As her journey takes her to Australia and South America, Rachel discovers and embraces her love of travel and unlocks more truths about herself than she ever realized she was seeking. Along the way, the erstwhile good girl finally learns to do something she’s never done before: simply live for the moment.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Our heroine, verily drowning in self-pity at the tender age of twenty, embarks on a grand adventure that is not yet either grand or an adventure but, rather, a hastily concocted plan to escape the confines of her current existence and the quotidian yet oppressive pressures contained therein.
The plane descends through a thick belt of clouds into blinding light. I haven’t fully registered the transition from night to day until sun pours through the oblong windows, jarring me out of semi-consciousness. For the past eight hours, ever since I waved goodbye to my father at the airport and marched myself onto a plane bound for Dublin, I’ve been wondering if I was in some altered state when I planned this trip, because the reality of it feels distinctly like a bad hangover. Being bathed in golden light only adds to my surreal arrival. Isn’t it supposed to be raining in Ireland?
We thud against the tarmac, and my fellow passengers shuffle to life, folding in half to gather their belongings from beneath the seats. Eager to depart, the frizzy-haired girl in the row ahead of me springs up like a jack-in-the-box as soon as the seat-belt light clicks off for the last time. I remain belted in, doing my best deer-in-headlights impression. I might just stay on this plane all day, ride it round-trip like I did once when I was little and too frightened to get off the revolving ski lift at the top of the mountain. The elderly woman sitting next to me, a tiny person with papery hands and merlot-stained lips, leans over and taps the book sitting in my lap: Angela’s Ashes.
“Oh, that poor Angela,” she sighs in one of those lilting Irish accents that make a grocery list sound like a Yeats poem. “Heaven knows she did the best for those boys, then Frank comes along and airs their business to the whole bloody world.” Her tone is heavy with disdain, as if the author sold naked photos of his mother to the tabloids, not penned a Pulitzer Prize winner about his Irish childhood. Coming from the land of “all publicity is good publicity,” I’d just assumed McCourt’s native country embraced his memoir, proudly adding him to their long list (suspiciously long, really, considering Ireland’s size) of distinguished writers. But like I was wrong about the weather, it seems I am mistaken about this, too.
Here are the facts of the present moment. It’s 2002. I’m twenty years old. I’ve just embarked on four months in a foreign country alone. I’m carrying six hundred dollars in traveler’s checks, money saved up from waitressing last semester. I booked two nights in a Dublin hostel before I left. Other than that, I’ve got no plan. And this greatly confounds me because I always have a plan. At least I used to be the kind of girl who always has a plan.
In a few months, I’ll be a college senior. School has been the organizing principle of my existence for as long as I can remember, and I have no idea what comes after that. My academic parents raised me to be ambitious and goal-oriented. In particular, my father, a film professor, molded me into a second-wave feminist whose duty it was to burst forth into the world and crush the male competition. He used to routinely deconstruct the PG films we watched together to comment on the functioning of the male gaze, say, or to illustrate how gender is performative. I still remember his lecture on The Little Mermaid: “It’s just not equitable. Ariel has to give up everything for this guy—first her voice, then her home. On a very real level, Rachel, she has to give up who she is. What are we to make of this?”
“Jesus, Lester,” my mother would sigh.
I was eight.
But I listened. I always listened.
I was a scholarship kid at a small, eccentric college-preparatory high school, the kind of place where you juggled two dozen AP classes at once. Much of my teenage world revolved around studying, carefully calibrated extracurricular activities, and endless rounds of practice SATs.
There was never a question of whether I would attend college—only where. And I was desperate to go, both because my parents’ divorce when I was fifteen had left me without a place I truly identified as “home” and because I genuinely loved school, where the formula for success was straightforward. Study and you get good grades. Simple, safe. But no class has prepared me for the post-student leap I am facing now, and being an eternal overachiever who bases her self-worth on her GPA, I am woefully ill-equipped to take on the unpredictable, unscheduled life awaiting me after college graduation. I am terrified of this unknown.
In the Dublin airport, confident, purposeful travelers swirl around me, off to meetings and reunions and homes. All of them seem to know exactly where they are headed—except me. For a few moments, I am frozen and directionless, lost amid the drifting crowds. My brain works in slow motion, registering my tasks: pick up suitcase, exchange money, find hostel.
