Novelist Ann Patchett is a teenager discovering Paris for the first time. Dave Eggers finds himself in a Bangkok brothel. And Richard Ford embarks on an unsettling journey in Morocco. Their adventures are chronicled in a collection of travel essays titled An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers, edited by Don George ’75.
Traveling abroad, George says in the introduction, “expands our hearts and our minds, opens us to the splendors of serendipity, builds bridges between peoples and cultures, and lays paving stones on the path to global peace and understanding.” George, who is editor at large for National Geographic Traveler, approached “the writers I most revere around the globe” and asked them to submit stories of their travels.
In her piece, The Paris Tattoo, Patchett writes:
The year was 1983. Two 19-year-old American girls had gone to Europe for the entire summer with their saved-up babysitting money and whatever was left from birthdays and high-school graduation. They had no idea where they were going and so no one in their families knew where they were. They had train passes, and sometimes boarded a train without checking to see where the train was going.
Patchett’s story, which centers on the young women’s fascination with the tattoo on a waitress’s shoulder, captures the enchantment of the serendipitous discoveries that come with travel. In other essays, David Baldacci describes a sentimental journey to his grandfather’s birthplace in Barga, Italy; Jane Smiley trots across France on horseback; and Sloane Crosley contemplates diving from a cliff into a shark-infested Australian bay. The stories explore well-traveled spots such as Venice and lesser-known destinations such as Yemen. Writes George, “When I left Princeton for Paris, I believed that innocence was something you lost once, never to be regained. But then I lost it again, and again, and again, as I have continued to do, across six continents, over the ensuing decade. Now I understand that innocence is inexhaustible.”