Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Picture Perfect

Vivian Swift creates a captivating and funny travel memoir that is quite literally a work of art

Vivian Swift, the author of When Wanderers Cease to Roam (2008), abandoned her garden trowel and Adirondack chair, packed her bags, and doodled enough during her honeymoon in France to write a book about the experience. Swift’s ode to travel—and to France, too, though chiefly to travel—includes hundreds of her own watercolor illustrations, notes, and captions, which make the book feel more like an intimate collection of remembrances and a kind of quirky catalog of travel recipes than a straight memoir. “Travel is a lot like sex,” writes Swift, who has been traveling for thirty years and has visited forty countries. “It’s very personal, prone to fads, and competitive; and we’re all secretly curious how other people do it.”

Covering everything from advice for what to pack—include the “culturally sensitive sweater” or “pack for the person you are on Saturday morning,” for example—to handling the inevitable pitfalls of travel abroad (“There will be rainy days on your journey”), Le Road Trip is light-hearted, informative, and humorous, not a guide in any real sense yet chock full of little-known facts and anecdotes that are a delight to read, even when they are not at all about France. Indeed, any reader will conclude that Swift is not only a seasoned and curious traveler with incredible artistic talent; she is also wise. “Love affairs are like road trips, and road trips are like love affairs,” she writes. “From beginning to end the emotions are equally intense, the phases just as predictable. Love and travel. They both have their ups and downs.”

As when she and her new husband find themselves in Fougères: “We are too tired, sore, and dispirited to do much for dinner except choose the nearest available restaurant for limp, luke-warm Italian food served by an absent-minded waitress in a dirty uniform with drug addict friends in the bar. … We’re sure this is the worst meal to be had in France. We were sure, that is, until we get to Bordeaux the next night and are having what is truly the most dismal on-the-road dining experience possible.”

Swift—a former Faberge expert at Christie’s auction house who has also worked as a receptionist, gift-shop sales lady, au pair, horologist, and office temp, among many other jobs—has lived and worked in Paris and traveled all over France. Le Road Trip will make readers wish we could have been with her on all her other journeys, too.

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