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All Over the Map

All Over the Map

3.7 19
by Laura Fraser

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What's a wise, witty travel writer to do when she reaches forty and is still single? Wander the globe searching for romance and adventure, of course.

On a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate her fortieth birthday, Laura Fraser confronts the unique trajectory of her life. Divorced and childless in her thirties, she found solace in the wanderlust that


What's a wise, witty travel writer to do when she reaches forty and is still single? Wander the globe searching for romance and adventure, of course.

On a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, to celebrate her fortieth birthday, Laura Fraser confronts the unique trajectory of her life. Divorced and childless in her thirties, she found solace in the wanderlust that had always directed her heart—and found love and comfort in the arms of a dashing Frenchman. Their Italian affair brought her back to herself—but now she wonders if her passion for travel (and for short-lived romantic rendezvous) has deprived her of what she secretly wants most from life: a husband, a family, a home.

When her Parisian lover meets her in Oaxaca and gives her news that he’s found someone new, Laura is stunned and hurt. Now, it seems, she has nothing but her own independence for company—and, at forty, a lot more wrinkles on her face and fewer years of fertility. How is Laura going to reconcile what seem to be two opposite desires: for adventure, travel, great food, and new experiences, but also a place to call home—and a loving pair of arms to greet her there?

And so, she globe hops. What else is a travel writer to do? From Argentina to Peru, Naples to Paris, she basks in the glow of new cultures and local delicacies, always on the lookout for the “one” who might become a lifelong companion. But when a terrible incident occurs while she’s on assignment in the South Pacific, Laura suddenly finds herself more aware of her vulnerability and becomes afraid of traveling. It seems as if she might lose the very thing that has given her so much pleasure in her life, not to mention the career she has built for herself as a world traveler and chronicler of far-flung places.

Finding herself again will be both more difficult and more natural than she imagined. Ultimately, Laura realizes the most important journey she must take is an internal one. And the tale of how she reaches that place will captivate every woman who has ever yearned for a different life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers familiar with Fraser's work in Gourmet, O the Oprah Magazine, More, and other publications may recognize the author's efforts at self-improvement, attempts at finding love, or meals she's had in places like Lima, Peru: "We try ceviche of wild sea bass with lime and red onions... we have spicy chifa food in a downtown Chinese restaurant... we stuff ourselves with stuffed peppers..." In following up An Italian Affair, Fraser takes a closer look at her own wanderlust and examines the positive and negative effects it has had on her life, particularly over the past 10 years. For example, the author finds a glorious waterfall in Samoa. "The water is so clear light blue it's possible to see all the way to the bottom, and the bottom is a long way down. I dive in for a swim... this is why I love to travel." But she questions the notion of having it all, or having it all at once, and worries that her desire to explore and her professional success have come at the expense of stability and family. She challenges the ideals of happiness and home she had previously held, adding a layer of depth to a memoir that will excite travelers of the world and the armchair alike.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Entertaining chick lit that should resonate with women striving to have it all." ---Kirkus
Kirkus Reviews
A follow-up to An Italian Affair (2001), combining jaunts around the globe with a journey into the author's psyche. More magazine contributing editor Fraser has a problem: how to fit her independent, travel-loving self into a settled, loving relationship-i.e., how to find a husband. The author opens with her vacation in Oaxaca with the married professor who figured prominently in her earlier memoir. Then the 40-year-old Fraser set off for Naples, Samoa, Provence, Peru, Rwanda and Mexico. In between she participated in an Outward Bound venture in Canyonlands National Park, a college reunion in Connecticut, a meditation retreat in Marin County and tango lessons in Buenos Aires. Assignments writing about food enabled her to wine and dine in style, and her descriptions of meals are mouthwatering. Fraser is also perceptive about her surroundings and frank about her desires; her trials and tribulations with men are alternately funny and sad, and seemingly never-ending. The trip to Samoa provided a kind of turning point, when a sexual assault on the beach exposed her to her own vulnerability, shook her self-confidence and dampened her eagerness to travel. In the final chapters the author is 47 and still single, and she has built a home in the town in Mexico where she vacationed as a child. Even though she hasn't found a husband, Fraser seems to have achieved a kind of balance that gives her story a calm and upbeat ending. Entertaining chick lit that should resonate with women striving to have it all. Author events out of San Francisco and Denver. Agent: Erin Malone/William Morris Endeavor

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Chapter One

The winter sun warms the cobblestones that pave the Plaza de Armas in Oaxaca, Mexico. Heavy colonial archways shade the café tables where travelers and people watchers and expatriates come to just sit. They sip their coffees and take in the scene: small boys hawking huge bunches of colorful balloons, musicians in worn suits and perfectly ironed shirts stopping off for a shoe shine, ancient-faced Indians carrying baskets of greens on their heads. Beyond the zócalo, the Sierra Madre mountain range rings the town. There is no hurry here.