I’ve never been to a foreign country alone, though I’ve been abroad a few times, starting with Germany when I was ten. My brother Dan was stationed there, and I flew over with my parents to visit him. We rented a car and dashed all over Europe. Ten days in at least as many cities, pausing just long enough to snap photos. It was exhausting, and I’m told I didn’t appreciate much of it. Every few years, my brother reminds me, shaking his head with renewed disgust, that I slept (slept!) through the pristine Alps.
After my sophomore year of high school, my parents discharged me to Israel with a temple youth group, even though I had recently articulated that I was “so over Judaism.” But it was difficult to stay pissed off for an entire summer, especially on a bus with twenty-five other teenagers and Yamud, our gigantic, hairy Israeli graduate-student guide who insisted on blasting “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” on his boom box every morning at six a.m. as we boarded the bus, still bleary-eyed. If you were drooping sleepily into the aisle, one of his enormous flailing wrists would smack you in the head. You might slip quietly into a window seat in the back and shut your eyes only to find his meaty fingers jabbing them open.
Each of us was assigned an identifying number and forced to shout it out (in order) at least twelve times a day, making our trip resemble one long Sesame Street episode. Peter, an unruly Canadian, insisted on substituting his name for his number. He was Rastafarian and claimed he was simply “too burned out to remember my number, brotha.” We found this, along with the dreadlock wig he wore over his shaved head and the fact that he smoked an invisible joint for hours at a time, across-the-board hilarious. Our Israeli guides, so unlike our regimented parents back home, just smirked and checked him off the list. They told the bus driver—a skinny man with the same real cigarette burning out of the corner of his mouth, seemingly for days, as if fueled by miracle menorah oil—that we were all accounted for and ready to go.
My souvenir from this first semi-independent trip to a faraway land was a small tattoo. I acquired it in a dingy corner of Jerusalem from one of those muscly guys who have inked every available nook of their flesh canvas. The tattoo is a simple quarter-sized blue flower on the lower-right side of my back: five blue petals with a hint of purple at the base, outlined in black ink. Tiny tendrils poke out like rays of sunlight. I arrived at the tattoo parlor with two quivering guy friends who insisted I go first. I smiled reassuringly up at their worried faces as the needle scratched into my bare flesh. I felt incredibly wild.
But this trip to Ireland is my first time alone in a foreign country: no family, no friends, no crazy Yamud making sure number twenty-eight is on the bus. I have only myself to rely on—which is precisely what worries me. My friends’ and families’ collective concerns echo in my brain: Where will you live? How will you find work? Won’t you be lonely? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. All I knew was that I needed to get away. I hadn’t actually pictured myself on the other side of that con- viction.
“You’re so brave to go off on your own,” my best college friend, Erica, told me a week ago, bestowing “brave” upon me with the distinct tone usually reserved for the word “insane.” Erica is interning at an art gallery in New York City this summer. It’s the kind of thing I think I should be doing, trying out my career instead of skipping town for no discernible reason.
I can barely heave my massive red suitcase off the conveyor belt. It feels twice as heavy as when my father and I launched it into the trunk of his Hyundai before heading off to the airport. I’m here for just over four months (an impossibly long time, now that I think about it) and have, I think, packed accordingly. Several outfits for day or night, flats for walking, sandals for warm days, sneakers for running, boots for trekking (will I be trekking anywhere? I don’t trek back home), two pairs of pretty heels for nights out, though, of course, I don’t know anyone in Ireland to go out with. I’ve packed toiletries, twelve books, twenty pairs of underwear, ten pairs of socks, three sweaters, two jackets, three swimsuits, enough vitamin C to turn me into an orange, and two fluffy bath towels.
A guy with greasy blond hair and Atlantic-blue eyes hoists a backpack onto his shoulders. He snaps it around his waist. It’s half the size of his body, and I could fit four of them inside Big Red. Surely, with such modest gear, he must be traveling only for a week or two. And he must be moving around a lot. I plan on staying right here in Dublin. My instinct, as always, is to settle down, dig my heels in, and work hard at something, even if that something is only waiting tables. But it will be waitressing in a foreign country, far away from home. The backpacker strides swiftly out the door, looking carefree and unencumbered, leaving me with the exhausting thought of maneuvering my monstrous luggage through an unfamiliar city.
