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Crossing the country

Paul Theroux, the travel writer and novelist, takes his first American cross country drive and writes about it in The Smithsonian.  Rather too short for my taste, but worth reading.  I hope this is not his last on us. The last two paragraphs:

"In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world--Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I'm glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

"A trip abroad, any trip, ends like a movie--the curtain drops and then you're home, shut off. But this was different from any trip I'd ever taken. In the 3,380 miles I'd driven, in all that wonder, there wasn't a moment when I felt I didn't belong; not a day when I didn't rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty; not a moment of alienation or danger, no roadblocks, no sign of officialdom, never a second of feeling I was somewhere distant--but always the reassurance that I was home, where I belonged, in the most beautiful country I'd ever seen."

Categories > Journalism

Discussions - 2 Comments

Theroux never said a truer word than in expressing his gratitude at having seen the rest of the world first before seeing America. Necessarily, whatever I have seen of the rest of the world has had to come to me via the opposite experience and I feel what Theroux means with some regret. For example, not two weeks after driving down California's unparalleled Highway 1, I had what was intended to be a great pleasure (but turned sadly into disappointment) of traveling up the coast of Portugal. I had wanted to do that all my life after hearing that it was a thing of beauty and wonder. I suppose it was . . . but it was a mere sad specter of what I had seen two weeks prior. A ho, hum journey after great expectations . . . ah, well. At least I can return to Highway 1 at will.

Well, Theroux's no Jim Caesar (when *is* that next guided tour of Kansas, Jim??) as a travel writer, but it's a fine, fine piece. No one has captured Santa Fe so well as PT's critique of it: "finely manufactured monochromatic adobe".

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