IT'S THE POSTCARD we always thought was processed in our Kodachromatic skulls. Sea, sky, houses: all primary colours, all dazzling. The antidote to the urban we all imagine that we imagine spontaneously. It's the Greek island scene that is much better known, probably, more strongly committed to memory, than the rural retreats on our own black and blue highways. Idyllic, ideal, a place to idle.
Arcadia, as anyone who has failed to match a tourist experience with a glossy travel brochure knows, is constructed of such lush, pulpy, cliched prose or is the product of a reverie. Anatomized, that is to say lived in and observed carefully, it spells M-i-s-s-i-s-s-a-u-g-a or any other address we take vacations from. This should come as no surprise, nor does it to David Solway. He mentions in his "Preface," via Daniel Boorstein, that II travel' is related to 'travail' ('work'in French and 'torment' in English) and derives from the Latin 'trepalium,' a threestaked instrument of torture."
On his Arcadia, a.k.a. the Greek island called Paxos, Solway experiences cold, damp weather in a draughty house frequented by erratic friends. Those people whom he doesn't know, but does watch, seem to have as primary activities spitting and shooting: saliva and spent cartridges rain down like (a new cliche solidified from a recent metaphor) moisture during the Toronto summer. That he relates this with panache aplenty, and enough of an arcane vocabulary to send even an Anthony Burgess scurrying to the dictionary, makes Solway an interesting and entertaining guide. About the aforementioned expectorating, for instance, Solway writes:
The generous gobs of sputum which
seep, ooze, filter and percolate
through every inch of penurious sub-
soil ratify [the peasant's] contract
with the chthonian depths and
ensure another meagre harvest.
The land, his kids (one of whom asks him what "Grays Allergy" is), the touristing of contemporary Greece, the "characters" he meets, his wife, his desires (the last two not always coalescing): these are the focuses of the vignettes that Solway presents and that cumulatively add Lip to the method of The Anatomy of Arcadia. To show his awareness, call it his postmodern self-consciousness, Solway intersperses these snapshots with a critique and a theorizing of travel writing, generally, and his own approach, specifically. "Note: important for my own efforts. To study the ways in which the subjective side of the enterprise modifies, overwhelms or cancels the objective side."
Nonetheless, despite such seeming diffidence about his output and alertness to his temporary visitor's status, Solway's imperious "l," as well as his imperious eye, may be too inflated for some. Peremptory statements about the Greek temperament, about the Greek attitude toward garbage, as well as about women, generally, read too rigidly as maxims. Perhaps a more trenchant investigation of his own situation, "with a year's leave and a generous grant providing enough money (at fit travel anywhere in the world," would have given readers a better sense of a particular form of cultural imperialism, the imperialism of the intrepid academic on sabbatical, that has, if not jeopardized, then certainly flooded the world.