August 28, 2017

Watertown, MA. October, 2010

David Leavitt may favor Rose Macaulay. And countless others lean toward Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux. But for me, the best travel writer is still Truman Capote. He observes, doesn’t miss a trick, and serves up with a gossipy delight the stories of the places and the people he visits. His collection The Dogs Bark. Public People and Private Places (containing several earlier books including Local Color) is a wonderful series of travel sketches such as this one here, his account of a 1950 train trip through Andalusia. (In the same volume, he also writes about Haiti, Hollywood, New Orleans, Ischia, Brooklyn, Tangier and elsewhere.) Eminently readable and engaging, the writing seems as intimate as a late-night phonecall from Truman the C, filled with details, insights, rambling asides. He lived in Taormina for awhile in a palazzo called Fontana Vecchia, and his tales of the townspeople (who thought he had the evil eye; his housekeeper refused to return) and of Lola (the pet crow he acquired and later brought with him to Rome) let you in on more about that cliffside Sicilian town than any guidebook from Frommer or Lonely Planet. The centerpiece of the book is his account of his winter 1956 trip to Russia (“the first of its kind ever attempted by an American theatrical group”) with the company of Porgy and Bess. Bureaucracy, official welcomes, citizens of Moscow, lack of privacy, the Cold War, the cold period...nothing escapes his delightfully evil eye.

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