Big Trips
More Good Gay
Travel Writing

Raphael Kadushin
(Terrace Books)
"Florida," writes Andrew Holleran, "is where people go to die and then don't." His sister takes him to look at houses for sale in Ft. Myers.

    The biggest space of all is inevitably the kitchen: as if at this point in our history, there is nothing left for Americans to do but eat.

He calls it "the sadness of American abundance."

Trebor Healey is riding his bicycle through eastern Oregon on his way to Buffalo(!) He passes through the town of Danville which "was a swell ruin of a town in every way." He is carrying the ashes of his old lover, Jimmy, from San Francisco.

Woody, the town crazy, gives him a couple of arrowheads for protection. Healey finds a place to stay overnight in the local Presbyterian church. The lady who lets him in asks, "You got the Lord?"

    "I was raised Catholic," I answered. Trying to pass.

"'You been born again?' 'Once was enough, thanks.' I regretted it the minute I said it..."

§     §     §

Dale Peck lives in London, visits the Salvation Army, gives them his old clothes, picks a fight with Simon --- the guy behind the counter --- when he finds out that he's been saving out Peck's clothes to take home. "He was young --- I mean, much younger than I was --- and part of me had expected my own face to look at me from out of my own clothes."

Peck seems to enjoy confounding people. Stealing their names, for example. He stole the name of his lover, Derek, but "I tried to tell him that my name wasn't actually Derek."

    What he'd said was that some things, like names, can be used over and over again --- or bodies for that matter. But then he went on. He said, Some things can't be used twice. There are some things, he said, that are used up on the first go-round, and whatever's left behind, if anything, is just pollution.

"There's no point in saving it, he said, or re-using it, it's just left over, and as he spoke his hands were on my shoulders and he was looking me straight in the eye and, although I knew it wasn't his intention, I still felt he was telling me I was one of those things that can be used only once."

I began Big Trips and figured that it was going to be another horny night in San Francisco, cruising Tokyo, a sexathon in Hamburg, getting laid in Greenwich Village, losing a lover on the banks of (or in) the Seine. Not so. It's better than that, much better.

This does not mean that I am opposed to what the Latinos call "grosserías." A roll in the hay in the Czechoslovakian countryside. A blow-job in Hannover. Lust on the banks of the Nile. But here, sex is downplayed to the trip, and what a trip it is. Meditations on the different ends of the worlds. The sun in the desert. Dark London. Flophouse Paris. Still-poor Prague.

There are sixteen stories in all. The writers may be gay, and that's some of the stories ... but it's not the end-all and be-all. You are on the road. You are lonely, you are broke, no one knows you, you just want a place to lay your weary head, call your sister, get a hand-out, find American Express, or a job ... so you don't have to be so broke.

Raphael Kadushin, editor of Big Trips, says his time in London was spent working as an editorial assistant for a company "that specialized in memoirs."

    All the manuscripts I had to read were tragedies.

Edmund White --- the same Edmund White that wrote the biography of Jean Genet and Rimbaud --- tells of his loves in Paris and in Morocco. He and his gorgeous love Paul go off to the latter to "look at the desert." Paul is a true study. He

    was the Paul who had explained what Derrida had said of Heidigger's interpretation of Trakl's last poems;

Paul "who considered Ronsard a greater poet than Shakespeare; Paul, who "likes pain."

White reveals all this and you don't want him to stop. He has his fame, carries some agons, too. He likes pain too, and, on their trips, as they traveled, "we confided more and more in each other."

    Paul was someone on whom nothing was wasted; nevertheless he was not always alive to all possibilities, at least not instantly. I told him I was positive, but he didn't react.

"Behind the extremely dark sunglasses, there was this presence, breathing and thinking but not reacting."

With White, as with most of the other writers here, we never lose the feeling of separateness, the separateness that most gays carry, that we belong and don't belong, that we are part of it yet apart from it. "We slept in each other's arms night after night and I stroked his great body, as though he were a prize animal, la belle bëte." And, then,

    My own sense of who I was in this story was highly unstable. I flickered back and forth, wanting to be the blond warrior's fleshy pale concubine or then the bearded pasha himself, feeding drugged sherbets to the beautiful Circassian slave I had bought.

If you do nothing else with Big Trips get it for Brian Bouldrey's pilgrimage to Compostela. The double whammy: gay and Catholic: "Oh, the way we all live in uncomfortable contradiction to ourselves. Conservative renegades, good thieves, fascinating bores, communist monks, Catholic homosexuals. This is also what makes us feel alone: we are one-of-a-kind monsters, neither fish nor foul."

    I thought of how ridiculous I was --- how we all keep heading toward the end of our project, one we all knew would be a failure, surrounded by comfortable people who never have to live in contradiction.

Read Bouldrey. And Andrew Holleran. On Florida. You will never look at Florida the same way again. I grew up in Florida, too many years ago. Fresh water everywhere, popping up out of the ground everywhere to make rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, everything overladen by great green Spanish-moss hanging trees, the limbs like the limbs of the old, craggy, bent, knobbed. But here the writer takes us into the new Florida, crosses into Fort Myers over the Caloosahatchee River (those names! Loxahatchee, Choctawhatchee, Little Econlockhatchee, Ocklawaha!)

"This is the grid that men have laid upon the infinitely subtle, delicate ecosystem of this unique state: a grid of highways, strip malls, and housing developments that has taken something that used to be as exotic as Africa and turned it into another corporate, standardized replica of what Henry Miller called ... "the Air Conditioned Nightmare." He leaves his old uncle behind, in an "assisted living facility."

    My uncle is fine, I think; he has chosen a nice place; I am glad I saw him. At the same time I feel as I drive away that I have left him in a death camp. I feel, as I retrace to I75, that I have left my uncle in Hades, in some strange twilight land of the almost dead, in the anteroom of the life to come."

I read travel books as Bouldrey reads guide books ... "for nostalgia." This volume has something else again. It's got pith and loneliness and paradox and adventure and danger and a sense of tragedy: sixteen men who travel so far looking for a way in, a way out, home, love. Some find it; most don't. But by the telling so honestly of their desire, they have created a quiet work of classic art. Praise to them and the editor.

--- Richard Saturday
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