You say you're broke or close to broke, and you say you've had it up to here with everybody heading every which way this summer. Or you're past the point of bugging good friends in great places to put you up, but you're not to the point of shelling out hard bucks for some bed and board. You say your thing isn't camping on the cheap. Or your wanderlust doesn't need satisfying with real wandering at all. Still, you've got the world at your feet. Make that fingertips. I say, here:
When in Rome (where you are not), do as the Romans ... did: Get out of town. The air's sticky, the city stinks, and during the Pax Romana, nothing's doing anyway. So head south to southern Italy. Go east to Greece, far east to Turkey. Hang a right, a heavy right, down to Egypt. See what the ancients saw when they took to the road, what Tony Perrottet saw, by traveling inside the pages of Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists (Random House). Reviewer Maria Russo wrote in The New York Times that the book is an "energetic account of ancient Roman travel habits with a witty record of [Perrottet's] own modern journey" -- a "mix of the zany and the arcane." Sounds like one nightmare after another. As does ...
The very idea of donning some get-up (a purple plush suit) and driving a second-hand Rolls Royce (on a fast-food budget) through France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. Which is what Tim Moore did when he followed the exact footsteps of a 17th-century English courtier by the name of Thomas Coryate, who thus initiated the "Grand Tour," thus giving title to Moore's The Grand Tour: The European Adventure of a Continental Drifter (St. Martin's Press, new this month in paperback). The publisher writes that readers are guaranteed "paroxysms of laughter and delight." I say it sounds not only zany and arcane but like one humiliation after another.
You could do worse. You could be a real wreck. You could be on a desert isle, stranded just like Robinson Crusoe, just like the whole host of real-life castaways who inspired Daniel Defoe, just like Tim Severin in In Search of Robinson Crusoe (Basic Books). Severin, who's built a writing career on retracing the travels of literary or historical figures, set sail in a craft similar to those used in the time of Defoe and ended up what -- washed up! He also camped out on some pretty desolate no-man's-lands, the better to risk life and limb and live to write about it -- a book sure to be of especial interest to adventure types, disaster specialists, and/or Memphis motorists.
From Crown publishing, two new titles in its "Crown Journeys" series: the first, Edwidge Danticat's After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Haiti. Haiti: a country that, if it isn't in the act of tearing itself to pieces, takes time during Carnival to lose itself in hedonism. And speaking of ... Michael Cunningham takes himself to the ends of the earth (or that part of it giving the finger to Cape Cod Bay) in Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown, and Cunningham's a smart guy. He wouldn't overdo the gay-mecca thing and not do justice to the little town's sizable artist community or to its year-round hard-working Portuguese Americans, would he?
You despise the very idea of travel. In fact, you despise the idea of getting out of bed. You read, you write, and you remember, which is why you're broke or close to broke. So Proust is your man. He was certainly Alain de Botton's in the bestselling How Proust Can Change Your Life, and in The Art of Travel (Pantheon), Botton's back at it: mixing memory and desire, the object this time ... oh, never mind. Mind this: some heavy-duty name-dropping to go with the essays here: Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh, Ruskin. Some author insight into hotel mini-bars. Some reiteration of the fact that travel, as the Pantheon catalog tells us, rarely matches our dreams. What we get instead: "disorientation, mid-afternoon despair ... frustration, and disappointment." More reason, then, to stay put -- in bed or at your job or at whatever. Why spend on travel when the worst things in life, on an hourly basis, are free?
Finally, though, escape, real escape and some practical comfort from some good minds. Make that Escape: Stories of Getting Away (Marlowe & Company), edited by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, in which our editors collect the likes of Isabel Allende, Isaac Babel, Harold Brodkey, Michael Chabon, Jamaica Kincaid, D.H. Lawrence, and other fine writers on everybody's urge to quit "reality, domesticity, matrimony, intimacy, materialism, rules, and dependence" in favor of everybody's opposite urge to escape into "hedonism [that word again: see Haiti, Provincetown], addiction [duh], beauty [huh?], spirituality [dunno], intimacy [again, that word], art [okay], nature [ditto], and science." Science? Must check with ...
Peter Greenberg, travel editor for the Today show, author of The Travel Detective, chief correspondent for the Discovery Network's Travel Channel, editor at large for National Geographic Traveler magazine, regular on Oprah. Greenberg's The Travel Detective Flight Crew Confidential (Villard) purportedly gives us the lowdown if not on how to escape from intimacy so we can escape into intimacy, then at least on the place in London to get a good pair of shoelaces or the nail joint in Tokyo to get the greatest inexpensive manicure ever. Greenberg knows. How does he know? Flight attendants told him -- travelers for a living, underpaid and on a budget, who've had it up to here.