A rite of passage for many is to sling a backpack over one’s shoulder and tramp around Europe and Asia for months at a time, with only a few dollars and a phrase book. Friendships are fast and fleeting, train stations are just fine for sleeping, and unidentifiable meals are very much a part of the adventure. As we grow older, however, and a little softer, a vacation often becomes less about the experience and more about the pampering.
Mark Frutkin is here to remind us that travelling without the GPS and credit cards is the better way to go. In Walking Backwards, the prolific novelist and poet takes us back to his days as a student, when he jumped at any opportunity to see a new part of the world. “I’d like to see Greece,” the young Frutkin muses at one point, “but I don’t have much money.” No problem. Hitchhiking is free. Food can be optional.
Years pass, and each section of the book takes us to a new city or region – Paris, Venice, Istanbul, New Delhi. Frutkin misunderstands Italian directions, refuses to purchase a suitcase with wheels, and has his tongue turn black from eating octopus ink. With hardship comes pleasure. A simple description of a paper bag of nectarines and chocolates is almost enough to make the reader forget the day job and buy a Eurail pass.
Even as he grows older, Frutkin remains true to his hippie roots – he was an early adherent of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics – making this book a wistful read. The form of travel Frutkin describes is no longer the norm in our wired world, so many of his anecdotes are tinged with nostalgia. Walking Backwards is a reminder of the travellers we once were, and, as such, is both sentimental and entertaining.