Filled with witty observations and drenched in dry humor, Notes and Sketches: Travel Journals of William P. Rayner is a collection of musings, paintings, menus, wine labels, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia exploring over three decades of travel. A tactile collector’s piece, this two-volume set, presented in a luxurious slipcase, evokes the fun and nostalgia of adventure.
Culled from twenty-five of author William P. Rayner’s personal notebooks, these tales follow a young Rayner as he drinks and dines through remote places including Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jorden, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka. In each locale, Rayner is our private tour guide, gently bringing us into foreign lands with the expertise of a world traveler.
In Notes and Sketches, Rayner provides a personal account of his incredible trips, including his wily escape from an overbearing bodyguard nicknamed The Bear, early morning paint sessions of local ruins by the light of dawn, negotiations with Libyan hotel managers over illegally smuggled scotch, and cockpit adventures with a young pilot learning how to blind land—all while making notes and sketches in his diaries. Volume I recounts Rayner’s travels through North Africa and the Middle East, while Volume II finds the author in India and Southeast Asia.
As Rayner writes in the introduction to Volume I, “Little in my life has given me more pleasure than opening up my watercolor kit and sitting down to record in hues and washes the object in front of me. Having been a travel writer, I also want to record why I chose this subject and maybe some information about it, such as its origins and history. So between paint and pen my impressions became more rounded.
“I have always admired those 19th and 20th century traveling artists, such as David Roberts, Hercules Brabazon, Edward Lear, Eugène Delacroix, the Daniels, and others who journeys to faraway lands and recorded their impressions on canvas or paper and whose work has become a part of our visual vocabulary. In addition to painters, such as travel writers as Freya Stark, Gertrude Bell, and Richard Burton, and Robert Byron have inspired me to want to see things far from home.
“I sketch rather than take photographs to remember places and moments because I love the process. I also like to sit in front of a scene for a while to take in the surroundings and the mood so as to give the subject some texture. For example, in Banaras I have sketched the funerals on the Ghats many times, but it is not only funeral pyres which interest me, but also the rituals which accompany the event: the keeper of the flames, the men who furnish the logs to stoke the flames, and all the incredible activity that takes place on the River Ganges.
“One of the real pleasures of keeping a diary is that you never feel alone. I have sat in airports awaiting my plane (a common experience) and made sketches of my fellow inmates. Once on a landing strip on a Caribbean island awaiting a plane, my attention was drawn to some goats grazing on the runway. A perfect subject until the incoming pilot buzzed them off. Once in Nepal, an elephant obliged me by sidling up to a plane and demonstrating how he is used as a stair to embark and disembark passengers. Street scenes and market places are a rich resource for quick sketches. One of the great pleasures of visiting Turkey is to sail down the coast where the swimming is wonderful, the little towns are charming, and the Roman and Greek ruins are more easily accessible. Kas, for example, is a village backed against a hill covered with olive and fig trees near the Hellenistic amphitheater above the tiny port, just awaiting my diary.
“Of course, my diary is not limited to painting and writing, but also includes photographs, menus, wine labels, currency, rubbings, and other found objects. In that respect, it takes on some of the characteristics of a scrapbook, each object triggering a memory. I can go back years and have my recollections sparked by these scraps.”