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June 10, 2004

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The Fifth League: Hitchhiking Through Southern France  (Perspective)

Posted on July 21, 1997 by Bernd Wechner

Driving & Road Tripping The Fifth League: Hitchhiking Through Southern France

The Fifth League: Hitchhiking Through Southern France

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: July 21, 1997

A work by Douglas Kiang in 8 parts, 17 pages of printed text, 38 printed pages including pictures and 12,000 words.

Douglas Kiang was inspired to hitch by a passage from Ken Welsh's Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe. He spent seven days hitching from Aix-en-Provence to Biarritz in southern France (and back, on the last day) writing his girlfriend (now wife), Mary, in Massachussets every day. He made this short book out of extracts from those letters.

The text is rather unspectacular, a fairly simple travelogue cast in the rather novel framework of a series of letters home. The production, though, is exquisite; Douglas has spared little effort to impress. This is, perhaps, the best of example of Web publishing among the works I've covered.

Each letter has a beautiful header, including both a snippet of the actual letters he wrote, and a detailed map of the route covered that day. The text is coloured further with postcards, photos, and souveniers, all included as thumbnails which can be exploded with a click. And if I find the text a little ordinary (which is no criticism, I might add), the whole product as it stands is superb. Not least of all, the very novel approach to the narrative, that of a correspondence with his love.

It reminds me somehow of Johan Schimanski's Rhedeg I Paris (The Fourth League) for its unorthodox approach, but is a much more presentable package in the end.

It also casts a very harsh contrast against Jaime Salazar's Europa (The Third League). Where Jaime's text seems amateurish, Douglas' seems professional. Where Jaime comes across as devilish, Douglas comes across as angelic. Two interesting extremes. Both of them deal with the subject, but I venture to suggest that Jaime and Douglas have very, very different views as to what Love is. For the record, I side with Douglas.

I fully expect that the character of the 'average' hitcher, if there is such a thing, lies somewhere in-between these two characters, as Jaime and Douglas paint themselves.

While I suspect that Mary read these letters much more avidly than I did, I can, all the same, heartily recommend Douglas' book; it is pleasing to the eye, and more than a little interesting. This is professional Web publishing at work.

If you're feeling generous and want to express gratitude for the work presented here, by all means donate some money.


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