The Idiot and the Odyssey's Joel Stratte-McClure
By Jon Lewis
Story by Jon Lewis
Photos courtesy of Joel Stratte-McClure
JOEL STRATTE-MCCLURE went on a walk, but it was no ordinary amble. To wit: His was a 20-year trek around the Mediterranean, during which he authored the “Idiot and the Odyssey” trilogy; fell from a cliff in Turkey; was robbed by Gypsies in Italy; was arrested in Lebanon; lost his money and passport in Morocco; befriended a sorceress in Spain; and was accompanied by armed guards in Egypt.
Perhaps most astonishingly, the Redding resident says it was a blast. “It was really a fascinating adventure. I’d do it again in a second if I hadn’t already done it.” It turns out the travails were easily outnumbered by the myriad positive experiences, including the personal growth, friendships, fantastic scenery, art and exotic meals.
Stratte-McClure’s adventure started simply enough on New Year’s Day in 1998. He was already living on the Mediterranean (Antibes, a resort town on the French Riviera) and decided to set out on a hike to commemorate his upcoming 50th birthday.
“I didn’t know it was going to be 20 years when I started,” Stratte-McClure says with a chuckle. From his earliest days, when he would pore over a well-worn copy of “Myths and Legends of the Ages,” Stratte-McClure has been fascinated by stories from Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. Trekking through the land of Homer, Odysseus, Zeus, Poseidon and the others held a strong appeal.
Also prompting the journey, Stratte-McClure says, was a case of the midlife blahs. A 20-year marriage had ended and his career as a journalist, despite assignments that had taken him to more than 110 countries, had lost much of its excitement. A spiritual, mental and physical reboot may just be what the doctor ordered, he says.
He coined the term “Medtrek” for his walk around the inland sea, enjoying the way it played with the words Mediterranean, meditation (Stratte-McClure is a practicing Buddhist) and medicinal. “It is a great way to stay in shape,” he notes.
Stratte-McClure’s trek began “with no compass and no camera.” He spent the first night in a monastery and the next day he walked through “the world’s largest nudist colony.” It wasn’t long before his reporting instincts kicked in. “I thought ‘this is too good to pass up’ so I wrote it up for Time magazine,” he says.
By that time, Stratte-McClure was beginning to see some parallels with Homer’s “Iliad,” the epic Greek poem about the 10-year Trojan War, and “The Odyssey,” the classic sequel that recounts Odysseus’s 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. A 20-year trek through the land of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses started to come into focus.
“The journey will give me the chance to become more intimately acquainted with ‘The Odyssey’ and I’m bound to run into some of Homer’s goddesses, heroes, sea nymphs, warriors and villains,” Stratte-McClure writes in his first book, “The Idiot and the Odyssey: Walking the Mediterranean.”
“Or maybe it will be a total fiasco,” the wanderer continues in his book. “No mentors, no myths, no magic. The whole affair could turn out to be a cosmic joke perpetrated by Zeus, the father of gods and mortals who, said Homer, ‘grants us this or that, or else refrains from granting, as he wills; all things are in his power.’”
The fates were kind, though. Stratte-McClure’s first book, based on 2,734 miles of hiking, was published in 2008 and the second, “The Idiot and the Odyssey II: Myth, Magic and Madness on the Mediterranean,” followed in 2013. The middle member of the trilogy is notable, in its e-book form, for the 200 photographs, hyperlinks and interactive maps that allow the reader to follow along.
Marion Kaplan, a photojournalist and author of “Focus Africa” and “The Portuguese – The Land and Its People,” found much that she liked in the book: “Like slow food, the Herculean hike around the Mediterranean by Joel Stratte-McClure – no idiot, for sure – seems an improbable ambition. Yet, inspired by Odysseus, Chinese philosophy and his own mid-life crises, the account of his adventures is a triumph of travel writing – entertaining, witty, perceptive and informative. An enchanting read.”
Stratte-McClure is on the marketing trail now as he promotes the trilogy’s final installment, “The Idiot and the Odyssey III: 20 Years Walking the Mediterranean.” The third book finds “The Idiot” in the footsteps of Alexander the Great while exploring the regional cultures in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Tunisia.
The journey ends, fittingly enough, in Tunisia with Stratte-McClure being crowned The Idiot Emperor of Carthage, Lord of Many Domains. For stretches of his Medtrek in France and Monaco, Stratte-McClure was joined by his son Luke Stratte-McClure, an actor in Hollywood. Stratte-McClure says he’s in talks about a potential streaming TV series about his journey, or possibly his time as editor of The Paris Metro magazine from 1976 to 1979. If either come to fruition, there’s a possibility the younger Stratte-McClure would play his father. •
A conversation with Joel Stratte-McClure and Nancy Wiegman
of “Nancy’s Bookshelf” on NSPR • Saturday, March 2, 2019 •3pm-5pm
Redding Library Community Room • Light refreshments to follow