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Traveling In Style : Following Famous Footsteps

October 16, 1994|Colman Andrews

Stretching through the Hanbury Gardens, a botanical preserve near the Italian town of Ventimiglia on the Ligurian coast, is a fragment of the Via Amelia--an ancient Roman road. Now little more than a wide dirt pathway, it is marked with a sign that proclaims, "Here passed Pope Innocent IV, Pope Paul III, Emperor Charles V, Machiavelli, Catherine of Siena, Napoleon." Although I realize full well that the stones that line the road weren't laid by Romans, that the trees and shrubs that crowd its flanks are probably no more than a few generations old, that the dirt itself must date from modern times, still the road and sign evoke a momentary chill.

How many legendary souls have trudged or sauntered along this road? And does the earth still feel the footsteps of those who have trod it? Maybe not--but when the illustrious have passed through a place, lingering or not, their luster can illuminate it for decades, and even centuries, to come. Ernest Hemingway all but defines Key West and pre-Castro Cuba for us; once we see New York's gritty corners through Edward Hopper's eyes, the whole city starts to look Hopper-esque; Charles Darwin's ghost guides every traveler in the Galapagos Islands, in one way or another; Thomas Jefferson gives us entree into the capital of France when we discover that even he, our nation's first Renaissance man, was just another American in Paris at heart. With a bit of imagination, we can recognize traces of the troubled Roman Emperor Tiberius amid the charm and beauty of Capri and Sperlonga--and, perhaps just barely, make out the faint strains of a Noel Coward tune wafting past Ian Fleming's house in Jamaica, where now the reggae roams. Famous footsteps sometimes take unexpected turns.

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