a stroke of luck, like discovering gold in a dustbin, and Tuesday
afternoon found me knocking at the door of the house where I had purchased,
at a rummage sale three days earlier, all 41 issues of Traveler's
World. A kindergarten teacher I know has me looking for magazines
with interesting pictures for her students to cut out. I examined
a few issues, noticed the photographs of faraway places, and purchased
the lot. Without realizing it, I had acquired a rare literary treasure.
I own a complete set of Traveler's World, volumes I through IX, published
bimonthly from 1950 to 1958.
World is perhaps the only honest travel magazine. That in itself is
remarkable. But doubly remarkable is the magazine's camouflage aspect.
Judging by appearances, Traveler's World is no different from other
travel magazines. On the cover is an exotic cliché (pristine
beach fringed with palms, red-tile roofs and winding streets seen
from a balcony) and a headline ("Paradise for a Song," "Havana's Historical
Haunts"). Turn the pages and you see giddy ads for resorts, cruise
ships, and hotels. Honeymooners relax beside swimming pools (and you
can't help but imagine what those horny honeymooners will do when
they return to their hotel rooms). Peasants in colorful garb dance
at festivals, the plaza strung with paper lanterns. A rusty cannon
points at the ruddy sun, which is setting over the sea, which is supporting
a fishing boat.
by reading the articles -- and reading them thoroughly -- do you discover
that the travel magazine is a ruse. The exotic photographs, traveler's
tips and advertisements camouflage a literary magazine, and a good
woman answered the door. Did she know anything about the box of magazines,
Traveler's World, that I bought at her rummage sale?
want to talk to my aunt," she said. "Mary Harris. I think Mary is
awake. Wait a moment and I'll see."
Harris, Managing Editor; I recognized her name from the masthead.
After I devoured all the Traveler's Words, I examined mastheads. Marry
Harris was managing editor from 1950 to July, 1958, when the publisher
of the magazine, Dale Rockingham, fired her.
regret the excesses that have marred the pages of this magazine,"
wrote Rockingham in his View from the Helm column. "Those who were
responsible have been made to walk the plank. We have a new navigator
and new crew. Join us, won't you, as we explore the Latin American,
Caribbean and South Pacific touristical zones?"
hard of hearing," Marry Harris's niece told me as we walked down the
long hallway of her Victorian house. "You'll have to speak loudly."
to which she led me overlooked a garden. And there, her hair a wispy
gray, in a tall wing chair, amid the doilies, the cut glass, the porcelain
figures and the polished furniture, sat Mary Harris. She wore enormous
glasses and purple slacks. She sat regally, her legs crossed, her
shoulders squared, her liver-spotted hands folded over a bony knee.
been reading my magazine?" she asked. And when I assured her that
I had, she said, "Then you're one of the few who actually read it.
Traveler's World was a trade magazine. Most people don't read them
you know. They turn the pages, they linger over the pictures and advertisements,
but they don't read them. I was in the business fifty years. Most
magazines are for selling ad space and that's about it."
her that I had never encountered such eccentric writing in a travel
magazine. Between conventional descriptions of tourist accommodations
and attractions (their prices duly noted), Traveler's World authors
wrote about what concerned them, distressed them, inspired them, or
exhilarated them. For example, take the work of Jason Dern. Between
1952 and 1956, Dern traveled across Latin America, from Mexico to
Chile, and filed twenty articles along the way. Dutifully, he described
tourist accommodations and sites wherever he went, but he always came
around to his obsessions: the poignancy of solitude, the evanescence
of desire, the ever-presence of the historical past.
Jason Dern article ("Uruguay the Enchanted Land," January 1956) describes
a "navel-eye" that stared him down in a hotel room late at night in
reading a book but couldn't. I was exhausted -- thoroughly exhausted
due to the heat and all the trudging I had done during the day --
but couldn't sleep. Then I noticed it: what can only be called a navel-eye
staring at me from the corner of my hotel room. Where mold had warped
the plaster, where the weight of the centuries-old building had collapsed
the corner of my room, the wall looked exactly like a navel. And it
stared at me. I couldn't take my eyes from it. I felt that the navel-eye
knew me through and through, knew my worst fears and highest aspirations.
It mocked me and loved me at the same time. It seemed to peer at me
from the other side of eternity, from the all-knowing place, and all
of the sudden I felt puny and negligible, as if my life meant nothing.
out the light, but in the darkness I could still feel the navel-eye
looking at me. It pierced my solitude and bore into me with all its
strength. I started to shrivel. I started to get smaller and smaller.
I could feel my body fold into itself, as if I were becoming a fetus
again. Finally I screamed. I couldn't bear another moment of terror
in that room, so I packed my bags and took a bus ($3.50) to beautiful
Colonia, a resort on the Rio de la Plata. The traveler will want to
visit Colonia, a historical city that boasts of spacious villas and
La Equitación, the famous horse-riding competition and festival.
The festival is held in the last week of October. Be sure to make
your reservations early, since the hotel rooms, which range at this
time of year from $5 to $12, fill quickly.
suppose you remember Jason Dern's 'navel-eye' article?" I asked Mary
Harris. "He saw a 'navel-eye' in the corner of his hotel room in Montevideo.
