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Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD—TRAVEL BOOK (Part 7 of many) more intro

JEAN SHEPHERD—TRAVEL BOOK (Part 7 of many) more intro

[Introduction continued]

travel bag

Always on the move, Shepherd is in the Middle East in 1966, in Barbados and Grenada in 1968, and in India in 1969.  In 1972, intent on being everywhere nearly simultaneously, he is in London, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Beirut, Tehran, Bangkok and Tokyo, just to experience, in no more than seven days, a trip around the world.  (He sort of indicates that an airline offered him this trip.) Later in 1972 he visits Sweden, then, in 1974 and again in 1975, he travels to Ireland.  He caps off his major travels in late 1975 by taking a chartered sailboat cruise among the Windward Islands.  For him, it seems, no place is foreign and every place is different and therefore worth exploring.

For Jean Shepherd, living well means paying attention to everything large and small, even seemingly odd little events he calls “cracks in the sidewalk,” experiencing as much as possible in as many places as possible.

The way he tells his travel tales, one would think he always travels alone.  Probably he mostly does, but we know he goes to Frankfurt with his wife, Lois Nettleton, he’s with a friend in Australia, sometimes he’s with a guide, and along with him on his trip to Amazonia to deliver cough drops and candy are a translator (a member of the missionary team working with the tribe), a Luden’s representative, and a photographer.

shep with tape deck peru

Shep with jews harp and tape deck in the Amazon.

Man holding mic is probably the Luden’s guy.

Photo probably taken by the photographer.

Neither does Shepherd travel like one’s image of a threadbare “hippie” or penniless teenager thumbing a ride across the landscape.  He does not lug his luggage in a backpack or lodge in rough-and-tumble hostels, although when called for, he happily sleeps on an open platform under a mosquito net in the Amazon.  To get where he wants to go he may drive a rental car along less-traveled back roads or hire a local guide in the Negev, and as he can afford some creature comforts, where available, he enjoys the occasional afternoon martini.  But he travels unassumingly and unpackaged, casually blending in and comfortably seeking out whatever level of authenticity there is left in the world.

More than in his fictional kid and army stories–for which, before improvising them on the air, he claims to have spent weeks making mental preparations regarding overall ideas and organization—his travel broadcasts are usually done within days after the experience.  Unlike most travel writers expecting publication and usually having loads of time to gather their thoughts and hone their words, Shepherd speaks in front of a live mic, probably never expecting these tales to appear in print.  Live on the air, Shepherd often goes off, stops himself in mid-thought, and continues on some other subject that he’s reminded of, probably because he has just returned and is excited to describe everything at once.  Images, impressions, and ideas are still swirling and colliding willy-nilly.  Describing one incident, he begins a sentence and interrupts himself seven times before finally continuing the tale about his nighttime stroll down a seaside street in Tel Aviv.

tel aviv waterfront

Tel Aviv–a seaside street.

He has not yet had the time to recollect and organize in tranquility the fascinating details in his mind. Although distractions in his narratives engage the listener when heard as part of spoken broadcasts, for reading they can be disconcerting, especially if he begins a thought and diverges too many times.  Where necessary, editorial intervention keeps the story moving along without eliminating any relevant matters.  And where he sometimes returns to elaborate on the same experience, maybe minutes, days, or even months later, editorial grafting of the two fully conveys the essence without awkwardly repeating the preliminaries.  Naturally, as Shepherd’s speaking style is noted for straying off-subject, some of these related matters and tangents are retained to maintain the effect and enliven the mix.  Appreciating this and “listening” to his voice on the page is part of the pleasure of reading Shep.

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