Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to see the world when you're flat broke

A librarian once told me that finishing a James Michener novel is a little like ascending Everest. Once completed, the journey feels like quite an accomplishment.

I've yet to do it. The closest I came was either "Centennial" (which I still hope to finish, preferably while vacationing somewhere in the Rocky Mountain State), or "Tales of the South Pacific," his first book.

The problem isn't so much his writing (it's good) and certainly isn't his subjects (which can range from the settling of the west to the exploration of space). It tends to be his story construction (in his epics, Michener begins with the formations of the rocks and slowly works his way up to his human characters), or the sheer volume of his words ("Centennial" would remind you of the Manhattan phone directory).

But my friend Mike Finn recommended over Thanksgiving a Michener novel I'd managed to miss called "The Drifters." So I thought I'd try again. Highlighting a group of young people who find their way to the same sliver of land in Spain during the winter of 1969, it appealed to my wanderlust, to my continued fascination with the Vietnam War era, to my never ending desire to make it through one of Michener's books.

So I became lost in this rather engaging tale while the weather outside alternated between rain, sleet, wind and a most curious winter thunderstorm. Time will tell, but I might just make it through this tale.

I once read Michener's memoir, "The World is My Home," full of envy at the depth of his travels. His first book became the basis for a little musical called "South Pacific." Maybe you've heard of it.

My own travels have mainly been relegated to the contiguous 48, but tonight in my easy chair, I followed along with the long-haired college dropout from California and the pretty woman from Scandinavia as they made their way to Torremolinos.

Not a bad deal, really. I got to learn a little about two fascinating people, take a trek from California to Spain via Boston, spend the winter in a little Norwegian village and land in this Spanish paradise -- never once without leaving the living room.

It ain't perfect, I know. But, I'll take what I can get, especially on a cold and rainy November night when you're flat broke and have a headache.

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