The atmosphere is relaxed, but inside I’m buzzing like one of the bees at the fruit vendor’s cart. I glance around the plaza, eyes barely resting on the balconies, the bandstand, the laurel trees, the women with dark braids and bright embroidered tops perched on the edge of the fountain. I check my watch, and it isn’t even time yet.

I’ve come to Oaxaca to mark my fortieth birthday, the passing of the decade during which I probably should have gotten married (again) and had children but did not. It didn’t work out that way. But I am going to celebrate anyway, celebrate the fact that I have the freedom to run off and be in Mexico for my birthday; celebrate with someone—a friend? lover?—for whom all of life is a celebration if you just fi nd the right spot in the sun to sit and take it all in.

I close my eyes to calm myself and sense the faint whiffs of chocolate, coffee, and chiles that perfume the thin air. When I open my eyes, I catch sight of him across the plaza: his soft denim jacket, thick silver bracelet, and chestnut curls that somehow,
still, are not gray. I jump up and wave wildly, and he sees me—everyone sees me—and he drops his old leather suitcase and opens his arms wide.

In a moment, I am pressing my face against his, breathing in his familiar smell of cigars and sea, amazed, as always, to see him again. I met this man, the Professor, by chance over breakfast in a pensione on an Italian island four years ago, right after my husband left me. Over the course of those years, meeting every so often in a different city or island, he helped mend my heart. He has his life and I have mine, but every time we’re together, the scenery seems brighter and the flavors more intense.

Professore,” I say, breaking our embrace to search his face.

“Laura,” he says, with the soft rolling Italian pronunciation, which could also be Spanish. I like my name, and maybe myself, better in a Latin country. It’s softer.

The Professor sits at the café, orders coffee, and moves his chair close, positioning his face in the sun. He squeezes my hand.

Bel posto,” he says. Beautiful place.

Incantado,” I say, not sure, as often happens, if I am speaking Italian or Spanish. Enchanted.

La bella vita continua,” he says.

He tells me that I look as good as ever, and I say he looks even better, something has changed. He seems energetic and expansive for his normally cool Parisian aesthetics professor self, less pale. He is brimming with a secret joy.

By the time we walk several blocks back to our hotel, opening the door onto a promiscuous jungle of a garden, he has spilled the whole story. He finally split up with the wife who didn’t love him, who had been in love with someone else for years. And he’s found an exciting new relationship.

We sit at a colorful little tile table on the patio outside our room, and he tells me everything. I’ve known there have been other women between our rendezvous, and there have been other men for me, too. But I’m not sure I want to hear all this. I don’t
care to know, for instance, that she is Eastern European and a professor herself and teaches comparative literature. Even less that she probably spends more on her lingerie than her clothes. While he tells his story I stare at a banana tree, counting the leaves from the bottom, struggling to be able to say, by the time I reach the clear sky above, that I am happy for him instead of sorry for myself. It’s not as if I’d ever imagined that I would end up in Paris with the Professor. Well, not very often. I did start taking French.

“I’m happy for you,” I say finally, and I’m glad, at least, to see that adds to his joy. I’m trying not to think about how ironic it is that it is the Professor—the rogue, the adventurer, the Don Juan—who is happy to be settling down, while I, the one who has
wanted a steady partner, a companion, a house and family, am sharing a hotel room with yet another man who likes me a lot and is not in love with me. If he says we can always be friends, I will lose it completely.

I turn the key to our whitewashed room, and he flops down on the carved wooden bed. I lie next to him, fi ghting tears, and he caresses my cheek. Then he strokes the small of my back.

I roll away and sit up. “Professor,” I finally say, “it’s too hard for me to be friends who tell each other everything about their love lives and still be lovers.”

“Not for me,” he says, sexy as ever.

I push his hand away and sigh. “Let’s go eat.”

