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Not all of Least Heat-Moon’s musings get to this depth of profundity – the author talks about the courage needed to face black pudding on the far Scottish islands and memories evoked by his search for a particular genus of Lake Superior smoked fish. Had he so chosen, Least Heat-Moon could have established himself primarily as a food writer. In “Morning in Manarola,” he knocks back a bowl of potent olives, pasta with potatoes (a Ligurian specialty), and a pear-flavored dessert wine. The next day, it’s unexpectedly delectable anchovies after his morning espresso.
But the author has more in mind than conjuring up local flavor; in fact he eschews places that draw hungry tourists. Least Heat-Moon is at his finest when in often overlooked places – whether a void on his road map that is dirt-deviled southeast Oregon or the intimacies of topography surrounding his Missouri home. He likes to philosophize and has a rangy vocabulary (keep a dictionary at hand).
He also voices his faith that his readers will join him as members of the “Because It’s There Association of Not-Yet-Jaded Travelers.” He uses this term in “A Land for the Resolutely Curious,” which describes a float down the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, replete with great swaths of nonscenery. Least Heat-Moon admits that even the most resolute might “hope for a passing tow, a sunken barge, a bridge, a noisy rise of ricebirds – anything to disrupt the purgatory of rectilinearity.” But he offers a wealth of reflection to be had in even the more barren of travel choices.
In the end it’s clear that a foray into “Here, There, Elsewhere,” like the mix of exotic jaunts and “more disregarded than discovered” places it chronicles, is worth the investment in time, a good dictionary, and open-mindedness. Long live the Resolutely Curious!