Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic
Edited by David Farley and Jessie Sholl
The Travelers' Tales destination books provide a fully-rounded picture of a destination and this Prague and the Czech Republic goes down like a pint of good pilsner. Despite story angles that are all over the map---in a good way---the chosen essays are consistently good in a way that's usually hard to pull off over the course of an entire collection. This is probably due, in part, to Prague being known as a refuge of poets, novelists, and those who aspire to be one or the other. When Kafka is a city's best-known famous figure and a poet is elected as the free country's first leader, you know this is a place where the written word looms large.
This is not to dismiss the skill of David Farley and Jessie Sholl, the couple editing the collection. The two lived in Prague and are experts on the area. Farley (who contributed The Coast of Bohemia in an earlier issue of Perceptive Travel) is a well-respected travel writer. Sholl is a novelist, editor, and creative writing instructor. Farley contributes his own story, "Natural Born Pig-Killers," and it's a winner---if you have a strong stomach.
There are a few well-known writers in the collection: Ivan Kilma provides the intro and there are stories from Jan Morris and Thomas Swick. Overall though, it manages to collect a pool of characters, mostly unknown, who have something to say about a place often dubbed the second coming of Henry Miller's Paris.
Several overall themes flow throughout: the rebirth after communism, the struggle adapting to a free market, the hordes of barfing tourists that have rapidly changed the city, the legacy of Nazi atrocities, and the pursuit of a real life well lived. Then there's the foreboding air created by menacing castles, the bones sculptures of Sedlec, and Kafka's stories of senseless frustration. Some of the most memorable tales are the strangest. In "Is Just Like Amerika," Brad Wetzler tags along with some Czech hobos with a penchant for beer, sausage, and cowboys. In "Concrete City," Steven Logan gets away from the retrofitted old city and takes in the concrete of the soviet apartment blocks and sewage treatment plants. D.A. Blyler accepts a job teaching prostitutes English and then discovers the money is much better as a referral agent---as long as he can avoid the competition inherent in the industry's underbelly. "Prague's Vomiting Multitude," by Jeremy Hurewitz, reads like an angry comedian's rant about a place that's driving him crazy and is perhaps one of the most concisely honest assessments of the overheated Prague tourism industry to be published.
There's a strong pull to the place, of course, which is what brings some writers back over and over and enchants others immediately. Francine Prose goes on a castle tour of rural Bohemia and discovers that "This sleepy corner of the Czech Republic, tucked between Prague and the Austrian border, replicates exactly the way I wanted the world to look, the way I believed the world should look, when I was a little girl." Through Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic, we can all get a good glimpse of a different world.
- Tim Leffel, editor
How to Sh!t Around the World
The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling
By Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth
If you want your book to be refused by libraries and its online reviews to be blocked by parental control software, putting a big S-H-I-T in the title of your book would probably be a good place to start. Then adding an intro from the author of How to S^%# in the Woods would be a nice big turd on top.
So this obviously isn't a big commercial endeavor, especially since most long-term travelers manage to figure out how "to go" just fine in a wide variety of rough conditions. It's the "clean and healthy" part that makes the book more than a joke, however, since this turns out to be a very thorough and well-researched handbook on how to get sick as little as possible.
As expected, there's plenty about rough squat toilets, getting the runs, and getting the runs while using a rough squat toilet. Not the best mealtime read, but good preparation for what the road throws at you. There's a wealth of info on eating right, drinking right, the risks of seafood, and keeping the little ones healthy. The differentiating factor for this book though is it doesn't stop there. Where else can you get a whole chapter on toilet paper and the lack thereof, bathing in a stream, or what to do when it's that time of the month and you're on a mountain ascent?
Throughout the book there are short snippets from doctors, from aid workers, and from others with life experience combating nasty bugs and diseases. If you're a parent wanting to make sure your about-to-leave child knows how to keep healthy, or you're the type who likes to be ready for anything, this is a valuable book. Anyone about to go off on a long-term volunteer assignment in a rural environment should make room for it in the pack. If you're the type that leaves the immunization clinic a nervous wreck, however, a book with a chapter called, "Can It Be Worms?" may be best left untouched.
- Tim Leffel, editor
Romance on the Road
Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men
By Jeannette Belliveau (reviewed by Anastasia M. Ashman)
Jeannette Belliveau was a "sex pilgrim" for 12 years and now the 51 year old former erotic adventuress reveals all in this dense volume of travel sex history and how-to cum memoir.
