Quai Voltaire in 1931, Ceylan Hot and Breathless Air in 1950, Paul Bowles Travels Collected Writings

After being first published in 2010 in the UK, Travels, Collected Writings, 1950-1993 (Ecco, August 23, 2011) by Paul Bowles reaches the U.S shores.

I received ' Travels, Collected Writings' a few weeks back and it seems only fitting that I would write about it while on my own late minute trip to Europe.


Paul Bowles best known work is The Sheltering Sky.

Besides his fiction writing, he also wrote extensively about travel. His vivid prose takes us places many of us never visited and I hope brought him a steady source of income.

The image we might have of Paul Bowles is of the American expat spending most of his life in Tangiers, Morocco. He actually visited places, some of them numerous times.

Travel fit his restless nature.

This collection of 40 essays starts in Paris and ends with Paul Bowles, His Life, a previously unpublished journal (1986). We go from Paris to Morocco tp Ceylan and Kenya not to forget Thailand.

All this took place long before backpacking days and way before a traveler in faraway spots would broadcast a play by play of their trek to their 'friends' on Facebook, Twitter, almost instantly broadcast snapshots and videos of their latest adventure (original or not) via Flickr and You Tube.

In a pinch you had to tough it out. No Paypal transfer to save you.

He illustrates that perfectly in the opening piece, 17 Quai Voltaire covering his budding years in Paris (1931-32).

“Strange, but it's impossible to remember where I ate my lunches and dinners. I was not interested in gastronomy; I was striving to make a small amount of money last as long as possible, without suffering from indigestion. It seems to me that there was a quite good, medium-priced restaurant in the Rue Bonaparte where I often went.”

'Fish Traps and Private Business' documents his time at Welideniya Estate, Ceylan in May 1950.

Talking about the weather, “the air is hot and breathless, the only respite coming in the middle of the afternoon, when it rains. And afterward, when it has stoppede, one has very little energy until night falls. However, by then it is too late to do anything but talk or read.”

His nights there sound short on sleep. He writes “I lie awake listening to the unfamiliar sounds made by the insects, birds and reptiles. By now I can tell more or less how late it is by the section of the nocturnal symphony that has been reached” and goes on to add “sometimes in the morning Mrs. Murrow asks me if I heard the cobra sing during the night. I have never been able to answer in the affirmative, because in spite of her description (“like a silver coin falling against a rock”), I have no clear idea of what to listen for.”

'Cafe in Morocco' (1966) notes “ The traditional cafe in this part of the world is conceived of as a club where, in addition to enjoying the usual amenities of a cafe, a man may, if he wishes, eat, sleep, bathe and store his personal effects.”

Outside the travel pieces, 'Kif, prologue and compendium of terms' from 'The book of grass' (1967) covers other territories.

I could go on and on quoting the book. I don't want to ruin your pleasure discovering Capetown, Madeira, Thailand (in 1972).

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