In these pleasant travel essays ranging from Patmos to Paris, Moore (How the DNR Stole Wisconsin, 2008) looks for the best in his destinations.
As an investigative reporter, Moore might be accustomed to pinpointing the worst characteristics of people and places. In this volume, however, his emphasis is on a positive attitude. “There is a certain giddiness to be derived in finding the exotic at home, and in uncovering home in the far-flung land,” he says. As proof of the latter: on a trip to Patmos, Greece, Moore unexpectedly ran into his in-laws. Even places that leave a bad first impression can be redeemed. For instance, Moore hated Paris when he first visited with a buddy in his youth, but he realized on a 2004 follow-up trip with his wife that universal French rudeness is an urban myth. The other six essays are U.S.–set, but what they lack in geographical breadth they make up for with topical variety. “New York Stories” uses Kant’s ambivalent adjective, sublime, to encapsulate 12 years of life experiences: attending games at Yankee Stadium, passing a movie set covered in fake snow, and surviving his son’s eventful birth epitomize the beauty, while a tiny apartment, a mugging, and the collapse of his first marriage account for the terror. After all, he says, “the sublime can be accompanied by terror it is so overwhelming.” Despite his wanderlust, Moore has always returned to the South. “Riding the Big Red to South Carolina,” an account of a long bus journey to his hometown, is the collection’s highlight, with excellent reconstructed dialogue and Bill Bryson–esque humor. Frustrated with stereotypes of “charming accents and good-ol’-boy mannerisms,” Moore concentrates on finding the “real” South. Lyrical descriptions of nature and an awareness of the past—prehistory onward—enliven an essay about Charleston and Edisto Island, while a then-and-now portrait of a North Carolina main street illuminates recent history. Two essays from the 1980s feel dated, with references to loading film and the Greek political situation. However, Moore’s general advice is sound: “If you want to see a place and meet the people, walk it.”
A solid set of reflections on the places that make a life.