Why Ireland? Well, for starters, four hundred dollars (my parents’ generous, hesitant contribution) is enough to purchase a student work visa, something available in only a handful of countries, two of them—Australia and New Zealand—instantly ruled out because they are too far to find cheap airfare. Also, the rainy Irish weather appeals to me. If I am going to be miserable, I want the skies to match my mood. Last fall I took a course on Joyce, and I’ve been conjuring up long, dreary days wandering like Ulysses, rainy nights in cafés punishing myself with Finne?gans Wake. This portrait appeals to my romanticized notion of melancholy, the kind I plan to undertake in Ireland, not at all like my current depressive state of pondering my postgraduate future, which consists of numbly attending lectures, sleeping twelve hours a day, and when I’m feeling really ambitious, staring blankly at the wall. Most of all, I just want to be somewhere else. When it comes to Ireland, it’s not so much a matter of Why here? as Will it be far enough?
It is not solely the post-graduation unknown that has unhinged me recently. It is also the fact that I was not expecting to be facing the abyss at all because I’ve had a very specific plan for my life since fourth grade. Up until recently, I fully expected to transition smoothly into the “real world,” riding into the gloriousness of my adulthood on the coattails of my one true calling: music. Viola, to be specific, the instrument I devoted myself to since I was eight. I even spent my freshman year of college studying with the principal of the Boston Symphony. But somehow, everything fell apart that year, and I was no longer on my way toward being a professional musician.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xvii
Part 1 Ireland
1 Our heroine, verily drown in self-pity at the tender age of twenty, embarks on a grand adventure that is not yet either grand or an adventure but, rather, a hastily concocted plan to escape the confines of her current existence and the quotidian yet oppressive pressures contained therein 3
2 Our heroine discovers a strange tribe of people with no steady residence or employment, among them one of her neighbors to the north, a riddling Italian, three fearsome giants, and a confounding native who speaks a strange repetitious tongue. She bravely orders a meal to be eaten all alone while pondering the age-old question: Is one really the loneliest number? 11
3 Our heroine undertakes a journey of insignificant length and significant comfort to the west of Ireland. She relateth her impressions of Galway, a very fine city, and explores the traveler's constant companions-transience and loneliness. She battles a mighty winged one and determines to find gainful employment and permanent residence 22
4 Our heroine takes up residence with three strangers of various and unaccountable natures, one of whom is an entirely-different kind of girl species indeed 34
5 Our heroine considers some advice from her unnervingly wild new friend. She finds steady employment and an even steadier drinking habit, though it is not her intention to imply that the fine country of Ireland is in any way responsible for such youthful debauchery, other than to note that it does have a very high number of excellent bars in conjunction with an over abundance of rainy days. Our heroine might choose church, another fine, dry place in which to ponder life's questions, but alas, she is Jewish 50
6 Our heroine returns to her former life as a student, where she normally would be comforted by books and the lofty ideas contained therein, but finds herself unable to muster the necessary enthusiasm for anything but list making and bellyaching. Somehow she finds the will to both graduate and entertain her relatives. An unexpected call answered 63
Part 2 Australia
7 Ourheroine alights on Australia, a faraway land she has only read about, and not much at that, and is ferried to the exotic suburbs of Sydney by her native friend and guide. Though she is much jet-lagged and rather perplexed by her host's progenitor-a skilled caller of birds-she nevertheless finds herself quickly and comfortably ensconced in her welcoming new abode 75
8 Our heroine embarks on a brief journey to the Outback, wherein she meets a rock of indecent proportions and heat of insulting voracity. Locates gainful employment of coffee and curry, philosophizes and questions-questions and philosophizes 87
9 Our heroine learns much about the so-called Down Under and the people who reside therein. She considers the nature of families and homes, dingoes and the British. Resolves to avoid encounters with magpies at all costs 109
10 Our heroine and her trusty guide consider life, adrift in waters neither deep nor treacherous, with many adult beverages to guide their meandering trains of thought. Our heroine questions happiness and the means by which one might obtain it 125
11 Our heroine, her trusty guide, and a goateed suitor depart the sunny suburbs of Sydney and journey south. The trio encounters malformed birds and cities, strange prostheses and mysterious landscapes. They welcome in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and four 135
12 Our heroine musters her rawest courage and lightest bottle of shampoo for a solo jaunt up the east coast of this fine country. The path is rife with backpackers, a camel-like species with belongings like humps on their weary backs. Relates to readers some history of Australia, though not much, for this book is not meant to boreth but rather to exciteth 145
