JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
Veteran TV journalist Linda Ellerbee has written a memoir that's something of a travel guide. Ellerbee tells us how she's managed not just to stop and smell the roses but also taste the kokoretsi, sing to the moon, keep hiking despite those blisters and, while you're at it, turn the strangers you meet into lifelong friends. Ellerbee's new book is called "Take Big Bites: Adventures Around The World and Across the Table." And she joins me from our New York bureau.
Ms. LINDA ELLERBEE (Author, "Take Big Bites: Adventures Around The World and Across the Table"): Thank you.
LUDDEN: You take a lot of these trips alone by choice. You're--the love of your life stays home, and you go. Why travel alone?
Ms. ELLERBEE: Well, partly it's because Rolf is tired of traveling, but I like traveling alone. I've had great trips with people, but there's a chance you could be with somebody in Outer Mongolia, and the two of you are so involved with one another that you never actually speak to an Outer Mongolian. If you travel alone, you are forced to engage with the culture around you, which presumably is different from your own and presumably that's why you went there. I also like it because I like choosing. You know, I can get up when I want. I can go eat when I want. I can do what I want. Nobody ever says, `Surely you don't think that vase is worth 30 zupatas(ph).'
LUDDEN: (Laughs) You seem to make a point of pushing yourself: `Try whatever is new, whatever...'
Ms. ELLERBEE: You know, the title of this book, "Take Big Bites," is really much more about an attitude concerning life. It has bothered me a great deal that since September 11th so many Americans have chosen to stay home, either because they think people don't like Americans or because they're afraid they won't be safe. And I take just the opposite attitude. I was on the first plane out of New York heading for Los Angeles, an American Airlines flight, the first morning they flew again after September 11th. The object of terrorism is to terrorize you. If you're not terrorized, they haven't won. And I know...
LUDDEN: So you're...
Ms. ELLERBEE: ...that you can travel the world and people do like Americans. They may disagree with our government's policies, but they often disagree with their own governments' policies. It has nothing to do with whether or not they're going to be nice to you. It is a good time to go out and take big bites of this world, particularly younger people. If they could get out and get around this world and meet people and talk to people, maybe neither they nor we would be so subject to governments telling us to fear one another.
LUDDEN: How do you approach people? I mean, you make friends...
Ms. ELLERBEE: I think if you go...
LUDDEN: ...throughout this book.
Ms. ELLERBEE: ...to a country with your heart open and your eyes open and a willingness to embrace their culture or at least to investigate it, to see what it's like, that it changes you and it changes what happens to you when you're there. If you go with a fixed idea in your head of what it's going to be and you have a plan for every day of everything you're going to do, you probably will not be blessed with happy surprises. I went to Italy one year, and I went to a three-star restaurant near the Amalfi Coast. And I had this wonderful meal, and I met the owner, who was the chef, and his wife, a young couple--actually, they were about my age.
LUDDEN: Very young.
Ms. ELLERBEE: Yeah, I still think of myself as young, too. And I so enjoyed the meal, and they wouldn't let me pay for it. And I said, `But why? I just loved it.' And they said, `Well, that's why. You enjoyed it so much, you can't pay for it.'
It was a year later that I went back to that restaurant; a whole year had passed. I had another great meal, they wouldn't let me pay for it. I said, `No, no, you don't understand. I don't write about food.' Well, I hadn't yet. And the owner-chef said, `You don't understand. Cooking is too hard a work to do only for money.' And I said, `But you must let me pay.' And he said, `No, the other reason you can't pay is (Italian spoken), you're a regular.'
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Ms. ELLERBEE: I had been there twice in two years. Then when September 11th happened, one of the first letters I got was from this couple in Italy wanting to know was I OK; was my family OK. These are the strangers you travel to meet in the first place.
LUDDEN: A subtheme of this book is you're turning 60.
Ms. ELLERBEE: Yes, I turned 60 last August, and I did it by going to England with my backpack and hiking the River Thames from the source to the sea, 200 miles...
Ms. ELLERBEE and LUDDEN: (In unison) ...alone.
