I have made it a goal to travel to at least two countries each year, at least one of which I haven’t been to before. I don’t expect to manage more than one country this year, but hopefully, beginning in 2009, that will begin to change.
The thing is, people tend to get the wrong idea about me. They think I’m well traveled because so many of my personal anecdotes begin with “When I was in India” or “When I was in Korea,” or some variant, and because I know about a lot of different cultures and countries and histories, and because I worked at the UN. But I’m not well traveled, just oddly traveled. I have spent a year in Korea, 6.5 months in India, 3.5 months in Nepal, two weeks in Ireland, a couple of afternoons over the border in Mexico, and a couple of hours wandering around the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (where, to my eternal regret, I failed to buy one of the snow globes for sale that said, “TEXAS”), and a brief layover in Hong Kong, where I watched thousands upon thousands of Filipino ladies eat lunch.
Six countries. Four if you only count the ones where I spent the night. None on continental Europe, none in Africa or South America or the Middle East. I’m a Jew who hasn’t been to Israel, a (recovering) stoner who hasn’t been to Amsterdam, a (recovering) metalhead who’s never seen Stonehenge, an art nerd who’s never been to Paris, an Asian studies nerd who has set foot in neither Japan nor China. I haven’t been to any of the hot spots, really: Thailand, Angkor, Bali, Venice, Florence, Prague, London. Not even friggin’ London! I have to get out more.
But now at least I know where to get my travel books: Idlewild Books, on West 19th Street near Fifth Avenue. I just discovered this place yesterday, and I couldn’t believe I’d never spotted it before. “A lot of people say that,” the proprietor told me, “but we’ve only been open about four weeks.” The genius of Idlewild is that the books are arranged geographically rather than by type: you can find guidebooks, language books, memoirs and novels about, say, Mongolia, all on one shelf, together. How cool is that?
There are limits, of course: no music, no poetry, no comics. As the proprietor said, the subject of the store is the whole world, and there’s only so much shelf space. But it’s a beautiful space full of fascinating books, and I encourage you to check it out.