I'll get to that subject line in just a minute here, but first: It's so good to be home.
We were away for nearly six weeks, catching up with family and friends in the U.S. and the U.K. It was a fantastic trip -- one that I'd been daydreaming about for more than a year. We slept in, played board games, and spent a ton of time at the pool. Our daughters gorged on exotic, unavailable-in-rural-France foods like rainbow-hued goldfish crackers and all manner of Cheerios. We also took two dozen Covid tests between the four of us, and they all came back negative. It was wonderful.
Now we're home, and suddenly it feels like autumn is just around the corner. It was so good to get away, and it's so good to be back. I hope your summer travels, if you have any, are just as refreshing.
The Writing Life
I'd been at my parents' house in North Carolina for about ten days when my NYT editor emailed me out of the blue to ask if I could write something for them for a new "summer series" they were working on. Could I go to Asheville and write it up for them, she asked? Or maybe Charlotte? My response: "Umm... how about Chapel Hill?" She went with it, and the resulting story ran a few weeks later. It was a lot of fun to research and write -- a real love letter to my hometown. But Chapel Hillians, let me know what I missed!
Next up: In less than a week I'll be heading off on a reporting trip to a European city (guess which one??). It's the kind of story that I'm most excited about doing these days: reporting on how the tourism industry is changing cities and affecting the lives of people who live in uber-popular destinations. The article will probably run in September. Watch this space.
Here are two books about travel that were very good company on our trip:
Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, by Thomas Kohnstamm. For anyone who has ever planned a trip on the basis of a Lonely Planet guidebook (ahem, 🙋🏻♀️), this one makes for some uncomfortable -- and highly entertaining -- reading. In this memoir-cum-exposé published in the waning days of the guidebook boom, Kohnstamm explains what really goes into those massive tomes (or what really went into his massive tome -- the LP guide to Brazil). Spoiler: the author spends a lot of time getting drunk and high and having sex, and never actually makes it to a lot of the places that he "reviews" in the guidebook. Kohnstamm's "rollicking" tell-all was a hit with critics, while LP was forced to issue an official (and indignant) response.
My first gig in the travel writing world was actually updating the Bradt Guide to Sierra Leone, back in 2010/2011, and I could definitely relate to a lot of Kohnstamm's gripes: the miserable pay of guidebook work; the difficulty of actually getting to all of the places you're supposed to see without missing your deadline; the senselessness of trying to pin down "contact information" for a business that doesn't have a landline or a street address. I'm immensely glad that I came across this book; I'm equally glad that I didn't read it before I took on the Bradt gig. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to sign up.
A Cook's Tour, by Anthony Bourdain. Following the immense success of Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain was offered the chance to star in his own TV show that had him traveling around the world and eating all manner of exotic foods (a still-beating cobra heart, a crunchy duck embryo, the "slimy little bones" of an iguana wrapped inside a tamale). Lucky for us, Bourdain also wrote a book about the experience -- and his account is strikingly honest, transporting and empathic. Classic travel writing at its best; I would highly recommend.
That's all for now. Thanks so much for reading! Now please excuse me as I run away to Ireland and sign myself up for dance classes.