How to Travel Without Traveling

Good books in small doses. Spectacular foods in small plates.

Places have tastes.

Whether you’ve already been, you’re planning to go, or may never make it: it’s more than possible to travel, or revisit a place, without moving your feet. My former boss (a Spaniard) once confessed she’d been carrying a packet of cinnamon gum for more than a year. If she closed her eyes she could picture herself back in a high school in California where she first discovered it.

Quelle surprise! The education abroad professional is telling you NOT to travel? Ah non. I’m offering an alternative. For frequent travelers, it’s a way to sustain your most favorite experiences. For the homebody, it’s an affordable way to explore. Let’s be honest, it may increase your odds of traveling,  or at the very least, add to your knowledge.

Case in point: A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. As a book nerd, I typically sprint through a book. Those Harry Potter tomes and Game of Thrones stories are a thousand pages, and (if it’s interesting) all I need is a weekend. I’ve always been a quick reader, and with hundreds of new books to devour, why slow down? Well Monsieur Mayle has succeeded in making me put on the brakes. So, too, has my wicked work schedule, but we’ll give 75% of the credit to M. Mayle.

Through Bookmooch, I received a dogeared and coffee stained copy of the 1989 travel book about France. You’re thinking: Que pasa? She loves Spain, not France. Pas de problem, mes amisI love travel.

This book hunkered down on my shelves between Hemingway and Chris Stewart, lingering there in it’s vintage cover waiting to capture my attention. Say what you want about the fanciful minds of the literati, but every book has it’s time. So here in harvest season, I’ve landed on a book that is more than ten years old and a mere 200 pages.

I am enamored. In the hands of a good author, anything is possible. You’re happy, you’re sad, you’re invested in the characters. The timing is perfect, as I had just returned to the cornfields from a brief jaunt to my hometown and was mildly crushed by the experience. Flipping through the first few pages of A Year in Provence, I was reminded of my other home in Seville, Spain. As always, memory neglects the unsavory and unhappy  and assaults the traveler with everything beautiful. Remember the guy at the market where you bought your produce? The cafe where you drenched your tostada in oil. The pasteleria with the unmistakable chocolate con churros. And so on, and so forth.

Books do that. I’m rationing this book, and all of its reminders of life in Europe, like a really good bar of chocolate. The author mentions young white wine and I’m in the cellar of a bodega listening to Sr. Andrade explain the life of a grape. Then I buy white wine and have a glass with the next chapter. Mayle and his wife discover a small town restaurant – a well kept secret and a culinary explosion. I am in a back alley in Athens with the taste of feta on my tongue and my eyes closed in delight. The next day I find myself at the market with a basket full of kalamata olives and feta cheese. Anything to recreate the moment.

greek salad

Currently, I’m hibernating in the book’s November chapter; pages awash in the story of olive oil – shiny, unmarked liters of cold press traveling home in the couple’s car. “Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine.”

I’m off to buy some olive oil.


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