I chose Oaxaca for my birthday and convinced the Professor to join me (before this new romance of his) because I happened across a book by Italo Calvino, Under the Jaguar Sun, in which each essay is devoted to one of the senses. Of all the cities in the
world where Calvino had dined—and he was Italian, mind you—for him Oaxaca embodied the ultimate fulfi llment of the sense of taste. Oaxacan cuisine, he wrote, mixes a cornucopia of native vegetables with spices and recipes brought over by the Spanish. Over the centuries, those cuisines were mingled, enhanced, and perfected by cloistered nuns (for whom cooking was one of the few earthly indulgences). Calvino called Oaxacan food “an elaborate and bold cuisine” with fl avor notes that vibrate
against one another in harmonies and dissonances to “a point of no return, an absolute possession exercised on the receptivity of all the senses.”

Ah, yes. For now, in Oaxaca, with the Professor, the food will have to do all the stirring of the senses.

And so we eat. We venture to a modest place near the hotel where a stout woman does wonders in the tiny kitchen. We try dishes that are familiar by name but taste unlike any Mexican food I’ve ever eaten. The guacamole is fresher, the tortillas sweeter and crisper. The dark sauce on the enchiladas and chiles rellenos seem
concocted from an ancient, mysterious alchemy. For the French Professor, who has never set foot in this country before and has tried Mexican food only secondhand in San Francisco when he visited me there, every taste is new.

For the next few days, we explore Oaxaca’s cuisine, trying moles in different colors each day—from Amarillo, with tomatillos and chiles, to a black, chocolaty mole negro. Each sauce requires days to prepare, and each bite is a layered, earthy, mouth-warming experience. The Professor sighs, watching me in anticipation of the pleasure of my bite, and then I sigh with him, adding the layers and spices of our history and passion to each complicated mouthful.

Between meals, we visit Monte Alban, the Zapotec ruins, climbing to the top of the pyramids to take in the wide sky and view of the town below. You can see why Hernán Cortés, who was offered anywhere in Mexico for himself after his conquest, chose the Oaxaca Valley. Then we walk all the way back to town to find Aztec soup and chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves. We wander around the neat cobblestone streets another day, peeking into brightly painted churches, admiring cactus gardens, browsing in art galleries—and then we order Anaheim and poblano chiles sautéed with fresh cheese, onions, and crème fraiche. We tour Oaxaca’s huge food market, pass stalls with hanging pigs, fresh chocolate, stacks of cactus, and basketfuls of corn, tomatoes, onions, exotic greens, and roasted grasshoppers. Tidy piles of chiles stand as tall as I. We discover the chocolate factory and drink creamy hot chocolate, looking into each other’s eyes, bittersweet.

Qué rico,” I say to the server as I fi nish my chocolate. How delicious.

“How do you know Spanish?” the Professor asks.

I explain that my mother brought my three older sisters and me to live in Mexico for a summer when I was ten years old. We spent that time in San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town not unlike Oaxaca, at an age when I was unafraid to roam around and try to talk to everyone. It was when I got my first taste of the wide world and felt a hunger for its endless sights and fl avors. It was also when I first understood that being able to speak another language, even the few phrases one can manage at ten, isn’t just a matter of translating familiar words; it’s a way of expanding your internal territory and venturing outside the borders of your culture and family. The fresh new sentences change the very nature of your thoughts, your usual reactions, and your sense of who you are. I learned, that summer, that I couldn’t speak a little Spanish without becoming a little Mexican. That exciting summer in San Miguel de Allende—discovering the pleasures of discovery—was when I first became a traveler.

“Intelligent mother,” says the Professor, pushing back from the table, content.

Eventually it is our last evening, and we have finished dinner down to the mescal, satiated with the place, cheeks warmed, and cheerful, for the moment, with our transition to friends.

“Happy birthday,” says the Professor, and he pulls out a necklace he bought from an Indian vendor, a lovely string of turquoise and amber. I try to remember if any man besides my father has ever bought me a piece of jewelry. Aside from my first boyfriend
in college, who gave me an opal pendant as a parting gift, I can’t recall any. I was outraged once when my friend Giovanna told me her husband had never bought her any jewelry during their entire marriage, with all the toys he bought for himself, and maybe I was so mad because mine didn’t, either. So this gift, at forty, is a delightful surprise.

The Professor clasps it, hands warm, on my neck. “What do you wish for?”

