Planning a Pilgrimage with Annie Leibovitz

There is something sort of wonderful about hearing a woe-is-me travel story from a big whoop wealthy lady. Schadenfreude is not the nicer part of my personality, but why bother to hide it?

I was standing in a corner of Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, New York, between the community bulletin board, and a shelf that held sci-fi books and graphic novels.  It was crowded, because Annie Leibovitz was soon to give a reading from her new book, Pilgrimage.

Oblong, if you don’t know, is an amazing bookstore with locations in both Rhinebeck and Millerton, NY, and although they are an indie bookstore not currently on the verge of death, most of their events are far less crowded.  When I’d RSVP’d, I was cautioned that seating would be first-come-first-served. I arrived a half hour ahead and learned that the seats had filled up two hours earlier.  But I didn’t mind standing.

So there comes Annie Liebovitz, in baggy blue jeans and a black button shirt, and she seems really, really really nice. She said she was excited about doing this talk, because after all this is our community bookstore. (One of her homes is nearby.) She said she was excited to support this store, because “we have to take care of ourselves.” I think she meant it in a warm, we’re all in this together way, although it came out a little wrong, more like, fuck everyone else.

She reads from the new book, which starts during her well-publicized financial woes, when she decides to take her kids to Niagara Falls.  She had this idea that she and her kids would arrive in the night, check into a Falls-facing hotel, and she’d open the curtains in the morning and they’d have an amazing view. But when they arrive her credit card has been declined, rooms given away, and it’s August and there are no other good rooms, so they end up in a crappy motel. And in the morning, the view is of a cinder block wall. That’s the schadenfreude moment.

But her kids don’t care, she goes and sees the water and gets inspired and then she decides to go see all these other things, like Virginia Woolf’s writing studio, and multiple trips to Yosemite to try to get the same sort of Ansel Adams sky, etc. etc. the photos are spectacular, and, she seemed to be saying, it helped her to get her creative mojo back. And then she said that she hoped that this book would inspire everyone to make a list of places they would like to see, and plan their own pilgrimage.

That’s a great idea, I thought. But then I realized that while there are many places I’d like to go see in this world, the idea of knocking them out in the way she did, one after the other, in a kind of race to publication, really didn’t appeal to me that much. Nor did the exercise of list making especially appeal either — I like the idea of compelling destinations floating up in my mind in a less regimented manner, to be visited, rather than pursued.

And most of all, I want the list to be never ending.



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