The author got her groove back after a divorce by sleeping with men in Greece, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Brazil. Of French Canadian descent, she is currently married to a younger man of color she fantasizes looks like a 'pharaoh'. In ROMANCE ON THE ROAD she attempts to place her actions into wider context. As an American expatriate living in Turkey, this reviewer senses a motive of authorial self-preservation: to normalize controversial sexual behavior which not only falls outside the bounds of her own culture but severely strains mores at international destinations.
Creating what she calls a geography of sex and love, the newspaperwoman from blue-collar Maryland examines a social phenomenon that may have involved more than 600,000 Western women in the past 25 years: travelers who engage in flings or long term affairs with foreign men, vaulting over cultural boundaries. While intercultural love and marriages are a subtheme, the book's focus is hedonistic sex with virile strangers.
"Travel sex by women is revolutionary," Belliveau declares, a rebellion barred from polite conversation and insufficiently chronicled by social scientists even if its roots are deep in Victorian travel. The Western world might not deem it noteworthy but the buzz is growing in remote Central American fishing villages, sandy strips of West Africa, and the tiniest towns in the Himalayas. The author suggests that today's feminine voyagers are "stumbling into a major life experience without a map."
Does Romance on the Road provide a compass for the heartbroken (or hot-and-bothered) globetrotter looking for a distant cure? It can get a gal started. Prurient interest will be dampened however by the charts, graphs, survey results, and Modern Language Association-style citations of more than 800 bibliographic sources from Henry James' Daisy Miller to a British newspaper feature entitled "My Toyboy Tours". There's a global chronology of the trend, a summary of related books and movies, and basic ethics and etiquette ("remember the man is real, not an actor in your fantasy"; and "do not use him as a sperm donor").
She has done an admirable job of combining veteran intelligence on each locality with a profile of an adventurous Western woman and a timeline of foreign female exploits in the region. Much like the book itself, these geographic chapters are not all fun and games. In Latin America, "sex is a parallel universe of magic" yet gigolos may sport "a breezy attitude toward the truth". A sex pilgrim profiled has a bleak history, found murdered on the side of a Mexican road, "presumably left by a cruel pickup". Clearly an optimist, Belliveau argues that despite obvious risks the lustful practice can be psychologically healing, fulfill a woman's urge for sexual connoisseurship, or address situations like involuntary celibacy.
It can also be a road to discovery. Erotic adventure may not be on the agenda but can be inspired by the act of travel itself. Wandering women have the opportunity to "reclaim pagan freedoms lost since the advent of civilization" Belliveau waxes, since they exist in a liminal zone, a reality unconnected to their usual existence. A traveler may view the people around her as social equals, think of herself as anonymous, feel unburdened by expectations of social propriety, be more playful and suggestive. Novelist Rebecca Brown is quoted discovering her sexuality on a trip abroad: "Like Stein, Toklas, and other women who have traveled away from home, it took leaving my native land to realize I was a lesbian."
Even so, it is difficult to approach Romance on the Road, or know who would, besides social scientists who might wallow in its surfeit of statistics or old hands who will identify with the insider dope, and buoyant we-can-all-get-it-on (and perhaps heal the world by having international children) conclusions. It's hardly pleasure reading nor something to openly peruse on a crowded subway. Some may not want to get caught reading it at all. This reviewer's Turkish husband handed it over saying "You got a trashy book in the mail."
It's unfortunate that Belliveau's concentration on ecstasy abroad overwhelms her scholarship on ethical and economic questions as well as cultural and social ramifications in sex-host cultures. The few harmful consequences she includes are female tourists being perceived as "man-stealers" by native women in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Africa; the new role of hustler that thousands of foreign men have adopted; and a rise in STDs and incidents of harassment and assault. Soon enough she is making the case for positives like liberated Scandinavian women spurring sexual revolutions for their sisters in Spain, Greece and Mexico.
Belliveau doesn't seem concerned with the cultural factor freespirited sensualists export. Writing from the sex-toured Near East, this reviewer suggests the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.
The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made.
Without apology Belliveau admits this detrimental byproduct of her Shirley Valentine amusement (or was it healing?): "At first I was appalled at the smothering level of harassment I encountered in Athens. Then I succumbed to these temptations, with the likelihood that my sex partners became further convinced about the ease of seducing any lone Western female tourists to later cross their paths."
On behalf of thousands of traveling women hoping to explore the world unmolested -- thanks for nothing.
Anastasia M. Ashman co-edited the best-selling nonfiction anthology Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey. Her work has appeared in the women's humor collection The Thong Also Rises and the upcoming New York-themed The Subway Chronicles. From Berkeley, California, she holds a degree in Classical Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College. Anastasia currently lives in Istanbul with her Turkish husband, where she is at work on a travel memoir Berkeley to Byzantium: The Reorientation of a West Coast Adventuress.