In the August 3 and 10, 2009 issues of The New Yorker you’ll find a two-part essay by Ian Frazier on his 2001 road trip across Siberia (part one, part two, sketches, podcast).  The second part of the essay contains one of my favourite paragraphs of travel-writing ever:

Soon after Bikin, we suddenly entered a weird all-watermelon area. Watermelon sellers crowded both sides of the road under big umbrellas in beach-ball colors among wildly painted wooden signs. Sergei pulled over and bought a watermelon for a ruble, but as we went along the heaps of them kept growing until melons were spilling into the road and the sellers were giving them away. A man with teeth like a crazy fence hailed us and in high hilarity thrust two watermelons through the passenger-side window. By the time we emerged at the other end of the watermelon gauntlet, we had a dozen or more in the van. The watermelons were almost spherical, anti-freeze green, and slightly smaller than soccer balls. We cut one open and tried it — delicious. This was not a part of the world I had previously thought of as a great place for watermelons.

It’s the kind of paragraph you have to read over and over.  If you’re interested in Siberia, or in long road journeys, or just in good travel writing, I recommend you search out both parts of the essay.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous on August 24, 2009 - 00:56 Permalink

I was entranced by Frazier’s article and delighted to see that someone else enjoyed it as much as I did. For all of the Little House on the Prairie fans out there, I would also give a nod to the Laura Ingalls Wilder piece in the second issue — interesting to get a glimpse of what Wilder was was like as an older woman and the role her daughter played in getting her books published.

Mark Leggott's picture
Mark Leggott on August 28, 2009 - 18:42 Permalink

I had the same response to the article — a great piece of travel writing. My son was traveling in Egypt at the same time that I read this and all I could think of was him on the road to Alexandria from Cairo and seeing the falafel vendors on the way. Great stuff!