T’s Most Transporting Travel Stories

At a time of global crisis, it can be comforting to remember that, in Los Angeles, waves still break on the Santa Monica beaches, though the usual beachcombers are staying home. In Beijing, the Forbidden City still blankets dozens of acres at the heart of the Chinese capital, despite remaining closed to visitors. And in Paris, I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid still sits serenely outside the Louvre, even if the usual crowds milling around it are missing on account of canceled flights and border restrictions. Dashed travel plans can only be mourned so much, of course, but being cooped up can stoke very real feelings of isolation. Which is why it may also be helpful to remember, right around now, the transporting power of a good story — especially a good travel story. Here are a few of T’s most immersive reads — about alluring places on practically every continent — bound to satiate your wanderlust from a healthy, responsible distance.

Due to wind, surf and sheer distance, Hirta, the largest island in Scotland’s St. Kilda archipelago, is not easy to get to. From the time that its last residents were evacuated, in 1930, it’s remained almost entirely uninhabited, though it has continued to draw a smattering of tourists (and attracted the interest of the director Michael Powell, whose 1937 feature, “The Edge of the World,” was set on the island). For T’s May 2018 Travel issue, the writer Neel Mukherjee set off for Hirta by boat to explore the allure of what remains.

“The cherry blossom is not just an icon of Japan,” T’s editor in chief, Hanya Yanagihara, writes. “It is the icon of Japan, one that enhances and ultimately eclipses every other.” With the arrival of spring, the blooms have just begun to burst open in Tokyo (the earliest start to the season since recording began in 1953) — making it the perfect time to revisit Yanagihara’s meditation on Japan’s enduring obsession with sakura.

Well south of Marrakesh, on the far side of the High Atlas mountain range, lies the Draa Valley, which runs along Morocco’s border with Algeria. Once the domain of the region’s almost-vanished Berber kingdom, the Draa still bears the unmistakable imprints of is ancient history — as the writer Aatish Taseer found last winter when he ventured into the heart of the valley to explore what lies between the mountains and the vast expanse of the Sahara.

Around seven years ago, the government of the Catalan village of Saurí (population: 16) commissioned the Barcelona-born painter Santi Moix, who frequently visited the town as a child, to revitalize its 1,100-year-old church, St. Victor. The result, which the artist describes as a “huge garden full of fantasy,” is an immersive, psychedelic swirl of imagery drawn from the natural world — a religious site that invokes awe through a riot of colors, rather than fear.

Over the course of his marriage to the French actor Jeanne Moreau, the director William Friedkin, best known for “The French Connection” (1971) and “The Exorcist” (1973), cultivated a love for Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel, “À La Recherche du Temps Perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time,” 1913-27). Years later, Friedkin returned to France to see what he might learn from visiting the major settings of the writer’s life.

As the Parsi population of western India dwindles, its food — and the culinary traditions around it — has also become imperiled. T’s writer at large Ligaya Mishan explores the enduring power of Parsi cuisine, and what the disappearance — or recovery — of other communities and their cuisines might say about its path forward. “Food is heritage,” she writes, “and cooking and eating it are daily acts of continuing, a means of preserving identity in even the most desperate and unspeakable of circumstances.”

Three miles north of the Arctic Circle, in Jokkmokk, Sweden, winter is a time for celebration (even when the temperature plunges down to 15 or 20 degrees below zero). Each February, the Jokkmokk Winter Market consumes the town for three days; since the 17th century, it has offered the Indigenous Sami people a forum in which to sell reindeer products and, as the writer Alice Gregory found on visiting the region, “entertain one another at a time of year that is otherwise relentlessly cold and grim.” These days, she writes, “the festival is a glimpse into an arcane culture, a way of protecting — and in some ways performing — a kind of lifestyle that is increasingly difficult to hold up in the face of modern life.”

Some of the best-known examples of Brutalism — the hulking, raw architectural style that emerged out of Modernism in the middle of the 20th century — can be found in London, Boston or Eastern Europe. But it’s in the tropics, and particularly in Brazil, that Brutalism “reached an unexpected apotheosis,” according to the writer Michael Snyder. He explores the way that the humble, cheap building materials employed by Brutalist architects could be transformed by their surroundings, and how Brutalism itself could evolve from a vernacular of the future to one of freedom.

“Almost all of us have had the feeling that we need a break from the chaos of our daily lives,” writes Meghan O’Rourke in this reflection on her trip to the Hoh Rain Forest. Nestled in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest receives between 12 and 14 feet of rainfall per year and is home to “some of the largest remaining stands of old-growth forest in the continental U.S.” It’s also among the quietest places in the country — and, as such, offers a respite from the deluge of emails, push notifications and demands for your attention that are so much a part of contemporary life.

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