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Revisiting the Ionian Sea

by John Keahey

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-24205-0
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

A crisp travelogue from Salt Lake Tribune reporter Keahey, laced with appealing historical references, that follows the itinerary of a century-old trip made by novelist George Gissing through southern Italy.

At the turn of the century Gissing traveled by steamer, horse cart, and foot round about the heel and toe of Italy. He wrote an account of the trip, By the Ionian Sea, that Keahey suggests is one of the best pieces of travel literature ever published. From the quotes Keahey uses to salt his own journey, it is difficult to understand why: Gissing comes across as dour and petulant. “It disappointed me that I saw no interesting costume; all wore the common, colorless garb of our destroying age,” he complains, declaring that village after village presented him with “a horrible time.” Keahey, on the other hand, is energetic and curious and willing to look the fool in order to explore where his nose tells him he must go. The landscape and its past have their hooks in him. He gets mugged, he suffers the smog of Naples with its too-numerous automobiles and smoking buses, he is hurt by the ragged poverty of the south, but he is also lifted by the land’s sere beauty—its orange and lemon groves, as well as its tangible links to antiquity (for this is a place that knew Hannibal and Pythagoras, Herodotus, Horace, and Strabo). Keahey is a first-class storyteller, calling up grandeur and fabulous historical tableaux from the dust, sunlight, and ruins that stand before him. Italy, Keahey explains, is one of history’s great crossroads, and there is no better testament to that than the Via Appia—the end product of Egyptian and Phonecian surveying, Etruscan and Carthiginian paving, and Greek masonry. It is a road that takes one back in time, as well as to Rome or Taranto.

Lucky us to have Keahey as narrator to the region. He can keep Gissing. (photos, not seen)