The Third Tower Up from the Road: A Collection of Travel Essays
Why would someone want to travel, if they could just learn everything they need to know about travel electronically? Author Kevin Dolgin was told that this is how some people think.. He thought, ‘Are we to believe that everyplace resembles every other place and that everyone is participating in the same trends, eating at the same places, and driving the same cars? And all that remains to be seen through travel are ruins of differences past?
Dolgin dares to challenge that viewpoint in his book, “The Third Tower Up from the Road.” It is a witty and intriguing collection of travel essays made up of old fashioned favorites as well as humorous commentaries from Kevin Dolgin’s popular McSweeney’s Internet Tendency column, “Kevin Dolgin Tells You About Places You Should Go.” This book is for the travel reader who enjoys a bit of vicarious exploration, armchair travel if you will.
This book offers a different type of perspective on traveling to different locations all over the world. It’s a compilation of travel essays that celebrates the distinctive qualities of locales all over the world. Each of his essays focuses on a specific place, with words and imagery that capture the true essence of that particular region. Humor and sarcasm are found throughout the book, which makes it a great leisure read. Through observation, participation and exceptional experiences, Dolgin is able to create riveting travel essays rooted from his travel throughout the world.
He writes to entice young writers and readers to want to travel, and re-examine and explore the travels they have already taken in a different light. This book will broaden your horizons as a traveler to help you see how imperative traveling is for the soul, and what it can bring to your life.
Here are some selections from Kevin Dolgin’s The Third Tower Up from the Road:
The Corsican SwallowTail: Corsica, France
In “The Aurelian,” Vladimir Nabakov wrote of Paul Pilgrim, who dreamt of traveling the world in search of exotic butterflies but never left his native Berlin: a lot of searching, but no traveling. I have often found myself in the opposite situation – all travel, no searching. My own travels are the result of my professional life, and also of an ardent thirst for discovery, but I rarely travel because I’m looking for something specific.
Pilgram had always struck me as one of the more pathetic of Nabakov’s many pathetic characters. A frustrated little man cooped into a small shop in Berlin, he dreamt of the far north and its Arctic bogs, of Italian gardens in the twilight of summer evenings, of the white heathered hills of Madrid. Among these unrealized dreams were the pine woods and the railroad tracks of Vizzavona, in the center of the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean; an island he would never see.
An island I know very well, and one that continues to entrance even after all these years. There may be other places that rival Corsica in terms of natural beauty; there are certainly other islands that feature mountains plunging into the sea (But what mountains! What a sea!), yet there are precious few that also feature medieval villages clinging to the sides of forested ravines and ancient walled cities perched on cliffs guarding secret ports. In the end, it comes down to taste – after all, there are those who prefer concrete hotels and beaches with garbage cans.
My own familiarity with the island is largely due to my having married a woman whose father is Corsican. Every summer, my wife, my two boys, and I leave our home near Paris and come to be revivified by the heady Corsican air, splash around in the sea and climb around on the mountains. While on a map Corsica looks very small, there are whole worlds packed into that island and all my varied Corsican travels had never taken me to Vizzavona. This, I like to think, was about all I had in common with Paul Pilgram.
Tom Tit’s Experiment: Sodertalje, Sweden
This is a very bad time of the year to visit Sweden. It’s dark all day and really cold. That’s a shame, since Sweden is otherwise a very nice place to visit, and Stockholm is a truly wonderful city, with lots of the windy little cobblestone streets that so many other cities misguidedly ripped up in the great modernization movements of the first half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, Stockholm is a water city, like Venice, or Copenhagen, or Hong Kong: a city that seems to be in a kind of perpetual fusion with the sea. Water cities are always interesting.
As off-the-beaten-path as Stockholm is, Sodertalje is even more so. This is understandable, since there is almost no reason whatsoever to go to Sodertalje. In fact, just about the only reason one could possibly have to go to Sodertalje can be summarized in the words “Tom Tit’s experiment.”
Tom Tit’s Experiment is a kind of museum, of the type that were popular in the ‘80s, in which one could get one’s hands on the exhibits and experiment, particularly well suited for little hands. There are many of these kinds of museums around the world, and I suppose that if push came to shove one wouldn’t really have to go to Sweden to find a good one, but there is something about Tom Tit’s Experiment that is different.
Perhaps it’s the informal nature of the place. It seems kind of slapped together. In the United States, museums such as these are often well thought out, carefully designed and studied to produce a pre-calculated result on some gradient of fun. Tom Tit’s Experiment is the kind of place your nice and somewhat ditzy aunt would put together if she had the money and the inclination.
For example, the most popular experiment is the great soap bubble maker thing (so it was translated to me). This device can create soap bubbles big enough to stand in. As a special McSweeney’s exclusive feature, the actual formula for the soap-bubble liquid is revealed:
16 Parts of very soft water
4 parts of “Yes” detergent, easily purchased in any Swedish supermarket
1 part glycerol
A pinch of sugar
This will make bubbles big enough to encapsulate a typical Swede.
A to Zagreb: Croatia
There are a number of different ways to organize a systematic exploration of European capitals. You could do it geographically: west to east, for instance, in which case I suppose you’d start in Lisbon (Have I never written about Lisbon? Forgive me if I haven’t it’s a great city.) and end in Istanbul (OK, Moscow is further east, but it doesn’t touch Asia.) Or you could do it chronologically, starting in Athens and ending in Minsk, perhaps (founded only in the eleventh century.) Or, you could do it alphabetically, starting in Amsterdam and ending in Zagreb.
If you choose the latter course then it might occur to you, as you walk around the little streets near the cathedral in Zagreb, that the game’s up…you’re in Zagreb..end of the line, at least from an alphabetical perspective,
And to a degree, it is kind of the end of the line. I’m not saying that Zagreb isn’t a nice city – it is, very much so. It’s just that after a while you get the impression that if you’ve seen one Eastern European city… well, maybe you haven’t seen them all, but except for the really impressive ones, you’ve probably seen scaled up or scaled down versions of the most everything someplace else, and this might lead you to the conclusion that you may actually have been traveling just a bit too much.
In Zagreb, things tend to be scaled down with respect to other cities: the cathedral is nice, but small; the streets are charming, but small; the parks are wonderful and small. It’s true that the parks boast some impressively massive trees, but everything else is kind of, well, dinky.
Dinky can be refreshing sometimes. I mean, you don’t necessarily want to feel overwhelmed everyplace you go. Zagreb is a manageable city, with all the basic city things you’d expect: streets and buildings and the like. It also has the requisite train station with taxis in front and bus stops in front of them. It even has a king-on-the-horse statue. Most Eastern European cities have a king-on-a-horse statue, consisting of a bronze medieval king looking very stern in his armor, sitting on a stern-looking horse while he stares down a McDonald’s or something.
Croatia was usually part of someone else’s kingdom, but they have a king-on-a-horse statue anyway. Their version consists of King Tomislav holding a scepter and looking appropriately mustachioed. When I was there he wasn’t overlooking a McDonald’s, but it did seem like he was checking out a poster for an upcoming Pearl Jam concert. Judging from his expression, he is not enthusiastic about Pearl Jam.
Up from Tomislav Square runs a series of parks, which is in fact part of the “Zagreb Horseshoe,” a broad U of parkland that makes its way across the city. That’s nice. What’s also charming is that these parks are full of couples making out.
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