The Journey: Scott Huler Comes to The Country Bookshop
"Things go wrong, plans fail, fate makes sport of our best intentions," wrote Scott Huler in the opening sentence of his book, "No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through 'The Odyssey.'"
It proved true 3,000 years ago for Odysseus, the fabled Greek warrior who was detained ten years from getting home to Ithaca from the battlefields of Troy, and it proved true two months ago for Huler, the fabled journalist and author of "Defining the Wind," who was scheduled to appear at The Country Bookshop for a "Meet the Author" event in March.
"We got a call that Thursday morning from a very sick Scott before he set off to the doctor," says Bobbie Bicket, owner of the bookstore. "He was so apologetic that he had to cancel on such short notice, but we were delighted he was able to reschedule. Several of the customers who came that afternoon told us they had seen Scott at Weymouth last October. They said what a wonderful time they had -- he's a great speaker, funny and interesting. He's not to be missed. We know they were disappointed, but we hope they can come back this week."
Greek gods willing, Huler will make it to the bookstore in Southern Pines Thursday, May 22, at 4 p.m., when he'll share the chronicle of his self-imposed dare to trace Odysseus' path around the Mediterranean in just six months.
While Huler's journey wasn't interrupted by storms, shipwrecks, fights with Cyclops, or being held captive by goddess-nymphs, he did encounter his own unique 21st century challenges as he traveled from Turkey to North Africa, Malta to Corsica, and Rome to Athens.
While humming Steely Dan's "Home at Last" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?', Huler tried to find something to do at each of his 18 stops that was "Odyssian." Sometimes he found the exact locations where Odysseus was "detained," like the Straits of Messina where Huler kayaked between huge container ships -- his version of the dreaded monsters Scylla and Charybdis -- that missed him "by a whisker." Other times he gave up on literal geography, replacing the Land of the Dead with the catacombs of Rome where he "hung around with a half-million dead people."
Huler traveled by plane, bus, and even luxury cruise ship, but the train trip from Naples to Messina was, he says, "pretty grim."
"It was high season, and people were stacked in the train like cordwood," he says. "I had a first-class seat, but had to fight for it all the way. If you got up to go to the bathroom, you'd return to find four people sitting in your seat. It was unpleasant."
When Huler was most frustrated, he always seemed to find someone to help him.
"I was on the island of Vulcano, part of the Aeolian chain, just north of Sicily," he says. "I chose it as the island of Aeolus, the Wind King. It was hot, and there were no hotel rooms. I didn't know what to do next, and I thought that I had finally run out of luck. So I went to this scooter and bike rental and said, 'Help!' They started singing the Beatles' song 'Help.'"
At one point Huler found a place so remote on Malta, the "navel of the Mediterranean," he didn't have to wonder why Odysseus was homesick or cried on the beach looking out to sea, far from Ithaca. He also fantasized how Odysseus' 10-year separation from Penelope might have been different had they had e-mail. "O. -- "I appreciate your excuses, but Nestor got home two years ago. Whither my sacker of cities?"
Huler is currently working on another book, tentatively called "On the Grid," that he began while staying at Weymouth Center.
"It's to be about infrastructure, about the wires and tubes and pipes and roads and bridges that convey us, our water, our power, our waste, our stuff hither and yon in this incredibly complex background to which we almost never pay attention," he says. "I'll be following those systems from my house to wherever they came from and wherever they lead, trying to provide some kind of context. I've had the idea for a long time, so The Weymouth Center gets a huge assist in keeping me employed and my family fed."
For information about the "Meet the Author Event," call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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