The Best American Travel Writing 2019
eBook - ePub

The Best American Travel Writing 2019

Jason Wilson

  1. 400 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
  4. Disponibile su iOS e Android
eBook - ePub

The Best American Travel Writing 2019

Jason Wilson

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An eclectic compendium of the best travel writing essays published in 2018, collected by Alexandra Fuller. BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING gathers together a satisfyingly varied medley of perspectives, all exploring what it means to travel somewhere new. For the past two decades, readers have come to recognize this annual volume as the gold standard for excellence in travel writing.

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The End of the Line

from Smithsonian

And men will not understand us . . . and the war will be forgotten.
—Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1928)
One Sunday morning in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris, lured by hydrangeas, roses, and pigeons, I strolled past a playground filled with children’s voices. The cool white Parisian sky made me want to sit on a bench and do nothing. Behind the playground a church bell tolled the hour, a crow told time in its own voice, and a breeze suddenly hissed through the maples.

Beginnings, Raptures, Robberies

You might think Europe and its 40 million finally dead or wounded were dragged into the muck by a series of insults and bumbling miscommunications, a whole continent at the mercy of foolhardy monarchs and military strategists who, “goaded by their relentless timetables,” as Barbara Tuchman relates in The Guns of August, “were pounding the table for the signal to move lest their opponents gain an hour’s head start.” Not so, according to many participants. “The struggle of the year 1914 was not forced on the masses—no, by the living God—it was desired by the whole people.” Thus the recollection of a young Austrian soldier named Adolf Hitler, who enlisted with a Bavarian infantry regiment as quickly as he could, and served almost to the end. “Overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at such a time.” Could the war truly have been desired? That sounds as fatuous as the grinning death’s-head emblem on a German A7V tank. But a German historian who despised the Führer likewise remembered the “exaltation of spirit experienced during the August days of 1914.” For him, the war was one “of defense and self-protection.”

The Static


A certain influential treatise entitled Weapons and Tactics, published in 1943 by the British military historian and man of letters Tom Wintringham and updated 30 years later, divides military history into alternating armored and unarmored periods. The Great War was something in between. Those glorious unarmored days when a sufficiently frenetic cavalry or bayonet charge could break through enemy lines still dazzled the generals. Yet the “defensive power” of machine guns, of barbed wire, and of the spade (for digging) “had ended mobility in war.” Meanwhile, the future belonged to tanks: “a brood of slug-shaped monsters, purring, or roaring and panting, and even emitting flames as they slid or pivoted over the ground.”


Upon his arrival at the front, Robert Graves’s commander explained that trenches were temporary inconveniences. “Now we work here all the time, not only for safety but for health,” Graves writes. How healthy do you suppose they were, for men sleeping in slime, fighting lice and rats, wearing their boots for a week straight? The parapet of one trench was “built up with ammunition-boxes and corpses.” Others, Graves wrote, “stank with a gas-blood-lyddite-latrine smell.” From an Englishman at Gallipoli: “The flies entered the trenches at night and lined them with a density which was like moving cloth.”


By the close of 1914, with the war less than half a year old, the Western Front stretched static, thick, and deep for 450 miles. The Eastern Front took on a similar if less definitive character, finally hardening between Romania and the Baltic in 1915. In a photo from November 1915 we see a line of German soldiers in greatcoats and flat-topped caps shoveling muck out of a winding narrow trench, grave-deep, somewhere in the Argonne Forest. The surface is nothing but wire, rock, sticks, and dirt.


The German assault at Verdun announced itself on February 21, 1916, with the detonation of more than a thousand cannons. Something like 33 German munitions trains rolled in each day. In a photo of a second-line casualty station, we see a wounded Frenchman sitting crookedly on his crude stretcher, which rests in the dark mud. His boots are black with filth; likewise his coat up to his waist and beyond. A white bandage goes bonnet-like around his head, the top of it dark with blood. His slender, grubby hands are part folded across his waist. His head is leaning, his eyes almost closed.

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