The Anarchic Ramblings of the Modern Travel Writer: Redux
It’s 3:45 a.m. and this is the thought that’s going through your mind as you’re stuck in a layover somewhere in Europe –could be Stockholm, could be Copenhagen, and the only reason you’re thinking Scandinavia is because the airport terminal looks like an IKEA showroom, blocky and geometrical with faint traces of Cold War utilitarianism. You’re too tired to dig out the boarding pass to see where you actually are. This is the 21st century; why does it take 5 layovers to reach Europe? You blame frisky TSA agents and the Liam Gallagher-like frat brother who got the plane diverted to London because of his drunken antics.
Your job: writing content on the state of wine making in Bordeaux. Has France lost its mojo? That’s the burning question your editor wants answered. Sadly, you know as much about terroir as you do cheese making: nada, zilch. “Whatever you do, don’t upset the French. They already hate us.” Those were your editor’s parting words.
Liberty, equality, fraternity, you think, and then you fish out the battered Agatha Christie paperback you brought along. You’ve got time, you’re “laying” over (well, not really, you’re sitting cramped and uncomfortable on a plastic IKEA chair) and the night is unspooling like the extra footage in Apocalypse Now: Redux.
Sure enough, you upset the French when you sample a Cabernet Sauvignon and declare it tastes like dirty sponge water. And things go from bad to worse when you say Napa Valley wines are just as good as anything the French make. Local officials want to send you on a plane back to America, but your editor steps in via Skype and smooths the whole mess over. “Lost in translation,” she says. “He doesn’t understand a word of French.”
Of course, that’s nothing in comparison to the ruckus you made at the Venice Art Biennale when you referred to the world’s leading artists as frauds, shysters and two-bit circus charlatans, and then proceeded to hijack a gondola after tipping back a few too many Bellini’s. Skinny-dipping in a canal under the Bridge of Sighs didn’t fly either, even if you were just trying to repair French/American relations by frolicking with an installation artist from Arles, the favorite stomping ground of Van Gogh, which should have been a red flag. You were happy to wake up to discover you still had two ears.
After the Venice debacle, you take a few days off and spend them in Prague. Back in the day, you loved the Czech Republic. The country just had a presidential election. Milos Zeman, a man with murky ties to the old Communist party, won by 54.8%. Many people thought it was a step back, a swing toward the days before the Velvet Revolution.
You email your editor and pitch an idea: a public opinion piece. Is it possible for Communism to return to the heart of Europe? It could be your Pulitzer, you say. But then you look around at all the tourists on Charles Bridge. You drink a $6 pilsner that cost a dollar back in 1994. Everywhere you look there’s American fast-food chains, globalization, Disneyfication….and you realize that capitalism is firmly and irrevocably entrenched.
So long Pulitzer.
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.