As though she had taken a vow to awareness, Watkins, a musician and travel essayist, pays attention to the everyday elements as well as the grand themes in her globe-girdling journey.
At the age of 60, Watkins takes a trip around the world, to clean out the cobwebs and keep herself fresh. She has traveled before, so she is comfortable enough on the road, and she has served as a host family for numerous students studying abroad, so she has contacts aplenty to soften her landings at such outposts as Nepal and New Delhi. Watkins has a talent for expressing both innocence and worldliness, a combination that gives her words the weight of an Old Soul with the clarity that can come from experience in life. Certainly, she knows what impresses and pleases and challenges her. She can speak with sureness of her love for James Joyce as she walks the streets of Zurich or of the breath-catching beauty of the Taj Mahal, where it stands sadly wreathed in foul air beside a polluted river. Without a lot of finger-pointing and lecturing, Watkins conveys a strong moral compass: “The rich people of the world . . . need to sacrifice our superfluous luxuries that are robbing the earth and depriving the poor.” Words like these come convincingly, for she has witnessed firsthand and across cultures the deleterious effects of such waste. And Watkins’s writings on her own circumstances—triggered by some sight or sound or memory—are restrained and polished with reflection, whether the subject is the pleasure of silence she learned as a member of a Quaker family, or a mother’s most terrible plaint, losing a son, gone in an instant: “And, oh, I had not been there to comfort him in his dying as I had been present to hold him in my arms at his birth.”
A time-honoring narrative: Descriptive, contemplative, and a prod to get on with it ourselves.