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Without Reservations
Cover of Without Reservations
Without Reservations
The Travels of an Independent Woman
Borrow Borrow

Paris

Dear Alice,

Each morning I am awakened by the sound of a tinkling bell. A cheerful sound, it reminds me of the bells that shopkeepers attach to their doors at Christmastime. In this case, the bell marks the opening of the hotel door. From my room, which is just off the winding staircase, I can hear it clearly. It reminds me of the bell that calls to worship the novice embarking on a new life. In a way I too am a novice, leaving, temporarily, one life for another.

Love,
Alice

In the tradition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea and Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun, in Without Reservations we take time off with Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Steinbach as she explores the world and rediscovers what it means to be a woman on her own.

"In many ways, I was an independent woman," writes Alice Steinbach, a single working mother, in this captivating book. "For years I'd made my own choices, paid my own bills, shoveled my own snow, and had relationships that allowed for a lot of freedom on both sides." Slowly, however, she saw that she had become quite dependent in another way: "I had fallen into the habit . . . of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me." Who am I, she wanted to know, away from the things that define me--my family, children, job, friends? Steinbach searches for the answer to this provocative question in some of the most exciting places in the world: Paris, where she finds a soul mate in a Japanese man; Oxford, where she takes a course on the English village; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards Steinbach wrote home to herself to preserve her spontaneous impressions, this revealing and witty book will transport readers instantly into a fascinating inner and outer journey, an unforgettable voyage of discovery.

From the Hardcover edition.

Paris

Dear Alice,

Each morning I am awakened by the sound of a tinkling bell. A cheerful sound, it reminds me of the bells that shopkeepers attach to their doors at Christmastime. In this case, the bell marks the opening of the hotel door. From my room, which is just off the winding staircase, I can hear it clearly. It reminds me of the bell that calls to worship the novice embarking on a new life. In a way I too am a novice, leaving, temporarily, one life for another.

Love,
Alice

In the tradition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea and Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun, in Without Reservations we take time off with Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Steinbach as she explores the world and rediscovers what it means to be a woman on her own.

"In many ways, I was an independent woman," writes Alice Steinbach, a single working mother, in this captivating book. "For years I'd made my own choices, paid my own bills, shoveled my own snow, and had relationships that allowed for a lot of freedom on both sides." Slowly, however, she saw that she had become quite dependent in another way: "I had fallen into the habit . . . of defining myself in terms of who I was to other people and what they expected of me." Who am I, she wanted to know, away from the things that define me--my family, children, job, friends? Steinbach searches for the answer to this provocative question in some of the most exciting places in the world: Paris, where she finds a soul mate in a Japanese man; Oxford, where she takes a course on the English village; Milan, where she befriends a young woman about to be married. Beautifully illustrated with postcards Steinbach wrote home to herself to preserve her spontaneous impressions, this revealing and witty book will transport readers instantly into a fascinating inner and outer journey, an unforgettable voyage of discovery.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    This morning I got out a box containing some reminders of where that decision took me. Although I've been searching for a particular item, it's fun seeing whatever turns up.

    Here, for instance, is the bill for the ten-dollar cappuccino I drank one morning in Venice at the Caffe Florian. And here's a program from a student production in Oxford of Much Ado About Nothing. Next comes a ticket to the Museum of Garden History in London, and the receipt for a pair of black silk pumps with four-inch heels, bought in Milan and worn once. The menu from a dinner enjoyed in the Umbrian town of Perugia follows, reminding me of how delicious the Veal Escalope with Red Chicory was that night.

    Finally in a smaller box labeled PARIS, I find what I'm looking for: a postcard with a view of the city's loveliest bridge, Pont Alexandre III. Dated 9 May 1993, and sent from me to me, the postcard signals the beginning of an adventure:

    Dear Alice,

    It is my first morning in Paris and I have walked from my hotel on The Left Bank to the Seine. The river is silver; above it, an early morning sun the color of dull nickel burns through a gray sky, its light glancing off the ancient buildings that line the quai Voltaire. It is the Paris I have come to know from the photographs of Atget and Cartier-Bresson: a city of subtle tonalities, of platinum and silver and gray, a city of incomparable beauty.
    Now, from this perfect place, I begin a journey
    .

