Blog Entry June 25, 2010       Banff, Alberta

A few weeks ago I was made an offer I simply could not refuse – to interview one of my literary heroes on stage. Pico Iyer was in Banff, and the only possible date for the interview was May 19. The offer came to me via email while I was still in Europe. My first reaction was to say no, because of my schedule, and the fact that I was nursing my husband after his recent back surgery. But we figured it out and I was soon emailing back and forth with Pico about possible topics, questions and format. I knew immediately that this was going to be an enjoyable experience.

Pico Iyer has spent his life as a writer, exploring the world. Born in India, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, he has lived in many parts of the world and has made a habit of leaving the main paths to meet with the thinkers, the spiritual guides, and artists found in the forgotten corners.

His essays, reviews, and other writings have appeared in Time, Conde Nast Traveler, Harper’s, the New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Salon.com. Author of seven works of nonfiction and two novels, he began his literary journey with Video Night in Kathmandu and other Reports from the Not-So-Far East.

Years before, I had devoured his early works, including Video Night in Kathmandu, and I expected an angry young man, world-weary from his travels and maybe even a bit cynical about the things he had seen and experienced. I was wrong. Perhaps it is all the time he has spent in the company of the Dalai Lama, or maybe he never was the cynical observer I expected, but what I learned about Pico Iyer is that he is thoughtful, tolerant, always curious and kind.

We covered a wide range of topics in the interview – everything from his early travels to his 30-year friendship with the Dalai Lama. He spoke about the joy of traveling:  The reason I love travel is not just because it transports you in every sense, but because it confronts you with emotional and moral challenges that you would never have to confront at home… and forces me to reconsider my assumptions and the things I took for granted. It sends me back a different person.

He clarified his views on loneliness and solitude, his perception of fellow travelers seeking some kind of inner peace, and he described the amazing experience of living for two weeks in the Los Angeles airport! He explained his writing process, from the frenetic note-taking to the endless editing.

He spoke at length about his relationship with the Dalai Lama, and shared with the audience what he had learned, not just by His Holiness’ words, but by watching his reaction to people and situations.

Pico has spent a lot of time living in monasteries, and his interest in monastic life was illustrated again by his fascination with Leonard Cohen, a man he has observed, befriended and written about.

This was an amazing opportunity to interact with one of the most revered and respected travel writers alive today, a man who refers to himself as a global village on two legs.

Blog Entry May 5, 2010           Trento, Italy

I arrived in Trento, Italy in the beautiful Trentino region, after catching a train in Chambery, France. My reason for coming to this festival town was twofold. May is the time of the annual Trento Mountain Film Festival, an event I have attended probably 20 times in my former role as Director of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Ten years ago we started an organization called the International Alliance for Mountain Film and, as a founding member, I still get invited to the Alliance meetings. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Alliance, so I decided to come along and see my former colleagues from festivals around the world.

The second reason was a surprise – a pleasant one, it turned out. A couple of weeks before coming to Trento I learned that the Italian edition of my biography of Tomaž Humar, published by Versante Sud, had been chosen as a finalist for the ITAS prize for mountain literature. Just days before the festival, I learned that it had won the ITAS prize and would be presented at the beautiful Buonconsiglio Castle in Trento. All those years of attending the Trento festival, I had attended the ITAS prize ceremonies with interest, following the writing careers of friends and acquaintances. It never occurred to me that I would ever be there as a writer – and accepting a prize.

Last night was the ceremony, and it was just as I remembered it. Very formal. Lots of officials. Long speeches. Stunning location. Lovely champagne and Teraldego wine at the reception and a gorgeous crystal sculpture for the prize (and some euros). It was the first time to meet my publisher, Matteo Maraone, and to see my friend and translator, Antonella Cicogna. We celebrated together and vowed to collaborate again.

 Blog Entry May 1, 2010           Orpierre, France

Despite being delayed by four days due to volcanic ash, I finally secured a flight out of Calgary to Frankfurt and Lyon on the 23rd of April. I met Anne Ryall at the Lyon airport where we packed up our Twingo and headed south, looking for sunshine and perfect limestone.

We found both. Ten days of blue skies had us climbing nonstop, constantly afraid the weather pattern would change for the worse. We found multi-pitch climbs at Buis les baronnies, the Dentelles de montmirail and Orpierre and single-pitch beauties at a few other, much smaller crags nearby. The featured gray limestone and that unmistakable aroma of the Mediterranean brush was a heady combination.

But it wasn’t just a climbing holiday. We wandered through some spectacularly perched villages in this Northern Rhone region and sampled lovely Gigondas and Ventoux wines. Since we had access to a kitchen, we shopped at the local markets and whipped up some very yummy meals.

It’s been several years since I’ve climbed in the Med, and I will not let as much time pass again until I return.

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