13 Our heroine dives into the depths of the briny sea, then launches herself from great heights. Survives the crocodile's lair and a particularly strong current, is rewarded with some small insights 152
14 Our heroine reluctantly returns to the bosom of Saint Diego and to her family, who express concern over her future misadventures. A stranger insists she cannot go to Brazil, though her ticket sayeth otherwise; thus, she prepares to depart for the Paris of the South instead 168
Part 3 South America
15 Our heroine arrives in Buenos Aires, city of tango and turmoil and of much delicious food and drink. She takes up with a merry band of backpackers. Consciously determines to meet up with her trusty guide but unconsciously procrastinates 175
16 Our heroine is coughed up in Tilcara, a small locale with many fine crafts and hippies. The effects of altitude are gravely endured until she is cured by a native medicine known for its darker properties. Departs for Bolivia in the company of a love-struck Australian and a travel-struck Swiss 180
17 Our heroine boards a crowded and not entirely pleasant-smelling vehicle for Tupiza, alongside her two temporary companions. The threesome is soon joined by two more, and the five begin an excursion both cursed and blessed by fickle Mother Nature, who maketh thunder and hail, pink flamingos and salt flats 200
18 Our heroine and her trusty guide reunite. The two make haste to La Paz, where misfortunes beset the heroine, who must question herself and her fears and attempt to make some sense of the tricky pair 214
19 Our heroine and her trusty guide battle the great and mighty Death Road, which is much feared by peoples other than the native inhabitants of the equally great and mighty Bolivia. Descends into a drug-induced slumber and emerges with an epiphany|p225
20 Our heroine and her trusty guide brave the heart of darkness, or at least the very edges of it. Insects of massive proportions and thirst are encountered, along with many strange and curious creatures. The author learns the only thing to fear is fear itself. And snakes 236
21 Our heroine and her trusty guide reach Peru, where the islands float and the mud slides. A bearded stranger enters their midst, followed by a dreaded illness. The adventurers depart for Chile 247
22 Our heroine and her trusty guide reach Chile, where they consider their impending separation and a good many churches. Our heroine searches the heavens for answers 266
23 The two friends take their leave of each other 270
24 Our heroine returns home, where many unanswered questions await her 279
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a child Rachel Friedman expected she would become a professional viola player some day. However, during her freshman year at college, Ms. Friedman realized that playing as a pro was not what she wanted in her life. Thus after years of aspiration she needed a new dream. The author goes to Ireland for the summer in hopes of finding what she wants. She meets many people in hostels and bars where the alcohol flowed too freely while she also worked at restaurants. From Ireland encouraged in Galway by Aussie Carly, Ms. Friedman journeys to Australia for a year and from there on a perilous South American tour where she meets New Zealand traveler Martyn. Put aside the overkill title and the excessive summarizing cute table of contents, Rachel Friedman's memoir is an intriguing coming of age quest to find ones' self. The Irish passage of rite is youth at its first freedom while the Australian sojourn is the maturing of the author. However, it is the final continent in which Ms. Friedman risks her life that is the most fascinating segue. Throughout there is a strong sense of family as Ms. Friedman muses how they would react to what she is doing; and the problems faced by an young American expatriate abroad especially employment. Readers will enjoy travels with Rachel who brings to life her getting lost and found on three continents. Harriet Klausner
Are you looking to get a taste of travel(even just in book form)? Looking for a book that tells the tale of finding one's self and stepping out of your comfort zone though different experiences? This is for you. I enjoyed this book. I wish there were more books like this one. It truly was a great read and would recommend it to many people looking for a unique book.
After casting aside her lifelong ambition to become a professional musician, Rachel Friedman takes to the road, searching for herself in Ireland, Australia, and South America. Rachel's stories of her travels (and travails) on foreign soil are both amusing and thoughtful, as she forges ahead, sometimes on her own, and sometimes with her new best buddy, Carly, but always with an eye toward having new experiences while keeping an open mind to the new places she explores and people she meets.
I identified so well with Friedman's journey, and couldn't stop reading. Makes we want to buy a one- way plane ticket right now!
This book was life changing. Literally. I was attracted to it because I was an upcoming college senior at the time of purchase. I had just arrived back to the U.S. from living in the UK for 4 months and the travel bug had bitten again and I wanted to live vicariously through someone else's travels. I dug in Barnes and Noble for hours trying to find a book and boy was this one worth the hunt! I'm now going to Australia for twelve months (after graduation) because of the amazing stories and experiences told in the pages of this book. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about travel and the world around them. It's from a relatable point of view with fear, humor, and love all mixed in. ENJOY!