So many things. I wish we could stay in Oaxaca and be the lovers we used to be. I wish I could still fall in love or even believe I could. I wish for great food, adventure, and soul-scorching sex.

Maybe a child, still. I wish for it all.

“Romance and adventure,” I say. I do not say what else I wish for, maybe what I wish for most, because it seems contrary to everything else, which is to be with one man or in one place, to have something settled in a life where nothing is settled.

“Do you think you can have both?” asks the Professor. “Who is the man who will let you roam around the world, meeting your old lovers?”

I shrug. “Maybe he’ll travel with me.”

“Good luck,” says the Professor, and he is sincere.

I twirl my glass between my fingers, sniff the smoky mescal, and wonder, as I always wonder, whether we will see each other again. I ask the Professor if he thinks we might travel together again.

“You never know,” he says. He reaches over and strokes my hand.

La vita è bella e lunga,” he says. Life is beautiful and long. We clink glasses.

After dinner, we go back to the hotel and snuggle together like contented old friends.

Buenas noches,” I tell him, and he is already snoozing.

I can’t sleep. The moon is peeking through the wooden window frame, and I wonder about my wishes for romance and adventure. This man I have loved, off and on, is leaving tomorrow, and, as usual, I don’t know when or whether I’ll see him again.

The men in my life are always like the countries I visit: I fall in love briefl y and then move on. I visit, regard the wonders, delve into the history, taste the cooking, peer into dark corners, feel a few moments of excitement and maybe ecstasy and bliss, and
then, though I am often sad to leave—or stung that no one insists that I stay—I am on my way.

Here on a sultry night in a foreign country, with a man sleeping next to me, casually throwing his skinny leg over my soft one, I realize I don’t have someone whom I can call home. I wonder if it’s possible to have everything I wished for on my fortieth birthday: adventure and romance, wanderlust and just plain lust.

I turn in the bed. Actually, it isn’t exactly romance and lust that I wish for. Finding a fascinating and attractive man on the road, going from being perfect strangers to holding hands, sharing stories and bites of dessert, gazing into each other’s eyes over
dinner, and then stopping for a moment to stare at each other again in bed—that’s romance, that’s lust. That’s exciting and wonderful, but it’s all too brief, like a vacation. Of course, you can travel the world and find romance. What’s more elusive is real companionship, someone who’s always making the same dent on his side of the bed, who knows how you like your coffee in the morning. It’s much harder to find comfort and stability, to be held, to be secure in the knowledge that someone is taking care of
you and even— old-fashioned as it sounds—protecting you.

You can’t grow old with someone if you’re always off searching for new experiences. And I’m not getting any younger.

I roll over again, facing the Professor, who echoes my disturbance with a few deep, skidding snores. I’m restless and agitated.

I face the Professor and then turn toward the wall; I don’t feel comfortable anywhere. My desires—to be free and to belong, to be independent and to be inextricably loved, to be in motion and to be still—pull me back and forth. The Professor sleeps soundly
while I wrestle with the two sides of myself until I am worn out and the moonlight dims, replaced by the cool light of dawn.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Entertaining chick lit that should resonate with women striving to have it all." —-Kirkus

Meet the Author

LAURA FRASER is the author of the bestselling memoir An Italian Affair and Losing It, an investigative look at the weight-loss industry. She is a contributing editor to More magazine, and has written for Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; the New York Times; AFAR; Self; Glamour; Vogue, Elle; Redbook; Tricycle; and more.

From the Hardcover edition.

