Sunday, May 24, 2009

Travel - toil, torture

"Travel" derives from travail, French for "arduous toil." Exactly. Travel is work. Trace the etymology bacak even further and you find the Latin word for "torture." ("The Traveling Curmudgeon")

I don't know about you, but I love a wry sense of humor and a good turn of phrase.

Someone gave me the book, "The Traveling Curmudgeon," before I left for Europe, and I have just laughed and laughed at it. It leaves no stone unturned, and treats so well, the inevitable "surprises" and "disasters" of travel. In fact the preface says it is designed to "explode the myth that travel is some sort of cultural hygiene necessary for mental or spiritual health." "It will liberate you," it says "from the tyranny of the travel / industrial complex."

I travel because I love to. I take the good with the bad. And I love some places other people hate, and everyone hates some place. That having been said, I give you the following. My endeavor is to be impartial, so don't send me cards and letters. The most important thing you must have for travel, as for life, is a sense of humor:

1. "America is a country no one should go to for the first time." (Jawajarlal Nehru)
2. "America: The land of the naive and the home of the literal." (Gore Vidal)
3. "Belgium: Northern Ireland run by the Swiss." (Mark Lawson)
4. "Boston: Clear out 800,000 people and preserve it as a museum piece." (Frank Lloyd Wright)
5. "Brazil has money that inflates like a dead dog in the hot sun." (Clive James)
6. (This one will surprise you, if you know his poem) "Here is the difference between Dante, Milton and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years." (Carl Sandburg)
7. "Realizing that they will never be a world power, the Cypriots have decided to be a world nuisance." (George Mikes)
8. "To define Dallas is to add a whole new humongous dimension to bad." (Molly Ivins)
9. "Dallas reminds me of Hungary." (Karl Lagerfeld)
10. "Delhi is the capital of the losing streak. It is the metropolis of the crossed wire, the missed appointment, the puncture, the wrong number." (Jan Morris)
11. La Jolla: "Nothing but a climate and a lot of meaningless chi-chi." (Raymond Chandler.
12. New York: "If a day goes by and I haven't been slain, I'm happy." (Carol Leifer)
13. Philadelphia: "A metropolis sometimes known as the City of Brotherly Love but more accurately as the City of the Bleak November Afternoon." (S. J. Perelman)
14. Russia: "I never think I'm going to get out of Russia Something about the airport says, 'We are closed for no reason all of a sudden. Try again ... someday.'"
15. "[Seattle is] surrounded by the soft, the gray, and the moist, as if it is being digested by an oyster." (Tom Robbins)
16. "A nation of brilliant failures, the Irish, who are too poetical to be poets." (Max Beerbohm)
17. "No onew can be as calculatedly rude as the British, which amazes Americans, who do not understand studied insult and can only offer abuse as a substitute." (Paul Gallico)
18. "The German people are an orderly, vain, deeply sentimental, and rather insensitive people. They seem to feel at their best when they are singing in chorus, saluting, or obeying orders." (H. G. Wells)
19. "Eat lettuce in Mexico only if sterilized by a blowtorch." (Benjamin Kean)
20. "Nebraska is proof that Hell is full, and the dead walk the Earth." (Liz Winston)

And my favorite - so broadly-applicable:

Long before I visited Sweden for the first time, I had built up a composite portrait of the average Swede. He was withdrawn and spasmodic, reserved on the surface but explosive beneath it, veering between troughs of depression and fits of abandon. He was a pacifist, a socialist, an alcoholic and a hiker. He swam nude and attempted to commit suidice during the long winters. Like many other popular misconceptions (e.g., that the French are greedy and the Spanish stoic), this turned out to be fairly close to the truth." (Kenneth Tynan)

In England, everything is permitted unless it's forbidden.
In Germany, everything is forbidden unless it's permitted.
In Italy, everything is permitted even if it's forbidden.

The book is "The Traveling Curmudgeon," by Jon Winokur

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