Lonely Planet Writer

76-Second Travel Show: 'Key to travel? It's in the quest'

A QUEST FOR 'REAL ITALY,' AND HOLY FORESKIN

Whenever I tell someone I write travel guidebooks for a living, I always pre-empt their intial response ('what a dream, to travel all the time!) by saying, 'It's really not travel.' And yet I'm wrong. It's sort of better than travel.

Visiting hotels, bus stations, funny government offices looking for a brochure or map that doesn't exist -- leads you into all sorts of local conversations you'd never have as a traveler. You leave with a broader take of the place, even if you didn't have time to sit on the beach long (or at all), or take the multi-day trek between hill towns.

This comes up because of the role quests can play in travel. A great example the fascinating book by David Farley, An Irreverent Curiosity, a travelogue based in an off-the-radar village outside Rome called Calcata (indeed LP doesn't cover it, yet). A bit of a fan of holy relics in general (with much historical anecdotes to back it up), Farley moved to wee Calcata because of its most famous resident: Jesus' foreskin. It quietly resided in a church here until the 1980s when it disappeared. Farley went to find it, or who took it, and never did -- and that hardly mattered in the end.

Next time I'm in Rome, I'll definitely visit Calcata. Since Farley's already cornered the holy relics scene there, maybe I can find one of the artists or 'bohemian types' living there to teach me clarinet?