Today’s post comes from Tara Isabella Burton. Her essays, reviews, and travel writing can be found at the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Statesman, Salon, Guernica, The Rumpus, Conde Nast Traveller, and many other places. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Arc, Shimmer, The Dr TJ Eckleburg Review, and more. She is the winner of The Spectator‘s 2012 Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing and the author of the novel A Thief in the Night, currently on submission. You can learn more about her on her website, or by following her on Twitter. This essay explores traveling and writing as a woman, and the way privilege impacts the stories we tell.
When I was younger, I wanted to travel like Patrick Leigh Fermor, who famously spent 1934 walking from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. I envisioned myself sporting leather satchels and lace-up boots, doffing Panama hats, spouting demotic Greek. I fantasized about riding horses through the Caucasus and letting falcons loose upon the Black Sea, about “living up in the mountains, dressed as a shepherd,” as Fermor had done. It was a fantasy cobbled together from all the books of all the travel writers I loved — the great writer-scholars of a certain generation, who saw the whole world as raw material: shifting, uncertain geography for them to shape and create anew in their words.
Then I turned 15, and traveled alone for the first time to Paris, a city I had once lived in, and which I knew well. I laid out maps. I made plans. I would bolt down every alleyway. I would say yes to every invitation. I would lay lilies at Oscar Wilde’s grave. I would sit at cafes in Montmartre until some itinerant, velvet-trousered poets came to scoop me up out of my innocence; they would take me with them to secret courtyards, up the stairs to hidden salons, and there we would drink absinthe and I would scribble down my experiences and then, at last, I would know what it meant to have an adventure.
I never had an adventure.