Ms. ELLERBEE: I went with the idea that I would, as the Navajo say, walk in beauty. It didn't quite work out that way. First of all, I got lost following a river twice. I fell in the river once. My mind was filled with monkey brain, that chatter that you can't make it be quiet? And I allotted 20 days for this walk, so that I would finish on my birthday. I ended up having done it in 18 days. `Now what am I going to do?'--you know? So I called my office, and my assistant said, `I have bad news for you. Julia Child died today.'
Julia and I had become friends because we both had breast cancer, and I thought about her attitudes. And I thought, `She would have treated this walk differently. She would have enjoyed every minute of it.' Her attitude about life and cancer was, you know, `Pick yourself up off the floor and stop whining.'
LUDDEN: There are times when you do agonize, just a wee bit, about getting older. And I'd love--if I could ask you to read a couple of paragraphs.
Ms. ELLERBEE: Sure.
LUDDEN: I think it's page 29.
Ms. ELLERBEE: I'm going there right now. Yes.
Ms. ELLERBEE: I know what you're--there is a part about getting older that is both good and bad, you know?
LUDDEN: You're in Turkey alone.
Ms. ELLERBEE: I'm in Turkey alone.
LUDDEN: Let's start when you start talking about the construction site and the...
Ms. ELLERBEE: OK. Well, I...
LUDDEN: ...formal greeting of the hard-hatted male.
Ms. ELLERBEE: (Reading) `I've had years of edifying experience walking by construction sites. They're repairing a highway. They're putting up a new building. You know what I mean. You approach, tensing in anticipating of the formal greeting of the hard-hatted male. "Hey, Sweet Mama, how would you like to sit on this?" Like most women, I have never understood why they did it or what I ought to do about it. In the end, I would do what most women do; I would pretend they weren't there. And then one day I strolled by the guys, and nothing happened. And I heard a voice in my head point out that for a while now nothing had happened when I passed a construction site. What? I'd become invisible? OK, I wasn't 25 anymore, but I didn't look like someone who ought to wear a sack over her head. Although no woman likes being leered at, being ignored was unsettling.
I began to test my invisibility in other situations, asking for help in stores, attempting to get the attention of waitpersons, jockeying for space on the subway, negotiating a large party. I discovered those most likely not to see me were usually young and/or male. How ungrateful. All those years curling this, straightening that, holding my tummy in, lining my eyes, lacquering my nails, glossing my lips and keeping my mouth shut--or trying--and now suddenly I'm not here? But if, at first glance, I no longer counted to some people, I was free to be me at all times. My invisibility made me invincible. So what if you don't see me? I see you.'
LUDDEN: So is travel better now?
Ms. ELLERBEE: In a way, it is. I think that comes with a little wisdom. It's different now. I mean, I had great trips when I was young, and I write about a lot of them. But travel now is different. It is much easier for me to stop people and talk to them, particularly men, without them thinking I'm coming on to them.
LUDDEN: You've been traveling far and wide for decades. You've got a son and a daughter. Do your children love travel as you do?
Ms. ELLERBEE: They do. My daughter--I tell a story in the book. I went to Istanbul. Vanessa had moved and lived there for six months, and I said, `Where's the best meal in Istanbul?' And she said, `Do exactly as I say. Go to the Galata Bridge. You will find men by the bridge, by the water, with oil drums with fires in them and a grate over the top. They will take a baguette-sized fish and put it on the grill and cook it. And then they will put it on a fresh baguette, and they will put raw onions and lemon juice and hot sauce on it and put the top of the baguette on it and give it to you.' Now she said, `Now here's the secret. Don't go anywhere. Stand right there by that bridge and eat a fish that was swimming between two continents earlier that morning.' Now that's an unusual meal eaten in unusual circumstances; that's my idea of a good trip.
LUDDEN: Linda Ellerbee's new book is "Take Big Bites: Adventures Around The World and Across the Table." She's the executive producer and anchor of "Nick News."
Ms. ELLERBEE: Thank you.
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LUDDEN: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.
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