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Actor And Director Finds His Roots In Travel Writing


Andrew McCarthy is probably best known to a lot of us as Blane, the object of Molly Ringwald's affection in the movie "Pretty In Pink."


MOLLY RINGWALD: (As Andie Walsh) I'm really sorry for bumming out the night for you.

ANDREW MCCARTHY: (As Blane McDonnagh) You didn't bum out anything. I had a great time.

RINGWALD: (As Andie Walsh) Liar.

MCCARTHY: (As Blane McDonnagh) I was with you. I had a great time. If I was in a Turkish prison, I'd have a great time with you.

MARTIN: And yes, McCarthy is still in the entertainment business. But when he's not in front of the camera or behind it, he's on the road, writing what he sees and how it changes him. On this week's Wingin' It, Andrew McCarthy tells us about that transition.


MARTIN: Andrew McCarthy is an editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. His writing is featured in a new book from National Geographic called "Journeys Home." And in it, he talks about what he discovered when he went in search of his ancestral roots in Ireland.

MCCARTHY: I knew my great-grandfather came over. But we didn't know where and when exactly. And really, within two days, it turned out that they were able to discover exactly where I came from. And he said, you know, there's a good chance, you know, if you come on over, you can walk the land. And there's a good chance that the ruin of the house your great-great-grandfather lived in is still there. And so, I did that. And then, when I hit the ground, it turned out the house was still there. And my second cousin once removed was still living in that house.

MARTIN: Did you give this person advanced warning? Or did you just show up and knock on the door?

MCCARTHY: (Laughter) Yeah, a couple days before, I kind of said, you know, you don't know me, but have you seen "Pretty In Pink"? No - (laughter) - anyway, so when I showed up to see her, there were 25 of my nearest and dearest standing on the front stoop waiting to greet me.

MARTIN: May I ask you how you got into this whole endeavor? I mean, you're an actor. And you're pretty good at it. And you have all these roles. And you have a career. When did you first get the writing and the travel bug?

MCCARTHY: I say it was an accident. And I suppose it was. But it wasn't really, in the sense that I'd been traveling for a long time. And I'm - the long story longer is that travel had sort of changed my life. It helped me locate myself in the world in a really profound way.

MARTIN: Was there one trip? Or how did that...

MCCARTHY: Yeah, I have a friend - I have a friend, a wonderful travel writer named Don George, who always says there's one trip that changes everyone's life. And, you know, for me, I was walking across the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which is the ancient pilgrims' route in the north of Spain, this 500 mile walk across Spain. And I'd read a book about it. And suddenly, you know, I said, I'm going to go do that. And a week later, I was in northern Spain, walking across the country. And I found it a terrible - I hated every second of it. It was a terrible experience. And...


MARTIN: Why? (Laughter). Why did you hate it?

MCCARTHY: It was just miserable. It was lonely. I had blisters. I had the wrong boots. You know, it was just one of those kind of things. Like, I'm not equipped for this. I don't camp. I don't know how to do any of this. So I sort of had this breakdown in this field of wheat in the high Meseta. In the middle of Spain there, there's just days of days of wheat. And I sort of had a little tantrum, a meltdown. And it was sort of revealed to me, in that moment of sort of exhaustion and things, that fear had dominated my life to a really huge degree. And I was - it was sort of so all-pervasive in my life that I was not aware of its presence until that sort of moment of its first absence. And so I skipped across the rest of Spain. I felt like myself. There's an Irish saying, you know, feel like yourself from the toes up. I just felt like myself, in a way. And it was the same way I felt when I first acted, in the sense of, like, oh, there I am. And then I started reading a lot about travel and stuff. And then none of the stuff that I was reading about was really capturing this kind of personal, transformative experience. And so - and I started sort of keeping track and writing things down when I was traveling. And eventually it just grew into something. So I went and wrote a...

MARTIN: What was your first piece?

MCCARTHY: It was on western Ireland, in County Clare - 'cause it was a place I'd been to many times and knew well and had a real passion for. And it sort of spread from there. And then, like anything, you know, I was given an award for travel writing. And the minute you win an award in anything, then, suddenly, you're a genius. Whereas yesterday, no one would answer your email.

MARTIN: In the actual writing, when I think of travel - really good travel writing - it seems hard to me because - especially if you're going to a place that you know - because how do you turn that into an experience that others can relate to? And how do you - how do you avoid cliches? Travel writing so often is filled with them.

MCCARTHY: Travel writing that engages me, like I said, often reveals more about the traveler than the destination in many ways. So all you want is really to get people nodding their head and going, yeah, that's how I feel. It's just like any reading. You want to engage the reader and have - create a relationship and have an experience. And I've found, the best - for me, the way to do that is to be, you know, revealing.

MARTIN: You've got kids, right?

MCCARTHY: I have three. It feels like 30.

MARTIN: I imagine since you feel so strongly about traveling as a value in a life, that you've traveled with them. How is that experience different than the kind of solitary experience of travel?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's an entirely different thing. You know, I think Paul Theroux had that really good line about the lucidity of loneliness. And alone is the - and I agree - the best way to travel because only by being in that sort of lucid, alone and sort of solitary melancholy place can you really - a place reveal itself to you. And you reveal yourself, what you came to that place to learn. But traveling with my kids is great. I mean, you know, they are engaged by anything. They go through security at the airport and they're like, oh, Dad, you beeped. You know, and they find an adventure in anything kind of. Like, you know, I've taken my son, when he was little, to Disney World. And he had a great time. I loved it. And - but then I took him to the Sahara, and he had a much bigger experience. So people have told me, what, are you crazy, taking your kids to these Muslim places? You know, dare we say the word. And, you know, and it's like, you know, I've never gone anywhere where I'm not received. And the minute you travel with kids, too, it's - travel itself is that sort of, you know, is optimism in motion, right? It's - and when you show up somewhere with children, you're basically saying, I trust you; receive me. And I'm a big believer in just sort of taking kids and creating little citizens of the world, if you can.

MARTIN: You can read about Andrew McCarthy's travels on his website, Andrew, it was a pleasure. Thank you so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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