Why travel writing is impossible when you travel
I was lounged on the olive-grove-scented garden terrace taking in the vista that was the ancient orange warmth of Florence. A full twenty four hours had passed in the most glorious, succulent, straight-from-the-divine country on Earth. A deeply pulsing happiness something like sensuality coursed through my blood.
I had ventured out into the sexy sunlight earlier on in the day and had gathered wine, freshly baked bread, salami and about-to-burst peaches. In each deli, older Italian gentlemen humoured me with a paternal gaze and subtle smiles that tugged at the ravines etched down their cheeks. As I strolled back down to the magnificent yellow Pension with its prized position on the sloping hill, several men whistled out their car windows. They were languid, sexy whistles; not aggressive or impatient but nonchalant. They floated on the hot Italian air and wrapped around their pastel Fiats like tendrils of silky pasta.
God I loved Italy.
I got back to my room. Just indulge me the moment that it takes to savour the memory. Ok. That about does it. Just wait. Ok I’m ready.
My room was a small yellow cottage in the garden. It sat aplomb in a garden of wild lavender with green shuttered windows and was positioned to the left of the main building taking in the entirety of Florence below. Inside was a small bed dressed in duck-feathered pillows and a fifties style green knitted blanket. There was just enough room to swing my wine-giddied legs over the edge and shimmy to the green-shuttered bathroom.
There was a single small tub, big enough to melt into like a liquid version of a marble figurine. I also used it at the main location to consume juicy peaches; the nectar dribbling in a torrent of summery freshness that scented the steaming bath with the smell of sunshine.
Upon arriving, it had taken me a full minute to decide that I would make this a writer’s cottage. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, it was a cottage. It felt as though it was a sweet sanctuary of creativity. Secondly, it was cute! It had writer’s cottage written all over it. I could instantly romanticise an entire life wrapped in its duck-feathered embrace. And lastly, I was a writer and a writer always looks for a place to write, just like a sick dog needs a quiet place to die. Without the dying bit.
Outside my little cottage sat a small round table and wrought iron chair. And it was from this little table that I envisioned life writing about truffled oil, ribbons of silky pasta and the handsome sway of singing Italian men along cobbled paths.
So I sat with my salami and Panini and a glass of red and I started to write. I positioned the bottle containing the rest of the sticky red nectar in a little grassy nest on the ground next to my table and re-filled the glass as it emptied along with my words onto the page. I subsumed into the scene and the soft Firenze heat around me.
After a while, I’m not sure how long, I looked up from the page. I heard a distant bell tinkling and realised that it was the call for dinner. I pulled myself out of my heady immersion and realised that I didn’t want to miss out on my first three-course-home-made-ancient-recipe Italian dinner. So I stopped writing.
I didn’t write on that holiday again. Instead, I spent a month LIVING. I wrote Facebook posts, to be sure. But they were small snippets of an experience. They were the amuse bouche; the tantalising taste of travel writing to whet the appetite. The real writing, the long, pondering, coffee-fuelled business of serious writing only occurred when I got home. I used my photos, my face-book updates and my bubbling memories to trace back over events in miniature. I had time. I had time in an apartment with a pretty view of the river that I knew would always be there. Even though I appreciated this view, I felt safer knowing that my time was somehow elongated at home. While I was actually IN Italy, it would have been sinful to have spent that much time away from the ‘present’.
Is there a way to indulge in the languid art of writing while seeing the world? Yes, absolutely. I think that this can be done in a few ways. Firstly, use your photos as a visual diary of the journey. Taking photos isn’t time consuming and the images usually trigger instant transportation to EXACTLY what you were feeling-thinking-seeing at the time. Secondly, when a little snippet of something truly insightful and elegant pops into your head, write it down. Then use that as your starting point when you arrive home into the world of elongated time.
Alternately, you can visit a writer’s retreat. Am I saying this because I run a writer’s retreat? Yes. But not in order to book you in. I’m saying it because I truly believe that this is a valuable way to write while away from home. That’s why I run writer’s retreats. It is an opportunity to find space and time to indulge in writing with the encouragement of others to propel all of those creative juices forward. And by making your purpose on a retreat to write, then you are in some way entitled to indulge. But don’t go on a writer’s retreat if your main purpose is to travel. Perhaps book a retreat at the end of a long journey. In that way, you are still in whatever dreamy place has consumed you and you have an opportunity to transmute this into the words that it is destined to become.
I’m glad that I didn’t write while I was in Italy. This seems like a strange thing to say for a writer. But really, truly, I’m glad. Instead I LIVED a lifetime of joy to WRITE about! I intend to return to that little yellow cottage with the green shutters one day. Maybe I’ll go at a time when I need to hibernate; at the end of another tantalisingly exotic journey pulsing through the romantic heartbeat that is Italy. Something tells me though, that no matter how immersed in the page in front of me I may be, I’ll never stop looking up when the bell for dinner rings.