Monday, May 11, 2020

Maggie Downs's "Braver Than You Think"

Maggie Downs is an award-winning writer based in Palm Springs, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Palm Springs Life, and McSweeney’s, and has been anthologized in Lonely Planet’s True Stories From the World’s Best Writers and Best Women’s Travel Writing.

Downs applied the “Page 99 Test” to Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother's) Lifetime, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings the reader along with me to explore an Argentinian building inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. The Palacio Barolo is a marvel — once the tallest building in South America — and the design elements create distinct layers of hell, purgatory, and paradise. And it happened to be across the street from my $8 a night hostel.
The building is one hundred meters high, one for each of the poem's cantos, and the twenty-two floors represent twenty-two stanzas. On a clear day, they say you can see all the way to Uruguay from one of the tiny cupola windows, though when I climb to the top, I can't see beyond the wide, sparkling expanse of the city. I don't want to anyway.

I take the English-language tour of Palacio Barolo twice. Then I return a few more times, just to sit in hell, which is lined with attorney offices, and read books. It's quieter than my hostel, and I am comfortable among the Latin inscriptions, a smattering of dragon sculptures, and the fire-patterned floor.
My initial thought was that page 99 isn't a good representation of my book. But then I reconsidered.

The scenes on this page take place in Buenos Aires, a city that first intimidated me, then won me over. It is stately, elegant, sophisticated. It's a place that could easily overwhelm if it weren't for all the charm.

Most of all, it's a city that reminded me of my mom. It didn't take long for BA to feel as comfortable as home.

And that's the essence of my book, after all. Braver Than You Think is about the backpacking trip I took to honor and grieve my mother as she was dying. So the story is both a love letter to travel and a love letter to the woman who raised me, but it's also about discovering the nature of family and learning what it means to make a home.

The Palacio Barolo page is actually a decent reflection of that. It shows what I learned through this journey: The agitation of fear and grief can push you to the brink, but it can also lead you to the most spectacular places.
Visit Maggie Downs's website and follow her on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue