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High Time for New Guinea

Books to Go

July 14, 1996|JOHN MUNCIE

ISLANDS IN THE CLOUDS: Travels in the Highlands of New Guinea by Isabella Tree (Lonely Planet, $10.95, paperback).

After arriving at a frontier gold mining town, Isabella Tree's traveling companion--a native of New Guinea--looks at the scarred forest around them and says to her: "That's the difference with white people. They have no fear of nature. Look what they're doing. They're taking out the inside of a mountain and slicing its top off."

New Guinea is the world's second largest island. It's now divided between independent Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia. The island's 20th century history is all about invasion and exploitation. The European culture that appeared on its shores--seemingly from nowhere--was so different, so technologically advanced from the indigenous one that by comparison, it must have looked alien to the local people.

In three trips scattered over seven years, Tree explored the Papua New Guinea side of this island, chronicling its beauty, its despair and the vestiges of its exotic past. She is a gifted writer and reporter with a lively style. And as much as an invader can (Tree is from England), she reports on her journeys with compassion and insight.

"Islands" is one in a new series of travelogues published by Lonely Planet, the well-known guidebook company. Other titles in the series so far: "Sean & David's Long Drive," about a road trip in Australia; "The Gates of Damascus," about home life in Syria; and "Lost Japan," a collection of observations by an American who has spent 30 years in Japan and originally wrote the stories in Japanese.

SEARCHING FOR 66 by Tom Teague (Samizdat House, $14, paperback, photos and illustrations).

Like a bottle-cap collector or a middle-age model train buff, Tom Teague could be considered a bit of a crackpot. But his is a particularly poignant fixation. Teague wants to keep alive the memory of old U.S. Route 66 and its roadside inhabitants.

Until monster interstates cross-hatched the West, the Chicago-to-Santa Monica route epitomized America's love affair with the open road. It was immortalized in song and TV show. In 1984, the last piece of 66 was superseded by the opening of a section of I-40 in Arizona, but Teague and other romantics have kept 66 alive by tracing its ghostly asphalt through dying towns and empty plains.

In this updating of his 1991 book, Teague includes the original vignettes of people and places along 66, a handful of new ones, plus a 22-day biking itinerary of what remains of the old route. Teague is a master at capturing nostalgic conversation and imbues his small-town Americans with humor and dignity.

LIVING IN THE SUN: The Spanish Mediterranean Islands, photographs by Melba Levick, text by Colman Andrews (Chronicle Books, $24.95).

For many years, the Balearic Islands--Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera--off the coast of Spain have been a popular playground for sun-starved, jet-setting Europeans. The capital, Palma, as Colman Andrews writes, "is a bustling place, said to have the most automobiles per capita of any city in Spain and the busiest airport."

So where is everybody? Certainly not in front of Melba Levick's camera lens. The islands that appear in this lovely, small-format coffee-table book are full of quiet courtyards and empty streets. The few inhabitants are rustics (mending nets, driving horse-drawn wagons), the homes all worthy of Architectural Digest or House Beautiful.

An aversion to modern times is a common conceit for photo-travelogues (and this one is particularly easy on the eyes), but never base a trip on one of them. There's a real world out there in the real world. And it's noisy, polluted and unpredictable, as well as serene and beautiful.

Quick trips:

ARE WE THERE YET? A Parent's Guide to Fun Family Vacations by Eileen Ogintz (HarperSanFrancisco, $10, paperback). Wise advice on traveling with children from Ogintz, whose syndicated column, Taking the Kids, appears in the Los Angeles Times Travel section. With three kids of her own and a wealth of correspondents, Ogintz draws on real situations and real experience. The book deals with such classic family travel perils as toddler whims, rainy days and earaches.

WISCONSIN'S RUSTIC ROADS: A Road Less Travelled, photos by Bob Rashid, text by various writers (Lost River Press, $35, photos, maps). Wisconsin has designated 67 routes as officially rustic. But readers don't have to accept the word of state bureaucrats; the bucolic photos in this small coffee-table book are proof enough. Essays by five Wisconsin writers intersperse the country scenes. Includes maps of all the routes (few more than 10 miles).

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES by Fraser Bridges (Prima Publishing, $16.95, paperback, maps). Outline of 38 mountain drives, scattered from northern British Columbia to southern Colorado. Most routes take two to four hours. Bridges also describes towns along the way and recommends various hotels and restaurants.

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