Posts Tagged ‘Kerouac’

43. Reading the book about the place

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

alex-garlands-the-beachBackpackers are a pretentious lot. Actually, people who travel, in general, are full of shit. Some will tell you they’ve lived somewhere, but they were really just visiting. Or they’ve been to a place, but were actually just on a layover there, and didn’t leave the airport. These types of people insist they are into photography, global culture, art, film, music, and of course literature.

They’re remarkably insecure, which is why they constantly attempt to reaffirm their sense of enlightenment on all topics. “Have you see that movie?” Oh yeah, it’s fantastic. “Have you been to…” Yes, three times. “Have you seen Buddha?” Mm-hmm, when I was in Cambodia. “Are you better than me?” (Unspoken: Yes.)

Just as they will refuse to see the movie before they read the book, they won’t travel somewhere without having read THE book about it. Some will be leafing through the book while on the plane, train or bus en route to the place. But make no mistake, there is only ONE BOOK you simply must read before you go somewhere. Some examples:

Thailand: The Beach
No book has tickled the global backpacker imagination as much as this Alex Garland neo-classic, and the Leo DiCaprio movie didn’t hurt either. Poignant use of Nintendo metaphors amid differing interpretations of “paradise” and the “parasites” trying to find it ring true for anybody born after 1970. Ko Phi Phi has the movie to thank for the millions of parasites that descend upon it every year.

Spain: The Sun Also Rises
What Garland has done for Generation X, Hemingway did for young people in the 20s and 30s, members of the “Lost Generation.” His book is still doing it today. After all, the book is about love, partying and living overseas in France and Spain, so it should come as no surprise that it inspires countless readers to pack up and give it a go. Just as DiCaprio put Ko Phi Phi on the map, Hemingway informed the world of Pamplona’s frenzied San Fermin Festival.

India: Midnight’s Children
I tried reading this a few years ago and couldn’t get past the first 70 pages. If Rushdie were employing his own version of “magical realism,” I wish he would have used less magic and more realism. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was convoluted and senseless. Maybe if I finally get to India, it will all become clear… or at least I could find some enlightened backpackers who would be able explain it to me.

South America: 100 Years of Solitude
This book confirmed it for me: I’m not a huge fan of magical realism. Too much extraneous detail. But just like you have to try the chicken feet at the dim sum restaurant, you have to read Marquez if you want to do right by South American literature. Thankfully, the copy I bought didn’t have the Oprah’s Book Club logo on it. I’m pretentious like that.

Vietnam: The Quiet American
Like Hemingway and Orwell, Greene is a foreign correspondent-turned author who likes the sauce and in this case, opium. F.E.T. enthusiasts (i.e. white guys who like Asian chicks) will dig the protagonist, who locks down a primo local gal and enjoys the spoils of expat life and moral superiority during Vietnam’s French colonial war in the early 1950s.

The United States: On The Road
Garland to Generation X = Hemingway to Lost Generation = Kerouac to Beat Generation. The underlying theme to this wanderer’s journal is that it’s fun to hang with arty rich kids who drink booze like it’s water, listen to black music and drive wildly down the open highway. Sounds a lot like the backpacking scene to me. Oh and that San Francisco was the shit in the 50s. Still is today.

Any other geographically-specific books you’ve seen while traveling? There are tons. Please post comments to let me know which ones you’ve run into.

2. No Toilet Paper

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

cpsYou don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. You won’t appreciate the luxury of a good, delicate shit ticket ’til you sprint into a foreign stall, turtle head popping out, and proceed to unleash hot fury, only to discover you’ve got nothing to wipe with except your imagination. Spare me your advice. Sure, you ALWAYS remember to pack your own roll. But even packaged Kleenex gets forgotten at times of urgent need.

You’ve never hit rock bottom until you’ve had to reach into the bowlful of feces to hunt a clear patch of water to draw from. That’s when you begin to appreciate the in-stall hose attachment. And you used to wonder what it was for. Now you know.

Now you appreciate the ol’ bucket and ladel (sometimes a small pail or yogurt container) within arm’s reach. You try not to let your mind wander as to what insects may have already laid their eggs in the bucket water. You’re way beyond that. This is all business.

You’ve mastered the art of the Water Wipe. You cup the water in your hand - always the left hand, mind you - and deftly reach and splash your underside in one, sweeping motion so not to lose a drop. The ends justify the means. Like Kerouac in Big Sur, you realize your butt is cleaner than it would be from toilet paper. Your anus is enlightened. It remains wet, though. No paper. That’s the perplexing part…

Still, your ass-wiping apprenticeship is going great. It’s even curbing your bad habits. Southpaw nosepicking and nailbiting are ancient history. You haven’t kicked cigarettes but now you smoke (and eat) exclusively with your right hand.

After hundreds of unpleasant encounters with ill-equipped thrones (soiled, cracked or absent seats being the norm), you develop a respect for the Classic Porcelain Squat, or CPS. A seeming anachronism in many of the world’s most technologically advanced nations, who knows how many ingenious ideas were born upon it over the centuries? As the CPS’ moulded, corrugated foot grips hold your suspension steady, you get it. You figure out proper technique - with your hamstrings pinned to your calves, your heels planted - and the turds roll out like Cosby kids in a chorus line. The angles are sound. You barely need to wipe.

You’ve seen it all. Wet floor? Hang up your pants and underwear. No coat hook? Just clutch your pants and in a ball with your right hand (You’re not wiping with it anyways!). You’ve learned that keeping baggy shorts off the floor in mid-squat becomes an uncomfortable hammock building exercise, so you go bottomless as a rule. No stall door? Whatever.

No toilet paper. Ha! I’ve got hand sanitizer.