Have you flown since the pandemic started? What was it like? The last time I got on a plane, I'd never worn a face mask and still thought that hand sanitizer would protect me from everything (sigh). So yeah, it's been awhile.
But that'll change tomorrow. The four of us are heading to my childhood home for a few weeks -- my first time back in the U.S. in two years! I'm a little nervous about the trip (mainly that four-hour layover in Heathrow?), but also couldn't be more excited to get back to family and friends and scenes like these.
Anyone in Chapel Hill, give me a shout!
The Writing Life
Among the phrases that a younger version of myself never would have believed: The New York Times bought me a ticket to Disneyland Paris. But yes. There I was on the official reopening day, June 17, scribbling in my reporter's notebook as Mickey and Minnie cheered on the streams of ecstatic (some to the point of tears) guests as they flooded back into the park.
The trip -- and the story I ended up writing about it -- were more interesting than I had expected. For one, the park is an "economic powerhouse," as France's tourism minister told me, employing more than 15,000 people and driving development across a major swath of former farmland east of Paris.
Plus, the park is emblematic of France's "love-hate relationship" with American culture, which I've always found fascinating. But the French seem to be warming up to Disneyland Paris, which will celebrate its 30th birthday next year. All of the talk of a "cultural Chernobyl" back in the early '90s has morphed into a kind of quiet acceptance among the country's cultural elite. Meanwhile, nearly half of the park's visitors are French. So yeah, it was a fun trip. More importantly, my daughters appear to have forgiven me for going without them!
I've also stayed busy over the past month helping the NYT keep its country-by-country guide to Europe's reopening as current as possible. Let me know if you have any questions about travel to Europe that aren't answered there -- always happy to help if I can.
Two travel books on my shelf at the moment:
The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux. As someone who writes about travel for a living, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I'd never read anything by Paul Theroux until earlier this year. I started with this classic, which recounts the writer's overland journey from London across Asia and back. The book made Theroux famous (at least in the travel-writing world) when it was published in 1975, and is still widely cited today.
Reading this nearly half a century later, I was struck by several sections that hadn't aged particularly well (his mocking of "a little Japanese politician" comes to mind; "Theroux has the courage of his national prejudices," a contemporary reviewer noted). But most of his observations are astute and perceptive. The section on Vietnam -- which Theroux visited during the supposed cease-fire in 1973, when the American presence was still heavy on the ground -- is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Vietnam War.
Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer.This is not technically a travel book, though the author does a fair amount of moving around -- from Paris to Rome, a Greek island, Sicily, Oxford, New Mexico -- all in desperate effort to distract himself from the fact that he's *not* writing the book that he's meant to be writing: "a sober, academic study" of the life and work of the English writer D.H. Lawrence. The whole thing is delightful and funny and touching and wonderfully unexpected. So much so that, on finishing it, I immediately ordered another of Dyer's many books (this one). Will let you know how it goes.
That's all for now. Thanks so much for reading!
For anybody else traveling soon -- hope you get a sendoff as good as this one.