Vicarious Journeys

Price of travelling too high? Take a vicarious journey of adventure this summer. Balthasar's Odyssey is a tale set in the 17th century, but several of the threads are oddly contemporary -- the differences between Muslims, Christians and Jews; the tug between superstition and reason, the fear of signs and portents.

Next year will be 1666, the Year of the Beast, and many communities are wrapped in fear and dread that the Apocalypse is near. Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoese bookseller and antique dealer, living in the Levant sets out to find a book called The Hundredth Name of God which many believe will reveal the secret name of God and will thus save the world from destruction.

The voice of Balthasar as he spins the tale of his journey from Gibelet to Constantinople, to Smyrna across the Mediterranean and on to London shortly before the Great Fire is a treat. A kind of braggart so proud of his family name and heritage, Balthasar entertains us with his journal of travels and travails, musings and romance. Described by one reveiwer as picturesque and picaresque, this novel provides much entertainment.

Since I've been thinking about traveling, I was delighted to find a new CD title called Selected Shorts: Travel Tales. These short stories are read (performed really), by acclaimed actors and actresses mostly in front of a live audience at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City.

I was particularly delighted with Paul Hecht's reading of "The Hat of My Mother" by Max Steele, one of the travel tales from Selected Shorts. His pauses, pacing and the way he draws out certain parts of the sentences makes this humorous story come alive. I could picture the family gathered around the breakfast table the morning after Mother was kidnapped and safely returned. "I only want to tell this story once and I'd better not hear it repeated from anywhere outside the family", she says in a very firm voice.

There are currently 49 different Selected Shorts CD titles on a variety of subjects. Find a list here. Get one and listen for yourself.

Can you think of other vicarious journeys to recommend to the armchair traveler?