The View from the Ground

Martha Gellhorn’s collection of articles that she churned out in six decades of freelance journalism is sparkling, but my favorite book of hers remains Travels with Myself and Another. In this collection, she groups the essays by decade and offers up a quirky summation for each period— sometimes this was my favorite part. She manically travels the world, from Spain to Poland to St. Louis to Texas to Vietnam to Israel to London ad infinitum.

Her comparison of the wretched House UnAmerican Activities Committee (targeting Eleanor Roosevelt’s rep, ultimately) with the jovial and prudent House of Commons was wonderful. Two Irish members were unable to take their places in the House of Commons due to being in jail for helping to hold up a British arms depot; a second election was held and they were re-elected. “This raised a fascinating dilemma: whereas you may not vote, in jail, you may, evidently, stand for Parliament.”

Later parts tend toward dullness, and she has an ill-advised trip to Haiti where she claims to realize what blacks feel like in bad places since she was slightly tormented by being the only white person around. The only bright spot in the 2nd half of the book was her 1980s essay that hearkens back to the 1930s where she glories in the beauty of not needing advance travel reservations and brags about how wonderful train trips were. “Trains were leisurely… You had time to watch [the land] change, to feel the differences and the great distance. You knew you were traveling… The population explosion, the airplane, and tourism as a major international industry have changed travel, for an old traveler like me, from thrilling impetuous private discovery into a hassle of the deepest dye.”

New phrase I picked up: “like billy-o” meaning extremely. “I laughed like billy-o” says Gellhorn about her romp with poverty-stricken Poland. “When they say they are interested in making money, they mean they are interested in staying alive.”