    The postcard is signed: Love, Alice.

    It is the first of many such postcards that I would write and send home to myself as I traveled over the next several months. Or, as I affectionately came to call that interlude in my life, The Year of Living Dangerously

    Most of us, I suppose, have had at one time or another the impulse to leave behind our daily routines and responsibilities and seek out, temporarily a new life. Certainly it was a fantasy that more than once had taken hold of me. At such times I daydreamed about having the freedom to travel wherever chance or fancy took me, unencumbered by schedules and obligations and too many pre-planned destinations.

    But the daydream always retreated in the face of reality I was, after all, a working, single mother and my life was shaped in large measure by responsibilities toward my two sons and my work as a newspaper reporter at The Baltimore Sun.

    By 1993, however, I was entering a new phase of my life, one that caused me to rethink its direction. My sons had graduated from college and were entering new adult lives of their own; one as a translator in Japan, the other as a graduate physics student in Colorado. I was happy for them, and proud too. After all, watching a child march successfully into the larger world is one of the greatest satisfactions parenthood has to offer. Still, letting go of my sons left me feeling vulnerable in a way I didn't understand. The powerful bonds between us remained; but physically the boys I had raised were gone.

    If I close my eyes, I can see them still, on a long-ago summer's night. Two boys, so different: one lying in bed listening to an Orioles game and bouncing a ball off the wall; the other outside in the backyard, setting up his telescope under a starry indigo sky. Holy moments, I think now of such times. Without such moments, the house felt quiet and empty

    At work my life went on as before. I continued to interview interesting people as well as write a column. It was a challenging, sometimes next -to- impossible job and I was completely invested in it. My work was not only what I did but who I was.

    Occasionally though, I found myself wondering: was I too invested in it? At...

About the Author-
  • Alice Steinbach, whose work at the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1985, has been a freelance writer since 1999. She was appointed the 1998-1999 McGraw Professor of Writing at Princeton University and is currently a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 3, 2000
    In a travel-book-cum-memoir set against a glamorous background of European cities, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Steinbach describes the months she spent traveling after she took a sabbatical from her job as columnist for the Baltimore Sun. For Steinbach, traveling is an exercise in reconnecting with a more independent and uninhibited side of her personality. Her not-quite-spontaneous adventure begins in Paris, where she finds a kindred spirit in a worldly Japanese businessman. From there she heads off to Oxford, where she takes a course in English village life, and on to Milan, where she meets the most charming of her fellow travelers, a young American girl soon to be married. The obstacles Steinbach faces on her journeys seem minor--overcoming a fear of ballroom dancing in Oxford and putting aside the habit of always doing "at least two things at once." Only in Milan, when she was nearly mugged, does Steinbach experience anything harrowing. Though the descriptions of each locale are thin, they are not really the purpose of this memoir; rather, the author's intent is to connect emotionally with each city and to learn "to take chances. To have adventures to see if I could still hack it on my own, away from the security of work, friends and an established identity." Supplying more finely observed details might have made this a richer book, but the writing is generally optimistic, warm and genuine in a Chicken-Soup-for-Travelers kind of way. Illustrations not seen by PW.

  • Dominick Dunne "I loved going along with Alice Steinbach as she goes off on this rare, wonderful adventure, an escape into discovering herself and some of the truly magical places in this world."
  • The Des Moines Register "The best books, like the best vacations, contain unexpected delights, sur-prises that enrich the soul as well as the senses. This is a book about love, and longing, and the passage of time. It's about hope, and courage, and the resiliency of memory. This book is a feast. Bon appétit!"
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