ForeWord Reviews

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Taking Flight, Inviting Wonder

Wings of Desire

The subject of travel is known to be an evergreen in magazine circles: readers never tire of it and their interest is largely unaffected by the economy or world events, neither of which have much hold on the imagination. Whether we’re transported by a field of fresh sage, the sight of an art deco skyscraper, or the puzzle of a foreign alphabet, the desire for discovery and transformation persists.

Decidedly not a slave to travel trends, American journalism teacher Laura Kelly finally felt at home in Tirana, Albania, after sharing a silent moment with a stranger on the street, somewhere between Bar Pamela Anderson and Bar John Belushi. “On this trip I was lurching toward proportions,” she writes in Dispatches from the Republic of Otherness (Fretwater Press, 978-1-892327-57-4). “I wanted to widen my view of the world so vastly that my own life would seem a miniscule, manageable enterprise.” Kelly’s search for original, authentic experiences also took her to post-Communist capital cities Bratislava, Slovakia, and Yerevan, Armenia. In the latter, she delights in less-than-obvious pleasures: “Later I see the detergent in a store patronized primarily by Iranians. I learn that barf [on its label] means snow in Farsi. In the store, which is named Mars, the checkout women wear full headscarves, Enrique Iglesias croons from the sound system, and I am mystified by an inordinately large moon pie section.” Kelly writes equally of unfamiliar challenges, such as a monk vomiting on her plane seat during a turbulent flight. Those who believe that travel awakens our finer instincts should follow Kelly’s pitch-perfect writing to reach places most westerners will not likely set foot.

Another author with a highly developed appetite for life is Susan Hochbaum. In PastryParis: In Paris, Everything Looks Like Dessert (The Little Bookroom, 978-1-892145-94-9), the graphic designer/photographer pairs iconic buildings and gorgeous, everyday scenes around town—from street grates to topiary gardens—with their confectionary likenesses. From her perspective, a tarte au caramel topped with a spiral of chocolate mousse and dusted with cocoa conjures the art nouveau staircase at the Ritz hotel. Fascinating histories of the croissant, palmier, mille-feuille, and madeleine are uncovered in her beautiful book, as is the popularity of macarons. In some cases, Hochbaum credits talented pastry chefs who rendered their favorite objects as food. Other times, her sophisticated eye finds a likeness where no one else would look: a banana-and-chocolate tart that does the vaulted ceiling of the eighteenth-century Pantheon proud. (This dessert is fashion designer Sonia Rykiel’s favorite.) With Hochbaum’s guidance, readers will see (and taste) Sacré-Coeur, the Seine, and the Tuilleries like never before. Care for an éclair with the Mona Lisa’s eyes staring back at you?

The practical presentation of the fifty pocket-sized cards in Cyclist’s Britain in a Box (Interlink Books, 978-1-56656-857-9) is as buttoned up—and valuable—as its title suggests. Compiled by more than twenty enthusiasts, this diverse collection of places, from South London’s green spaces to the North York Moors, features original one- and two-day cycling routes on minor and unclassified roads and lanes, as well as off-road ventures. The geographic areas covered are divided into the Southwest, the Southeast, Wales, the Midlands, East Anglia, North England, and Scotland. The cards’ key elements include distance, expected duration, difficulty—including essentials about the terrain—points of interest, and nearby accommodations. A transparent plastic sleeve makes the set of cards waterproof, no matter the weather or where they’re carried.

Those who like nothing better than stopping to smell the flowers will feel their hearts skip a beat for naturalist Bob Gibbons’ Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World (Princeton University Press, 978-0-691-15229-5). “Where” and “when” are the operable terms in this unusually satisfying guide doing double duty as a beautiful coffee table book. According to Gibbons, northern Italy’s Monti Sibillini National Park boasts an exceptional display of cornfield weeds and grassland flowers from mid-May to late June. Many landscapes to the east, the Tien Shan Mountains of western China—home to the famous Karatau onion—offer a spectacular springtime tulip show. From December through February in southern Tanzania’s Kitulo National Park, the varied flora attracts “charismatic and range-restricted birds.” This remote area is only accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Gibbons’ all-time favorite place? Mount Rainier, Washington, from early July to mid-August, to spy spectacular alpine and subalpine flowers amid extensive old-growth forests. Painterly, educational, and inspiring, Gibbons’ photographs could convert anyone to his pursuit; too bad the writing doesn’t borrow a little of its subject’s decorative essence.

If inner sanctums are more your style, Assouline’s Grand Bazaar (978-1-61428-006-4), details the extensive offerings of Istanbul’s antiques mecca, and more than delivers on the publisher’s reputation for drop-dead-gorgeous tomes. Broken down into various types of bazaar-related spaces—in, around, and between—individual shops and their owners are profiled with fascinating historical anecdotes. Meet a carpet dealer who looks like detective Hercule Poirot; find out where the families of local grooms purchase silverware gifts (promptly stuffed with chocolate) for that first meeting with the brides-to-be. Indulge yourself with stack upon stack upon artfully piled stack of colorful kilims and textiles, as well as jewelry, urns, and all manner of icons in photographer Laziz Hamani’s exceptional images. Author Serdar Gulgun is an Ottoman art expert in Istanbul and also writes the Louis Vuitton City Guide for his hometown.

Finally, for those who were convinced that the attractions of the world’s most written-about city had finally been exhausted, My City, My New York: Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places (Globe Pequot, 978-0-7627-7139-4), edited by Jeryl Brunner, offers a fresh take. A Midtown ping-pong palace? The Times’ crossword editor, Will Shortz, claims there’s nothing finer (he’s there most afternoons). Singer Judy Collins prefers the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) any day. The book’s smartly divided sections include New York Nocturnal; Central Park: The Green Dream; Dine, Baby, Dine; and Superstar Structures, Sexy Spaces, Beatific Bridges, and Arty Pockets. Find out where Vera Wang, Hugh Jackman, and Mayor Bloomberg take five, and rediscover this complex, ever-evolving cultural capital.