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All Over the Map 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Jane49 More than 1 year ago
This book is an amazing, honest journey into one woman's quest to find balance and sense in her life when she finds herself single after forty. Her searching takes her literally all over the map, to many exotic places, and into the deep realms of her own heart. The book is written so honestly, and with so much insight, that I felt like I was the writer's best friend, both wishing I had her life, and glad that I don't. Should resonate with so many women.
LittleMinnesota More than 1 year ago
It took a few chapters or so for Laura’s personality to grow on me. Which I honestly have to say, I enjoyed progressively learning about her. I felt as if I was listening to a new song that I didn’t understand yet it had a catchy tune to it that kept me moving, caring less of the meaning of the words but embracing the feeling it gave me. All Over the Map was definitely a page turner. After each chapter concluded, there was not one moment I was ready to set the book down. It felt as if I had a plane ticket to each one of her destinations. In my mind, I can smell the luscious food, feel the crisp air, and even envision the people she encountered including her horrific encounter in Samoa. I am now on to The Italian Affair which I am expecting to be just as spellbinding! I hope she continues to publish more! P.s. Please come visit Minnesota!!!
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BioStepMom More than 1 year ago
When I first picked up this book, I thought, "Oh no, another 'Eat, Pray, Love'". It took me a couple of days to get past the first five pages because I was convinced it wasn't going to hold a candle to "EPL", but once I actually sat down to read it, I realized it was nothing like it. I loved the story and thought several time while reading it that this could have been my life had I not chosen to get married and become the old woman that lives in a shoe (with so many children, she didn't know what to do). I found myself living vicariously through the author and her many travels. I'm looking forward to reading other books by Laura Fraser as I really enjoyed her style of writing.
WisereaderJG More than 1 year ago
I have read all of what Laura Fraser has written, including, of course, All Over the Map, and have become a fan. It isn't often one finds her combination of impeccable style, close understanding of human nature, interest in the world around her and tongue-in-cheek humor. All Over the Map is her best work yet. I look forward to anything else she wants to write.
HeahterINfrisco More than 1 year ago
Laura's first memoir "An Italian Affair" left me longing for MORE. More travel, more romance & more comic, heart wrenching, honest tales of a girl finding herself as she moves around the globe in search of love & living life to the max. "All Over the Map" delivers that & so much MORE! If you are searching for a summer read that combines witty tales ranging from cleansing your life starting with the closet, some meditation madness on way, mixed in with long distance love affair with a sexy Frenchman and ends with inspiring adventure of maybe (no spoilers here!) buying a very old, very narrow, very dilapidated house in artsy village of San Miguel de Allende with so much truth & raw emotion woven into each chapter than this IS the book for you! Laura's writing is so easy to relate to & I kept thinking "Oh, that happened to me". Laura is from San Francisco, like me, loves to travel, like me, can be impetuous at times, like me, passionate, like me, quirky, like me & funny, like me. Only funnier. And way more willing to put it out there in print! This book is impossible to put down & be forewarned: "All Over the Map" may cost $20 but you will be inspired to eat, love, travel so get the credit card & sense of adventure saddled up before you dive into page 1! Good lit travels fast, Great lit never stops!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was hard to get into. The only way I was able to finish this was to think the author was writing a story of her journey. I couldn't focus on it well when I thought of the author was writing about a writer, writing about her experiences. There were nice details of the areas and good description of feelings and emotions, but once again I had a hard time getting through the book.
jkaustin02 More than 1 year ago
Laura Fraser's All Over The Map is a funny, witty, sometimes sad but honest review of her life and times. It could be a story about MY life, well, except for the world travel,college and the adventurous Mom! But her trials and tribulations with men and relationships struck a chord with me. Been there, done that. Her insight into the relationships, the whys and wherefores of them, is deeply introspective, completely personal, yet makes you feel you're on the journey with her. Her fears, insecurities, lack of self-esteem...all are part of who we are as women. She just boils it all down to what we all don't want to admit. That we aren't perfect and neither are men. But "la bella vita"! Life is beautiful, and each thing that happens to us, good or bad, makes our lives what they are. What we'll reflect back on in later years. As she says..."The love in your life adds up". So, tuck in your jewelry, hold your passport and money close and act like you know where you're going. You'll get there!
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
The relatively new genre of memoir of middle aged woman finding herself (usually after divorce) seems almost a second coming of age. These are women disillusioned by the whole struggle of balancing careers, families, and personal growth, looking to lead fuller, more meaningful lives, and always to find their one true love. Laura Fraser fits easily in this category and All Over the Map is the story of her second coming of age. Laura Fraser is a restless traveler with no roots, running away from the decisions she's made, when her 45th birthday approaches. She decides a man will fix everything and sets out to find the right one. Her travels are interesting and she describes the places she visits in tantalizing detail. I found myself marking places I want to see. Even Samoa, the scene of a life-changing disaster for Fraser, sounds appealing in her description. Still, I cringed every time she jumped into a new relationship and often found myself wanting to shake her. The ending saves the book for me. I won't give anything away, but I felt that Fraser did finally gain some insight.
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SakuraKY More than 1 year ago
The author tries to endear us with her affairs with married men and total strangers. Why not watch a soap or read a tabloid? Anyone with basic morals will struggle to connect with this self-indulgent tale.