Monday, May 17, 2010

Books for the Road - Melville on Istanbul.

My husband, Larry, and I are packing for Spain. I feel as if I am hardly back from Istanbul and already...about to leave again. One of the really important things to me when I travel is what to read. I always try to find books that somehow connect with the place I'm traveling to. In Greece, for example, I have taken Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi, Zorba the Greek, and the Odyssey. In Sicily The Leopard. Russia, Anna Karenina. And so on.

Spain is fairly easy and, because we have some real down time, I am going to just catch up on things I've wanted to read, but having found the time for. I have to confess that I am finally considering a Kindle. As I look at the pounds of paper we are packing, I am thinking...oh to have it all in one package.

For Turkey we sort of did...We carried with us a small volume, called ISTANBUL. In it there were many short snippets by various writers who had been and written about Istanbul. But the one who truly stunned me was Herman Melville. Who knew that he had spent time in the then "Constantinople."

Melville writes in just his journal notes, "All day the fog held on. Very think & damp & raw. Very miserable for the Turks and their harems...about noon the fog slowly cleared before a gentle breeze. At last, among the Prince Islands, we found ourselves lying, as in enchantment, among the Princes Islands." I seem to follow Melville around. He wrote similarly of the Galapagos and I brought his slim volume about his journey through the labyrinth of those islands with me when I travel there.

I love reading Melville's notes from his journeys. It is so clear that some of his best ideas were formed in his journals and notebooks as he was at sea. "Up early, went out; saw cemeteries where they dumped garbage. Sawing wood over a tomb. Forests of cemeteries. Intricacy of the streets. Started alone for Constantinople and after a terrible long walk, found myself back where I started." Would you call Melville a travel writer here? Or just a writer. A wonderful observor of everything that is around him.

I wish I had his journals from a trip to Spain or through the Gilbraltar Straits. Maybe he wrote about this as well. Do they exist? Does anyone know? He must have passed through the Mediterranean on his way to the Sea of Marmara. Anyway for Spain I am packing Spaniards. Javiar Marius, maybe I'll reread "Shadow of the Wind." Maybe it's time to look at Don Quixote again...


  1. Hi Mary, You're an inspiration as I pass to through the many inner and outer places. Cesar Vallejo's Spain, Let This Cup Pass From Me, is what first occurred to me. Happy travels.

  2. You may want to wait for the 2nd generation Kindle reader. At the moment Kindle and other readers can only read books in their own format. Amazon books won't work on a B&N reader, etc.