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BOOKS TO GO

Two Families Afloat in the Canadian Wilderness

April 11, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

THE CURVE OF TIME by M. Wylie Blanchet (Seal Press, $12.95 paperback) and DOWN THE WILD RIVER NORTH by Constance Helmericks (Seal Press, $12.95 paperback).

"This is neither a story nor a log," writes Muriel Wylie Blanchet in her foreword to "The Curve of Time." "It is just an account of many long sunny summer months, during many years, when the children were young enough and old enough to take on camping holidays up the coast of British Columbia." Some camping holidays! After her husband died in 1927, Blanchet started spending her summers with her five children on a 25-foot boat called the Caprice, plying the waters (and infiltrating the many inlets) between Vancouver Island and the British Columbian mainland. The family visited Canadian Indian villages, had close encounters with bears and whales, overcame rough seas, injuries and illnesses, learned to know and respect the region's flora, fauna and human populations--and in general seems to have had a cracking good time. Blanchet--who died in 1961, the year this book was originally published--is a natural, unaffected writer. In telling this fascinating story (and a story it is, her disclaimer aside), she jumps right in, gets to the point, describes without philosophizing and brings her family adventures (and her family itself) deftly alive.

Like Blanchet's book, "Down the Wild River North" is an account of a brave and capable woman who loads her children in a boat and cruises adventurously through northern waterways. In this case, though, the voyages are over two summers in the '60s; the children are a brace of teen-age girls; the vessel is a 20-foot canoe; the waters are the Peace, Slave and Mackenzie river systems in Arctic Canada . . . and the author is a much more sophisticated writer. Perhaps for that very reason, the adventures she recounts don't seem quite as alive as the Blanchet family's. Nonetheless, she too tells a good story.

THE LAST OLD PLACE: A Search Through Portugal by Datus C. Proper (Simon & Schuster, $22 hardcover).

An author and trout fisherman with a splendid writer's name, Proper--who had already lived for four years in Lisbon--set out a few years back to discover Portugal as a whole. His traveling companion was a 77-year-old Portuguese lawyer and fellow fisherman named Adriano--a man with "courtly manners, gray hair, and (an) avuncular smile," whom Proper finds "wrapped in good wool and Portugal's myth." Along the way, the author learns much about the country's landscape and history, its people, its cheap hotels and homestyle restaurants--and, of course, its trout streams--and he shares his newfound knowledge in a florid prose style that is alternately dazzling and annoying. At his best, for instance, he might note that, unlike Americans who dress themselves in whole new outfits, "Adult Portuguese molt only once, at mating time. After that, they buy new clothing as the old wears out, piece by piece." But when he attempts to explain human sex roles with a tale of a couple of cave-dwellers named Whoopee and Oomph or notes that "All Adriano is divided into three parts . . .," you wish he'd just shut up and fish. Incidentally, if the dust jackets on this book and another volume reviewed recently in this column--"A Walk Through Wales" by Anthony Bailey, published by HarperCollins--were not designed by the same person, then somebody's a copycat.

JET SMART by Diana Fairechild (Flyana Rhyme Inc., $12.95 paper).

This snappy, information-packed little book about some of the common perils of jet travel and what to do about them was written by a former Pan American flight attendant who estimates that she has circled the planet more than 100 times in her 21 years in the sky. Fairechild's main concern is jet lag--what it is, how to combat it--but she also offers no-nonsense advice and salty opinions about airborne contaminants in the cabin, airline safety, emergency procedures, fear of flying and more. Some of her recommendations (don't drink alcohol while airborne, stretch and walk around the plane to alleviate stiffness) are commonplace; others are less familiar (her tips on how to sleep in an airline seat, for instance). And she spices up her book with an insider's asides that are often simply fascinating. Who knew, for instance, that the reason coffee usually tastes lukewarm on a plane is that water boils at about 180 degrees at high altitudes instead of the usual 212 degrees?

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