Our vast world is populated with numerous diverse cultures. A lifetime of travel would not be enough to see them all. But some people are born to travel and seek out experiences and knowledge that only traversing the globe can provide.
Our vast world is populated with numerous diverse cultures. A lifetime of travel would not be enough to see them all. But some people are born to travel and seek out experiences and knowledge that only traversing the globe can provide. For everyone else, there are books about travel. Any armchair traveler would be delighted to read Mag Dimond's new travel memoir, "Bowing to Elephants: Tales of a Travel Junkie."
Each chapter covers a different geographical location, including Florence, Paris, Venice, Burma, Bhutan, India, Kenya, Vietnam and Cambodia. Dimond travels with a tour group, her family or, more often, alone. Every destination gives her an opportunity to reflect on her past, her spirituality, the state of the world and her place in it. In the final chapter, she writes about the one place that truly feels like home to her: "I wasn't born in San Francisco, but I have always felt I was native, that I belonged."
Dimond has traveled her whole life, willingly or not. As a child, Dimond is forced to move from place to place by her erratic and enigmatic mother. "My mother had packed us up, my stepfather and me, and led us off to Italy so she could be close to art - as far as I knew, that was the reason … I was becoming used to moving by this time, and just put my head down and forged ahead the way I had to when she failed to explain the reasons for her choices. I don't remember being either scared or excited about moving to a foreign country thousands of miles away when I was only 11."
These moves are fundamental to Dimond's development, sculpting a self-conscious and acquiescent young woman with romanticized ideas about the world. Dimond grows accustomed to short-lived relationships as she grasps softly to her tenuous relationship with her mother. To compensate for her loneliness, Dimond eats, "I sat there alone on my four-poster bed with my books and the aluminum tray. I put the food in my mouth because having something inside me was better than the gnawing hollow feeling I had most of the time. I was hungry a lot back then."
Diamond intersperses childhood memories throughout her travelogues. Sometimes, her modern travel experiences and her youthful experiences are linked by a common theme. Sometimes, the connection is weaker, feeling more like a digression in a conversation with a preoccupied genius. Mostly, these reflections from her distant past enhance the contemporary travel tales, allowing the reader to better understand the inspiration for the author's ideas.
Poignantly Dimond writes, "How are we shaped by all the places in which we have lived and traveled? Sometimes I imagine my answer as a series of puzzle pieces that can fit together carefully to create a cohesive whole, and other times I think the whole thing is a composition of random mosaic fragments." Readers couldn't describe her memoir better if they tried.
Often Dimond is philosophical, "Sometimes my brain saves me from disappearing into the old sadness that reminds me that we all walk and live and die alone not matter where we travel. … It is better to welcome all that comes without worry or judgement. This is our ongoing lesson."
Sometimes she is political. "Back at my fancy hotel after the sensory onslaught of our spice shopping, I slowed down to look down at my hands in front of a sparkling bright mirror, little fists all clean and white and plump. And I recalled the snot-covered brown fingers and cheeks of those little worker bees in the system that rushed relentlessly toward me every day. …This phantasmagoria of sensations I moved through felt just as unreal as the swirling landscape of the deprived right outside the gates, and even cocktails and a good night's sleep couldn't erase my sadness as I tried to navigate this confusing dualistic world."
With raw honesty, Dimond remains conscious of her privilege and subjectivity as she contemplates the poverty and violence she witnesses around her.
Always she is sensual, especially about food. "When I came upon the Rialto Fish Market, I was blessed first with visions of purple artichokes and brilliant red peppers, and plump glistening white bulbs of fennel, sexy dark eggplants, vivid colors declaring themselves in the gray light. Then came the shimmering slabs of silver fish with perky dark eyes, and mountains of crinkly white calamari, piles of clams and crabs, and huge red tunas that rose up like mountains."
Dimond's writing is beautifully descriptive and dowsed with imaginative detail that brings the culture and scenery of the places she visits into bright focus.
Dimond will read from her book and sign copies of it Friday (Nov. 1), 7 p.m., at the SOMOS Salon, 108B Civic Plaza Drive. This is a free event. For more information contact SOMOS at firstname.lastname@example.org or (575) 758-0081 or somostaos.org.
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