Saturday, March 19, 2011

OFFBEAT TRAVEL, Review

Where has Wayne Anderson been?
By Aarik Danielsen Columbia Daily Tribune
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Upon presenting his first-ever travel article to the Tribune, Wayne Anderson was met with a breathless question from an editor, duly impressed with his work: “Where have you been?”

Anderson has, in a very real yet wholly other sense, been answering the same question for 13 years, writing a weekly travel column for the Tribune, telling local readers where he has been and taking them along on trips to locations exotic and enlightening, majestic and mysterious, 500 or 600 words at a time. Speaking to his whereabouts in a new medium, Anderson recently published his first anthology, “Offbeat Travel: Exploring the unexpected and mysterious” (AKA-Publishing), a set of 54 columns that represent his most far-out, way-out journeys.

The book is evocative and explanatory. As Anderson has exhaustively explored the United States and visited 64 countries, “Offbeat Travel” takes readers from the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy, to Seattle’s underground pathways, a confederate Georgia prison camp to the caves of India, even to the Twilight Zone and back. It features ghost tours, travel tips, dispatches from Civil War- and civil rights-related locales and moving anecdotes about how our journeys can intersect; for example, the tale of how Anderson and his wife learn the fate of historical characters they’ve assumed on a voyage to a Titanic exhibition is somber and suspenseful.

Anderson’s unique ability to capture emotional and historical detail is reflected here and is certainly a significant reason for his loyal following of local readers. Many of Anderson’s faithful fans are older and have long since given up on cross-country or continental adventures, he said recently. Thus, he plays an important role in their illumination and exercise of imagination. “What they say to me, when they talk to me, is ‘You do my traveling for me,’ ” he said.

After writing hundreds of articles for the Tribune, Anderson simply knew the time was right for a book when the right part of his brain activated and decided he was. “That part of my brain said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ ” he noted. “This is right, this is ready.”

The natural effusive, educational tone to Anderson’s work is a function of both his methodical note-taking and eye for interesting places to pause. No matter how fatigued he might be after a long day of sojourning and sightseeing, he, without fail, makes detailed entries each night on which he builds later, longer articles. Anderson gives readers an insight into that process in his new book with an entry titled “Keeping a Travel Journal.” His wife — and often his co-writer — Carla, serves as a companion and editor, helping him further process the experiences they have shared.

Anderson identified “Unearthing Palermo,” the first episode in the book, as one of his favorites, and it truly is one of the most resonant tales therein. Any travelogue that begins, “The upright, fully dressed bodies came as a shock to me … in Palermo the bodies are there in all their decaying glory: 8,000 of them,” certainly qualifies as a memorable one. Going on, Anderson describes how these catacombs, commonly referred to as the “Museum of Death,” house perfectly preserved, eerily lifelike “bodies dressed in their personal best,” appearing to stare at passersby “from sunken eyes embedded in parchment skin.”

“The drying process has left the skin on the faces but has pulled them into horrifying expressions of terror and pain,” he continued. “Many seemed to be screaming — a massive silent scream.” Despite these terrible, terrific images, the piece is more a meditation on life, spirituality and historic practice than an ode to the macabre.

Another piece that really struck me was “Gumshoes and Trick Shoes: Spy Museum Amuses,” an entry inspired by Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum, a location I desperately wanted to visit but failed to get to during a capital summer several years ago. As Anderson describes the space, the fascinating gadgets and interactive experiences within, he’s essentially doing my traveling for me.

As far as the reflexive journey between the book and other readers is concerned, Anderson already has done the going — he now hopes readers come to the work with a subtle sense of awe, the same he experiences as he reads other travel writers, and a quiet hopefulness, musing on “what a wonderful world we have where there’s all of these things to see and do,” he said. “Offbeat Travel” is available via online booksellers like Amazon.com and can be found locally at Barnes and Noble. Want to know more about where Anderson has been? You can access his work on the Tribune’s website, of course, at www.columbiatribune.com and his personal website, www.venturebound.net.

Reach Aarik Danielsen at 573-815-1731 or e-mail ajdanielsen@columbiatribune.com.

Copyright 2011 Columbia Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
This article was published on page C2 of the Sunday, March 13, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune.


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