I've seen the eye myself ten or fifteen times."
have, dear, in one form or another. Poor Jason. He had a drug habit.
He also liked alcohol and harlots. I think he suffered from being
alone so much on the road. Once he sent an article from Cartagena,
Columbia about the whorehouses. He even described the prices and services.
I didn't print it, of course. The last I heard of Jason, he was in
Chile. He wired and asked for money. He wanted to take a boat to Antarctica
and write about it. Can you imagine? I sent him the money, but he
dropped off the face of the earth. Nobody heard from him after that."
naïve in those days," she continued. "I wanted to present a true
travel experience to our readers. This was the 1950s, you understand.
No one had published a travel magazine before. We didn't have an example
to follow. For the first time in history, middle-class people had
money to spend on traveling abroad. I wanted them to know exactly
what they were getting into."
why Dale Rockingham fired you?" I asked. "Because the magazine was
Rockingham fired us because he didn't like his magazine. He didn't
like what it had become. I only met him twice, once when he hired
me and once when he stopped unexpectedly in San Francisco in 1955
or 1956. He lived on his yacht. He used to wire his View from the
Helm column from ports in the Caribbean and South Pacific. One afternoon
he called from Hawaii, screamed at us over the phone, and that was
that. He dismissed the entire staff. He objected to an article that
written by Stanley Kane ("Paradise Blooms in Tahiti," March 1958),
tells of a visit to Papeete:
sophistication and native hospitality have truly joined forces in
Tahiti to make for a vacationer's paradise. One can eat French fare
in the luxurious restaurants near the beach ($2.50 to $5.50), or sample
the simpler (and some argue, healthier) native cuisine around the
square ($1 to $3). I chose a continental breakfast of fruit and crescent
rolls at the Café Perroquet ($1.25), after which I made a beeline
for the famous beach. The water was clear and warm; the sand, white
and immaculate. The beach did not disappoint, except in one regard.
When I returned from my dip in the water, I discovered, not five paces
from the beach tent I had rented ($.50), a turd.
close inspection, I determined by its composition and odor that it
was left there by a human being, not by a dog or other animal. What
was it doing there? It hadn't washed onto beach; it was too far from
the surf for that. In any case, my high-school French being rusty,
I couldn't tell the beach attendant to please bury the unsightly stool,
so I scratched a hole in the sand and buried it myself. Oh well, I
thought philosophically, they crap in paradise too.
have to admit," I told Mary Harris, "it's not the kind of thing that
normally appears in a travel magazine."
it's not. But it is the kind of thing you sometimes encounter when
you are traveling. Traveling is usually presented in magazines and
books as a fantasy. Everyone is smiling. Everything is a novelty or
an adventure. Nowadays all travel magazines cater to the fantasy.
But we didn't. We didn't know any better. We thought of ourselves
as reporters. We wanted to present the experience of travel, not the
remember an article by Cynthia Zyden in one of the early issues where
she imagines the Japanese reconstructing the dead?"
poetry," Mary Harris replied. "Of course I remember it. Cynthia's
still with us. She married a dentist and lives in San Mateo."
article ("Tokyo for Budget Rovers," November 1951), the author, weary
after losing her way in the streets of Tokyo, describes a crowded
labyrinth of alleys and streets finally discharged me on a busy boulevard,
a bustling street that cut straight through the city. I was grateful.
I didn't know in which direction I walked, because I couldn't see
a landmark of any kind or even tell where the sun was in the smoggy,
carcinogenic sky, but that didn't matter. At least I walked straight
ahead. At least I was making progress now.
was a frenzy of activity. I was nearly run over by a man balancing
a stack of wooden planks on the handlebars of his bicycle. Everyone
seemed to be hurrying in a different direction, and everyone seemed
to be on an important mission that couldn't be delayed.
were, I realized, reversing the destruction that the bombs had caused.
Bombs had blown their city to smithereens, and now, bit by bit, the
Japanese were reassembling their city to erase their memories of the
war. They were trying to turn back the clock. I felt that, if they
could, they would sift the pulverized soil for the bone fragments
and flecked blood of their neighbors and family who had died during
the war. So impressive was the frenzy with which they worked, I felt
they would reconstruct the dead after they had finished reconstructing
their streets, houses and shops.
in a tea stall ($.25 for glass of green tea), I imagined the Japanese
carrying hair and bone fragments in enormous sacks. Slowly, methodically,
they sorted the hair, the specks of dried blood, the bone fragments
until they had determined what belonged to whom. Then, under the supervision
of their talented engineers, they reconstructed their dead and brought
them back to life.
were the wishes, anyway, of the industrious people who swarmed the
the psychological point of view, traveling is far more complex than
people realize," Mary Harris said. "We tried to explore that in Traveler's
World. You land in a different place, sometimes an unsettling place.
Everything stimulates your curiosity. You're wide awake, certainly
more awake than you are at home, although from time to time a terrible
fatigue overcomes you. Sometimes you encounter dreadful poverty and
you feel a kind of guilt. Sometimes you feel vulnerable or get homesick.
What is homesickness? Nobody has described it adequately, but it's
part of traveling too."
that the travel magazines don't take up these subjects," I said.
Impossibility is more like it! How would they sell the ad space?"