyond the End of the Road,” Tony Perottet rambles through Menorca in “Spain in a Minor Key,” and Kevin Canty tours the folksy American landscape in the evocative “Postcards from the Fair.” Particularly hypnotic is Isabella Tree’s portrait of languid living on the Aegean island of Spetses. At one point, honeybees set up shop in the bathroom, whereupon the house’s human tenants set out bowls to catch the honey to sweeten their bread and yogurt—a demonstration of sangfroid difficult to imagine occurring in the prosaic continental US. The collection is larded with impressive pieces from ringers: P.J. O’Rourke offers a remarkably upbeat travelogue of a recent driving tour of Israel; Molly O’Neill pays a visit to former Le Cirque chef Sottha Khunn at his childhood home in Cambodia; and David Sedaris turns a cancelled flight into an absurdist meditation.
Dazzles with its fantastic variety.