East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A yacht cruise in 1964

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I like to read a good travel book once in a while, and in the summer is a good way to travel without moving.
My interest in travel literature started more or less when I was doing my the first year of university, and it goes well with my passion for fantasy and adventure stories: all these different narratives hinge on travel and exploration, one way or another, they all talk about other places, other times, other people.
Travel books – just like memoirs and biographies – are also a great way to do research, of course.
And what’s better than a travel memoir, then?

show-photoI spent the last weekend of August with Irwing Shaw’s In the Company of Dolphins, Shaw’s memoir of six weeks spent sailing along the coast the Mediterranean, along the Italian coast from the French Riviera to Venice, and then down the Dalmatian coast.

For the uninitiated, Irwing Shaw was an award-winning novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and moved to Europe, where he penned some of his best-known bestsellers – titles like Poor Man, Rich Man or Evening in Byzanthium come to mind.

In the Company of Dolphins is a memoir of his European years, and of a summer, in the early ’60s. Shaw sailed with his family – and with his skipper’s family – on a very tight schedule, and in a series of brief chapters entertains his readers with what amount to snapshots of the ports in which his chartered yacht stopped periodically.

dolphinsAnd this is the great part – because Shaw is witty and intelligent, and has a keen eye for detail, but also he’s providing the reader with a time-capsule of a world long gone – France, Italy, and Yugoslavia in the early 1960s.

The book is funny, and it flows smoothly – much more smoothly than Shaw’s actual navigation, that is fraught with incidents, misunderstandings, and mishaps, most of them narrated with a light, self-deprecatory tone.

The book has been recently reprinted by Open Road Media. Quite a nice way to spend a weekend, and a highly recommended book for anyone looking for a brief vacation in the past.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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