Nowhere contributing writer Peter Selgin discusses his upcoming memoir, early travel memories of New York City, a sediolino keepsake and his inspirations…
NOWHERE: What are you working on right now?
PS: A memoir in six parts about the relationship between memory and invention–how we all, in different ways, consciously and unconsciously, by omission, imagination, or fabrication, invent (or reinvent) the past.
NOWHERE: Tell us about the greatest trip you didn’t want to come back from…
PS: One of the memories recalled in the project I describe above is that of visiting New York City for the first time with my father when I was about six or seven years old (circa 1965). It was my earliest real experience of awe, but also, in ways, one of my last experiences of pure joy. The specific memories–like that of the dazzling hallway carpeting in the otherwise seedy hotel where we stayed–still burn vividly.
NOWHERE: How about a trip you would never go on again and why?
PS: I certainly don’t want to repeat that trip to Rome one January when I caught the flu, and where everything was cold–the hotel room, the cafes. I remember how, at one of the latter, the people kept their coats on as they lined up for their espressos and the barista kept a space heater burning next to his legs. Despite the presence of palm trees Rome is no tropical city!
NOWHERE: What’s one thing you never travel without and why?
PS: I used to always keep a sketchbook of some sort and either draw, write, or both: usually both. I’d sooner travel without a toothbrush than without a sketchbook.
NOWHERE: What was your favorite souvenir/keepsake you brought back from a journey? Where was it from and why is it so special?
PS: My folding “sediolino”—a wooden tripod stool with a triangular leather seat. One of my cousins in Italy gave it to me. You can carry it in a shoulder bag. I remember using it in NYC subway stations. You can sit anywhere!
NOWHERE: Who is your favorite travel writer and why?
PS: W. G. Sebald. His journeys are simultaneously interior and exterior, mental landscapes framed with exterior landscapes. In that sense all great writers are travel writers. I like Durrell, too. Not the Alexandria Quartet (much of which I find unreadable now), but “minor” works like Bitter Lemons, where the evocation of Cyprus is so vivid the pages exude the sudsy woods odor of sage. Also, Carlo Levi, whose “Christ Stopped at Eboli” I’m re-reading. Because of his anti-fascist views, Levi found himself banished to Italy’s “deep south.” Levi recounts his year in exile in a place that was considered by northerners to be worse than hell.