I am struggling to make my way through the last few chapters of A Year in the World by Frances Mayes that my friend loaned me several months ago. She thought the cover looked “cool” and bought it, but quickly handed it off to me, complaining that she was having to look up every other word as she went along. “You have a background in English AND you love to travel– you’ll have better luck than me,” she said. Unfortunately, here I am still trudging through.
My problem is that I refuse to not finish books. There have been too many instances where I’ve made it through a series of painful initial chapters only to find that the author reaches some turning point half way through, whirl-winding me through an ending that leaves me earmarking, note taking and telling others, “this is another of my favorite books.”
Deep down, I feel like this is another great book, and my hang-up is not the writing style, the word choice or the nonfiction, descriptive nature of the author’s travels. It’s her focus on food. In every country she visits, quite a few of which I have visited myself, she eats authentic cuisine and drinks local wine, and while I am an advocate of consuming traditional food in each country I visit, I don’t believe focusing on recounting those foods has ever occurred to me when I tell others about my trips. I probably throw that information in here and there, and I have definitely taken pictures of some of the more unique and authentic cuisine I’ve encountered, (Haggis in Scotland, Pierogies in Poland, Fish Eggs in Thailand, etc.) but it was never the food that really introduced me to the culture or the people of the places I have been. It certainly contributed to the experience, but it wasn’t the primary focus.
I’m sure that underlying introduction to a new place is different for everyone. I also lack a true appreciation for art and architecture, which are always “do not miss” attractions while traveling. I am proud to say that I always give both of those items a chance– battling my way through crowded art museums, wandering around historic districts– but I usually come away from the experience feeling exhausted by my effort, underwhelmed by the impact these piece have on me, and confused as to why I cannot develop any excitement when millions of others do.
I do love music, however, and I’ve been drawn into the sounds and recording of my destinations each and every time, from attending highly publicized musical performances to joining in a traditional song and dance in a hole-in-the-wall pub. Perhaps others don’t find the same calling through music I do, which makes me feel better about my apathy toward other the more popular points of experience.
I just didn’t realize food would be the focus when I picked up this book. Understanding the values of another ‘passionate traveler’ sounded amazing to me, but after completing the book, I’m not sure how much I will have learned about the destinations still on my list aside from what to order for dinner when I’m out. I don’t know why it’s wearing on me, but I’m almost done so there’s no stopping now. I will try to appreciate the author’s love for authentic cuisine as a method for attaining an understanding of culture.
Now I’m hungry.
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